Winter just happened. Luckily, last week I drilled a 4″ hole in the floor of the van and installed a heater than runs on diesel from the van’s fuel tank.
Espar/Eberspacher Airtronic heaters use an electric fan to push air over a heat exchanger that surrounds a little diesel furnace. The heater lives inside the van, bolted to the floor, and the combustion air intake and exhaust pipes both attach under the van. There’s never any exhaust gas inside the van, so there’s no carbon monoxide risk so long as everything’s working right.
Often, people mount the heater in the space under the passenger seat. We wanted that space for other things, so we found a cozy little space for the heater just in front of the driver side rear wheel. That area is under the bench seat and is just in front of the battery box. We need to build an extension to the battery box cabinet in that area anyway, so it made great sense to mount the fan there.
It did mean flattening out a small ridge in the van floor and cutting a corner off the mounting plate to miss another ridge. I had some cheap panel beating tools to bash the ridge down with, but I bet a piece of 2×4 wood held underneath and a regular hammer would do in a pinch. With the corner cut off the mounting plate, I had to cut the foam gasket to the new shape as well. I used a little bit of high temperature silicone sealant to fill in the cracks where the foam joined up.
The only thing was, the space underneath the van in that area is tight. It helped to make sure all the hoses were clamped in place to the heater before dropping it into place. Then, it was just a question of hooking everything up.
The air intake hose points off towards the front of the van. There’s a nice hole in the crossmember at that point that it threaded through with no problem. The exhaust hose has to point towards the back of the van. It ended up at about the minimum allowable length but then I added the muffler and another short hose length to point the exhaust away from the underside of the van.
The fuel line and the power cable for the pump both stretch forward towards the fuel tank. The fuel pump has to be mounted on a 15 to 35 degree angle to vertical to stop air locks from forming. The fuel line is supposed to rise gradually from that point. Mine may have a couple of dips as well as a couple of rises.
At the fuel tank end, the fuel line attaches to the auxiliary fuel supply from the vehicle’s tank. That connector is standard on all new Sprinters.
There’s a special fitting to replace the cap on the end of the aux line. It’s a Dorman 800-188 (comes in a pack of 2). The fuel hose in the Airtronic kit is a really tight fit on this fitting. If you take off the o-ring from the tip of the fitting and warm up the fuel hose in some boiling water, you’ll have better luck. Some people buy a piece of slightly oversized fuel tubing and a 1/4″ barbed fitting. They push one end of the oversized tubing on to the connector and the other on to the barbed fitting. They then push the Airtronic fuel hose on to the other side of the barbed fitting.
I knew from reading the Sprinter Forum that it can take several start attempts before the heater actually fires up. Diesel has to get all the way from the fuel tank up to where the heater is. The dosing pump that keeps the heater running is only designed to drip a tiny amount of diesel into the heater (10 hours running per gallon of fuel) so it takes a while for it to push the diesel along the pipes to start with.
I’m glad we bought the add-on muffler for the exhaust. When the heater starts up, it runs on its fastest setting for a while. Even with the muffler it sounds like a tiny jet engine. Without it, you’d probably wake any neighbors up.
We put the thermostat in a position where we can reach it from the bed as well as from the living area of the van. That way, we can reach out and switch the heater on first thing in the morning, then wait for things to warm up before we actually get out of bed.
The thermostat fitted really nicely into a Penn-Elcom 4″ recessed dish. These are normally used for flight cases. The temperature sensor is not covered at all, but the unit sits further back against the wall than if it was surface mounted. We’re using similar dishes for most of our switch panels and other mounts.
Good things to know if you’re trying this at home:
- Most Sprinters have an auxiliary fuel line from the fuel tank. You can find it on the top of the fuel tank just in front of where the fuel filler pipe joins the tank. It’s capped off with a clip-on end piece. Inside the tank, the pipe stops a little way above the bottom so that you can never suck the tank dry by running the heater.
- Remember to use clamps on the hose sections. The ones that come with the Airtronic are the right kind to use – when you compress them, they maintain a good clamp all the way round the hose. Ones that tighten up with a worm drive can leave a flat area that doesn’t properly seal the hose.
- Don’t mount the pump on a resonant panel. It clicks loudly each time it doses the heater, even though it’s mounted on a flexible rubber bracket. The main chassis members are about the thickest and least resonant location I could find.
- There are two Airtronic models, the D2 and the D4. The D4 produces more heat. I wouldn’t want any more heat in a Sprinter van than the D2 can throw out. Apparently it’s also good for the unit to run on full blast every now and again to stop it from sooting up. The D2 is hot enough on full blast. I doubt the D4 would ever feel the need to run that hot in such a small space.
- One of the cheapest places to find these online is Heatso. If you want to try your luck with an off-brand model, you can find Snugger, VVKB and Planar brand models on Amazon at varying lower price points.