13 Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas You Can’t Afford to Miss

  • By: Jeremy Jacobs
  • Date: November 21, 2022
  • Time to read: 11 min.
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Summertime is here and thanks to Covid-19 people are looking for activities outside their normal preferences.  While drive-in movie theaters may have been a novelty in years past, they have built-in social distancing measures that may make them more popular this summer.  

There are only 300 or so drive-in movie theaters left open in the United States.  So if you are fortunate enough to live near one or are looking for something novel to do this summer a drive-in movie may be what you are looking for.  However, you may be wondering what the proper drive-in movie setup for your car is?  There are a few things you need to keep in mind.

  • You need to make sure your car is properly setup – comfort is key here
  • You need to make sure your car is prepared for a double feature (which includes a way to listen to the movie.
  • You want to be comfortable
  • You need to considerate to other movie-goers

The main focus here is preparing your vehicle for a drive-in movie.  You may think ‘what’s the big deal? I get in my car and go to the movies’.  No, no. There is more thought to it than that.  Let’s take a look at a few items so that your fun trip to the drive-in movies doesn’t turn into a disaster.

What is the proper drive-in movie car setup?

Thunderstorm clouds
At 8:10 PM the deluge began. These clouds are bad news for a drive in

There really is no right answer to this. It’s what makes you comfortable, while still being a considerate guest.  So if this means folding down the rear seats in the mini-van or sitting in the back of your pick-up truck; it’s what is comfortable for you. As far as setting up your car for the drive-in, there is not much to do or so I thought.

In an effort to help my readers I staged a number of ways you can set your car up for a drive-in movie. The reason I am not at an actual drive-in is that I live in the Southeast and it thunderstorms every night about the time a drive-in would start. If you decide to go bring your umbrella.

So without further ado let’s get to the good stuff. I subjected my family to this, so please be kind in your thoughts.

Proper Drive-in Movie Car Setup Ideas

First off, I believe to be the most comfortable you need room. We have a minivan and my faithful Tacoma. Both of these are ideal for a pleasant movie experience.

An SUV would be a good choice too. You can modify the arrangements below to match the vehicle you have. Whatever the case, there are a few essentials you are going to need.

Recommended Gear List

  • Blankets
  • Water / Snacks
  • Pillows
  • Radio
  • Bug Spray
  • Flashlight
  • Camp fan
  • Battery Power Pack

Standard Drive-In Movie Formation

Okay, so this is your standard Drive-In movie formation. Yes, that’s my house in the background. Just imagine being at the drive-in.

This is a great set up for a few people. Anymore than three, and people in the back are going to have a hard time seeing the movie.

Snacks are easily accessible, bug count can be reduced (windows can be up), and you can occasionally run the AC when it gets sticky.

Let me tell you even at 8:00 in the evening in the Southeast its sticky.

Pure Comfort

Okay, so I hate this picture but it perfectly embodies a comfortable experience. Pay attention to the details in this photo.

First the bean bag. It’s only partially filled so you can sit back and enjoy the movie. The hatch of the van or SUV will be open so you have a perfect view.

The bean bag provides the perfect balance of back support and cushion. Now, this takes some prep at home to get the right amount of fill in your bag. But when you are done you can sit back and enjoy the movie. Just a note, I could have fit a second bean bag in here, you don’t have to bring your dog. This bean bag chair at Amazon is perfect.

The next thing to notice is the camp fan. The one pictured is a little bit underpowered. However, it provides a little bit of soft light for being able to find things in your car. It also moves the air around, even if its a little bit, it make a big difference.

I would recommend a more powerful fan and light. The OUTXE Camping fan, also from Amazon is a great choice for your movie-going experience. As a bonus, it is rechargeable, my little fan eats batteries.

Perhaps the most important thing here, next to being comfortable, is being able to hear the movie. You want something that is smallish, with good sound, and can run on batteries. The Jensen CD-490 checks all the boxes.

