With the dreaded winter season fast approaching, many campers are faced with the prospect of freezing or near-freezing temperatures in their vans. Without a way to keep temperatures warm and comfortable, campervans can become almost inhospitable.
Fortunately, this is a well-known issue, and there are fixes available on the market. For example, take diesel heaters. These nifty little devices were made with vans in mind and are designed specifically to help make the winter more bearable.
- Types of Chinese Diesel Heaters
- How to use a Chinese Diesel Heater
- Chinese Diesel Heaters – A Few Common Pitfalls
- Recommended Chinese Diesel Heaters
With very little fuel and electricity consumption, diesel heaters can give off a surprising amount of warmth and help make your van a cozy little abode for those dark winter nights. Moreover, with the help of modern technology, these devices are convenient and easy to use, in most instances, with the touch of a button.
Until recently, however, these heaters would cost you a pretty penny; this was because most diesel heaters were manufactured in Germany, a country renowned for their high quality and even higher prices.
Recently, China has entered the arena to challenge Germany’s dominance over the market for diesel heaters. In typical fashion, Chinese diesel heaters are comparatively lower quality but also significantly cheaper.
In this article, we shall go over the types of Chinese diesel heaters on the market and instructions on how to set them up and use them safely. By the end, freezing nights while boondocking in your campervan will have hopefully become a problem of the past!
Types of Chinese Diesel Heaters
Generally, most diesel heaters have a similar design and operation; however, you should be aware of a few essential distinctions between heaters. Depending on your circumstances and requirements, you may prefer looking for one type of heater over the other.
The Fuel Type
As the name suggests, diesel heaters run on, well, diesel. However, diesel is not the only fuel they can consume. Many heaters can also consume kerosene, gasoline, and some types of oils; this is an important consideration for maintenance and ease of use.
For example, if your van runs on gasoline and not diesel, you may want to get a heater that can use gasoline; this will make topping off the heater’s fuel much easier as you can do that whenever you refuel your van.
Moreover, another fact to consider is maintenance. Diesel is a heavy fuel that leaves behind a lot of residue as carbon. To counteract this, diesel heaters require regular and thorough cleaning to ensure proper function. On the other hand, kerosene is a much lighter fuel and leaves behind very few residues.
Thus, if you particularly hate doing maintenance, it might be preferable for you to buy a diesel heater that has the option of also running on kerosene. Hence we recommend that you thoroughly consider your circumstance and preferences before deciding which fuel you would like to use in your heater. After you have done this, you should get a model of diesel heater that supports your selected fuel type.
2KV vs. 5KV
One of the most important considerations is the strength of the heater. Generally, there are two standards on the market, although some exceptions do exist. You can find diesel heaters in two-kilowatt or five-kilowatt considerations.
As the names suggest, the 5KV is the bigger and stronger option while the 2KV is smaller. But, generally speaking, a 2KV system is appropriate for most circumstances. This is because you can always turn a diesel heater’s heat setting up by a few notches, making the space warmer.
In comparison, a 5KV system’s minimum setting may even end up being too much and heating the van beyond comfort levels. Furthermore, it is also worth noting that a bigger heater has other apparent downsides as well.
Firstly, the larger heater will require more space which may be difficult to arrange, particularly if you plan on setting your heater up below your seat or somewhere it will not be an eyesore.
Secondly, the 5KV system will require more electricity and fuel to run. Not only will this increase running costs, but you may also need more frequent refills.
Thirdly, the more extensive system will produce significantly more carbon monoxide, which is not generally a problem as it is all vented, but the lesser, the better.
Finally, a 5KV system will cost significantly more than its 2KV counterpart due to its higher capacity and bigger size.
There are, however, a few circumstances in which getting the bigger diesel heater will be the better option. Firstly, if your van has poor or no insulation, it might be worth it to get a 5KV heater as this will help counteract the heat lost to the environment.
Secondly, if you have a huge camper van, it may also be worth considering a 5KV diesel heater.
Depending on the altitude you are at, the density of the atmosphere changes. This leads to commonly experienced phenomena such as altitude sickness. A type of ‘altitude sickness’ also affects diesel heaters. Although, more broadly, it affects every kind of combustion reaction.
Since a combustion reaction requires air from the atmosphere to be carried out, it can be susceptible to changes in air density brought about by an increase in altitude. Due to this, it is essential to think through what altitudes you will be operating at.
