Campervan Heaters

Diesel, gas or electric - which is best?

Most choose between Diesel and Gas: which night heater should you pick for your camper?

To the untrained eye, the two main types of camper space heater are pretty similar. They're both compact (many install theirs under the driver’s seat), both work from thermostat readings and both blow a steady supply of heated air to keep your cabin cosy.

But whether you choose to plug yours into your fuel tank or a propane/butane canister can make all the difference to cost, usability, noise and neighbourliness. To take some of the heat off your decision, we outline the pros and cons of diesel and gas.

Diesel camper heaters

We use: Webasto from £1250, Eberspacher Airtronic from £1350

The very top of the range, many choose to swallow the expense of the Eberspacher or Webasto diesel heaters for their dependability and super rapid performance. The former are fitted in the cab of most large trucks, used throughout the marine industry and come as standard in the VW California campers. There aren’t any significant differences between the two, except that the Eberspacher is slightly more prestigious and the Webasto a decibel or two quieter.

Pros

  • Can’t be touched for reliability and efficiency, chugging away on full blast on mere drops of diesel.
  • You’ll always have a supply of diesel, a fraction of the cost of gas.
  • Will still run in very low outside temps i.e. if the diesel will run the engine, the heater should work.
  • Can be fitted with a 7 day timer, allowing you to return from frolics outdoors to a warm welcome.

Cons

  • Noisy and sometimes smoky on startup, emitting diesel fumes to your surrounds. If you’re on a campsite with people in tents close by, you may not be popular.
  • Use more electricity and are sensitive to low voltage so you may find that you need a solar panel to keep your leisure battery fully topped up - especially if installed alongside a 12v fridge.
  • Initially the more expensive, can be expensive to maintain and manufacturers recommend regular servicing (though anecdotal evidence suggests you can get away without).

Gas camper heaters

We use: Propex £745

If a little slower performance-wise, the Propex heater gives the diesel a run for its money as a compromise on cost. These provide the same air-blown heating but tap into canisters of propane, butane or Camping Gaz (a butane/propane mix). Your pockets will therefore feel the most relief if you already have a gas installation in your van.

If you only expect to need artificial heating now and again and are looking to keep costs low, a Propex makes more sense.

Pros

  • Same heating, lower initial cost.
  • Quiet and friendly to tenting neighbours
  • Propex will run on propane which is half the price of Camping Gas and a bottle lasts twice as long
  • Minimal maintenance costs

Cons

  • These use a lot of gas. On average if you’re running the fridge and cooking simultaneously, a Gaz 907 bottle will last 4 days. If you’re holed up somewhere remote for a couple of weeks in the winter you’ll need to pack 3 or 4 bottles.
  • Gaz 907 is a butane which when very cold i.e. in freezing temperatures, will not release gas fast enough to feed the heater. In that case, you’ll need to warm the bottle up either in the footwell of the cab or with some hot water until the cabin is up to temperature.

Electric

If you are on a campsite with hookup , then using electric heating is the most economical option. Most commonly a small fan heater is favored for its compact size, but in such a small space the frequency with which the thermostat switches the element off and on can make for a disturbed night sleep. Another option is to go for a small oil filled heater, this might take up more valuable space, but the silent and even heat distribution may be worth the trade off.

For ease of use, if you are going to be on hook-up much of the time, it's worth considering the Propex HS2800 gas electric combo heater.

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