When it comes to traveling in cold climates and heating your van conversion, you’re going to install a camper diesel heater. They are hands down the best choice.
But you also have two options. To either go with one of the more expensive premium brands such as Eberspacher or Webasto. Or to nab yourself one of the increasingly popular cheaper models as we did.
In this blog post we’re going to talk you through, not only why you should choose this method of campervan heating, but also lots of really useful tips on how to fit a diesel heater DIY in your van conversion.
Disclaimer: We’re not professional plumbers. All the skills we employed in converting our van are completely self taught. So, basically, if you follow what we did something goes wrong, that’s on you. Just saying.
How Does A Diesel Heater Work?
Diesel heaters are combustion burners that heat up coils which cold air is sucked over in order to heat it up. That hot air is then blown out and in turn heats up the surrounding air.
Whilst they run off diesel as the main fuel source, these diesel heaters for vans also need a 12V electrical supply to power the pump which injects the diesel into the burner.
Why Choose A Campervan Diesel Heater?
Compared with most other heating options, diesel heaters have both low fuel and low power consumption. There’s a power surge at start up, then a minimal 1amp per hour draw during use. And fuel wise they typically use less than 0.6 litres per hour of fuel.
They are incredibly efficient. And what’s more, this is no different for the budget models.
Premium V Cheap Diesel Heater
Just to clarify here in terms of the price difference, we’re talking about several hundred pound. Well that’s a no brainer then you might think – just get the cheapest! Well there are a few other things you need to consider.
- Heat Output
How big the space you are intending to heat will dictate whether you should opt for a 2KW or 5KW diesel heater. We have a 5KW heater in our LWB Sprinter, but if you have a smaller van 2KW would be adequate.
You need to decide whether or not you will plumb the camper diesel heater into your vehicle fuel tank. As already mentioned, we have a separate fuel container in our garage area.
We really didn’t fancy messing around with the van fuel tank and didn’t want the additional cost of paying someone to do it.
- Altitude Use
If you are planning on spending time in winter at high altitude, say skiing for example, do be aware that the cheaper models of diesel heaters don’t work so well over 3000m. So you may want to consider a premium version that does.
Premium diesel heater models will generally last longer, and of course come with a warranty. Although you may need to have it fitted by a qualified person to be valid, so do check.
Budget models have cheaper parts, so are likely to fail over time. We just figured even if we had to replace it or parts of it after a year or two the cost saving was worth it.
The pump on the cheaper versions makes a constant clicking noise that some people find annoying. Ours is in our garage area and underneath our mattress so we don’t really notice it, it just blends into the background.
Cheap Camper Diesel Heater
The model that we installed in our van conversion is the Triclicks 12V 5KW Air Diesel Heater with 10L tank. It cost just over £100 and arrived within a week. It’s in use everyday over winter and is on its second season without any issues.
It’s extremely efficient and heats our van space up in around 10 minutes. Plus the remote control that it comes with means we can put it on before we even get out of bed.
There are, however, a few annoyances, at the install stage that you should be aware of.
Campervan Heater Instructions
They’re crap. And by crap I mean virtually unreadable. There’s just so many spelling mistakes and missing words or punctuation. This is a complaint we saw in the reviews of all of the cheaper 12v diesel air heaters.
However, going straight onto the next point…
Diesel Heater Installation
Our camper van heater was relatively straightforward to the install. Well, once we’d got all the extra parts we needed – we’ll come onto that next. And although there are plenty of different parts, once you start putting them together you’ll see they only really fit together one way.
The electrics literally can’t fit together any other way because each connection is a different size/shape.
But there are a few common things that people often get wrong when it comes to the diesel air heater install. Specifically the positions of the exhaust/inlet pipes and the fuel pump.
Tips For Fitting A Diesel Heater
- The exhaust and air inlet pipes need to be pointed in different directions underneath the van. This is so that exhaust fumes aren’t just being sucked up through the air inlet. We couldn’t do this with ours as it is located below our sliding door, but ideally the exhaust should also point out from underneath the van so fumes don’t collect.