Most diesel heaters on the market work perfectly fine at sea level and slightly above. However, for more extreme altitudes, they usually require an adapter kit, or you need to purchase a diesel heater specialized for operation at high altitudes.
Thus if you expect that you will be traveling to mountain tops and the like in your camper van, we highly recommend doing some research into the altitudes of those areas and what the model you are considering buying is capable of.
One thing to note here is that accurate and authentic information on Chinese diesel heaters is sparse, and much of what is claimed by the manufacturer may be fabricated. Thus we recommend that you instead look over forums, social media groups, and blogs specialized in diesel heaters to get input from actual users of these devices before making your decision.
How to use a Chinese Diesel Heater
How to Prep
The first step before installing the heater is prepping the area you have chosen as the spot for your device. Generally, most heaters will come with a mounting bracket included in the package.
Unfortunately, however, most of these mounting brackets are low quality and useless when it comes to Chinese heaters. Therefore, you will be better off throwing them out. Instead, you should purchase a turret plate.
This plate is significant if the base of your van is wood as it can prevent heat from being transferred to the wood. Without this plate, there would be a risk of wood-burning or catching fire, which, as you can imagine, would not be the best of situations.
If the surface where you intend to put the heater is uneven, the turret place is also beneficial as it provides a flat base for the heater to rest on. Without a flat surface, there is the chance that the heater will be unstable and might lead to certain parts breaking over time.
Once you have acquired the turret plate, the next step is to cut a hole in the base to mount the container. In the instance that this cannot be done, you can also screw the plate in.
Once this has been done, you can proceed with bolting down the heater to the chosen location. Again, you must have a secure attachment between the plate and the heater. Otherwise, there is the risk of damage, particularly when the van is moving.
Another thing to prepare for is the fuel tank. For obvious reasons, this should be attached to the outside of your van if possible. Generally, the shape that comes with the heater may not be suitable for your needs as these tend to be rather long. However, if this happens to you, you can order another one online as long as it will fit the tubing that came with your heater.
How to install
Once you have found a place for and attached the fuel tank, the next step is to connect all the hoses. There will be two inlets leading into the heater, one of these will be for air, and the other will be for fuel. Each heater model is different, so you will need to consult your manual to differentiate between the two provided hoses.
With the provided clamps, you can ensure that the correct hoses are connected to the proper inlets. Moreover, the connection needs to be secure and airtight. The last thing you want is fuel or exhaust gases leaking into your van and endangering your safety.
One more thing to note is that there are two additional components that you will need to attach to the fuel line. Once more, you will need to consult your manual to see what they look like and ensure that they have the correct orientation.
As the name suggests, the first is a fuel filter; it cleans the fuel before it goes for combustion within the heater. The second item is a fuel pump; once more, as the name suggests, this is the pump that pulls fuel into the heater for combustion.
Both components must be attached in the correct orientations to the fuel line; otherwise, there is the risk of malfunction. Thus, double-checking is highly recommended!
How to ensure safety
Any item that uses combustion as a part of its function has certain risks attached to it. Whether it be an engine, heater, or stove, this is all down to carbon monoxide production as a by-product of a combustion reaction.
Carbon monoxide is essentially a gaseous poison for most living things as it can lead to death in even relatively benign concentrations. Moreover, this gas is invisible and without an odor; thus, one could not even realize that they are being poisoned.
Due to this fact, it is essential to take adequate safety precautions when operating a diesel heater inside your van. The way to do this is by double-checking all hoses and connection points and having a carbon monoxide detector.
Ideally, this should be attached close to where you will be sleeping as carbon monoxide concentrations can be localized. Thus you want to make sure that it does not gather up around you while you are asleep. In case it does, the detector should alert you before concentrations reach a dangerous level.
Moreover, you must carry out regular maintenance and inspections of the detector as the last thing you want is an improperly functioning safety device.
Chinese Diesel Heaters – A Few Common Pitfalls
Although Chinese diesel heaters are significantly cheaper than the competition from Germany, this does mean a decrease in quality as well. As a result, there have been frequent complaints by users of these Chinese heaters. We will go over a few of the most common ones to be aware of potential issues well in advance.
This is one of the most notorious issues with Chinese diesel heaters. Due to poor quality control or on purpose, many of the kits do not come with all the parts listed on the box. This ends up meaning that consumers often have to search for aftermarket components to fill in the missing blanks of the kit.