Okay, next set up…

Drive-In Movie With Kids…

You can’t beat this set up with kids. It’s roomy, it’s comfortable and everyone has a nice time. Hopefully.

For this setup, you need all of the standard equipment mentioned in the previous setup, with one exception. The bean bag is gone, I mean, you can use one for the kids in the back. But for the adult, you want a comfortable camp chair or two.

You have HAVE to get one with least a table. The table holds the essentials, the radio, a drink, a snack and the bug spray. A bonus cooler is awesome too. You can stash away a few things so that the kids don’t get there hands on them. This camp chair at Amazon was built for drive-in movies.

With this setup, a little bit more power may be needed, if you are looking to be really comfortable. The little camp fan is good inside the car. But larger fan may be needed when sitting outside. It serves to purposes.

  1. To keep you cool
  2. To keep the bugs moving along

This is where the battery power pack comes in. It will not only power your fan, but your radio, and charge your devices if needed. Definitely an extra, but if you want to be comfortable…

Final Thoughts on Car Setup…

Now obviously, you have to adapt your drive-in movie setup to meet your needs, but this should give you a few ideas about what you need.

Get creative. Can you fold down all the seats in your SUV or minivan? If so, can you fit a twin air mattress back there? There are many possibilities. With some movie theaters setting up drive-in’s in there parking lots and Wal-Mart about to open up their parking lots for drive-in movies there will be time to employ these suggestions.

Have fun and here are a few more tips for visting a drive-in movie. After the video, continue reading for some practical suggestions about what you can expect a drive-in movie. Have fun.

A Few Practical Suggestions for the Drive-In

So now that we have discussed a few suggestions on how to set your vehicle up for a drive-in movie. There is a more practical side that needs to be discussed. Here are just a few things you want to keep in mind.

  1. You don’t want your battery to die
  2. You don’t want your car engine to overheat
  3. You need to have decent speakers to hear the movie

It’s pretty simple really; as far as setting up your car for a drive-in movie.  With regular car maintenance, you shouldn’t have any problems.  Still, there are a few questions that need to be addressed to have a good time and a memorable evening at the drive-in.

Do You Leave Your Car on During Drive-In Movie?

This is a little bit of a tricky question to answer.  Typically, NO, you do not leave your car running during a drive-in movie.  There are several reasons for this.  One, it’s terribly wasteful, that’s a lot of gasoline to burn for just sitting there. Two, it could be potentially rude to the other patrons, if they are sitting outside their car.

However, there are exceptions to this rule of etiquette.  If everyone else is sitting inside a running car, then yes it is okay to leave your car on.  Also, the temperature outside is a guiding factor.  Here in Florida, even the nights are hot and muggy, so sitting in an air-conditioned car may be the best option.  Conversely, an evening at a drive-in Maine required the heat to be on.

The bottom line?  Take a hint from the people around you.  If everyone is enjoying the outdoors, don’t be a dork and leave your car running.  If everyone else is in their car, go for it.

This is not to mention that leaving your car idling for that long is not really great for it.  As I mentioned it consumes large amounts of gas and that is a lot of wear and tear on your engine.  Also, if there are any cooling issues with your car, it will not take long for your car to overheat while it is sitting there.

However, of most common concern is the health of your car battery.  How are you supposed to listen to the movie and enjoy it if you are worried it will drain your car battery?  Can that happen?  Will sitting a drive-in movie drain your car battery?  Let’s find out.

Will a Drive-in Movie Kill My Battery?

The whole idea of the drive-in movie is that you are able to listen to a movie (or two) from your car.  However, as soon as you turn that key into the ‘on’ position there is a pull on the battery power supply.  Without the alternator engaged to constantly recharge your battery and power the electrical system the entire load is being placed on your car battery. So, will a drive-in movie kill your car battery?

Absolutely,  running your radio and speakers for several hours on end will drain your car battery at a drive-in movie. Not to mention any other accessories you may have pulling on the car battery.  Think about it, if leaving your interior dome light on or the headlights on has a negative effect on the car battery; how much more so will having a powerful radio and speakers playing for four hours.  So what’s a movie-goer to do? 

