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diesel heaters
usertony downes
Posted: 17 January 2005 7:50 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Has anyone any experience of using,fitting, buying a diesel heater for their motorhome.
Trying to find out if they are effective, can be used when travelling, are safe, easy to fit,very expensive etc etc.

Anyone that can give any advice would make an old man very happy

Posted: 17 January 2005 8:59 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Hi Tony

We have had a Eberspacher for 4 years
1 It gives hot water while travelling
2 The heater & blower can be turned on when travelling (not so with gas) if the temp is too low for the van heater to cope
3 It has blown air to accomodaiton & a cab boost
4 Hot water tank has an immersion heater for use on hook up
5 Can pre heat engine
6 Can defrost windscreen
7 Can be timer switched or manual

Dont know about fittinng as ours came factory fitted
Many good truck service centers are licensed to fit them
Fitting entails taking a deisel line and water pipes from the engine
plus electrical work and some pipework for the hot air outlets and inlet air

We have found it relatively cheap to use & quick to warm up - Engine is preheated by the time you have had a cup of tea and a wedge at temps of about -15C
Posted: 17 January 2005 11:25 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

If I were specifying a new van it would probably have a Eberspacher combined water and space heater.
BUT you need to be aware of two disadvantages :-

1) They always have fan assistance, its a necessary part of the mechanism so they will be a bit noisier than a Carver or Truma gas heater running barefoot.

2) They consume a fair amount of amps from your lesiure battery, so you will need a big one or two. Say 200 ampere hours min. (Basic gas heater running barefoot takes no amps at all.) If you do a lot of wild camping then you will need some good method to keep your battery charged, solar panels, wing generator, generator set. (If on site with mains hookup use electric heating anyway!)

Given these caviats the convienience of using the engine to heat your water during your journey then using diesel to power the heater makes running costs lower than bottled gas.

Lots to think about!
Good luck
userDerek Uzzell
Posted: 19 January 2005 6:49 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

The 2 main benefits of diesel-fuelled heating systems in motorhomes are that, unlike their LPG-fuelled counterparts, they are legally usable 'while driving' in all European countries, and that reliance is reduced on the vehicle's (potentially) limited LPG reserves. Anyway, that's what diesel-heater salesmen tell me...

There are a number of manufacturers of such heaters - Ardic, Toyoset (advert pg 98, MMM 01/2005), Eberspacher and Webasto are just some - but the last 2 companies are the main players in the UK, with both offering systems that will heat air-only or water + air. Until recently the latter system (of the type PeteC describes) has been complicated to install, but Eberspacher has now introduced the water + air "Combitronic Compact" combination-heater that can be mounted below (or between) the floor(s). This also has a 230V capability - a first for diesel-heaters I believe. (I think Webasto may have something similar waiting in the wings.) There's plenty of useful info on and

As Clive says, all these heaters use fans to distribute warmed air, either directly from the heater or via water-filled heat exchanger matrices. With air-only heaters, fan-noise within the motorhome will be much reduced when the heater can be mounted outside the vehicle's living-area. External mounting can also save valuable interior space. Ease of installation (see Eberspacher article commencing pg 21 MMM 05/2004) and equipment cost will depend on the particular motorhome and the particular heating system chosen - exactly the same as when fitting a gas heating system. With a basic air-only installation the trickiest tasks are likely to be connecting to the vehicle's fuel tank and arranging exhaust- and air-ducting, but, again, this is little different conceptually from installing a blown-air LPG heater.

When I was considering buying a Chausson with a Webasto diesel heater I found the latter company extremely helpful. In fact, they e-mailed me installation and operating instructions that indicated that DIY fitting would not be unduly difficult. The instructions also suggested that Chausson's installation conflicted with certain Webasto's recommendations and I later noticed changes in this respect had been made to 2005 model-year Chaussons. (Nothing new there - if one wishes to be picky, few motorhome heating systems (gas or otherwise) are installed exactly as the heater manufacturer would wish.)

