Cheap vs Expensive Diesel Heaters

Just watched a video where a cheap (under $200 Chinese Copy) is compared to an Espar Diesel heater.

The Espar is about $1400 US compared to the Chinese copy about $130 US

I have 3 Chinese diesel heaters. I have had only one problem with one of them and that was a poorly made fuel tank, not the heater itself. I never have any odors of any kind whatsoever from any of them except maybe on initial startup and it’s rare and very slight if at all.

They have been 100% reliable and kept me comfortable on some cold winter nights. I found that my 5Kw unit is too much for my small van even on low. So I also have a 2Kw unit that seems about perfect even though I still keep a window open slightly on nights down to 10F because it puts out plenty of heat even on low. I do have custom made window insulation covers and that helps as well.

My (opinion) is that if you have trouble with your Chinese diesel heater you either got a bad one and should have returned it early on, or you just don’t quite know how to use it. I also have buddy heaters and they are good for their purpose but I much prefer the diesel heater in the van for a number of reasons.

If the Chinese had not made affordable copies, I would likely have never owned a diesel heater.
The only thing that could make them better for me is if they were made in America for not too much more.


The biggest problem I see with most of these heaters is that they require power. For many years, I’ve been using unvented heaters that require only fuel & no power. Then I add a heat powered woodstove fan to have power free fan forced heat, without any modifications to my rig.

My theory is that since we need constant ventilation anyway, we don’t need to cut a hole to have a heater. Since we can have dry heat without it being vented, I prefer that.

I spent the winter in Northern Minnesota, and while I have been using wick type kerosene heaters, sometimes using diesel, this last winter kerosene was hard to find & expensive, and the diesel wasn’t burning well in my heaters/cookers. Maybe some different formula on the diesel, not sure…

So I went to the dollar store and bought everything to make a vintage style 36 wick kerosene/diesel/cooking oil heater/cooker. Total cost was $5 or $6. Just needed a cookie tin, a string mop for a lifetime supply of wicks, a piece of craft foam, aluminum foil, and a cake cooling rack for a cooking grill. It might have taken me 20 minutes to assemble it. I bought a gallon of cooking oil at Walmart for $4.50, cheaper than either kerosene or diesel in the area, and filled it up and lit about 10 of the 36 available wicks. I then placed my woodstove fan on top, and had great fan forced, electricity free heat for under $10, that kept me toasty warm & dry eveen at temperatures as low as -40°F. That gallon of cooking oil would provide all my heating & cooking needs for a whole month. I have since built 3 more for myself, so I could have up to 4 cooking burners. The heat is adjusted according to how many wicks are lit.

Fast, easy, cheap, simple, & reliable. We had used store bought versions of these when I was a kid in the late 40’s & early 50’s. Very impressive, & fuel efficient. I also built some for friends whose RV heaters weren’t keeping up with frigid temperatures, and they love them as much as I do. They’re small, 8"x8"x3" tall, but they really pack a punch, and they provide dry odorless heat. If you add a heat powered woodstove fan, they are really fantastic. They’re totally silent & require no external power source.

I’m not posting this to discourage anybody from making their own choices, but as a helpful tip in case you ever find yourself in need. It never hurts to know how to make a cheap reliable heater from easily available parts when you need one.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

It strikes me that as fuel prices rise, I am very happy to have the additional options that a diesel engine can potentially intake in terms of alternate fuel.

That said, I am interested in alternative heat sources. At my off-grid place, I have 18 cords of wood put in every fall. I’m too far away from them now…but, we had two inches of snow on the ground this morning in Amsterdam. Russia is threatening to cut off the fuel supply if he doesn’t get rubles - and I think most people are very OK with that - but we will need to think about other ways of staying warm.

Could you possibly post a picture of your heating contraption? I like the idea, but need a visual…! :slight_smile:

Thanks in advance…


I don’t have pictures, or even a camera, but perhaps I can describe it well enough so you can get a picture in your mind.

Mine is an 8"x8" square cookie tin that is about 3" high, but these could be built in round ones too. The key is that you want the wicks placed at least 1" from the outside edge, and at least 1" from each other.

Craft foam floats, and it is the wick holder, cut just slightly smaller than the inside of the container. We wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil to protect it from the flames. Then we cut x’s through the aluminum foil & craft foam spaced as above. We cut out wicks from a dollar store string mop, leaving them as long as possible. Then we feed a wick through each one of those x’s, with 1/8"-1/4 " sticking up. Any longer and they will smoke like crazy until they burn down.

Fill the cookie tin with water first to check for leaks. If it leaks, we’ll need to line it with plastic. I just cut a piece out of a plastic garbage bag and place it inside and wrap it around the top and down past where the lid will go on.

Okay, now we can put a couple of inches of cooking oil in it instead of water, and put the wicks in it. It will need to rest for a bit so the wicks can soak up the cooking oil. Then it is ready for use. You regulate the heat output according to how many wicks you light. It might smoke a little at first if the wicks are too long, but they should self shorten themselves as they burn.