- To prevent build up on it, the filter on the air inlet should also not be facing towards the direction of travel.
- On the exhaust muffler there’s a small drain point, make sure that is facing downward so that it can do its job.
- You should also try to ensure that there isn’t a low point in the exhaust pipe. That it is gradually sloping downwards. This is so that water condensation doesn’t build up and cause rust.
- In order to be running efficiently, the fuel pump needs to be sat at a slight angle of between 15-30 degrees. This is to allow air bubbles to escape.
- Be sure that the filter is also attached the right way around, so that the fuel is going into the mesh basket and not the other way around.
- Make sure you have adequate airflow around the internal air inlet side of the van heater.
Watch us fitting our campervan diesel heater here:
DIY Diesel Heater Extra Parts
As already mentioned there’s a few extra parts that we would recommend buying before starting your DIY diesel heater installation.
First up a mounting turret. There is a mounting plate included in the camper diesel heater kit, but it is just a flat plate with several holes in it. So if you use this you’ll have to figure out how to seal whatever flooring layers you have. And also make sure you drill all the holes in the correct place.
Using a mounting turret is way easier.
Next we’d recommend picking up some better quality jubilee clips. The jubilee clips that came with our camper diesel heater kit weren’t great. We just couldn’t get them to grip properly. So we got some heavier duty ones.
Another diesel heater install tip for getting a proper seal between the exhaust parts we recommend is to use an exhaust putty sealant.
Extra Fuel Pipe
We also bought some extra fuel pipe that was a slightly larger diameter than the enclosed fuel pipe. This was to protect the fuel pipe as it feeds back up into the van to the diesel tank and pump etc.
Smaller Fuel Tank
We didn’t need to do this, but know that if the fuel tank that comes with the indoor diesel heater kit doesn’t fit the space you want it too, you can purchase a smaller, better shaped one.
The most important extra to buy when installing an air diesel heater in your van build is a carbon monoxide alarm.
If you have no idea what carbon monoxide is, it’s an odourless, deadly gas caused by inefficient fuel burning. You won’t know it’s there unless you have an alarm fitted.
You only typically need one, but we have one in both our living area and garage. It’s just an extra precaution because as previously mentioned, we couldn’t place the exhaust facing out from underneath the van.
Van Heater Operation
Just a few things worth noting about our camper diesel heater whilst in operation.
The first time that you use your van heater make sure that you properly prime it with diesel otherwise you will damage it. It’s very unlikely you’ll be able to decipher how to do this from the instructions, but there’s plenty of YouTube videos explaining how.
And you’ll see the diesel moving through the pump and fuel pipe so you’ll know it’s making its way into the boiler.
Unless your diesel air heater installation is the very last thing you do in your van build, like us you’ll likely still be turning the electrics off and on to work on them. If you’ve had your camper diesel heater on, make sure you don’t do that until it’s completely cooled.
Basically when you turn the diesel air heater off it goes through a circle of burning at a higher temperature to clean itself, then goes through a series of cooling stages. If you disconnect the electricity while it’s doing this you will damage it.
If you’re putting the control display inside a cupboard like we have, just bear in mind that is where your thermostat will also be. So it will be colder than the actual living space. We thought about putting it in a different place, but it is quite ugly, so not entirely sure where.
And we always use the handy remote control to turn it on/off and up/down.
Campervan Heater Running Costs
Our power is generated from our solar panels or B2B charger, so we don’t have any electricity running costs. You can read all about our electrical setup here.
Fuel wise, we use between 5-7 litres of diesel per week at the peak of winter. In money here in the UK, that’s around £6-8 GBP. Which I don’t think is too bad to say we had it on most of the day some days.
Top tip: We keep our 5L jerry can full up in winter so we don’t run out of fuel either.
Are Campervan Diesel Heaters Safe?
Correctly installed, diesel heaters are very safe and you can run them overnight no bother. All waste fumes pump to the outside of your van. Plus diesel fuel is harder to ignite than petrol.