I suppose it could be claimed that, as diesel lacks LPG's explosive tendencies, diesel-fuelled heaters are potentially 'safer' than gas-fuelled equivalents. However, safety isn't really an issue with any modern motorhome heater (diesel or LPG) as the equipment will have been designed to be safe and, if competently installed and operated, should be.

I echo Clive's advice - adequate battery capacity is a must, not just to run the fans but, more notably, to fire-up the heater itself. I understand that most diesel-heaters require much the same hefty 'jolt' of electrical power to ignite the fuel, after which current drain will depend on heater type/system, outside temperature, vehicle insulation and usage. I'm told that (as a general rule) water + air systems are harder on batteries than air-only heaters. Chausson uses a single 92A/h leisure-battery on models with air-only Webasto Air-Top heaters, whereas a pair of 92A/h batteries is standard fit for models with Thermo-Top water + air systems. But, essentially, the more battery capacity the better. The very latest heaters should be less battery-hungry as the high current-demand characteristic (particularly on start-up) is well recognised.

My own first choice of heating system would be the type Clive mentions - a traditional straightforward gas-fire + 'when you want it' blown-air fan and a separate gas boiler (both heaters with 230V capability). Next system in line would comprise an externally fitted (and acoustically insulated) diesel-fuelled air-heater and a gas/230V water boiler. That way, you get some space-saving benefits, have legal and effective travel heating, aren't dependent on a single unit to heat both air and water, and aren't reliant on LPG alone. Trailing well behind would be a combination air/water heater (LPG or diesel fuelled). However, my recent decision to buy a motorhome with a LPG-only Truma Combi heater (though the vehicle will have a living-area 'en route' heat exchanger) proves you can't always have what you want - either that or age has damaged my Rational Gene. On reflection, perhaps both!
Posted: 19 January 2005 11:27 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

But being as Clive isn't specifying a new van and has exactly what Derek would have as first choice already in place Clive is now looking at the new and certificated 40 litre LPG tanks for sale at £45.00 each on EBAY. No fittings though. 315mm dia X 600mm long. Will it fit underneath?
Decisions decisions!
usertony downes
Posted: 20 January 2005 2:17 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Thank you all for your replies and with such a wealth of information. One of the critical factors for me is that the unit can be used on the move as I am fed up with having a portable ice box in all but the height of summer.
My understanding is that the gas fire as fitted cannot be used on the move as it is unsafe. Does the same apply to all gas heaters?
Mine is an Autotrail Mohican and although a big improvement on my last one(Elddis Voyager) it is still cold for any non cab passengers and I want to rectify this. I also want to be able to use the van all year round.
userDerek Uzzell
Posted: 20 January 2005 7:07 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Perceived wisdom is that you switch off your motorhome's gas supply at the bottle (or tank) before driving the vehicle. Certain heaters (usually with fan-assisted flues) will have been designed to be operable in a moving vehicle (Truma C- and E-series and Alde's Compact 3000 are examples). However, in some Euro countries (France and Denmark, when I last checked some years back) it is actually illegal to have any gas appliance (fridge, oven, heater, etc.) lit while a vehicle is in motion. Legal or not, safe or not, it's bad practice in my opinion.

On the subject of gas-tanks, Clive, being a Wise Old Owl when it comes to technical matters, will be aware that there are tanks intended to hold LPG as fuel for vehicles' motors and others suitable for supplying the 'domestic' appliances (fridge, cooker, heater, etc.) found in motorhomes. In the former case the LPG is fed to the motor in liquid form: in the latter, the LPG must reach the appliance-burners in vapour form only. To avoid accidents, these contrasting requirements make it essential that the correct type of tank be fitted to a motorhome. Also, that it be fitted properly.