Then I use a cake cooling grill on top to hold either a pan, or my woodstove fan. When not in use, I just put the lid on it and stick it in a drawer, I have 4 and all 4 will fit in a single drawer, 2 high and 2 deep with room left over.

These allow me everything from a fast boil & tons of heat, all the way down to single candle power to keep food warm. Even though I have 36 wicks in mine, I don’t think I’ve ever lit more than 10 or 12, even keeping me warm and toasty at -40°F with the heat powered woodstove fan to circulate the heat. All with no shore power or batteries required. They are also very fuel efficient. A single gallon of cooking oil would last me a little over a month. That’s $4.50 a month for all my heating, cooking, & hot water needs in the frozen Northern Minnesota winter. A win/win in my book.

I only use one for a heater, the other 3 are so I can have up to 4 cooking burners.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller


How interesting! I have never imagined heating this way.

Are you sure there’s no odor? There must be some leftover gases, I imagine. You’re still venting the van? (I have a lung disease and have to really watch out for even the slightest pollution.)




As long as it isn’t smoking, I don’t detect any odors. Now I was just using cheap Walmart cooking oil, but these can use many types of cooking oil, olive oil, etc. And I’ve heard they can even use diesel or kerosene. The point is that any odors would probably be related to the fuel used, so that could be changed.

Basically these are just multi wick liquid candles with floating wicks.

Yes, my van is always vented when in use, and usually even when not in use. Ventilation, along with dry heat helps keep moisture & mold problems away.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

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That is quite the setup…! Thanks so much for taking the time to write that out - I think I could do it from your description. When I do, I’ll take a picture and post it - and you can tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

BTW, I always appreciate the time you take to answer and share your experience. I’ve discovered we might not always agree - but I always respect the depth of your knowledge and your willingness to share so generously.

Thank you.

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Awww… blush… Thanks for the kind words. :wink:

Nothing’s right for everybody, and it’s okay to not always agree. That’s how we learn, and knowledge is power. What seems right or wrong for us today, could change in the future, and you just never know.

Knowing extra options for if or when they’re needed never hurts. Yesterday I stumbled upon a lady in a ditch, and as luck would have it, my tow strap never got returned the last time I loaned it out, and all I had was a 100 foot length of dollar store rope. Not nearly strong enough for the task needed…

So I tripled the rope over, and did a chain stitch type thing to make a ~10 foot tow rope which would hopefully be much stronger, and it worked! I read that tip like 20 years ago, and 20 years later it saved the day. I think knowledge & choices are often under appreciated.

Pictures would be GREAT! That’s one category I’ve never been good at. Digital cameras, smart phones, and touch screens don’t seem to like me. I’m like a ghost to them for some reason. I can tap em till the cows come home, and they just ignore me. Voice recognition doesn’t seem to work well for me either. At least the keyboard on my laptop & keypad on my flip phone work hehe.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

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So this seems like a good place to ask a seriously dumb question.

Are diesel heaters only for diesel vehicles? Is there a decent alternative for a gasoline vehicle?


Diesel heaters only run on diesel fuel. They can be used in any vehicle or even stand alone with no vehicle at all.

Not a dumb question at all. we all start somewhere :slight_smile:
There are numerous alternatives. Buddy heaters for example.

If you’d rather build something yourself there are a few posts above related to that too.

Happy Trails!

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I was attracted to it because it would be venting outside the camper. I can’t have any fumes inside the camper. (lung disease. And I never smoked!)

Still reading . . . a LOT!


With proper necessary ventilation, fumes should really never be a problem because they will be vented out almost immediately.

I cook inside my van every day, and use unvented heaters constantly during frigid winters for the last few years, and fumes or odors are very brief before they go away. Even with vented heaters, it isn’t uncommon to get fumes for a little bit upon startup or shutdown, but nothing that proper ventilation can’t take care of almost immediately.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

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We installed a Webasto and it’s decidedly one of the better accessories we bought for the van. No more shopping for alternative fuel sources, moisture buildup or getting out of bed to mess with a propane heater.

We looked at the Chinese knockoffs, but then I watched a youtube video with a breakdown of the two and there are definitely build quality differences. Whether that matters or not I think has yet to be seen as the Chinese ones are still fairly new.

Have you figured out how to set them up for altitude yet? The webasto is a actually a fairly simple process.

Can you tell me why you bought three heaters? With taxes and freight you probably spent $600 - $800? Do you carry a spare with you? How much is reliability worth in the middle of nowhere at - 15F with no heat? Whats safety worth while your’re sleeping with a Chinese heater running?
These are reasons why people buy brand name heaters. I have a Planar high altitude heater. It was $900. I only purchased one, I only installed one, three years ago, and it hasn’t failed me once. I believe some things you can buy on the cheap. Safety and reliability items are ones you can’t. Hope you get my drift!

These are the questions i asked myself

Greetings & Welcome!

This is kind of where I’m at, except even simpler. The vintage style heater/cooker I used last winter in the frigid frozen North, is dirt cheap to build, uses no electricity, and has basically nothing that can go wrong with it. It’s basically a liquid candle heater/cooker with many wicks, that can use cooking oil, diesel, or kerosene.

