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Five years living off-grid without running water in a 230-square-foot tiny home taught me a lot. When I didn’t have something, I got used to improvising. In this article, I am going to share some of the creative ways I have used my car over the years to get things done.
Interestingly, even though I now live on the grid in my eco-cabin, I still use my car in these same ways sometimes. I hope that these ideas might give you a chuckle or two. However, I hope that they also get you thinking creatively about what you do have, whether it is your car or other items, and what use they might be to you in the future, if need be.
Here in Eastern Ontario, Canada, it’s late September. What I call “fridge weather” is coming. That is when our great outdoors becomes one big refrigerator (between just above freezing and 40 degrees Fahrenheit). Trust me: when your minimal off-grid solar-powered system can’t reliably run your fridge, this is a big relief. The raccoons have never been able to break into my car. Yet.
Even though I now have two fridges running now (I consider this the lap of luxury, by the way!), they are both small. I recently bought 25 pounds of Roma tomatoes on sale to can. Late summer is still pretty hot out and, without AC, still hot in my eco-cabin. As it was cooling off outdoors overnight, I moved the box of tomatoes to the car, where it would be cooler. The next day, I canned the first 12 pounds of tomatoes, kept the other half in the car overnight, and canned them the following day.
With temperatures in the eco-cabin up around 80 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, I am quite sure that doing this helped keep my half-bushel box of tomatoes at peak freshness until they were canned. I have noticed over the years that it has to be pretty darn cold out for things to freeze in the car overnight.
Now, if you live in the South, you may not have the opportunity to Ca-fridge like I do, but perhaps the next idea might come in handy!
Ticks are quite bad on the homestead, and my energies are going to the eco-cabin build and the garden. As a result, I have not quite gotten around to building a proper laundry line setup here. Even a laundry line I had attached to some trees somehow attracted ticks, and they got on the bedding. So, I gave up on drying my clothes outside for the time being. I dry everything on a drying rack inside and hang my sheets on one of my ladders inside.
However, after I come home from morning milking, my coveralls are usually wet from washing down the milking parlor. And, I have to be back for afternoon milking in a matter of hours. Without a washer and dryer in the eco-cabin, what could I do? And, to be honest, the farm gear would give off, ummm, a certain odor that I’m not sure I want to bring in here.
My solution is to dry my clothes in my car. This has worked quite well, at least for the warm season. After I come home, I change and take the clothes out to the car. I make sure that I park the car in the full sun. I lay out the coveralls, socks, etc., in the back window of the car. Since May, this has worked without fail. When I go back in the early afternoon to get them, they are always boiling hot and dry! I may need to adapt this in the winter, though. I will keep you posted.
I live in the country and park my car a fair distance back from my house in the laneway. There are a few reasons why I find this to be effective security. If anyone comes to the homestead at night, they would have to exit their vehicle a fair distance from the cabin, and I would be able to get a good look at them.
I have heard stories lately of firewood going missing from other homes. With my car parked where it is, they cannot drive to load any firewood: their access is blocked. Sure, I could save a few steps and park my car right up at the house, but with a long laneway, my car provides some basic security, even when I am home and sleeping.
So many people drive trucks out in the country. I do sort of get teased: with all the construction work I’m doing: why don’t I own a truck? Quite frankly, with gas prices the way they are, I am glad to drive my little compact car. My solution has been to creatively pack stuff into this Corolla to the point that it could almost be…a truck!
Easily carrying my kayak on the roof with a simple foam block setup. When we ran out of wood during framing, I was sent down to the nearest hardware store and brought back 10-foot lengths of wood. Yes, they were sticking out at the back, but they were well-secured and had a flag on them.
Delivery from that store is over $50 a pop, so stuffing construction materials into the car has saved me a lot of money.
Another example? Eight by 2-foot sheets of styrofoam insulation that were one inch thick were able to squeeze in my compact car too. I fit enough in the car to go around the entire perimeter of the eco-cabin in one go. Empty the trunk, put the seats down, be patient, and get creative.
With all the success I was having drying my farm clothes, I got to thinking, “Hmmmm. Harvest is here.” How could I use my car to aid my harvest efforts?
I have been using the car to dry some of my harvest, like sunflower heads, before I remove the seeds. I had been sitting them outside, but if I forgot them, the heavy dews we get in the fall meant I was back at square one. Hot afternoons in the late summer and early fall have their advantages!
Cars – Not Just for Driving Anymore!
Getting from A to B is only one way I use my car. Could you see yourself trying any of the creative tips offered here? Do you have one you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!
13 thoughts on “Creative Ways I Use My Car to Add Value and Save Money”
When I was growing up, the man across the street from us was a Studebaker man. Every 4 or 5 years, he’d go buy a new one, but never traded in the old one. One was sitting out in his horse pasture. One was sitting in his driveway. He’d rolled down the passenger window and tacked a curtain up. It was his cat house. They had several cats and sometimes we could see that curtain just dancing with all the comings and goings.
On pinterest, I’ve seen pictures of an old VW beetle made into a chicken coop; and one into a barbecue grill under the front hood.
I don’t think these are the sort of things you meant, but they were creative uses of a car that no longer ran.
It was good to see a new article by you, Colette.
Hi Carla, Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing from your own interesting experience. I smiled picturing all of the Studebakers converted to their new purposes. I love this idea of using the shell of the car once it is no longer driven. In fact, on the farm that I milk, there is a fairly compact hatch back put to use as a hay storage facility! There it sits, on its rims, with a bumper sticker proclaiming “This car climbed Mt. Washington.” I guess it is no longer going anywhere, but it is serving a useful purpose: keeping hay dry and accessible to feed the young heifers.
