Updated: Feb 22
Hi everybody, it's not long now until the nights start drawing in and it starts getting dark and cold again.
Winter in a van can be horrible when the temperature drops making not much fun at all if you don't have a decent way of heating your van. If you haven't got a well insulated van it can be even worse but with the added complication of condensation on all of your panels.
However there is a way to solve both of these problems at once turning your van into a nice, cosy, warm and dry year round home or weekend get away.
Diesel heaters are amazing little things that pump out an amazing amount of heat with minimal fuel consumption and very little battery power meaning you can keep your van warm all day everyday without any worries about killing your batteries or running out of fuel. they can also be left on for days, weeks and even months at a time without needing to be turned off at all.
These heaters can be purchased nice and cheap new and last for years once they are installed making them an awesome solution for any van lifer, weekend warrior or even day tripper.
They are also very simple to install yourself at home and that is what we are going to be talking about today.
Fitting Your Own Chinese Diesel Heater - Everything You Need To Know
So first of all you are going to need a decent Chinese diesel heater to install. There are lots of different options out there to choose from but i'm not going to lie it can be a bit of a minefield. Some claim to be 2KW when they are really 5KW, some claim to be 8KW when they are really 5KW, some claim to be in the uk but they are really in china, some have pictures that are nothing like the ones that turned up the list goes on and on.
I have ordered quite a few online to fit for people and I have found some trusted brands that are always as advertised and here are my two preferred models. As an amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases
Triclicks 12V 5KW Air Diesel Heater Parking Heater Diesel Night Heater with Silencer LCD Switch Remote Control
FlowerW 2KW Air Diesel Heater Planar 12V Parking Heater with Silencer Diesel Heater lcd switch 10L Tank for Trucks Motor-Homes RV Trailer
Ambienceo 12V 2KW Air Diesel Heater Parking Heater 10L Tank for Boat, Car, Trailer, Touring car, Campervans, Motorhomes, Caravans (2KW)
Be aware when buying this it is on the same listing as their 5KW and 3KW heater so make sure you choose the right size before clicking buy or add to basket
For more tried and tested recommended heaters with different option please check out this post...
2KW OR 5KW?
If you are wondering of you need 5KW or 2KW then that all depends on the size of the space you want to heat. If you have anything smaller than a LWB van then I suggest only going for the 2KW as the 5KW pump out a lot of heat even on the lowest power. You will probably get away with a 2KW in any van as they are powerful enough but if you have a large van/space and need an extra power boost then go for the 5KW.
As well as the power there are also a few other massive differences between the 5KW heaters and the 2KW ones, the main one is the physical size. The 5KW units are considerably bigger that the 2KW units so if you only have a tight space to fit it into like under a seat then you should go for the 2KW.
MAKE SURE YOU FIT A CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM
Just like anything that you might fit into your van that uses combustion to work for example your gas hob, a three way fridge, wood burning stoves and of course your vans engine there is always a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning... It's the nature of the beast.
However just like all of the things listed above if they are installed correctly, you have ventilation and you get yourself a decent carbon monoxide alarm then you have no need to worry at all.
SO BEFORE YOU INSTALL YOUR CHEAP CHINESE DIESEL HEATER INTO YOUR VAN MAKE SURE YOU HAVE INSTALLED A CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM IN YOUR VAN... After all they are cheap and Chinese!
Fireangel CO-9D Digital Sealed for Life Carbon Monoxide Alarm, White
Once you have your heater and a carbon monoxide alarm there are a few more bits and pieces that you are going to need to install the heater safely, If you are installing the heater in the van not underneath it the first thing you will need is a turret plate. These are to replace the cheap useless mounting plate that come in the heater package and I would recommend anybody that is fitting one of these heaters to use it instead.
Not only do they make the heater safer after installation they also make them a lot easier to install yourself. They are particularly needed if you already have a wooden floor down or if your van floor isn't flat where you want to install the heater.
