Diesel heaters are becoming increasingly popular for van conversions, and for good reason. These heaters offer an efficient and cost-effective way to keep your van warm and comfortable, even in the coldest weather conditions.
In this article, I will take an in-depth look at diesel heaters for vans, including how they work, their benefits and disadvantages, things to consider when choosing one, and compare the 7 best diesel heaters for van life.
What is a Diesel Heater for a Van?
A diesel heater for a van is a heating system that runs on diesel fuel and is designed to keep the interior of your van warm and comfortable. These heaters are small and can easily be installed in a van, making them a pretty popular choice for van conversions.
How Does a Diesel Heater Work?
Diesel heaters work by using a small amount of diesel fuel to heat up a heat exchanger. Then the heat exchanger warms up the air that is blown into the van’s interior through a series of ducts or vents.
Some diesel heaters also come with a thermostat, allowing you to control the temperature inside your van.
The fuel for diesel heaters is typically stored in a small tank that is installed inside the van. This tank can be refilled as needed, and the heater’s fuel consumption is usually quite low, making it an efficient choice for heating your van.
Diesel engine van’s can tap directly into the vehicle’s fuel tank instead of carrying an additional interior tank. Most newer vehicles come equipped with an ancillary hookup which makes this installation simple.
Benefits of a Diesel Heater for a Van
There are several benefits to using a diesel heater for your van, including:
Typically, diesel heaters are more cost-effective than other types of heating systems. They use less fuel and are efficient at heating up small spaces like a van.
Easy to Install
Diesel heaters are easy to install in a van. Most models come with all the necessary components and instructions, and can be installed with basic tools.
The exception to this is the Chinese diesel heater, which typically comes with incredibly confusing printed instructions. The beauty of YouTube is that there are many great instructional videos which greatly help with this install (speaking from experience!).
Diesel heaters are small and compact, making them ideal for use in a van. They take up very little space and can be installed in a variety of locations.
I installed my chinese diesel heater under the passenger seat of my Ford Transit.
Diesel heaters require very little maintenance. They don’t have any moving parts, so there’s no need for regular lubrication or repairs.
Tip: Let your diesel heater complete its shut-down cycle and occasionally run your heater on the highest setting for 30-minutes to an hour. This helps burn off carbon build up which will cause you problems down the line.
Safe to Use
Diesel heaters are designed to be safe to use in a van. They have built-in safety features that prevent them from overheating or causing a fire.
However, I don’t trust anything with a heating element. Things happen! For that reason I never run my heater if I’m not in the vehicle to monitor it.
Disadvantages of Diesel Heaters
While diesel heaters offer many advantages for van conversions, there are also some potential disadvantages that should be considered. These include:
Diesel fuel is not as widely available as gasoline, so finding fuel for your heater may be more difficult in some areas.
Diesel heaters can be more expensive to purchase and install than other heating options. Most brand name options cost over $1,000. (Chinese diesel heaters typically cost less than $150)
While many diesel heaters are designed to operate quietly, some models can be noisy, which can be a problem if you’re trying to sleep or work in your van.
In particular, the fuel pump can create a ticking noise when it’s on which can be extremely annoying, especially at night.
Like any heating system, diesel heaters require maintenance and upkeep. This can include cleaning, replacing filters, and servicing the fuel system.
The easiest way to decrease the amount of maintenance required is to allow the diesel heater to shut down on its own, without forcing it to power off immediately. During the shutdown phase the burner cleans itself so less soot builds up.
Diesel heaters are known for having issues at altitude where oxygen levels drop and throw off the oxygen to fuel ratio. Some of the higher end models (Espar and Webasto) are able to accommodate for altitude, or offer ancillary kits you can add onto your system.
Diesel heaters can produce exhaust fumes that can be harmful if not properly ventilated. Make sure to install your heater in a safe location and follow all safety guidelines to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning or other safety hazards.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in your van. Carbon monoxide is undetectable to humans and can kill you.
When installing your diesel heater run the exhaust line away from any windows or doors where fumes could come back into your van. It’s also important to run the exhaust line towards the outside of the van because fumes that build up under the van body can find their way back into the vehicle and make you sick.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Diesel Heater for Your Van
If you’re considering a diesel heater for your van, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a model. These include:
Diesel heaters come in a range of sizes, so it’s important to choose one that is appropriate for the size of your van. A heater that is too small may not be able to keep your van warm enough, while a heater that is too large may be wasteful and inefficient.
Most van conversions use a 2kW or 5kW diesel heater. Additionally, diesel heaters are available in 8kW – 8kW is way too much heat for the size of a van, so don’t overpay for more than you need.
If you have a smaller van you can get away with a 2kW, especially if it’s installed near your bed or living space.
An additional note on size: The higher heat setting your diesel heater runs on the less carbon build-up it will have. If you oversize and run your heater on a lower setting you’ll have more frequent maintenance.
If you think you’re in between sizes, consider sizing up. You can always open your vent fan. If you’ll be in super cold climates the 5kW will do a better job of heating your van than the 2kW can.
