Camper vans, conversion vans, Class B motorhomes, and transit vans often come with dash heaters that do a good job of heating the vehicle when you are on the road.
Though they aren’t the sort of thing you want to use to heat the interior on a cold night.
The fuel consumption alone as well as the wear and tear on the vehicle’s engine is just not a viable long-term solution.
One of the best ways to deal with this conundrum is to use a diesel heater to keep your van warm through a cold summer night, or to take the chill out of the air on a fall hunting trip.
If you are on the hunt for the best portable, safe, efficient diesel heater for your van or RV, there is some important information we should go over first before selecting one.
Should you go with top brands like Webasto, Espar, or the cheap Chinese or Russian makers? Should you go hydronic heater or air heater? Where should you install a heater in your camper? Today we’ll answer all of these questions this article.
What Is a Diesel Heater?
As the name implies a diesel heater works by burning diesel fuel. They tend to be more energy-efficient, and a lot safer than other heaters that use liquid fuel.
It mixes with the air in a way that translates to a minimal amount of fuel use.
This means something like a simple jerry can of diesel has the potential to go a long way toward keeping you warm for a full night or more.
How Does A Diesel Heater Work?
A diesel heater works by drawing in the cold air of the van’s interior into it via an intake duct. The air then passes over a metal cylinder with a very hot surface.
This effectively heats any air as it passes through it. The warm air is then pushed out of a duct to heat the surrounding interior air of the campervan.
Where Do You Put A Diesel Heater In A Van?
Diesel heaters are meant to be installed into the floor of a camper van or conversion van.
Not only is this safer than attempting to use it as a free-standing heater, but it also allows the heat produced to naturally rise.
Other places to consider include, under the passenger seat, or inside a floor-mounted cabinet.
You need to always remember though that the air intake, fuel, and exhaust lines all need to go through the floor.
So whatever location you choose for your van’s diesel heater, there needs to be significant access to the floor panels.
Placing the heater away from your primary sleeping area will also go a long way toward reducing the noise level you hear when it fires up at night.
Are Diesel Heaters Safe To Use In A Van?
Diesel heater technology and engineering have evolved over the years to the point where they are considered to be very safe when properly installed in a campervan.
The safest diesel heaters for use in a van typically include an auto-shutdown feature that engages if the system temperature exceeds a safe operating level.
This is the same type of shutdown feature that you find in liquid propane heaters.
Though with this in mind, you still need to be wise about where you place certain items.
Polyester-based fabrics and upholstery can potentially be damaged if it is too close to the heat vent.
You also need to be mindful of the potential for a mouse nest being made inside the heater if the van is in storage for a prolonged period of time.
So, he thoughtful about what you place close to it, and always check the heater before turning it on for the first when you take it out of seasonal storage.
Why Should You Choose A Diesel Heater For Your Campervan?
A quality diesel heater can be a very convenient way to keep the interior of your van warm while its engine is off.
The safety shutoff feature lets it stay warm while you aren’t in it, which is a major bonus for times when you might be camping in the mountains and you want to go for a hike or you want to use your campervan as a base camp for fall hunting trips on public land.
Is A Diesel Heater Better Than A Propane Heater?
When it comes to camper vans a diesel heater has a few benefits worth considering. The most important being the ease of refill as well as the energy efficiency in BTUs. Though it helps to compare the two side by side.
Requires tank swapping or professional refilling
Low for BTU output
High for BTU output
Carbon monoxide production
What To Look For When Buying A Diesel Heater For Your Campervan
There are a few things you want to take into account when shopping for a diesel heater to install in your campervan.
Making the right choice now will go a long way toward only having to do one install in the van’s life.
The BTU heat output is a critical factor. If the BTU per hour rating isn’t high enough, it won’t be able to keep your van’s interior sufficiently warm.
At the same time, you don’t want to go too big for the relatively small interior space that needs to be heated in your camper van.
Ideally, you want to target a diesel heater that has a BTU per hour rating between 2,000 and 5,000.
Altitude settings can be a factor in the combustion process. Especially if you like to camp in the mountains where the air is thinner.
A diesel heater with the ability to adjust the fuel-air mix ratio will perform better above 5,000 feet.
Noise & Placement
The noise level of a diesel heater can also be a factor. Especially if you are planning to sleep with it on.
This can be improved by thoughtfully installing your new diesel heater away from your primary sleeping area.
Placing some sort of sound buffer between you and it will reduce some of the decibel transfer when it fires up from a cold start when you are sleeping.
Warranty coverage does two things. The first is that it makes a statement about how the manufacturer feels about their material build quality and engineering principles.
The longer the warranty protection is, the more robust and well-engineered the diesel heater is likely to be.
Warranty coverage also gives you peace of mind in knowing that if there is a problem within that early period the manufacturer will shoulder the costs.
5 Best Diesel Heaters For A Campervans In 2022
When looking for the best diesel heaters for a campervan or similar type of small RV we tried to parse through the top options offered by major manufacturers based in China and Germany.