With these turret plates you need to cut a 127mm hole in a suitable location in your floor with a hole saw, mount the heater to the turret and bolt it down and then it is ready to insert in your new hole. But don't do this yet.
Mounting Bracket for Auxiliary Heating 30 mm
This has a 30mm collar for a wooden floor without insulation underneath, if you have an insulated floor you will need the turret plate below with a 60 mm collar
Mounting Bracket for Auxiliary Heating 60 mm
This turret plate has a 60mm collar for wooden floors with insulation underneath, if you do not have any insulation you can use the 30mm plate above
Chinese diesel heater floor mounting plate - planar 100mm
This turret plate has a 100mm collar for wooden floors with extra thick insulation underneath, not as good quality as the items above but good enough and cheap ish
Starrett FCH0500 Bi Metal Fast Cut 127mm Hole Saw
Starrett A2 Arbor to Suit 32mm-210mm Holesaws
We have also started our very own Chinese Diesel Heaters UK facebook group, it is quite new at the moment but growing quickly. Please follow the link below to join the group and join in our new community. We are happy to answer any questions you might have.
FINDING A SUITABLE LOCATION FOR YOUR HEATER
One thing I have noticed when fitting these heaters for people is that they normally have an idea where they want the heater to go to make things easy for them and their build, and thats the way I planned my first ever heater in my first camper. In reality it's not always that easy, once you look underneath the van there is quite often something already under where you want to mount the heater rendering it unusable.
Not only do you need to find a nice handy gap to fit the heater above the floor (to suit your build) and underneath the floor (avoiding van parts) you also need it far enough away from your vans exhaust pipe so that you don't suck exhaust fumes through your air intake and close enough to something suitable to screw your P CLIPS into for securing your air intake and exhaust pipe to your van.
Another thing you need to take into consideration when finding a perfect location for your heater is you need to leave at least a 3 cm gap between the fan end of the heater and any obstruction.
And the final thing you will need to find a location for is your fuel tank, the fuel tanks that come with the heaters are a stupid shape to say the least. They are tall and flat making them pretty hard to fit inside anything that you might have built already like bench seats etc and in my opinion it is harder to find a decent place for the fuel tank than it is the heater. The one good thing about them is because they are flat you can screw them to things to keep them into place however if you are going to do this make sure the tanks lid is above whatever you are screwing it to or you wont be able to screw the lid on or off.
There is some good news though you don't have to use the fuel tank that is supplied with it as there are plenty of others out there that are not a stupid shape and can fit wherever you want them.
Qmcmc 5.5L Plastic Fuel Oil Gasoline Tank For Car Truck Air Diesel Parking Heater
Hulk 12 Litre Portable Marine Outboard Fuel Tank Yacht Sailing Boat Fishing
UK 7L Plastic Fuel Oil Gasoline Tank For Car Truck Air Diesel Parking Heater Box
CUTTING THE HOLE IN YOUR FLOOR
Once you have found a location for everything it's time to bite the bullet and cut your hole in your floor. To do this you need be certain that you are cutting in the right place so measure.a few times before drilling your first hole.
Before I start using the hole saw to cut a big hole in the floor I like to go underneath the van and drill a small hole with a drill bit in the centre of the area where I want to fit the turret plate, then I go into the van and check that the hole is in the correct place to avoid any costly mistakes.
When you are ready to cut your large hole you will need a 127mm holesaw and arbor
Starrett FCH0500 Bi Metal Fast Cut 127mm Hole Saw
Starrett A2 Arbor to Suit 32mm-210mm Holesaws
Be very careful when using a holesaw of this size and make sure you have a FIRM grip on the drill with BOTH hands as these can get snagged and kick back on the drill with enough force to do some damage to you wrist and or smash your hand into something close by. If you have weak wrists or poor upper body strength this is probably a job for a helpful neighbour.