And accidents do happen. I recall discussing Truma Combi heater reliability with a motorhome dealer. This appliance is no favourite of mine (having had trouble with my last one) and I knew the Combi in the dealer's own 'van had developed a fault he had been unable to fix. He mentioned a motorcaravanner who had bought a new motorhome abroad that had been fitted with an LPG tank as part of the purchase. The chap had arrived at his dealership with an inoperative Combi heater, saying he had switched the thing on, there was a bang and now it didn't work. A cursory check revealed that the heater's flue-outlet had been blown loose from the vehicle's side-wall and the flue itself (within the motorhome) had been badly mangled. As the heater was completely 'dead', it was reasonable to assume it had been seriously damaged internally too. Suspecting that liquid LPG had reached the heater (and thinking that the tank installation looked rough and ready), the dealer directed the motorcaravanner to the nearest motorhome gas specialist. The latter pronounced the tank installation very badly executed and decidedly unsafe. The motorhome was converted back to gas-bottles and the heater isolated to allow the owner to continue touring. I later learned that the broken heater was subsequently replaced under warranty, so the motorhome owner turned out to be twice lucky.
Posted: 21 January 2005 4:01 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Wize old Owl here!! (Thanks Derek)

Ours is an Autotrail Scout "R" reg on a Sprinter 312. The vehicle heater has a MASSIVE output. Even on our visit to Shepton Mallet could we only have the temp control just cracked open. Open it all the way and it bakes four face, feet, and prety well everything. After 2 minutes my eyes are totally dried out. So we run it low and comfortable. I have contemplated ducting some of this hot air to the rear of the van as there is plenty of it. So far its never been necessary.
Different base vehicles may have different heater outputs.
At work we fitted Eberspatcher heaters to our electric industrial tractors (seen around most airports towing luggage) and they were fueled from a 1 gallon derv tank. Our Engine powered fork lift trucks were either derv or LPG with external vapourisers and bottles that provided the gas in liquid form (ie from the bottom of the bottle.

I haven,t put in any bid for any tanks yet as one needs to have a fuller picture of the cost of the rest of the kit.
But Gas instalations must be done right.
Good luck

Posted: 21 January 2005 9:04 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Last time I asked an Eberspacher cost £1000.

A fee of £2 per night is pretty standard for hookups.

You can buy a 2kw (more than ample) 220v fan heater from any electrical shop for a tenner.

Why not do that - the remaining £990 will pay for you to spend 495 nights with a hookup!
userDerek Uzzell
Posted: 22 January 2005 8:33 AM
Subject: diesel heaters

Prices in a 2004 French accessory brochure suggest that Eberspacher Airtronic air-only heaters will cost from about £800 to £1650 depending on type (inside or external fitting) and output. A Hydronic water-boiler should cost about £700.

It needs saying though that these figures exclude installation costs, air ducting and (if you want hot-water storage and air-heating with Hydronic) calorifier, heat-exchangers, ducting etc. Webasto and Eberspacher normally exhibit at the NEC Show and have offered special deals in the past.

Clive's comment about cab-heater output is interesting. (By the way, Clive, I vacillated between "Wise Old Owl", "Wise Virgin" or "Wise Monkey"!) Fiat heaters still seem to be under-powered compared with other makes. When I was inspecting a Ford-based motorhome (at Newark) that came with a living-area heater as standard, I mentioned to the Brownhills salesman that this system seemed unnecessary on a 2-person vehicle. "You wouldn't say that if you bought a Fiat-based one", he replied.
Posted: 22 January 2005 11:35 AM
Subject: diesel heaters

Thanks again for all the information but some of you are missing the point as I am looking for heat ON THE MOVE not on site.The vehicle is a Fiat Ducato and with all the compulsory drafts that are built in the rear passengers are in an ice box other than in the middle of summer. Even with most of the compulsory drafts blocked off the cab heater just about manages to warm the 2 front passengers. The manufacturers of motorhomes should be overcomming this so that their products are able to be used year round.
userDerek Uzzell
Posted: 24 January 2005 7:30 AM
Subject: diesel heaters

Tony: The absence of dedicated motorhome 'on the move' living-area heating (even as an option) tends to be peculiar to UK-built vehicles.

Because use of gas appliances in moving vehicles is banned in France, an extension of the motorhome's cab-heating is normally employed to heat the living-area. French motorcaravanners expect such a system - they expect all passengers in the vehicle to travel in comfort whatever the weather. However, diesel-fuelled heaters are becoming more common there due to their greater effectiveness and the fact that they can replace the gas heating appliances.