I have a 170” extended wheelbase Ford Transit. It’s about 21 feet long. My bed is in the back and my diesel heater is installed under the front passenger seat. The amount of heat is perfect for sleeping at night and working during the day. If I were to build again, I’d buy a 2kW heater and install it mid-ship. The goal is to get a heater you can run on full blast (to prevent carbon build up) without roasting yourself.
Some diesel heaters can be quite noisy, which can be a concern if you’re trying to sleep in your van. Look for a model that is designed to be quiet.
Consider the installation process for the diesel heater you’re purchasing. If you’re more comfortable with clear and specific instructions, look for a model that is well reviewed for installation instructions (ie, don’t get a chinese diesel heater) and all the necessary components for an easy installation.
If you’re up for a challenge and can confidently navigate YouTube University then you’ll be just fine with a Chinese diesel heater. There are also some great Diesel Heater Facebook Groups you can join for troubleshooting and other questions.
Look for a diesel heater that has built-in safety features, such as automatic shut-off if the heater overheats.
7 Best Diesel Heaters for Vans
There are many diesel heaters on the market, but here are seven of the best options for van conversions:
Webasto Air Top 2000 STC Diesel Heater
This compact diesel heater is easy to install and has a low fuel consumption. It can heat up a van quickly and comes with a built-in thermostat for temperature control and safety features, such as overheat protection.
Heat output: 6,800 BTU / 2.0 kW
Webasto Air Top Evo 40 Diesel Heater
Webasto’s Evo 40 diesel heater is able to run at high altitudes up to 7,200 feet with an automatic altitude adjustment. Additional features include the SmarTemp digital controller which has an integrated remote temperature sensor and Bluetooth control.
Heat output: 13,650 BTU / 4 kW
The Planar 2D is a compact and efficient diesel heater that is designed for small spaces like a van. It has a low fuel consumption and can heat up a van quickly, making it a great choice for colder climates. Features include automatic adjustments for operation at high altitude, a digital control panel for easy temperature control and safety features, such as a high-temperature safety switch.
Heat output: 7000 BTU / 2.2 kW
Planar 44D is the larger version of Planar 2D, the difference being the heat output. This diesel heater works at high altitudes (up to 8,500 feet above sea level).
Heat output: 13,600 BTU / 4 kW
Eberspacher / Espar Airtronic S2 (Previously Named D2L)
The Espar Airtronic S2 is another popular diesel heater for vans. It has a quiet operation and comes with a built-in thermostat for temperature control. Additionally, it includes safety features, such as automatic shut-off in case of overheating. An optional high altitude kit allows operation beyond 10,000 feet above sea level. All Eberspacher diesel heaters are manufactured in Germany, which makes getting parts and maintaining them easy.
Heat output: 7,500 BTU / 2.2 kW
Eberspacher / Espar Airtronic M2 (Previously Named D4L)
Similar to the S2 model, the Espar Airtronic M2 is a great diesel heater for van life. Ultimately, the difference between the S2 and M2 models is heat output. M2 is a more powerful heater which is better for larger spaces.
Heat output: 13,650 BTU / 4kW
Vevor Diesel Heater 5kW (Chinese Diesel Heater)
Chinese diesel heaters have become popular in recent years due to their low cost and ease of installation. While the quality and reliability of these heaters can vary, many van lifers have had success with models like Vevor (myself included).
Given that Chinese 12v diesel heaters are a fraction of the price of the name brands, it’s possible to wear through a few and still come out ahead financially.
Installation of a Diesel Heater in Your Van
Installing a diesel heater can be time consuming, but it’s not super complicated. The biggest variables in installation time depend on where you install the diesel heater in your van. Try to avoid installing in a location that has a lot of vehicle components to work around.
Here are some general steps to follow for installation:
- Choose a location for the diesel heater in your van. It should be a well-ventilated area, away from any flammable materials. Make sure there is nothing under the van floor that would interfere with the ventilation hoses.
- Mount the diesel heater securely using the provided brackets and screws. This will involve drilling a hole through your floor so the heater’s combustion process can happen outside to prevent toxic fumes from entering your van.
- Connect the fuel tank to the heater using the provided fuel line. If you have a diesel van you can connect to the vehicle tank, otherwise use a secondary tank you can easily access to refill.
- Install the ducting and vents to distribute the warm air throughout your van. Be sure that vents are positioned towards the living space and they’re not blocked by anything with low heat tolerance. The air exiting the heater can be ~100℉ and may melt soft plastic.
- Connect the power supply to the heater, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to fuse appropriately.
- Test the heater to make sure it’s working properly and adjust any settings as needed. This will also burn off any weird plastic smells common with new equipment.
Conclusion – Diesel Heaters for Campervans
If you plan to be in cooler temperatures you’ll definitely need a diesel heater. I spent my first season without a heater and quickly realized it was a requirement for me.
A diesel heater for your van is an efficient and cost-effective way to keep your van warm and comfortable, even in the coldest weather conditions. When choosing a diesel heater, consider factors such as size, noise level, installation, and safety features. With the right diesel heater and proper installation, you can enjoy a warm and cozy van life no matter where your adventures take you.
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Written by Claire Fleming
I’m a travel enthusiast who spends half the year in my self-built camper van with my dog, Oscar, and the other half at my home in Raleigh, North Carolina or on international adventures.