These days, I am enjoying the harvest season on my Half-Acre Homestead. The air is fresh, the cooler temperature is energizing, and I’m planning to try lots of off-grid food preservation techniques. Wishing you the best this fall!
Wow. You are creative and clever!
I have a friend who “lives” in her car. She leaves her apartment early in the morning, around 8, flipping the major switch to her electricity to off. She then drives to a nearby mall, walks, looks for bargains (which I think makes you spend more money, so I don’t shop), goes to thrift stores to find stuff for her eBay account, and visits her children, She eats and naps in her car. Around 6 she goes home, fixes dinner, and goes to bed. She says this saves her a fortune in utility bills.
This is not my lifestyle choice, but she seems to like living in her car.
As for my car, I live in small town America, but I do have another use for it…picking up roadside trash. I keep a large box with bags and pick up stuff by the road when I travel. It is then deposited in the large dumpster outside of city hall. That is about it.
You have such great ideas! I’m glad you are writing again.
Hi Marie, Thank you so much for your positive feedback. There is that saying that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I am so glad I got to live off-grid like that, as I truly learned so much. I enjoyed the story about your friend who saves by spending her day in her car. I thought this was quite unique. Good for her.
I am sure that many folks in your area benefit from your kindness to pick up unsightly trash by the roadside. What a lovely thing to do. Wishing you the best this fall!
I loved this article!!
I grow n dry veggies n herbs in mine, as well as live in it. I ve often dried clothing in mine too.
Keep up the creativity n havfun!!
Hi K8, Thanks so much for your appreciation. It is so wonderful to hear from readers, as I live and write in a rural area on my own. The thought that my writing is cheering and helping others means a great deal to me. That is so cool that we both use our cars in similar ways. I know that many folks are living in their vehicles. I hope that you are comfortable and doing well in yours. I am wishing you the best!!!
Hmmm, rent out your car as an Air-BnB?
Hi Bill, Ha ha! I think I will post mine as a unique homestead experience for, like, $1000 a night and see if I get any nibbles from city folks. Thanks for sharing this potential money-making suggestion! Your comments are always appreciated.
Methods not yet mentioned
Years ago the book “Manifold Destiny” came out about cooking with the engine heat of one’s car. It was written by two cross-country rally drivers who claimed the book was perfect for anyone with an empty stomach and a full tank of gas.
Also years ago I saw various ads from companies that would pay car owners to cover their entire car’s exterior with advertising for such companies. Probably not a deal for rural areas but likely marketable for city folks.
A third idea not yet mentioned is installing a trailer hitch on the vehicle’s rear (whether a car, truck, RV, van, etc) — taking care to learn what maximum weight loads not to exceed for that vehicle. The possibilities are endless whether you might want the capabilities of an enclosed camping trailer, an open load-carrying utility trailer, a giant advertising sign carrier for endless uses, etc. Having multiple types of such trailers to pick from expands your list of doable possibilities.
Hi Lewis, Thank you so much. Your comments always add great options for the Frugalite community. Our summer weather has been so hot lately, I wonder if I could cook on the hood of my car using the heat of the sun alone! Yes, the advertising is a fantastic way to make some cash using your car, and likely best for urban areas, as you observe. On my previous car, a Nissan Sentra, I installed a trailer hitch assembly and bought a fine trailer – it was made out of the back end of a totalled 1983 Chevy. I have such fond memories of that trailer.
I spent an entire month of my free time doing body work on it and completely repainting it! It came with a topper with windows. It would have been pretty great to live in, in a pinch. I took the topper off and used it to haul loads of gravel from the local quarry. It was something else to see a HUGE front end loader delicately dropping around 900 pounds of gravel into the trailer (this was up to the top of the wheel wells). I built my modest laneway on the homestead by hand shovelling loads of gravel I towed myself. I knew I was often at the limit of what that little car could pull, and I decided not to put a hitch assembly on my Corolla. Thanks for reminding me of those great years! Wishing you the best this fall.
Using your car for a dehydrator! Absolutely brilliant – I’m gonna do it.
Your mention of using your car for a truck really brings back memories. Recent memories. Up until a few months ago I was using my Hyundai Elantra to haul wood, PVC, furniture, you name it. I could flatten the seats and put 2 by 4s, 4 by 4s, 4 by 6s even (8 and 10 foot lengths) through the passenger cabin between the front seats and out the trunk. I could put eight foot lengths in like that and CLOSE THE TRUNK. Only problem was, she is a stick shift and it made shifting gears kind of interesting. Needless to say the shocks are shot and I kept my trips short.
After doing this for years I eventually bought a truck – this summer actually. But it’s a 2006 and was a good price. It’s AMAZING to be able to haul a ton of lumber without barking my wrist on it with every gear! Gas is expensive but my lumber supply is a mile away, and I work from home now so it saves a ton on commute.
By the way, my folks used to use their car as a dehydrator too!
If you want to earn money by driving, I understand there are still companies that will do a car wrap and turn your car into a rolling billboard, then pay you for the privelige.
Hi Redbranch, So happy to see your message, which had me laughing out loud. Yes, my Corolla is a stick shift too, so there can be challenges with managing the long loads at the driver’s end. I have never talked to anyone who drove a ca-truck, so it was hilarious to read your story and see myself in it. I am glad for you that you are enjoying your actual truck now. With working from home, what a perfect combo for you. Delighted to hear that your folks had a ca-dehydrator, too. This is what I love about the Frugalite spirit: creative use of what you have! Many thanks for writing, and wishing you the best of this harvest season!