Self-contained motorhome & caravan tips

By: Patrick Frick


Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment
Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment
Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment
Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment
Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment Motorhoming & caravanning tips: self-containment

SmartRV’s Patrick Frick answers some common questions around self-containment for motorhomes and caravans.

Having a certified self-contained vehicle makes it easier to help care for our clean, green environment. It also gives you the freedom to camp in many of New Zealand’s remote and beautiful destinations that might otherwise be off limits.

But what does self-contained actually mean?

Essentially, a self-contained vehicle is designed to supply drinking and cooking water, as well as contain wastewater and septic waste for a minimum of three days.

To be certified self-contained, the vehicle needs to meet the minimum standards of the New Zealand Standard for Self Containment of Motor Caravans and Caravans, NZS 5465:2001.

What are the requirements for being self-contained?

There are six key requirements which include:

  • a fresh water supply of 4L per person per day (i.e. minimum 12L per person)
  • a fitted sink via a smell trap which needs to empty to a sealed grey wastewater tank, so no water can spill on the ground
  • the toilet must have a net holding tank capacity of 3L per person
  • a holding tank of a minimum of 12L per person and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank
  • an evacuation hose of 3m for fitted tanks, or a hose that is long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank
  • a sealable refuse container (a standard rubbish bin with lid)

The latest update is that the toilet in the vehicle has to be practical. It has to be restrained when travelling and usable when parked, with enough head and elbow space even when the bed is made up.

What does becoming ‘certified’ self-contained involve?

To become certified, your vehicle will first need to meet the above requirements and the rest of the minimum standards. You’ll then need to have your vehicle inspected by a certifed self-containment officer. A list of certified officers can be found on the NZMCA website.

The officer will check your vehicle and fill out the required paperwork. Your certificate will then be sent by mail from the NZMCA and is valid for four years. The cost is $55 for non-NZMCA members and free if you are a member.

Once you receive your self-containment card, it needs to be clearly displayed and your blue self-containment sticker needs to be displayed.

Where can wastewater be disposed?

Wastewater can be disposed of at dump stations free of charge. These are designed to hygienically manage wastewater to protect public health and can be found at most camp sites.

The NZMCA website has a step-by-step guide on how to use dump stations. Remember that dumping waste anywhere other than a dump station is prohibited and will result in a fine or prosecution.

What sort of maintenance is required?

You’ll need to ensure your vehicle always complies with the standards and that you always display the self-containment card and sticker. If these are not on display, you could be fined when using a freedom camping spot or DOC website for certified self-contained vehicles only.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the breather pipes and ensure they’re not blocked and that the caps are tightly secured on the waste pipe outlet. You should also regularly check for any waste or fresh water leaks.

Remember, motorhome drain pipes are a lot smaller than those in your house, so don’t be tempted to flush food waste down the drains or they may block.

Any other tips?

Remember to only fill your fresh tanks with clean drinking water.

Fresh water filters should be replaced once every two years, or earlier depending on usage. Make sure you use drinking water/food grade fresh water hoses and keep your fresh water and wastewater hoses in separate containers.

It’s also recommended that you regularly use a water tank treatment to prevent bacteria from growing inside the waste tank.

About the author

Patrick Frick joined the team at SmartRV in 2010 after moving to New Zealand from Germany. Patrick did his apprenticeship at Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart and was trained at the Bürstner and Hymer factories. He has experience in working on all makes and models of motorhome and is a certified self-containment officer.

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