The Best Diesel Heater for Van and RV Life – Ultimate Buying Guide

Searching for the best diesel heater for your van starts right here with this comprehensive guide sharing our favorite picks and what you need to know about them!

Winter is coming. Snow is capping the mountaintops, trees are starting to glow, and the nights are getting colder, cold enough you might start talking yourself into paying extra for hookups this weekend. 

Having a great heater is essential to staying comfortable in the fall and winter. And boondocking in the winter is impossible without the right equipment.

Unlike the heat of the summer, it won’t be as easy to beat cold weather. You can’t simply fan out the cold air and bring in some heat without expending serious amounts of energy. 

Solar power has come a long way, but you’ll still need to call in the big guns to warm up. Burning fossil fuels will soon be a thing of the past, but for the next few decades leaning on diesel is one of the most efficient ways to stay warm no matter the weather. 

From forest service roads to Walmart parking lots and all the way to the campsite, anyone living full time or looking to winterize their RV for high altitude trips should think about a diesel heater. 

PRODUCT

WHAT WE LIKE

THINGS TO CONSIDER

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Espar Airtronic S2

EDITOR'S CHOICE

  • Newest in diesel heater technology

  • Not any more expensive than older models

  • Electrical harnesses come prepared

  • Core design is the same as older models

  • Expensive

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Espar Airtronic D2

  • Burns 2.5 liters of diesel fuel in 24 hours

  • Fits into many different vehicles

  • Optional quiet mode

  • Need an upgrade to work above 1500 meters in elevation

  • You have to do all of the wiring yourself

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Webasto Air Top EVO 40

  • Built for bigger vehicles

  • Everything you need ships together

  • Great at high altitude heating

  • Professional installation recommended

  • Most expensive heater on our list

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Webasto STC 2000

  • Works well in high altitudes

  • Friendly user interface

  • Ships with everything necessary for installation

  • Professional installation recommended

  • Older model

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HappyBuy 5KW

  • Incredibly low price

  • Unproven company

The best diesel heating options will require a hefty upfront investment but provide a permanent, fuel-efficient solution to climate-controlling your RV.

It’s true, most of these heaters will not come cheap. But you shouldn’t put a price cap on quality, especially when fuel is involved.

Shivering vanlifers can’t make an investment like this one haphazardly. To get you warm, we perused the aisles and haggled with shopkeepers to get the low-down on this toasty market. 

From the heavy hitters to cheap knockoffs, we’ll break down the best diesel heaters for all budgets and then explore different factors that make up each unit.

All that’s left between you and a warm weekend in the woods is narrowing down the best heater for your needs.

Van in Snow Diesel Heater for Van
Never worry about camping out in the snow or cold weather again with a diesel heater!

The Best Diesel Heater for Van and RV Life

With low power consumption AND low fuel consumption, these diesel air heaters can pump in fresh air without putting a strain on your fuel tank.

The best diesel heaters have user-friendly control panel options that make it easy to monitor fuel consumption and will pack a durable heat exchanger coil protected by durable materials. 

These diesel heaters heat up the van life. 

Espar Airtronic S2

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This fresh model from Eberspacher promises to make their legendary heat exchanger quieter and more efficient.

Across the board, this Espar diesel heater received a facelift from the D2 days.

A friendly monitor and easy-to-use control panel bring the heater into the 21st century.

We found everything simplified thanks to the Easystart Pro Timer. You can program in heat settings and take advantage of a temperature sensor to heat your RV efficiently.

The upgrades don’t stop with those ease-of-use features.  An environmentally friendly brushless motor doubles the lifespan of the diesel heater.

It allows for more heat output options, and an automatic altitude adjustment sensor protects your fuel pump in foul weather.

There’s a new sheriff in town. The Espar Airtronic S2 learned from its predecessor to give your camper van a new standard in diesel air heaters.

PROS

  • Newest in diesel heater technology
  • Not any more expensive than older models
  • Electrical harnesses come prepared

CONS

  • Core design is the same as older models
  • Expensive

Espar Airtronic D2

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Espar diesel heaters can heat your adventures for 24 hours on 3.75 liters of diesel, no matter the altitude. And this bad boy is no exception.

