Diesel Heater in Your Camper?

Wango said:
Quote

Have one of the Planar kits on order, will be wanting to use it in both our Gazelle tent, when we are taking the jeep, and the main camper truck. Both are diesel, so is a plus, now i have to find the vent for the ATC camper to hook the hose to, and then get the nerve to cut a hole in the side.
Thanks to all for this great post!
I'm trying to remember the small issues I had when I first got mine. And I want to write those down in case I need them later. For those readers with no interest in Planar heaters, you may want to skip this...

1- Fuel knob is unmarked as to which way to turn it to open or close. If I remember correctly the laminated cheat sheet of instructions just says open it but doesn't say how. Counterclockwise to open, clockwise to close. Lefty opie, righty closey.

2- If you forget to open the fuel valve (as I once did), the signs of that are kind of subtle. The heater sounds like it's going through the normal start. You hear the fan test and, after a long wait, the initial clunks of the fuel pump. It tries ignition but something seems wrong in the sequence of sounds you normally hear. What it's doing is re-trying. It tries twice more before shutting down. The right side LED on the manual control will be double-blinking red. The double-blink merely means it failed to start so it's up to you to figure out why that might be. I don't quite remember how I got it to try again once I remembered to open the valve. I see the control manual says push any button but I don't remember if I pushed it once to clear the malfunction and again to start or just pushed it once.

3- When you plug the power and control cables in to the heater, the control LED fast-blinks green. But that green LED times out. So it can be a little confusing. By the time you get things fully set up outside and then go inside to push the start button, the LED may be off. If you were expecting it to be green to signal everything's ready for starting, you may think something's wrong when it's actually fine.

4- The heater comes with a laminated cheat-sheet for operating the heater, an operations manual, and a manual for the PU-5 control. Blink-codes for any malfunctions are in the PU-5 manual. Note- It can be confusing to see error-code tables in the some manuals for the 2D but they are for other controls.

5 - The manual for the PU-5 has two flowcharts to show how the control operates. The top one applies. The bottom one is for an installation with an optional remote temperature sensor.

6 - To shut down the heater, press the heat button (wiggly-lines icon) once. The LED will blink red during shutdown.

7 - The manuals for this heater tells us to run it once a month even during the warm season. I just found this paragraph in the installation manual that explains why:

"To ensure reliable operation of the heater, switch it on once a month for 20 minutes on full power, including the warm seasons of the year, when the heater is out of operation. This action is necessary to remove any viscous film sediments on moving parts of the fuel pump. Failure to do so may lead to premature failure of the heater."

I need to do a little better on that and get it on my reminders calendar. I did remember to run it in mid-summer and used it on trips within about 60 days on either side of that in 2022.

8- My portable has an exhaust shield, a flat, round cap atop the vertical exhaust pipe. I figured it was probably a rain shield. But now I see some photos of the portable don't have it or have it but show the end of the exhaust pipe bent over. I called the distributor a few days ago and was told the shield was there to cover the sharp end of the exhaust pipe but they now use a finish ring. The general installation manual for the 2D (which is not specific to it being mounted in a hard case) says a shield is required and says:

"In absence of the shield, air will be blown back into the exhaust pipe. This leads to increased heater shooting and impairs heat capacity." (I assume shooting is supposed to be sooting)

Edited 1/19/23 to add-

9- The fuse holders and fuses on the power cable look a little strange so I called the distributor. Use 25-amp mini-blade (ATM) fuses available most places selling auto parts. I bought a few for spares and they do work.

Edited 1/27/23 to add:

10- Current draw goes back up to nearly 10 amps again during shutdown to burn off residual fuel.
 
ski3pin said:
Old Crow, thank you for sharing your personal experience with a diesel heater. This was helpful for me. You touched on one of the issues that is a concern for me, operation at elevation. Julie and I are often camped between 8 and 11 thousand feet.

ski, I don't know if this idea is possible with the non-Chinese diesel heaters but I recently ran onto this info. It may interest you if you're considering a Chinese one....

