How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan
How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan

How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan


Tips to Turn Your Van into a Campervan (+ Get a Self-Containment Certification)

For the ability to freedom camp and have all your living conveniences in one place while you’re travelling around New Zealand, it’s likely that you’ll want a self-contained campervan. However, you cannot reap the rewards of freedom camping until your vehicle is certified self-contained under the Self-Containment Standard NZS 5465:2001. If you have a van that you want to turn into a campervan then this guide will give you some top tips to convert your van into a self-contained campervan!

These self-contained campervan conversion tips apply for those with a compact van, such as a Nissan Vanette or Toyota Hiace, that will be able to sleep two people. For other model suggestions, see What Model of Car or Campervan to Buy for Travelling New Zealand. Follow these tips to make sure your self-containment modifications pass their self-containment inspection, as outlined in How to Get Your Campervan Certified Self-Contained!

A Checklist of Requirements a Campervan Needs to Be Certified Self-Contained

The tips for converting your van into a self-contained campervan go over how to make sure your van is in top shape to meet the following requirements set by the Self-Containment Standard NZS 5465:2001.

  • Freshwater tanks: 12L per person for three days
  • A sink via a smell trap/water trap connected to a watertight sealed waste water tank
  • Grey/black wastewater tank: 12L per person for three days, vented and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank
  • Evacuation hose (3m for fitted tanks) or long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank
  • A rubbish bin with a lid
  • Toilet (portable or fixed): Needs to have a minimum of 3L per person for three days and be able to be used inside the campervan with the bed made up.

How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan©

DIY or Pay for the Installation?

If you have the skills, these modifications can be done yourself. Water tanks, sinks, pipes, etc. can be purchased in hardware stores like Mitre 10 and Bunnings Warehouse. Items like a cassette toilet can be purchased from specialised motorhome/RV stores.

Otherwise, we suggest employing a plumber, gasfitter or drainlayer that is registered as a self-containment certification issuing authority and/or a self-containment testing officer to install compliant systems for you. That way, they will install your water tanks and sinks to the correct requirements.

Find out more about issuing authorities and testing officers in How to Get Your Campervan Certified Self-Contained.

How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan© Backpacker Car

Or Get a Pre-Installed and Certified Self-Contained Campervan From Backpacker Car!

For camping vehicles already kitted out with the kitchen, fresh water and waste water tanks, portable toilet, a comfy double bed and more, check out the offering from Backpacker Car. Their certified self-contained campercars and campervans are all kitted out and can even be reserved before you arrive in New Zealand. At the end of your trip, the team offer a buyback scheme to even make the selling process a breeze. Check out their offering of cars and campervans for sale at©

Tips for Installing a Fresh Water Tank and Grey Waste Water Tank into a Campervan

Most vans are converted into a 2-berth campervan by having a double bed, a driver seat and a passenger seat. To meet the requirements for the self-containment certification for a 2-berth campervan you will need one 25L fresh water tank and one 25L waste water tank. That’s 12L in each tank for each person for up to three days.

Fresh Water Tank

Use a 25L narrow opaque plastic can/canister as your fresh water tank. The fresh tank needs an opaque supply pipe to the sink and a vent. The fresh water tank with a tap can also be stored above the sink with the tap above the sink.

Grey Water Tank

The grey water should drain from the sink through a looped hose water trap and into one 25L opaque plastic can/canister used for grey wastewater. The hose needs to be watertight and leak-proof. Additionally, a 6mm vent pipe needs to be fitted to your waste water tank that rises above the bottom of the sink and terminates at the exterior of the van.©

Where to Store the Water Tanks?

In order to pass a self-certification inspection, both water tanks need to be secure when the vehicle is in motion. They can be stored in a secure cupboard or secured with a removable bungy cord. Additionally, they need to be easily accessible for emptying and filling without spillage.

You must be able to store the connecting hose and vent in a separate locker, container or sealable plastic bag for when they are disconnected from the tank.

Most vans store tanks under the sink or the freshwater tank can sometimes be above the sink.

Does Your Tank Need a Gauge?

If the level of the water can be seen through the tank then the tank does not require a gauge to measure the water level.©

Tips for Installing a Toilet in a Campervan

Because most 2-berth campervans are pretty small, the easiest option to utilise your space is to use a cassette toilet/portable toilet, rather than a fixed toilet. However, one of the recent additions to the Self-Containment Standard NZS 5465:2001 is that the toilet needs to be able to be used inside the campervan with the bed made up.

First, the toilet needs to be secure in the vehicle for minimal movement when the vehicle is in motion. The toilet then needs to be readily accessible for use within the campervan with plenty of head, legs and elbow room, even with the bed made up.

Remember, the toilet needs to have a capacity of 3L per person for three days, so that’s 6L minimum in a 2-berth campervan.©

Other Requirements for a Self-Contained Campervan

Two items not mentioned above, but are listed in the requirements needed to certify a self-contained vehicle, are the evacuation hose and the rubbish bin.

Evacuation Hose

In a small 2-berth van and by using the water tank methods that we suggest above, an evacuation hose is not required, as the water tanks are portable and can be emptied straight from the tank. However, the tanks still need to have the ability to be removed without spillage and the connecting hoses need to be stored in a sealable plastic bag, container or separate locker when disconnected from the tanks.

Rubbish Bin (with a Lid)

You don’t need to go too fancy with this one. Just a simple rubbish bin with a lid is all you need to meet the self-containment requirement. However, we suggest you secure your rubbish bin with cords or screw it onto a cupboard door, for example. Get creative if you have to.

Facilities for Cooking and Sleeping

Although not a listed requirement for a self-containment certificate, the Self-Containment Standard NZS 5465:2001 only allows motor caravans and caravans to be given the self-containment certification – not any other type of vehicle. In the Standard’s definition of a motor caravan or caravan, it states that a motor caravan is a “place of abode and has facilities for cooking, eating, sleeping and washing and is not a passenger vehicle”. By having some sort of cooking facilities, even if it’s just a gas cooker or portable hotplate, as well as a bed for sleeping, it shows that your van is a “place of abode” and not a passenger vehicle.

For more information on the definition of a motor caravan, see How to Get Your Campervan Certified Self-Contained.

How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan© Unsplash

Get a Free Car Insurance Quote + Our Exclusive Discount

A great New Zealand-based car insurance for travellers is the option below from Frogs-in-nz. They offer comprehensive insurance in partnership with Star insurance and have tailored their plans to backpackers’ needs. Your options include Comprehensive policy, Third Party Fire and Theft as well as Third Party Only. As a new option, you can now also add Roadside Assistance.

New Zealand Backpacker Car Insurance Discount Code:

Get a 5% discount by using the discount code: POCKETGUIDE in the “promo code” field. You’re welcome!

More About Self-Contained Campervans

That’s it for our guide on how to convert a van into a self-contained campervan. For more tips on living in a van or buying a campervan, check out some of our other awesome guides:

Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand: A Step by Step Guide.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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