An optional high altitude sensor helps combat the lost efficiency diesel heaters often face on the mountain, helping this model outperform a propane heater at 4,000 meters.

An additional sensor measures atmospheric pressure and adjusts your diesel heater combustion chamber to keep things operating at a high level. 

This performance won’t come easily. Leave this installation process to a professional and give yourself the day off.

Once your diesel heater is hooked up, you’ll enjoy a self-regulating air heater that boasts the heating power to be considered one of the top campervan diesel heaters on the market.  

We don’t love the maintenance required on this model. Every year, you should give this Espar diesel heater an excellent scrub to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.

It’s annoying, but it’s just about the least you can do to thank your diesel heater for pumping warm air into your RV living.

PROS

  • Burns 2.5 liters of diesel fuel in 24 hours
  • Fits into many different vehicles
  • Optional quiet mode

CONS

  • Need an upgrade to work above 1500 meters in elevation
  • You have to do all of the wiring yourself

Webasto Air Top EVO 40

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This tank takes the Webasto Air Top 2000 and supersizes it, making the van heaters perfect for those living the van life XL.

While the Webasto Air Top was unable to take its fuel efficiency into their larger diesel air heater models, they made sure to give the Evo some perks of its own

Its stats make it one of our favorite options for high-altitude heating.

Even above 3,000 meters, this diesel heater will hardly notice the height. Extra heat output and heating power would mean a loud operation in most heaters, but not these tough customers.

A quieter fuel-dosing pump is one of the latest upgrades the energy-efficient diesel heater brings to van campers. 

These Webasto heaters are nothing less than premium models, that ship with a complete installation kit. All you’ll need is a fuel source.

PROS

  • Built for bigger vehicles
  • Everything you need ships together
  • Great at high altitude heating

CONS

  • Professional installation recommended
  • Most expensive heater on our list

Webasto STC 2000

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Boasting a ridiculously low consumption, this Webasto option will keep your van warm using less than .3 diesel liters an hour.

No good diesel heater for van life will require frequent trips to the fuel tank, but this fuel consumption is just too good to pass up.

When you can heat your whole home for 24 hours on just three liters of diesel fuel, everything else that comes with these high-end air heaters is just a bonus.  

A sound muffler provides quiet heating, a temperature control panel and a rheostat make regulating your camper van easy, even at high altitudes, and the Webasto air top 2000 ships with a complete kit to make installation as painless as possible. 

It is important to note that even though these Webasto diesel heaters ship ready to install, the company still recommends professional installation.

Once your diesel air heater is hooked up, the only way to heat up your campervan conversion more efficiently is to spend the summer in Arizona.

PROS

  • Works well in high altitudes
  • Friendly user interface
  • Ships with everything necessary for installation

CONS

  • Professional installation recommended
  • Older model

HappyBuy 5KW

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Budget heaters are really a shot in the dark. The HappyBuy 5kw is a diesel heater for van owners looking to save money at every corner costs 10% the price of Webasto and Espar heaters. 

It’s essentially a direct copy of other diesel heaters available at a fraction of the cost, which is a slight red flag.

When messing around with fuel, I don’t advise picking the cheapest option just to save a few bucks.

These budget diesel heaters work in mysterious ways. As premium models rapidly increase in price, the cost difference is getting harder to ignore.

Just ask the Facebook group dedicated to Chinese diesel heaters. 55,000 (!!!) members have grouped up to troubleshoot their budget heaters, and browsing through the posts will give you a great idea of what you’re getting yourself into. 

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and be sure to expect a few more complications in such a cheap heater.

If you fancy yourself a handyman and don’t mind some sketchy sounds coming from your primary heating source, you may save a few bucks with this model without too much trouble. 

PROS

  • Incredibly low price

CONS

  • Unproven company

Choosing the Best Diesel Heater

You know what our top recommendations are, and by now you should be just about ready to make your purchase. But before you do, learn a bit more about how we determined what made the top of our list and why.