I'll show it in two forms-- a web site and a Youtube video as they offer slightly different perspectives

Chinese Diesel Heater Elevation Adjustment

Adjusting your Chinese Diesel Heater for High altitude elevation or sea level use
 
I’m happy with my Propex, and also interested in these diesel heaters since I drive a diesel truck.

If you tap into your main diesel tank, I’m wondering about how these heaters react to changes in fuel type, mostly type 1 and type 2 diesel (and for those going to Baja - do you need a heater in Baja? - what the effect of high sulphuric diesel might be) and about the various diesel additives that I use to prevent gelling and/or increase lubricity.

Might be good to know.
 
One thing that caught my attention is that Planar heaters appear to be made in Russia. I don’t know if that should be a concern, but due to current politics, support and parts might be an issue.
 
Wandering Sagebrush said:
One thing that caught my attention is that Planar heaters appear to be made in Russia. I don’t know if that should be a concern, but due to current politics, support and parts might be an issue.
Good point, Sage. I've been getting good support from the North American distributor in Canada. They've replied promptly and thoroughly to my emails and phone calls and offered ideas. They stock parts locally but of course we can't tell how deep their stocks are or whether they've been having (or anticipate) significant disruptions to their supply chains. In such uncertain times it would be good for them to have relationships with their counterparts in Europe and Australia or perhaps the dealer network if short-term shortages occur but of course we have no idea.

If they don't have those relationships I guess I'd first turn to Ebay where I currently see lots of Planar and Autoterm parts. If still no luck I guess it would be time to start looking through the list of Autoterm's 1700-plus business partners and start making calls. If all that fails, I guess I'd have to assess whether it makes sense to swap out the Planar for a German or Chinese model.

The other issue that brings to mind is what spares I might proactively buy, if any. I did buy spare fuses and am considering a gasket set and glow-plug screen for around $30. I guess the next to consider would be a spare glow plug but thats around $70. But given that my use of the heater is occasional and I have alternatives, I don't think I'll do that.

I've also been looking for a good, active Planar or Autoterm forum but so far no luck in that. If anyone is aware of such a forum or a heater forum with a Planar/Autoterm sub-topic, please let me know.
 
Old Crow,
Thank You for all the tips.
I have gone round and round on this. First i wanted to replace the propane heater, then i wanted auxillary electric. The whole time i had kept my eyes on a diesel heater.
I went with a portable unit for times when i wanted to augment the propane heater. Mostly cool to cold, and humid areas. We just got back from a short 3 day down the OR/CA coast. Weather was great, but this time of year has a lot of moisture in the temp. The furnace was fine, but my thoughts are to use both. Plus i could maybe sleep a bit better without hearing the furnace going off and on all night.

We like it reasonable as far as temps go at night. Say 50 ish. Any colder and she is not super happy.
With the portable, i could set it out side at the back of the truck, let it put some drier heat in the camper, and hopefully be far enough away from the bed to negate the noise.

The other intended use would be in the Gazelle tent, for when we are glamping out of the jeep. For some reason, our jeep set-up seems a little more luxurious then the camper, with a big bed, two fridges, heater, stove, sink and sitting area. Strange.

Thanks again. Looking forward to putting it to use in the coming months.
 
A few diesel heater resources. If you've been looking at diesel heaters for a while you may already be familiar with these...

1- "Chinese Diesel vehicle air heaters - Troubleshooting & Parts sales" (Facebook group). This is a private Facebook group of more than 63,000 members. I've seen it recommended a good bit. I'm not a fan of Facebook and was wary of joining anything on it but at this point I'm OK with it. Joining was a bit odd and took a couple of days for me as I missed a checkbox on first attempt. I also had a learning curve finding things on the site. At first you just see current posts but once you figure out where the Files are and how to search the group posts, it's useful. There are currently 166 files in the Files area. Clicking on the file name didn't seem to do anything but if I click on the 3 dots on the far right of each file, I can download it. The Media area has more photos and videos than I care to count but I'm not sure yet how to get context. To search for something in the group's posts, click on the magnifying glass icon to enter your search terms.