How to Keep A Car Battery From Dying at A Drive-In Movie.

There are several basic things that you can do here to make sure your battery doesn’t die before the end of the movie.

  • Make sure that your ignition is turned all the way off. I know it’s a simple thing, but it could be easily forgotten.
  • Turn off all of your lights. Not only is this a courteous thing to do, but it will also save your battery.  Remember a drive-in movie is usually a double feature. Sitting with your car lights on for that long will most definitely leave your battery flat when it’s time to go.
  • Check for other accessories.  Make sure that you don’t have anything plugged into the cigarette lighters either.  Especially in minivans where they have outlets in the rear and one of the kiddos decides to plug something in that you weren’t expecting.  After several hours you will have a not so pleasant surprise.
  • Know your battery.  How old is your car battery?  Remember your car battery will only last three to five years; so if you plan on sitting there with your car radio on you better make sure that the battery is up to the task. An older battery will be easily drained without the help of the alternator to supply its power. If you have an older battery check out my guide for finding the best car battery for your vehicle.
  • Have a boombox or battery-powered radio.  Since most drive-in movies broadcast on an FM frequency, these little radio’s will really enhance your movie-going experience.  Not only will this save your car battery, but it will also give you a lot more freedom at the drive-in movie.  Now you can take your lawn chairs or blanket and sit outside.  You can sit in the back of your pick up truck.  You are no longer confined to the car and there is no risk in draining your car battery.  Just make sure you have some replacement batteries for the radio or…
  • Have a booster pack with a power inverter.  Having a battery booster pack with a power inverter does two things for you.  Number one, if your battery does happen to die, you can jump-start it yourself and get going again. Or if someone isn’t as prepared as you; you are now in a position to help them out.  And two,  if it has a power inverter, you could plug in the boombox radio and run it off of the booster pack.  It’s a win win!  Click over here to see my recommended choice for a battery booster pack with a power inverter.

These are some simple steps you can take to make sure that you have a great experience at the drive-in movies. 

Can I Listen to A Drive-in Movie on my iPhone or Android?

As was mentioned above, a drive-n movie broadcasts on an FM frequency.  This means the theater either supplies you special speakers to listen to the movie. Or you bring your own radio to hear the movie.

While it would be very awesome to listen to a drive-in movie through your iPhone it is not possible.  iPhones do not come with an FM transmitter in order to broadcast the signal.  

My Android phone comes with an FM tuner but it is less than spectacular.  It uses the headphones as an antennae and the signal doesn’t come in very well.  Your best bet is to take the suggestion above and bring a portable radio.  

Where Can I find a Drive-In Movie Near Me?  

Well, all of this preparation is for naught if you can’t find a movie theater to go to.  With only a little over 300 theaters left in the United States, chances are you are going to have to drive a bit to find a drive-in.  This website here www.driveinmovie.com  will help you find a theater near you.

Comfortable Drive-in Movie Car Setup

Now that we got your car to where it won’t die in the middle of a double feature, what about you? You need to be comfortable and you need to have something to do for the kids.  Here are just a few suggestions on other items you will need to bring

  • Pillow and blanket
  • Snacks and drinks
  • Games
  • Ball or Frisbee
  • Flashlight 

Check out this video that will have a few more ideas on how to make your drive-in movie an awesome experience:

Final Thoughts…

I may not have shown you how to make your car or truck pretty for a drive-in movie, but thanks for reading this far.  What I did show you is how to make sure your night doesn’t turn into a total disaster.  Just a little preparation and you will have a memorable night.

Just remember to have a portable radio so you can hear the movie.  Try not to run your car for long periods, it’s rude to the other guests and it puts unnecessary wear on your car.  Don’t run your battery down by leaving your lights or radio on.  Just a few simple reminders to make sure you have a great family experience or date night.  If you want a few more tips or suggestions on what to do at a drive-in theater you can check here and here.  Have a great time and

Safe travels…

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