I'm afraid the only way UK manufacturers will change their ways is by potential buyers recognising the limitations of cab-heaters for rear-passenger-carrying motorhomes and voting with their feet.
Posted: 24 January 2005 9:39 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

great to have hot water at the end of your journey.Have you meal and wash up straight away shower etc.Great when parked up during winter just set the timer and it keeps the van water leak free.
Posted: 25 January 2005 10:42 AM
Subject: diesel heaters

Some points since I first posted on this thread:

Bob: I agree it’s “great to have hot water at the end of your journey”. My 15-year-old Auto-Trail achieves this with what I think is called a constant-flow gas heater. (One of those jobs where the flow of water turns on the gas and the water pipe passes through the resulting flame.) . When I arrive on site I simply turn on the gas, light the pilot – and shower. Just as effective as an Eberspacher, and far cheaper.

Derek: I was interested in your comment that “in France, an extension of the motorhome's cab-heating is normally employed to heat the living-area”. How difficult is it to do that? And how much does it cost? Doesn’t sound as though it would be very much.

Tony: Much as I sympathise with your “compulsory drafts “, you were the one who bought a Ducato!! You’ll know better next time – if your 5th gear lasts long enough to take you somewhere you can trade it in....

Seriously, I have seen advertised - for about £20 - a heater which plugs into the cigarette lighter, and is claimed to get the vehicle’s interior warm before the engine has warmed up enough to drive the conventional heater. Obviously if you used one of these while stationery you would flatten the battery in short order, but presumably if you used it on the move it would be OK.
Posted: 25 January 2005 1:47 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

these plug in heaters are rated about 150 watts.Great for assisting a small car to heat up but about as much use as a "chocolate fireguard" for a motorhome.
The extension Derek is talking about, I think, is where an extension is taken of the vehicle heating and looped through a matrix in the the caravan area. With the age of your vehicle it would not affect any warranty and is a relatively straightforward job for an "old-fashioned" motor engineer. The necessary parts can be purchased from a scrapyard so it need not be as expensive as an Eberspacher.
I specific instructions are required I am sure that somebody on the forum could oblige.
Good luck
userDerek Uzzell
Posted: 26 January 2005 7:51 AM
Subject: diesel heaters

Bill: the living-area heating system I mentioned is exactly as Docted describes. Hoses/pipes are run from the engine's cooling system into the living-area where they connect to a heat-exchanger matrix equipped with a 12V fan-blower.

Ease of retro-fitting would depend on who attempts it - installing the pipework is likely to be the trickiest bit. Cost would depend on whether you use purpose-designed parts or scrapyard bits. Caravan Accessories (CAK)Ltd can supply various blown-air matrices and 2002 prices were from £130 to £230 depending on model. But, as Docted says, a scrap car-heater would do the job (though it would look less pretty).

If you intend to visit the NEC show, have a look at a variety of Continental 'vans. Firms like Laika, Chausson, Pilote, etc. fit these heaters to most of their motorhomes.
Posted: 27 January 2005 9:50 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

Yes, we also had a flash boiler in our earlier home brew motorhome (converted coach). Once the pilot was lit the flow of water caused the gas to turn on (with a pop and a whoosh). Super simple and no seperate hot water tank required. BUT no electric hook up heating either BUT we did carry a LARGE gas cylinder in the boot that lasted more than a year so that didn,t matter.
userColin T
Posted: 19 February 2005 4:38 PM
Subject: diesel heaters

I put an old bus heater, the type from under the seat, on our Kon-tiki, ran from the pipe that feeds the heater matrix for van to take most of the heat to the rear as I was useually to hot. Got the hose from halfords and the plastic hose connecters from B&Q for washing machine. The fan in the heater ran from liesure battery. Worked well.
If you do this make sure the heater you buy is a 12v one, ofton off mini bus, as a lot "off the buses" may be 24v
Good luck
Colin T
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