2- Oft-recommended playing-with-heaters video series : John McK 47.

John Mck 47 Chinese Diesel Heaters playlist

3- Another interesting playing-with-heaters video series which answers questions we didn't even know to ask: David McLuckie (the helloooo! guy)

David McLuckie playlists (click on Chinese Diesel heaters)

-------------------------------------

Also- I'm a bit reluctant to post more on portable diesel heaters (vs permanently-installed ones) as I don't want to give the impression I think the portable ones are superior. They aren't well-suited to truck-campers and vans as they're not as convenient to use and they have their drawbacks (storage, daily setup/teardown, possibly being stolen,etc). But I really like mine and others may be interested in them so...

Here are some alternative sellers:

Lolo Xventures BK Marine hCalory (be sure to read reviews on the hCalory-- the case is apparently fragile-- but it does solve the typical "all-in-one" heater design problem of underslung intake and exhaust)

And for learning: A pretty nice how-to-put-a-heater-in-a-box video. This one has Amazon and Lowe's links for the parts. I added them up and the guy has about $700 in the heater ($140), case ($120) and parts and another $65 in hole saws.

thelexcruiser DIY heater in a box video

Edited 1/26/23 to add:

Another seller of a heater-in-a-box (but currently out of stock as they work on a redesign) : Gola heater at YonaAdventureGear
 
My brother called this morning about testing his new Chinese diesel heater.

I had demonstrated my Planar portable when I visited him over the holidays and that got him thinking about a permanently-installed heater for his Sunlite truck camper. A few weeks later he bought a Vevor heater kit off Ebay for $95. It's this one (price is now a bit higher).

We've both been spending time on the Chinese Diesel Heater Troubleshooting group on Facebook. One of the recommendations there --- particularly on Vevor models --- is to bench-test your diesel heater soon after getting it. These cheap heaters apparently have a fairly high component failure rate and you want to find that out while still in the return window.

A bench-test also makes it easy to watch what's going on (like checking the flow of bubbles in the fuel line). And it gives you some confidence that you aren't going to go to the trouble of installing it only to find it's a dud.

In my brother's case, he set it up in his garage on a Work-Mate portable work bench. He clamped the base in the wooden vise jaws, bent the exhaust pipe from a U to an L and didn't even bother clamping it on... just pushed it on and pointed the other end toward the door. He had a battery there he had removed from the camper for the winter. He taped the fuel pump to the leg at a 45-degree angle and pulled diesel fuel from a fuel-can in a milk-crate.

I asked how long it took to get it running. He said the best way to describe it was ten 15-minute sessions of actual trying, interspersed with searches for info on YouTube, the web and the Troubleshooting group on what to try next.

As expected, the manual wasn't very helpful as it's a poor translation of Chinese into English. I asked if he had looked through the files on the Troubleshooting site. He had but was confused by things like a controller being called 'the black controller' and his is black-- but he then figured out there are controllers that have the same outer black case but aren't the same as his. And one file seemed to match his but only gave very basic startup info--- nothing on how to change modes, for example.

He at first understood that he should push the bottom two buttons of the controller to prime the heater but that didn't do anything, He later figured out it was the side two buttons. But by that time it didn't matter-- successive re-tries eventually got it running. We discussed the fact that some on the Troubleshooting site recommend that you don't use the priming function at all--- just do successive attempts to start it (to avoid flooding it). My brother said the problem with that is it takes longer than you'd expect so it seems like that's not working either. And of course in the back of your mind you're thinking the pump may be damaging itself running dry.

Like me, he was surprised at the long starting sequence and how long it takes till it actually pushes warm air. He said he's also surprised by the noise-- not so much the exhaust as the whoosh of the air coming out the outlet duct.

He said the remote worked first try and did come with batteries.

I asked if he noticed a smell from the heater as we've seen complaints about a long-lasting burning-rubber smell on new heaters. He has not but then again has only done a few test runs thus far.

