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DIY WORKSHOP

INSTALLING A DIESEL CAMPER HEATER

Home-grade heating when you're in the bush.

Chinese-made camper heaters are shameless copies of European-designed units and they’re available at a fraction of the price. Our test unit cost $340, rather than around five times that for the genuine article. Performance so far is excellent. 

When we’re in our comfy Tray Tek camper bed we’re very snug, but the transition from a warm campfire to a chilly camper is unpleasant - especially when you have to get all your fireside kit off to get into bed!

Also, there are nights when it’s too windy or too wet to have a campfire and you want to retire to a warm, not freezing, camper.

Our solution until now has been a gas-fuelled space heater, but we’re acutely aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, so we use it for a very short time and we always left the window unzipped, too allow fresh - cold - air.

We couldn’t justify spending $1500 on a diesel-fuelled heater, but a knock-off one at less than one quarter the price was irresistible.

The unit was paid for with Pay Pal and duly arrived from China. We opened up the box and found a very high quality heater module and associated parts. The only items we felt lacked suitability were the hose clamps, so we replaced them with premium quality stainless steel ones.

Fitting a heater to an existing camper is much more fiddly than doing it during the building phase, but we took plenty of time and had no major problems.

The heater module is designed to sit on the floor of a camper, slide-on or caravan. The inlet air for combustion of the diesel and the exhaust enter from under the floor, via two ports and the kit included two flexible hoses that connect to these ports. The fuel hose also connects to a nipple at this location.

We selected a position in a cupboard in our camper, close to one side, so that the exhaust pipe could be as short as possible. This location allowed the warm air outlet to be in the footwell of our dinette and the cold air inlet to be near the exterior-access cupboard door. We reasoned that if air supply proved to be inadequate we could easily cut a hole in the door and mesh it against insect entry.

We started the installation by positioning the heater over two holes we cut in the camper floor and then screwing the heater mounting plate to the floor. We then connected the combustion inlet air and exhaust pipes to the through-floor ports and bent both pipes to fit under the subframes.

We drilled a hole through the camper frame and bent the exhaust pipe through that opening, to the exterior of the camper. We simply slip on the two mufflers provided when we’re running the unit and remove them when in transit.

The kit came with10-litre tank, but that proved too large to fit in our gas bottle cupboard. The solution was a five-litre plastic ‘jerry’ can that we ocky-strapped in place and fitted with the supplied fuel outlet nipple.

We fitted the nipple by inserting stiff wire through its centre and pushing the wire through a hole we drilled at the bottom edge of the jerry can. We pulled the nipple through the hole by putting a bend in the wire as a stopper, then used pliers to hold the nipple in place while we screwed on the locking nut. Easy!

The kit came with a fuel filter and an in-line electric pump, so we screwed them to the camper frame under the floor an connected them and the fuel tank to the fuel inlet port on the heater, using the clear plastic tube supplied with the kit.

We fed the wiring loom terminals through one of the camper bulkheads to our lithium camper battery and put our own in-line switch into the loom, adjacent to the heater unit. That way, we can turn off power to the unit without having to access the battery compartment.

We fed the fuel pump supply wires through the camper floor and connected them to the pump.

We left the heater inlet air open to the virtual plenum in the cupboard and the heater outlet air was run through a short section of supplied ducting, through a hole we cut in the cupboard wall, to the swivelling outlet grille in the dinette footwell.

The LED control panel fitted with double-sided tape to the camper wall, adjacent to the sink and in easy reach from the bed!

With some trepidation we slipped the mufflers over the end of the exhaust pipe, filled the fuel tank and switched on power to the heater, fuel pump and control panel.

There were obvious air bubbles in the fuel line, but they caused no problem. The pump simply ticked away, hauling fuel and trapped air into the burner, while the blower spooled up. After a couple of minutes the air vent in the footwell was pushing lovely warm air into the camper and in no time the interior was toasty hot.

We’re playing with the heater over the next few months, so we’ll update this story when we know more about the control system’s operating modes.


 


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