You will also need a decent drill for this as it the holesaw is very heavy in the first place and it will need to work hard to get through a layer of thick wood, then insulation, very often thick tar sound deadening and not so often but sometimes the van has had a thick rubbery undercoat sprayed onto it to stop it from rusting. I fitted a heater on a T4 not long ago that had all these layers with a cordless drill and it took me about half an hour to get through all of the layers. I would suggest a 240v drill not a cordless, you can use a cordless but the cheap ones will overheat and burn the motor out in no time.
Makita HR2630 26 mm 3 Mode SDS Plus Rotary Hammer Drill
Once you have cut your hole out of your floor the metal around the edge of the hole will be exposed to the elements so before you do anything else you need to sort that out by covering it in a suitable paint. I always carry a tin or this with me. Before you do this make sure the turret plate fits in your hole, if you need to grind anymore away then the paint is pointless until after.
Hammerite 5158238 250ml Number 1 Rust Beater - Grey
And then you want to put a top coat of paint once it dries, I carry white, silver and black on me and just use them as it will be hidden but if you want to match your body work it can be easily done.
MOTIP Spray Paint - Gloss White - 500 ml
Before you fit your heater to your turret plate and bolt it into place you are going to need to figure out how to get the fuel pipe back through your floor into your van. I always like to install the pump and fuel filter inside the van to stop them from being damaged so I like to bring the fuel pipe straight from the heater into the van.
There is already an extra hole on the turret plate but that is directly underneath the heater so if you bring it back through there it will have to bolted under the heater and pop out the rubber gasket on the bottom of the heater and this isn't ideal for lots of reasons.
I like to drill an extra hole in the turret plate inside the circle but as far to the edge as possible so you can pass the fuel pipe through with ease once the heater is bolted to the turret plate. To do this you will need some a rubber grommet.
Rubber Grommet Assortment Kit Electrical Conductor Gasket Ring Set for Wire, Plug and Cable, 180 Pieces
INSTALLING THE HEATER
Once you have drilled the hole for your fuel line and popped a grommet into it you can bolt your heater to your turret plate, these can be a bit of a hassle to get on as the bolts never seem to line up exactly with the holes but they always go on with a wiggle and a little bit of gentle persuasion.
Before you put the turret in the hole you can also attach all of your pipes to it and tighten them into place to save rolling around under your van with dirt dropping into your eyes.
There are three pipes that you need to attach to the bottom of the heater and they are the exhaust pipe, the air intake pipe and the fuel pipe.
When it comes to fitting the exhaust pipe and air intake the hose clips supplied with your heater are normally very poor quality and or too small for the intake and too big for the exhaust pipe. Because we are dealing with exhaust fumes the last thing you want is for the fumes to make their way back into your van as this can and will cause carbon monoxide poisoning. You should upgrade your hose clips to make sure they are going to be able to tighten around your exhaust and air intake pipes to stop any leaks.
For this I suggest using these
10 x Genuine Jubilee Clips 22-30mm (1A)
or for a heavy duty, durable install that will last a life time you could pay a little bit more money and get some heavy duty style Erberspacher bolt on clips instead of the jubilee clips above
Eberspacher or Webasto Heater exhaust clamp 24mm or 22mm exhaust
YOU WILL NEED 2 X OF THESE
FOR MORE SPARE PARTS OR UPGRADES PLEASE TAKE A LOOK AT OUR NEW BLOG POST...
With the hose clips above you will have no problems attaching your air intake hose to your heater and the air filter to the end of your hose. Tighten them up as tight as you can get them so they don't fall off hen you are driving.
However they might not work perfectly attaching your exhaust pipe to your heater or the muffler (tiny back box) to your exhaust pipe. The exhaust pipe is normally a couple of millimetres too wide for both the heater and muffler, so as you are trying to tighten the hose clip the exhaust pipe end will start to kink and never get tight. The best thing to do in this situation is to cut a slit in the metal each end of the pipe so when you tighten the hose clip the exhaust pipe doesn't kink, instead it will slightly overlap each other allowing you to tighten the hose clip all the way.
