Diesel Caravan Heater Vs Gas Caravan Heater – Which Is Best For Your Caravan and Why

Debate rages in many circles around whether diesel caravan heaters or gas caravan heaters are better for your caravan.

Both types of heaters produce great results, but they do have some different characteristics, so ultimately, you’ll need to make a choice based on what aligns more closely with your preferences.

Overall, if budget is your main driver, then you will probably be swayed by the benefits of a cheap Chinese diesel heater. But if money is not a concern, then gas options may increase in appeal. 

Throughout the rest of this article, the two different types of caravan heaters will be compared across a range of different characteristics followed by a summary of the pros and cons of each.

Cost

Gas Caravan heaters start at a price of just under $2000 for a Truma Vario Eco Gas Heater, and go up in price from there. This is for a high-quality unit from a brand with decades of experience making these products well, with thousands of satisfied customers.

When thinking about gas caravan heaters, keep in mind that due to regulatory compliance, they will need to be professionally installed, which will be an additional cost.

Diesel heaters, on the other hand, can be a lot cheaper when considering cheap Chinese imports, or much more expensive when considering high-quality popular brands.

Chinese-made diesel heaters can be bought for less than $200 and installed yourself, so they are a clear winner in terms of affordability.

However, the name-brand models by Eberspacher and Webasto start at around $1500 and go up from there.

There is much discussion around the potential pitfalls of using Chinese-made diesel heaters, but from a pure cost standpoint – diesel heaters are the clear winner. 

Noise

Gas caravan heaters tend to be considered quieter than diesel caravan heaters.

This quieter operation is attributed to the fact there is no exhaust (given the nature of the heating process), and the only moving part is the electrical fan which moves the warm air out of the vents. 

Diesel caravan heaters, in particular, the Chinese caravan heaters are often considered noisier.

However many claims that much of the noise often observed in diesel caravan heaters is due to poor installation work, as opposed to the nature of the design itself.

Some with high-quality Eberspacher units claim they are equally as quiet as their gas heater counterparts.

Diesel heaters are definitely noisier when they first startup, but once warmed (after 10-15 minutes they tend to quieten down to a very acceptable level).

Given the amount of conjecture around the noise of the different types of caravan heaters, it is hard to give you a definite and reliable statement – but on balance, gas heaters tend to be quieter given they have no exhaust or pump involved.

Some caravan parks have even banned the use of diesel heaters due to ‘noise pollution’ issues for those camped nearby. Many states that for those inside the caravan, there is no difference between a gas and diesel heater in terms of noise, but those outside will be more likely to notice the difference. 

Fuel 

Availability

Though LPG is commonplace in the majority of places you will go, there are many regional and outback areas where LPG supply is not guaranteed. On the other hand, you will always be able to find diesel.

Consumption

Both types of caravan heaters are quite efficient, but a large number of users in many different forums and groups report much greater efficiency from the fuel consumption of their diesel caravan heater than do users of gas caravan heaters.

Impact On Overall Caravan Functioning

Some people are drawn to gas caravan heaters, given they already have LPG on their caravan, so they can connect their heater to that and not need to worry about carrying diesel around as well.

The truth of this cannot be disputed. However, there is a potential downside in that in many situations, you will then have a stove and hot water and now a heater accessing your gas supplies which could drain them quickly.

If you are in a populated area that is not a problem, however, if in the outback where LPG supplies are not guaranteed, then this could become problematic.

So the length of time you would like to be off-grid, and the proximity to a reliable LPG source should be considered. 

Installation

Given the regulations around gas appliances, gas heaters require installation by a licensed professional, so this will be an additional cost.

Diesel caravan heaters do not require professional installation, so DIY installation is allowed and very commonly done, with many youtube videos and blog posts outlining how this is done. 

12v Power Consumption

Though both gas and caravan heaters would be considered low power draw appliances, gas caravan heaters tend to be lower than diesel caravan heaters given the 12v power only needs to power the small fan to push the hot air out. 

Diesel caravan heaters, on the other hand, require 12v power to run the fan, the fuel pump, and also to assist the glow plug (especially while warming).

The standard running usage is low overall, but not quite as low as the gas caravan heaters. 

Safety

Both gas and diesel heaters are by design extremely safe to have in your caravan if operating well, and installed properly.

The units are completely sealed, and the only thing they release into the caravan is warm air.

But some people worry about potential health risks if they fail to operate properly. This is an understandable concern and something you should contemplate in your final decision.

You can install a carbon monoxide alarm which may give you an advanced warning of any potential issues.

Impact On Others

When installed correctly, for those inside the caravan, you are not likely to notice much noise (apart from when the diesel heater is warming up).

Though, some diesel heaters make a noticeable amount of noise for those outside your caravan. This could be poorly received by people camping nearby.

If you have installed a diesel heater well, then this may not be an issue, but the external noise of diesel heaters has been noted by many. 

Heating Mechanism 

Though they have a different heat creation mechanism (gas vs diesel), the heaters operate in largely the same way.

A heat exchanger increases in temperature as a result of either the gas-burning or diesel combusting, and then a fan blows air past this exchanger (which becomes warm air) into your caravan.

Heat Type

Diesel heaters are applauded for the nice dry type of heat they produce that eliminates a lot of the condensation and moisture that can accumulate overnight. 

Gas Caravan Heater – Pros and Cons

ProsCons
No smellMore expensive (than Chinese Diesel heaters)
No additional fuel source (if LPG already on caravan)More expensive to install (need professional)
QuieterUse more gas for the same amount of heat
Fuel will never freezeGas supply not guaranteed in remote areas

Diesel Caravan Heaters Pros and Cons 

ProsCons
Cheaper (for Chinese import)Potential smell and sound side effects (especially if not installed well)
DIY InstallFuel might freeze
No Shortage of FuelNeed an additional fuel tank
Leaves LPG for other appliances (hot water/stove)Has an exhaust pipe
Can be more remote for longerNoisy to start with (when warming up)
Can pre-warm caravan while drivingMore installation space required
Dry heat – no moisture inside the van

Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Caravan Heater

  • What is your total budget (including installation costs)?
  • Do I have the skills to install a diesel heater myself?
  • How far off the grid do I plan to be, and for how long, and what is my gas usage like?
    • Heavy gas demand could indicate an additional gas appliance could reduce you to travelling in locations where LPG is readily available.

What We Chose

In the end, it was heavily influenced by budget and the ‘dryness’ of diesel heat. We opted for a DIY-installed Chinese diesel heater.

We made sure installation was done properly with all the relevant components to offset most of the noise, and have a carbon monoxide alarm inside the van as a safety measure.

That’s good for us, but keep in mind we may only do 30-40 nights a year in our caravan. If you are a full-time traveller you might have different preferences. 

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