His heater has what I believe is called the updated controller. I don't believe it has a way to go in with the engineering-mode password to set fan RPM and pump speed for elevation adjustments. It does have Alpine Mode, which I believe is a limited form of that (meaning it allows some elevation adjustment but not as much as the other controllers.)
 
Old Crow said:
My brother called this morning about testing his new Chinese diesel heater.

I had demonstrated my Planar portable when I visited him over the holidays and that got him thinking about a permanently-installed heater for his Sunlite truck camper. A few weeks later he bought a Vevor heater kit off Ebay for $95. It's this one (price is now a bit higher).

We've both been spending time on the Chinese Diesel Heater Troubleshooting group on Facebook. One of the recommendations there --- particularly on Vevor models --- is to bench-test your diesel heater soon after getting it. These cheap heaters apparently have a fairly high component failure rate and you want to find that out while still in the return window.

A bench-test also makes it easy to watch what's going on (like checking the flow of bubbles in the fuel line). And it gives you some confidence that you aren't going to go to the trouble of installing it only to find it's a dud.

In my brother's case, he set it up in his garage on a Work-Mate portable work bench. He clamped the base in the wooden vise jaws, bent the exhaust pipe from a U to an L and didn't even bother clamping it on... just pushed it on and pointed the other end toward the door. He had a battery there he had removed from the camper for the winter. He taped the fuel pump to the leg at a 45-degree angle and pulled diesel fuel from a fuel-can in a milk-crate.

I asked how long it took to get it running. He said the best way to describe it was ten 15-minute sessions of actual trying, interspersed with searches for info on YouTube, the web and the Troubleshooting group on what to try next.

As expected, the manual wasn't very helpful as it's a poor translation of Chinese into English. I asked if he had looked through the files on the Troubleshooting site. He had but was confused by things like a controller being called 'the black controller' and his is black-- but he then figured out there are controllers that have the same outer black case but aren't the same as his. And one file seemed to match his but only gave very basic startup info--- nothing on how to change modes, for example.

He at first understood that he should push the bottom two buttons of the controller to prime the heater but that didn't do anything, He later figured out it was the side two buttons. But by that time it didn't matter-- successive re-tries eventually got it running. We discussed the fact that some on the Troubleshooting site recommend that you don't use the priming function at all--- just do successive attempts to start it (to avoid flooding it). My brother said the problem with that is it takes longer than you'd expect so it seems like that's not working either. And of course in the back of your mind you're thinking the pump may be damaging itself running dry.

Like me, he was surprised at the long starting sequence and how long it takes till it actually pushes warm air. He said he's also surprised by the noise-- not so much the exhaust as the whoosh of the air coming out the outlet duct.

He said the remote worked first try and did come with batteries.

I asked if he noticed a smell from the heater as we've seen complaints about a long-lasting burning-rubber smell on new heaters. He has not but then again has only done a few test runs thus far.

His heater has what I believe is called the updated controller. I don't believe it has a way to go in with the engineering-mode password to set fan RPM and pump speed for elevation adjustments. It does have Alpine Mode, which I believe is a limited form of that (meaning it allows some elevation adjustment but not as much as the other controllers.)
I must have been lucky since I just opened the Vevor box and installed mine and it worked as expected. As for the brand "Vevor", I have a couple of these and know a few others that have used them in other applications. I would venture to guess that there is but one manufacturing source in China since everyone I have ever looked at, other than possibly color, is identical regardless of the "brand name". Pump speed is determined by pulse setting on the controller or remote, the higher the pulse number, the more pump strokes delivering fuel resulting in more heat. I have never had a performance issue with altitude but have only used it between 600 and 8000 feet. As for starting time and uncertainty, the devices are rather smart, (they should be since they are a complete copy of the German Espar heaters widely used in numerous industries worldwide) and will not allow themselves to run without adequate fuel supply, battery voltage and airflow. Switching off source battery power while operating is the only sure way to wreck one since it will not be able to protect itself.
These heaters obviously have their limitations depending on application used, but all in all they are a cheap reliable efficient heat source for an average camper. Now, I have no intention of selling my woodstove and pulling out the lp furnace to begin using Vevor to heat my house and shop in northern Minnesota. But I have found in my camper and ice fishing house they do perform better than the propane heaters I have.
 