This problem can also be solved by replacing the supplied exhaust pipe with a better quality exhaust pipe... Please see below
1m Eberspacher 24mm Stainless Steel Flexible Exhaust/Heating Pipe
Another problem you will come across when trying to tighten your hose clips is that the collar of the turret plate gets in the way so you can't get to the screw bit, for this I like to use an angled screwdriver instead, if you are using the Eberspacher clips above a spanner can be used so are not needed
Amtech L3700 Offset Screwdriver Set, 3-Piece
To attach the fuel pipe... In the package you will hopefully have both a rubber fuel pipe and a plastic fuel line, the pipe connects to all your bits and pieces the heater, fuel tank, fuel pump, and fuel filter and then the plastic fuel line slides into the rubber fuel pipe and is secured into place with the clips provided.
So the first thing you need to do is to cut your rubber fuel pipe into 6 equal pieces with a Stanley Knife and push one of them onto the fuel intake in the bottom of the diesel heater then secure into place with a clip.
You then cut the desired amount of plastic fuel line to reach from your heater back into your van to where your fuel pump will be located. They give you lots of the plastic fuel line so you will not run out but it is best to keep it as short as possible. Once you have a piece long enough you slide it into the rubber fuel hose on the bottom of your heater and secure into place with the clips provided.
Once you have all three pipes attached to your heater you are now ready to place it in the hole and secure it into place. What I do before putting the turret plate into the hole is run a thick non stop bead of heat resistant sealant around the outer diameter of the collar of the turret plate so when you push it into place in the hole it will instantly seal any gaps between your turret plate and the hole in your van to stop any exhaust fumes coming into the van.
For that I use this stuff
Heat Mate Sealant - High performance heat resistant sealant - 295ml - Black
Once you have put the heater in place with the turret through the floor and you have a decent seal around the turret collar and the hole you can now drill some holes and bolt the turret plate into place. The bolts for this are not supplied with the heater but you will need x4 one for each corner so you will need to get some. I suggest getting some nylon locking nuts so they don't work their way off of the bolts in time.
M8 Set Screws Full Thread Bolts with Nylon Lock Nuts and Form A Washers Stainless Steel (Pack of 5) (M8 x 60mm)
Once the turret plate is bolted into placeI then seal around the entire turret plate with the heat resistant sealant on the inside of the van, then crawl under the van and seal around the turret collar and underside of the hole to make extra sure no exhaust fumes can get in.
Whilst you are under the van sealing it you can now pass the plastic fuel line through the grommet into your van so it is ready to be connected to your diesel pump.
Before you start attaching your fuel pipes to your fuel pump you should put it inside its rubber jacket. These are supplied with the heater and you need to push them hard to get them all the way in.
Once it is in the jacket this is how you secure the pump into place at the correct angle. You can either screw it directly into place on a solid surface with a screw and a washer or you can hang it from a cable tie at the correct angle.
If you screw it directly as it is to a solid surface be ready for a loud tick and a slight vibration every time the pump pumps. This can be very annoying and sometimes you can even feel it vibrate through the van.
I always hang them from a cable tie so there is nothing for the pump to vibrate through and this makes it a lot quieter and you will no longer feel it. Another measure I sometimes take is to wrap the whole pump in a couple of layers of Dodo Thermo Van Liner and this will make it almost silent when hanging.
As I mentioned above you need to secure the fuel pump at the correct angle. you will notice I haven't used the words at the right angle as I don't want to confuse people. The pump needs to be at an angle between 15 - 30 º with the end that goes to the heater pointing up, this is so the pump can pump the correct amount of fuel to your heater if it is pointing down then slightly too much fuel will be pumped and it will end up causing you problems. PLEASE SEE ANGLE BELOW
Once you have secured your pump into place (or even slightly before as I forgot to write it) you can connect your rubber fuel pipes to each end of the fuel pump and clip into place.
Now you are ready to insert the plastic fuel line that comes out of your heater through your turret plate into your van to the rubber fuel pipe at the heater end of your pump (on the heater side please see photo above).
When you have done that it's time to move on to the fuel filter, the fuel filter goes in between the fuel tank and your pump and filters out anything that shouldn't be in the fuel before it gets to your pump.