These represent the leading edge in engineering, material build quality, and thoughtful safety features.
Along the way, we kept our eyes out for any model, regardless of origin that was made to last and came with what you need to get the install done right the first time.
Here are the 5 of the best diesel heaters to keep warm in your campervan year round:
1. Webasto Air Top EVO 40 4kW 13650 Diesel Air Heater
The Webasto Air Top Evo 40 diesel heater was designed to be a cost-effective heater for campervans and similar small RVs.
It has a maximum heat output of 4,000 BTUs per hour, which is right in the sweet spot of what you want a diesel van heater to produce.
It comes with everything you need to complete the installation yourself and is backed by a relatively confident 24-month warranty.
This diesel heater provides superior dry-air warmth via a gentle and uniform heating process during the short heating times. This is thanks to the easily adjustable thermostat controls.
If you like camping in the mountains or need to stay at altitude, you’ll appreciate that this model is rated to handle up to 7,000 feet in elevation via the altitude settings.
2. Webasto Air Top 2000STC Diesel Air Heater
There is a lot to like about the Webasto Air Top 2000 STC. Especially if you want to use your fan as a base camp for a fall hunting trip.
The 7-day timer lets you set the temperature of your campervan for the situation and trust that it’s not going to be wasting fuel while the camper is unoccupied, yet you will still return to a warm interior when you need it.
This is great if you are hunting public land, and you know you will be out in the field overnight on a spot and stalk, but you still want to come back the next day with a warm campervan.
The Webasto Air Top 2000 STC features analog rotary controls and is not designed to work with a digital thermostat.
It was also engineered with a quiet operation mind, which is great if you prize getting a good night’s sleep.
Fuel efficiency was also a priority with the Webasto Air Top 2000 STC, as it only consumes .12 to 0.24 liters of diesel per hour.
If there is a little bit of a complaint with this diesel van heater it’s that there isn’t an altitude sensor, which means it’s not ideal for staying at over 5,000 feet.
It’s also only rated to produce up to 2,000 BTUs per hour, which will keep a van interior warm at all but the deepest of cold conditions.
3. Eberspacher Espar Airtronic S2 D2 L 12V Diesel Heater
The Eberspacher Espar Airtronic Diesel Van Heater is one of the most robust diesel van heaters we review in terms of BTU output.
While its low range is a nice warm 2,500 BTUs it can get up to 7,500 BTUs per hour, which is impressively warm for a van.
This makes it a great option for other RVs including modest size travel trailers of roughly 16 feet or less in length.
It comes with an altitude sensor, though that sensor is still meant for use below 7,000 feet.
There is a 7-day timer that lets you set it up for efficient operation for times when you might be out hiking all day or hunting overnight at a remote stalk-in camp.
For what it’s worth the manufacturer boasts about the accuracy of the thermostat, and it is true.
Not to mention it was thoughtfully engineered by Germans to be as quiet as humanly possible. This includes a nearly silent fuel pump.
4. Superfastracing 8KW SU46005 Diesel Air Heater
Right off the bat, the Superfastracing 8KW was designed to be very easy to install, which is nice if you want to do it yourself, but you don’t happen to be the handiest of people when it comes to tools or technical specifications.
It was also engineered for fuel efficiency, and at maximum heat will only consume up to .25 liters of diesel per hour.
This gives you a total run time of up to 40 hours with a completely full 10-liter diesel fuel reservoir.
5. Eberspacher Espar Airtronic M2 D4 12V Diesel Heater
The Eberspacher Espar M2 D4 12V Airtronic is another impressive piece of modern engineering.
This starts with an impressive maximum heat output of up to 13,650 BTUs per hour and is paired with a sensitive, easy-to-read digital display.
It was also engineered for quiet operation, which is a big factor when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
Safety was also a priority in the engineering of the Eberspacher Espar M2 D4 12V Airtronic.
All the parts are included in the original purchase, and it is backed by a 24-month warranty, which makes a statement of quality from the manufacturer.
It is also certified to be safe for installation under the passenger seat or other potentially combustible materials. This is something some of the shoulder-to-shoulder competitors can’t say.
Diesel heater technology and engineering have continued to evolve right along with 21st Century innovation.
Today they offer up a convenient and fuel-efficient way to heat campervans, conversion vans, and other small types of RVs.
The best diesel van heater for you will depend on your camping style and travel preferences.
If you are looking for a sophisticated model that can really pump out a lot of heat, while still being relatively easy to install on your own, then the Eberspacher Espar M2 D4 12V Airtronic might be the best diesel heater for your van.
The digital display and the impressive BTU output are second to none. If you are looking for a down-to-earth model with a friendly price tag and analog controls, then the Webasto Air Top 2000 STC might be the best diesel heater for your van.
The impressive fuel efficiency, as well as the 7 day timer feature, make it great for people who want a campervan as their wilderness home base, but still want to be able to venture forth on an overnight hike or a public land hunting trip.