I do not have a diesel heater but have camped near some. As Old Crow said they are not quiet. Not as bad as a generator but not as quiet as propane from the outside (unless they also have a generator to run the blower - why I don't do Benton Hot Springs anymore) . Even a built in diesel heater sounds like a engine idling - constant all night or cycling on and off, just not as percussive as trying to sleep in a rest stop with several 18 wheelers.
 
Update,
spent the weekend by MT. Hood, night time temps were low twenties, to high teens.
Set up diesel heater, running the unit off of a eco flow battery.
Heater kept, us warm and dry. Very quiet, more so than the furnace. Temperatures were more consistent. Much less condensation.
Ran it on high for about 15 minutes each night to get it up to a comfortable temperature in the camper, then turned it down to it's lowest.
Furnace was on and set at 50 as well. Furnace did not run at all.
Average fuel usage was about half of the 7l tank. guessing about 2.5 -3, as i didn't fill up the tank completely.
Ran kerosene, due to elevation and temps. But, will try either straight diesel this weekend or a blend.
Power consumption was about as stated in the literature.
Ran the unit about 15 hours straight both nights.
Eco flow delta 2 was down about 30% on both nights.

Pictures show how i duct the heating tube inside.
Went through door, why? Because was afraid of hitting wires and or cross members of camper. Figured the door was an easier fix if i screw up.
Worked well, even getting in and out, heater was by bottom of the steps. Could not hear it from inside.
Overall, very happy.
The furnace works great in dry climates, but in humid/cold areas we just felt the humidity inside the camper was a little high for our liking, plus, i like the fact that i can take and use it in a tent for the times when we are camping out of the smaller jeep.
 

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Thanks for the update, Wango...

Glad to see it's working out for you. Nice!

That appears to be the the 4 kW (Planar) portable model. I think I see an electrical thru-case fitting in the side of the case near the fuel tank. Those fittings are in the end of the case on my 2kW one. And your case looks heftier than mine.

And what are you doing with the control as you use the heater? I can convince myself I see a black line descending from your new thru-door fitting but it disappears. But then again that looks like the control wire on top of the heater with the dial just off-camera.

also- (while I'm posting)--- I did a preventive-maintenance run last week and tried out one of the new-style rectangular mufflers and made this short video:


I've not yet seen enough about these to know if there's some bad news with them. Until then I'll only use it if I think I may be bothering a nearby camper (as I don't really hear it running from inside the van). I also have to try it in windy conditions to see if I need to brace it.
 
Old Crow,
I am running both the power line and the controller line in through the deck plate in the door.
The duct tube is wrapped in a fire resistant cloth i had, and then wrapped with metal tape i had. There is enough room for all to pass through the plate, and give it a decent seal.

I did call planar and explain what i was planning and was told it should be fine with the wire touching the hose, but i do plan to come up with a plan to insulate the wires better.
I am a little afraid of moisture coming in, i think i will try to come up with some type of shield for the top of the deck plate.

Yes it is the 4kw model. Mine did not come with a muffler, and while i might want one later i don't think i need it. While it is on low i don't consider it loud, and frankly avoid anyone being close to me. Saturday night we camped with friends, they were on the driver side of the truck and didn't hear it.

Going foward, i plan on locking it to my stairs, and putting a folding table over it if is raining/snowing.

Pretty happy with it, most likely being used about 20 nights a year, hopefully more, but feel it is worth the cost.

A buddy and i are going to buy the parts and build him one, i wanted to try it out and see if it works.

I use the battery to power a fridge/freezer in the summer, so wasn't worried about that cost.
i also feel i could run it off my house system well enough. I had both fridges running and woke up to 96% sunday morning. I just like redundancy.
 