Attach one of your pieces of your rubber fuel pipe to the fuel pump side of your fuel filter (please see photo above) then run a length of the plastic fuel line between the rubber pipe on the filter and the rubber fuel pipe on the pump and clip into place with the clips provided, once you have done this attach another piece of the rubber fuel pipe to the fuel tank side of your filter.
Before you are ready to go any further you will need to get the fuel tank ready to hook up too, this is quite hard to explain how to do and I have ordered a new fuel tank to make a video on Saturday about how to do it but it is not here yet and winter is coming... so I have found one on youtube for you and will replace with mine when it is ready.
Make sure not to install the nozzle too low, it might be tempting to get every last drop of fuel out of your tank but the stuff at the bottom will have sediment in and that will clog up your pump if it gets past your cheap Chinese fuel filter.
Once you have the nozzle attached to the fuel tank and bolted on then you can connect your finial piece of rubber fuel to it and clip it into place, then run a length of the plastic fuel pipe from your fuel filter to the fuel tank, clip into place with the clips provided and that is your fuel system ready to go.
The fuel pipe lengths should be kept to a minimum as much as possible with a maximum of 2 meters between the fuel tank and the fuel pump (via fuel filter) and a maximum of 5 meters between the pump and the heater.
SECURING YOUR EXHAUST AND AIR INTAKE UNDER THE VAN.
Now you have the heater installed and the fuel system rigged up you can crawl back under the van and secure the exhaust pipe and air intakes in a suitable location. The first thing you will need to do (if you have not done already) is attach the silencer/muffler/tiny back box to your exhaust pipe and the air filter the the end of your air intake pipe.
Again the hose clips provided for this are pretty much next to useless so I suggest using the ones I linked to above also it might be necessary to put a small slit in the exhaust pipe again to tighten it onto the silencer (please see above at the top of the installing the heater section).
When you are fitting to silencer to the exhaust pipe please not the correct orientation or you will have problems with it.
The exhaust pipe can be attached to either side of the silencer but the it has to be the right way up. The little hole needs to be at the bottom facing down towards the road/floor to let water drip out of it. If it is not facing down then water will pool in side the silencer. This by default will put the bolt hole at the top exactly where you need it to be to screw it to your van.
So first both the L shaped bracket into place with the little nut and bolt provided and tighten so it it ready to screw in when you find the best location for it.
There are a few things you should know when trying to find a good location to attach you silencer and air filter. The first is that the exhaust pipe should have no extreme or sharp bends in it, any bends should be long and flowing and kept to a minimum or it will not work properly.
The next thing is you shouldn't have the exhaust pipe go down from the heater and then bend back up so you can bolt it to the underside of your van, the water that is meant to escape through the hole in the bottom of the silencer will never make it to the silencer and will collect in the pipe instead. Try and keep everything from the heater to the silencer running down hill if that makes sense at all.
You should also aim the exhaust out from underneath your van too, don't just run it to the middle of your van because it is an easy option. , run it to the side or the back of your van and fix it low enough so the fumes blow straight out and away from under your van.
Your exhaust silencer and your air intake and air filter also need to be as far away from each other as possible so that your heater does not suck up the fumes from your exhaust pipe and pump the back into the van.
It can be quite hard to get the exhaust pipe that is supplied with the heater to reach where you want it to especially if your install is anywhere near the centre of your van, the pipe supplied is only 60 cm long so some people need to extend it a little. I say a little as the maximum recommended length of your exhaust pipe is 2m long. So in these situations I like to use a 2m exhaust instead of the one provided.
Viviance ZHVIVY 2M 2.5cm Stainless Steel Exhaust Pipe Parking Air Heater Tank Diesel Gas Vent
Another option that some people choose as it makes the exhaust a little quieter is go heater, 120 cm exhaust pipe, silencer, 60 cm exhaust pipe and another silencer on the end.
