Our Self Contained Car

For over 12 weeks Richie and I have been travelling throughout New Zealand in our trusty car – Benny! When we first began shopping around for a self contained car we had no idea what to expect so this week I’m going to go all MTV Cribs on you and give you the grand tour of our home for the past three months!

Buying the Car

Buying the camper felt like looking for a place to live all over again – it took over our lives for about a month. Before we started looking we set out our budget (under $5000) and exactly what we were looking for. In our case we knew we wanted a self contained camper in order to save money in the long run by freedom camping. Once we had this figured out we started our search.

We found the car on one of the second hand car pages on Facebook (see this post here for more information). Facebook is the best way to find anything in New Zealand and cars are no exception. This made it easy to search for different prices, years, models and seller locations. We were happy to travel to view cars however ideally we would wanted to see if we could find any in Wellington.

We saw about five cars before Benny and some of them were pretty bad (of particular note is the one van that didn’t even start). My main advice when buying is to view a couple of cars because then you get a better idea of what you like/dislike. We liked Benny right away. It was built just how we wanted, had low enough mileage considering the year (1993), had just been serviced the week before we viewed it and drove really well in our test drive. The car also included all the pillows, duvets, table, chairs, cooking utensils and equipment in the price.

After talking it through ourselves we got into contact with the seller and offered her $4000 rather than the original $4700 she wanted. In the end we agreed on $4200 and we got Benny picked up and signed over to us within the week.

The Car Itself

Benny is a 1993 automatic Toyota Estima. It’s a 2.4L petrol engine which had 264,272 miles on it when we bought it. The car had two previous owners – a mechanic who converted it into a camper and the girl we bought it from. The car has had the back seats removed and a bed built into the back. In the boot a kitchen area has been built including water tanks and a pump action sink.

The Front Section

We generally keep the front of the car empty during the day while we driving. Here we usually leave one backpack which we use day-to-day when we’re out and about. We always have our portable speaker (invaluable item for long drives), a dual USB car charger and two power leads. In the driver’s door we keep all our hand sanitizer (essential if you’re freedom camping) and in the passenger door we store some notebooks, map and leaflets etc. The glovebox is our junk drawer – this has car manuals, fuel vouchers from New World, more leaflets and who knows what else! Between the seats there is a small cooler which has a sewing kit and some small travel games. Finally we also tend to keep a couple of bottles of drinking water up front at all times.

The Kitchen

In the boot a small kitchen area had been built including a counter top which holds a pump action sink. Underneath the counter there is a 25L fresh water tank connected to the sink, we predominantly use this for washing our dishes. By pumping the tap up and down we can get fresh water to pour into the sink. Also attached to the sink and beside the fresh water is a 25L grey water tank. All dirty water poured into the sink flows into this tank which can be easily and regularly emptied at local dump stations.

Before we left for the South Island Richie – being the handy man he is- built a fold down table onto the front of the counter. This made it so much easier to cook as now we can prop the gas barrel and stove on this rather than having to take our big table out to use every time.

Next to the counter section we store all our cooking utensils and food. We have a 65L storage box which holds all our plates, bowls, cutlery, frying pans, glasses etc. (all of which came with the car). We then bought a 25L cooler box which we use to store all our veg, cans and bottles. Next to that we keep a shopping bag which holds our dry food such as pasta and rice etc. Finally we also keep a 10L drum of drinking water. Behind all these boxes we prop up our folding table which helps separate the kitchen area and boxes from the bed.

Above the counter we have a pulley cord stretching from one side of the car to the other which we use to hang our wash cloths, tea towels, tin foil, toilet paper and kitchen paper.

The Living/ Sleeping Area

The back seats of the car have been removed and in their place a bed frame has been built. On top of this there is a thin mattress, bed sheet and a light duvet which we sleep on. We use another duvet and two blankets to sleep in during the night – mainly once the weather got colder. There are are blackout curtains hanging all around the inside of the bed area which can be pulled back at any time. The sun roof in the top is great for evening when it gets dark to let some extra light in. There is a shoe holder hung on the inside which we use to store our phones, portable charger, kindles etc. Along the ceiling we have hooks which we use to hang lanterns and torches off as well as two sets of fairy lights.  

One big advantage of this car was that the bed frame can be reconfigured into a table and bench. In rainy days we wanted to have the option to be able to sit inside the camper. In reality we only ended up having about four bad days of rain over 12 weeks and never needed to make it into a table but it was nice to have the option.

The Storage

One of our most asked questions is where do we keep all our stuff?! Under the bed we keep most of of things. Here we have 5 16L storage boxes. I have two for my clothes and Richie has two for his. We tend to keep one box each at the front which contains all our most used items of clothing and any extra jumpers etc. are stored in the back. The final box is kept in the back far corner and contains our misc car related things such as extra bottles of fly spray, a solar shower, washing line, my hair dryer and straightener etc. Generally any items we very rarely use are kept here out of the way. Finally under the bed at the back of the car we store our two-ring gas stove, a 4kg gas barrel and both of our camping chairs.

As well as our storage boxes we also keep some things in bags. These we keep on top of the bed during the day when we’re driving around and move into the front seats at night when we go to bed. Here we store the following:

  • A backpack which holds all our toiletries, medicine etc.
  • A shopping bag containing shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, fly spray, sunscreen, washing powder etc.
  • A shopping bag with both of our pairs of hiking boots
  • We have a blue basin we use to wash our dishes. We use this during the day to store any random items such as our rain jackets, extra bedding etc.
  • A shopping bag with extra bottles of water. We keep a couple of 500ml water bottles as well as three 1.5L bottles. Between these and our 10L bottle of drinking water in the back we generally have enough water to last us three days
  • A backpack with our cards, board games, notebooks, laptop, chargers and all extra plugs etc.
  • We also keep any clothes that need washing in a bin bag

We met some friends in Dunedin who were camping and when they opened their car there were boxes all over the back and they exclaimed “I swear its organised chaos”. After a couple of weeks in Benny and I knew exactly what they meant! To the untrained eye it seems messy, disorganised and chaotic however ask me for anything and I can tell you exactly where it is (except my headphones, I lose them 400 times a day and would be long gone if not for Richie). You have such limited space that after a few days you have no choice but to find a place for everything.

I really thought that after a month I would be so fed up living in the car but honestly the only thing I got tired of was not having an oven and eating the same dinners all the time. I loved being on the road and the freedom of being able to stay somewhere or move on as I pleased. If you’re even considering buying a car and doing a road trip then do not hesitate. Our time in the South Island (see post here) were some of the best times we ever had together!

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