So just to recap the pros and cons of cheap diesel heaters. They are cost effective, both to buy and run and very efficient at heating up campervans. But on the downside they aren’t so easy to install and the noise from the pump can be annoying.
If you’ve found this review helpful and decided to take the plunge and nab yourself the same van heater, our diesel tank will do a happy dance if you buy it through one of our links.
Finally, if you have any questions about our campervan diesel heater hit us up in the comments and we’ll do our best to help.
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Yorkshire born & bred, Sarah is a professional blogger who loves to travel. Pushing her boundaries with new adventures is her jam, so you likely won’t find her in one place for too long. Also a serious Marmite addict.
Thanks for this very helpfull and well-written blogpost!
We ordered a 2KW version and will be installing it soon.
Great tips about the installing and operation of the heater.
Glad you found it helpful Matthias, hope the installation went well. Happy travels!
Hi there, we’re considering getting one of these diesel heaters but have been put off by people saying they drain the battery.
We’re full-time, almost always off-grid and tend to park up in the same spot for up to a week so not much opportunity to recharge by driving around. At the moment, a fully-charged leisure battery lasts us up to 10 days. Is a diesel heater a terrible idea under these circumstances?
At the moment we’re using Calor gas that works out about £2 a day spread across the whole year but obviously negligible cost in summer and very expensive in the winter!
We don’t have an issue with it draining our batteries. However, the amp draw was something that I calculated for when I designed our electrical system, so it’s hard to say how it would be for you.
My advice would be to take the amp draw from the specific model you are thinking of getting, (it should say in the product specifications for both start up and running amps) & calculate how it would affect your specific electrical setup.
You’ll find all the details for how I sized our electrical system in this blog post if that helps: https://thewholeworldornothing.com/diy-camper-electrical-system/
The only other thing I would say is that the diesel heater we have is very efficient so we don’t tend to have it on for very long as it heats the space up quickly & then our insulation keeps the heat in pretty well.
Hope that all helps with your decision 🙂
Thanks so much for getting back to me about this! I’ll keep you posted about how we get on. Don’t know what the weather’s been like for you but it feels like autumn already here and it’s only August…
What are your thoughts on splitting the ducting from the heater to come out of two separate vents? I’m getting a similar heater for my skoolie and want to spread around the hot air. Thanks!
Hi John! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them with two vents & it’s something we actually considered ourselves in order to put some heat into the garage. So yeah you could definitely do that. Especially with a 5KW heater.
We have installed this system in our static caravan, it has never worked since installation, we have been back to the company we purchased it from, also purchased a new control panel as we constantly get E4 fault, but cant find out what this means.
Oh no! How rubbish. We don’t know what the E4 fault means either but there are a number of Facebook groups for these diesel heaters that might be of more use. Sorry we can’t be of more help.
Hi , I have one of these, I have just bought the van but no user instructions.Would you be able to have any by chance ?
Many thanks in advance
Hi Tim, sorry we don’t I’m afraid, they were so rubbish we must have just chucked them. You should be able to find pretty much everything you need to know about the control settings etc from a YouTube search though – that’s what we used rather than the manual. Good luck!
Well done for providing the very best information about installing diesel heaters that I’ve found. Two questions: if I go for this type of heater with its own small tank, how far from the heater can the tank be and does it need to be located at a higher level for gravity to deliver the diesel to the burner? Thanks, Rick
Hi Rick, so glad you’ve found the info helpful! It doesn’t need to be at a higher level no – the pump will take care of that. Distance wise, ours is probably only a metre away, but I think up to a few metres should be okay as lots of people run the fuel pipe into their vehicle tanks using the same pump. Hope that helps!
If you’ve a transit mk8 it’s worth plumbing the heater into the main fuel tank. I did it (without a jack to lower the tank) and it was one of the easiest jobs I’ve done. Just get the eberspacher fuel sender kit.
Ah nice! That’s really helpful to know.