I put a diesel heater in my home built camper. I like it. I don’t think it it loud inside or outside the camper.
I used it 27 days in SW Colorado for ice climber season.
I have a fuel tank on back of camper so I can mix kerosene 50-50. Heater has a high altitude setting, but at 10,000 ft. It needs a little help
 
Scout campers come with diesel heaters. Here's part of their blurb

With 2 kW max output and the capability to operate in temperatures as low as -45°C/-49°F, you’ll stay warm and protected from the elements. This heater is as economic as it is powerful, consuming just 0.24 litres of diesel fuel per hour. Its brushless induction motors also ensure low operating noise levels.

Here's the heater manufacturer's website and item description

https://autoterm.com/overview/autoterm-air-2d

Don't know if this is the same heater.

https://www.amazon.com/Planar-2D-12-Diesel-Air-Heater/dp/B0733VGXXD/

I camped for a couple nights when the temps were in the 0 to 10 degree range and the heater kept the camper warm. No issues at all once I added a 4" dryer type hose to the output vent to direct the warm air to the floor.

The fuel consumption figure is accurate for the autoterm 2D. It does make noise, but not so much I noticed it. There is a click when the fuel pump engages. If you buy it from the European Manufactuer it's $760 or so U.S.
 
Thanks for the continuing posts on these heaters!


Fly Fisherman said:
I put a diesel heater in my home built camper. I like it. I don’t think it it loud inside or outside the camper.
I used it 27 days in SW Colorado for ice climber season.
I have a fuel tank on back of camper so I can mix kerosene 50-50. Heater has a high altitude setting, but at 10,000 ft. It needs a little help

philos65 said:
Scout campers come with diesel heaters. Here's part of their blurb

With 2 kW max output and the capability to operate in temperatures as low as -45°C/-49°F, you’ll stay warm and protected from the elements. This heater is as economic as it is powerful, consuming just 0.24 litres of diesel fuel per hour. Its brushless induction motors also ensure low operating noise levels.

Here's the heater manufacturer's website and item description

https://autoterm.com/overview/autoterm-air-2d

Don't know if this is the same heater.

https://www.amazon.com/Planar-2D-12-Diesel-Air-Heater/dp/B0733VGXXD/
I camped for a couple nights when the temps were in the 0 to 10 degree range and the heater kept the camper warm. No issues at all once I added a 4" dryer type hose to the output vent to direct the warm air to the floor.

The fuel consumption figure is accurate for the autoterm 2D. It does make noise, but not so much I noticed it. There is a click when the fuel pump engages. If you buy it from the European Manufactuer it's $760 or so U.S.
 
Wango said:
Update,
spent the weekend by MT. Hood, night time temps were low twenties, to high teens.
Set up diesel heater, running the unit off of a eco flow battery.
Heater kept, us warm and dry. Very quiet, more so than the furnace. Temperatures were more consistent. Much less condensation.
Ran it on high for about 15 minutes each night to get it up to a comfortable temperature in the camper, then turned it down to it's lowest.
Furnace was on and set at 50 as well. Furnace did not run at all.
Average fuel usage was about half of the 7l tank. guessing about 2.5 -3, as i didn't fill up the tank completely.
Ran kerosene, due to elevation and temps. But, will try either straight diesel this weekend or a blend.
Power consumption was about as stated in the literature.
Ran the unit about 15 hours straight both nights.
Eco flow delta 2 was down about 30% on both nights.

Pictures show how i duct the heating tube inside.
Went through door, why? Because was afraid of hitting wires and or cross members of camper. Figured the door was an easier fix if i screw up.
Worked well, even getting in and out, heater was by bottom of the steps. Could not hear it from inside.
Overall, very happy.
The furnace works great in dry climates, but in humid/cold areas we just felt the humidity inside the camper was a little high for our liking, plus, i like the fact that i can take and use it in a tent for the times when we are camping out of the smaller jeep.
Wango,

At these temps, was the 4kw unit running on low most of the time? I'm trying to find the appropriate size for my Hawk.

I've seen other posts saying 2kw is good for a FWC as it allows the furnace to run hot which is better for clean combustion. Any opinions on that?
 

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