You adjust the temperature according to how many wicks you light, and a dollar store string mop will give you a lifetime supply of wicks. Nice reliable dry heat, that’s portable and requires no vehicle modifications.

With the addition of a heat powered woodstove fan, you can have electricity free fan forced heat, or cooling powered by only a single wick lit. With a spray bottle to mist yourself & the fan, you can also stay cool even in the hottest weather.

While my laptop & phone need power to charge them, both are basically luxuries, but if I can heat, cook, have lights, etc. that are all electricity free, even if just for backups, I feel well prepared.

As a kid, we tent camped in all weather conditions, comfortably. Blazing hot to well below zero, we were comfortable without any electricity at all. While I’m not opposed to more modern conveniences, being prepared for when the power goes out, brings me a lot of comfort & peace of mind.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

Some may be hard pressed for money and cannot afford a $900 heater. I’d just like to add that one should not fear them just because they cost considerably less. Most everything you own today is made in China. I have 3 of different sizes of Chinese diesel heaters and for different purposes. For me it’s the golden ticket to being comfortable in the cold. There are millions of the Chinese diesel heaters in use it seems from all the forums that talk about them.
I have not read of a single case of CO poisoning from them to date. To each his own. Do your own research and you decide what’s right for you.

Take reasonable precautions of course. For example have multiple CO detectors. That should be the case regardless of what you use for heat I would say.
With over two years of use on them now and hundreds of hours they have been 100% reliable and it costs me about 30 cents a night to stay cozy warm and dry (oops…that was before gas prices went crazy, now it’s almost 60 cents a night…

I’m not a fan of open flames in a vehicle living space unless it’s a woodstove designed for it… It’s just me. Especially when there’s any kind of hot or flammable liquid associated with it. It also removes oxygen from the air and so you must leave windows open. If I had no other choice I’m sure I’d rather have that than freeze.

Van_Dweller this is not to in any way diminish your choice. If it works for you then it must be the right choice for you and will likely work for others as well. Different strokes for different folks the saying goes.

They are different sizes, different configurations for different situations. And as a backup.
Not to mention they were all shipped free. I think I have $340 total in all 3 of them combined.
I love my diesel heaters. With the simple push of a button my Van is 70F degrees in 15F weather in minutes. No mess no fuss.

Just my 2 cents. YMMV and of course, diesel heaters are not for everyone.

Happy Trails !

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Very interesting. Unfortunately I can’t seem to understand exactly what you’re doing? If I read it correctly you have 36 wicks positioned in a large can of cooking oil and you light then to produce heat. The amount of heat is regulated by the number of wicks you light? I’d be interested in seeing pictures pictures of your set up? A single flame produced by a wick burning a low flash point fuel like cooking oil or kerosene produces only about 85 BTU. This makes the total BTU’s for all 36 wicks ito be about 3100. That’s not a lot of heat. It sure wouldn’t keep my van warm at 25 F? Also I wonder how safe and how much soot is produced?


Yes, it is a 8"x8" square cookie tin, and the wicks are spaced 1" apart, and 1" in from the walls to give you a 6x6 grid of wicks.

BTU’s is highly questionable, the 3 wick UCO Candelier claims to produce 5k BTU… What I can tell you is that at -40°F last winter, 10 wicks lit kept me as toasty as my 23k BTU kerosene heater would on low, and that was with both front windows cracked about an inch, and no added insulation or window coverings in a hightop extended van with factory windows all around. 8-10 wicks lit seems about like a stove burner on high.

Sorry, no pics, but there’s a pretty detailed description earlier in this thread.

These are actually my backup plan, but I wanted to make sure they’d work as expected, and they actually exceeded my expectations for both heating & cooking, and proved to be reliable enough to use as even primary systems.

It burns clean as long as the wick height is short, with no soot or pot blackening, and I would say it’s as safe or safer than any other type of portable heater or campstove.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

Windows cracked open, no covering on the widows and -40F. First do you realize how cold -40F is? That’s 72 degrees below the freezing point of water. At that temp, just having the windows open, there’s absolutely no way 10 candles would even begin to warm up the air coming in! Are you sure the temp outside wasn’t 41? That’s possible. You should look up what a BTU is and then you’ll see any three candles couldn’t generate 3000 BTU’s if they were burning in pure oxygen! Last but not least its unbelievably dangerous and you should tell people it is. Unfortunately you wont.

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Real life doesn’t feel a need to comply with anybody else’s rules, needs, or expectations. Life is fluid and constantly changing. Yesterday’s reality, might be obsolete today, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still work.

Every day we look at things and say “That’s Impossible!” or ask ourselves “How is that possible?”, yet it happened. It didn’t care about the odds, the probability, physics, or anything else, yet it happened. Such is real life. No argument or explanation can claim it didn’t happen, when it obviously did.

Candle heating & cooking dates way back, and is still in daily use in many parts of the world. Millions of people have proven the technique works and they depend upon it.

A vehicle typically holds in heat quite well, even with the windows cracked. It might take a little extra heat to compensate for the open windows, but it’s still easily doable.

Many nomads do things much more dangerous than these heaters/cookers every day, but safety should always be practiced.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

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