Not only is this a waste of time and money, but it can be incredibly frustrating to find the specific compatible part, mainly if there are not a lot of hardware stores nearby.
One thing you can do to avoid this problem would be to check forums and reviews on the sales website. These should provide a good litmus test about how reliable the manufacturer is in terms of quality control.
Another good piece of wisdom is to never go for the cheapest available product. These may be lower standard or leftover material that did not make the cut. Instead, choose a mid-range Chinese diesel heater to maximize the chances of workable quality. Even a midrange heater will be much cheaper than low-end German options.
Misleading/False branding and marketing
The internet is full of numerous stories of heaters turning out not to be what they were promised. Sometimes the KiloWatt capacity delivered is not what was mentioned; other times, the product is different from the image altogether.
The best way to counteract such products is to avoid buying them altogether. To do this, we recommend talking to someone online or in-person, who has purchased a Chinese diesel heater before.
Moreover, you can always post on a forum or group asking people for recommendations or mentioning your choice and asking if it is reliable. The collective wisdom of all can easily trump any amount of research done by one individual.
Another option is to read through articles such as this for recommendations on which heaters are the best in terms of quality. We have a list to help you with exactly such a situation.
Recommended Chinese Diesel Heaters
maXpeedingrods 5KW 12V Air Heater
The maXpeeding rod is a reliable device that has a few strong qualities over competitors. Firstly, there are a lot of quality of life features which make it easy to operate.
For example, there is the addition of a small LCD screen for control and a fuel sensor that displays the remaining fuel quantity in real-time on the screen. This will help ensure you are never blindsided by the device running out of fuel.
Secondly, this heater is not too picky when it comes to the choice of fuel either. Although it is designed for diesel, it can also run on gasoline or fuel oil. This can help you in a pinch if you cannot find diesel. Moreover, it can also make trips to the fuel station quicker if you use the same fuel for your van and heater.
Moreover, this heater has a relatively small form factor compared to other devices on the market, measuring only 5.9 x 5.5 x 15.3 inches. This makes it relatively easy to fit into small spaces in your van. Thus adding flexibility to your placement choice.
Another thing that we like is the addition of a couple of safety features. For example, the heater has a built-in temperature sensor that immediately shuts the device down if it starts to overheat. Thus, although the heater has a relatively wide range of operating temperatures, it is unlikely to overheat unless something is malfunctioning.
The product page advertises the heater as red; however, consumers have reported receiving it in black and red. Fortunately, this is a minor cosmetic issue, and the product tends not to be missing critical functional components.
Bestauto 12V 8KW Air Heater
Another solid offering, the Bestauto Air Heater, has a larger capacity than the previous heater, coming in at 8KW. This makes it suitable for larger vans or situations requiring a high heating volume, such as frigid temperatures or a vehicle with poor insulation.
Moreover, what is surprising is that this heater is still essentially almost the same size as the last one despite a larger heating capacity, coming in at 5.9 x 5.5 x 15.5 inches. It has a fuel tank with a 9-liter volume that can hold enough fuel for 18-20 hours of running. However, this can vary a bit depending on the external temperature. Another thing worth noting is the relatively broad range of temperatures this device can operate at. From -40 to 176 degrees, this heater is likely going to be able to take on any weather you throw at it.
Similar to the previous heater, this device is also controlled by an LCD screen, making the entire process much more straightforward and user-friendly. Moreover, a remote control provides additional flexibility, allowing you to turn the heater on before entering the van or without leaving the bed.
Finally, it is worth noting that this is a very versatile heater as well. Although it is designed to use diesel (it is a diesel heater, after all), this product can also use gasoline and kerosene to operate. This means that no matter what fuel your van uses, your heater can likely use the same fuel, thus greatly simplifying trips to the fuel station.
Thus overall, this option seems to be geared towards power users looking for a device that is stronger in terms of its heating ability and versatile when it comes to operation.
Like all do-it-yourself projects, it takes a lot of effort and research to figure out the best way of adding a heater to your van. Moreover, given that this device uses combustion, it is imperative to get it right the first time lest you risk your safety from an improperly set up heater.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources, such as this, and people available online whom you can refer to for help with this process. We wish you the best of luck on your journey and hope your Chinese diesel heater gets to you without too many missing components! As for figuring out which model to pick, the best way is to list the specifications you need and then research models that fit that description. There are plenty of high-quality heaters available at affordable prices, and you’ll be sure to find yours in no time.