Heat Output

Smaller spaces can heat up in a hurry. It’s a good idea to slightly overestimate your heating needs. You won’t want your diesel air heater to have to constantly run at full strength just to keep your camper van liveable without employing a diesel heater larger than what you need. 

2KW heaters will make a difference in the smallest trailers and Class B RVs won’t need anything more than efficient 2KW heaters.  

For classic Sprinter layouts who want a heavier heat exchanger [1], go for a diesel air heater with a heat output of 4KW. 

Heavier heat outputs also help power up your diesel heater in colder weather, so RV’s looking to winterize should get the most powerful option they can get their hands on. 

Bed Made in RV Van
Make your tiny home on wheels even cosier with a diesel heater.

Altitude Setting

Snow-capped peaks are mesmerizing by day and whipping with Arctic winds by night. The closer you are to the mountain top, the harder it is to stay warm. 

Any decent heater on our list can take you higher than your camper van could on its own, providing warmth up to 2000m. Beyond that point, it can become difficult for lower-rated diesel air heaters to fire up. 

If the height is a concern for your travels, be sure to read the fine print. Companies like Espar and Webasto have built models and modifications to help your heating reach the promised land. 

Noise

These engines won’t generate warmth without a bit of a racket. Top-class options work to keep quiet. You can take those efforts a step further by installing the fuel pump in an insulated, quiet corner.

We don’t know about you guys, but we’d rather fall asleep hearing the lull of the river rather than our electronic equipment. 

Much like 007, your diesel air heater can come equipped with a silencer or quiet mode. No matter the fancy options, a smaller heater will always be quieter than the larger tanks. 

Fuel and Electrical Demand

Here is where diesel heaters establish themselves as a brilliant boondocking option. Especially on travel days, it can feel like we’re spending half our budget at the gas station.

Every heater on our list can provide minimal heating for 24 hours on 4 liters of fuel. The best in the business advertise performances even more fuel-efficient, up to 2.5 liters a day. 

Once fired up high-class heaters will draw somewhere around .6-.8Ah from your battery. Cold weather will require a bigger surge to start, so it is more fuel-efficient to keep your diesel air heater tuned to a constant temperature.

Couple with Van Diesel Heater
Cold outside, warm inside – exactly how you want your van in the winter!

Maintenance

You choose these heaters because they are built to last, but you’ve got to meet your diesel halfway.

Expensive diesel air heaters on our list come packed with protections to justify the high price including excellent warranties and dedicated service centers. You shouldn’t have to do anything too complicated on your own. 

Monitor carbon build-up, a sure sign your heater can use some love.  

EDITOR’S CHOICE:

Espar Airtronic S2

The choice was easy. This is the most updated heating model from Eberspacher, the perennial king of diesel heating.

With a trusted history and 21-century friendly outlook, we love this heater for any small to mid-sized van.

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Conclusion

Now, the choice is in your hands. There are two clear paths to take in the diesel air heater market.

Either you go for an insanely affordable product that packs the same insane amount of risk, or you pay over a thousand bucks for your heater. 

There is plenty in life we like to risk on, but we don’t gamble with yellow lights and we don’t go cheap on engines. We’re quite literally playing with fire, and a decent make is the only thing between you and inhaling combustion fumes

It’s worth it to pay for the guaranteed performance and safety in your home on the road.

Our editor chose the Espar Airtronic S2 as the best diesel air heater thanks to that guaranteed, and the updated user interface sure didn’t hurt! 

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase a product we recommend using the links in this article, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We promise to use this pocket money to buy lots of coffee and fuel for the campervan to keep us enjoying #VanLife for just a little longer. We appreciate your support, and only recommend products we know and trust. Thank you friends!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd - Van Life Theory

Hi! We're Alesha and Jarryd, the founders of Van Life Theory! We're currently travelling around Australia in our 2008 Mercedes Sprinter campervan and sharing our best experiences, stories, reviews and adventures as we go along. Make sure you follow along on our Instagram and YouTube!

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