Stainless Steel Exhaust Pipe Silencer Mounting Sets, Filter Accessories, 120 cm Exhaust Pipe
Once you have found a suitable route for your exhaust pipe and somewhere to attach your silencer/silencers you can screw them into place. For this you use the self tapping bolts that come with the heater.
If your exhaust pipe runs all the way along something that it can be secured to it is also a good idea to secure it into place with the metal P clips that come with the heater and the bolts above.
Silverline 855189 Magnetic Nut Driver Set 9pce 5 – 12mm
Once your exhaust is secured into place you can now decide the best place to secure your air intake hose and air filter.
As I said above you need to keep this as far away from the exhaust and silencer as possible, it also be facing backwards or towards the side of your van so when you are driving it doesn't get filled with water and dust from the road. If you have to face it forward it is best to tuck it up behind something so it is protected from anything that might spray up onto and into it but with enough of a gap around it for it to have no problems getting fresh air.
Once you have found a perfect location to secure your air intake then you should fix it into place using P clips. You will only get 2 with your heater so if you have used them all fixing your exhaust pipe into place you will need to order some more. If not you are good to go you will not need more that 2
25mm Rubber Lined P Clips Hose Pipe Clamp Stainless Steel - Premium Quality pack of 5
HOOKING UP THE CABLES
Now everything is installed and hooked up you are nearly ready to go but the last thing you need to do is wire it to your battery and hook up the cables. This bit is really easy and pretty much fool proof.
Your wiring loom will have 3 plastic plugs on and the a RED positive cable with an inline fuse and a BLACK negative cable.
All 3 plastic plugs are different and only fit their corresponding plastic plug so there is no way of getting it wrong. One will only fit to the heater so attach that one there that will leave you with 2 left. One of them 2 will be a triangle shape that one goes to your controller and then finally the last one goes to the fuel pump. Make sure you hear them click when you connect them so you know they are connected properly.
When all the plugs are connect then connect the RED cable DIRECTLY to your POSITIVE battery terminal (avoid switches blade fuse boxes and bus bars). The connect your BLACK cable DIRECTLY to the NEGATIVE terminal on your battery... Now you are good to go.
DO NOT WIRE YOUR HEATER VIA A POWER SWITCH... These heaters need to shut down properly or you will ruin the motherboard, once you turn the heater off via the control panel or remote control the heater goes through its own shut down process. If you have a switch that can turn it off without it going through it's shut down process you or somebody else might accidentally turn it off when it is running and this will kill your motherboard. This is another good reason to wire it directly to your battery so you can bypass any isolator switches or circuit breakers you might have installed.
If you need to extend your power cable at all please make sure you use thicker cable or you will most likely get a a voltage drop and your heater will not power up and you will get the E1 error code. When extending your power cables I suggest you use 6mm
BMF DIRECT TRI RATED 12V 240V RED/BLACK PANEL & POWER SWITCH AUTO CABLE WIRE AUTOMOTIVE Red 6.0mm² (53 Amp), 5 Metres
BMF DIRECT TRI RATED 12V 240V RED/BLACK PANEL & POWER SWITCH AUTO CABLE WIRE AUTOMOTIVE Black 6.0mm² (53 Amp), 5 Metres
STARTING YOUR HEATER FOR THE FIRST TIME
Once everything is ready to go and you have filled your tanks with fuel you are ready to start your heater for the first time. To do this the first thing you are going to need to do is prime your heater, this needs to be done before you turn it on or your heater will get no fuel to it and you will get an error message and it will cut off.
Again I am going to film my own video on how to do this on Saturday but until then here is a video from youtube that will show you how to prime your heater.
You might have to prime it a couple of times depending on how far your fuel tank is away from your heater, once you see the fuel going into the heater from the pump and the air bubbles disappear then stop the priming process and you are ready to go.
Once you start the heater up you won't hear it straight away but it won't take long, if you have over primed it then the first time you start the heater up there will be lots of white smoke from the exhaust pipe. This is nothing to worry about it is just the excess fuel burning off and will settle down and stop in no time at all.
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