Diesel heater DIY modification

By: David Cook, Photography by: David Cook

Ray Pridham achieved portable heating by modifying a bus ‘pre-warmer’ he’d purchased online. David Cook explains how.

Diesel heater DIY modification
Ray struck gold searching for ‘diesel parking heaters’

There was a time when camping meant beating your chest as you faced the elements because that was what real pioneers did. Now the 21st century has softened our edges (and, ahem, our durability) and we want comforts in our camper trailers – like space heaters.

The very notion of such devices seemed ludicrous even a decade ago. We were bombarded by safety warnings about the compact gas units that briefly flooded the market, and electric heaters simply soaked up too many amps for any practical use away from mains supply.

Then came the rise of gas and diesel water and space heaters. Finally there was a safe and energy efficient way to keep your camper warm and cosy. Their popularity gained momentum in the last couple of years and gas or diesel space heaters are now fitted to many upmarket camper trailers. Their prevalence is slowly trickling down into the mid- and even lower-priced campers as their cost to manufacture falls. You can even buy the units off the internet at quite modest prices and fit them yourself.

Which is exactly what Ray Pridham from Richmond, NSW, did when he decided to increase the level of comfort offered in his camper trailer.


Ray struck gold searching for ‘diesel parking heaters’. Diesel parking heaters are designed for colder climates to pre-warm a car or bus, which is why most come from Europe or China, but they still do an excellent job of heating a camper trailer or caravan. In fact, you can even remotely operate some models with your mobile phone.

Ray wasn’t looking for anything so fancy. His unit cost him $780 and it came as a kit with all of the components supplied. He decided, however, to make his portable, so he modified a metal toolbox he purchased

at a local hardware outlet. This gave the heater a sturdy outer covering and a latching lid for all the little bits.

The kit came with an exhaust pipe which does a lot to reduce noise, but Ray installed a lawnmower muffler as an additional soundproofing measure. Ray then insulated the muffler so that no hot metal was exposed. He mounted the heater unit on the top of the toolbox, with the exhaust, fuel pump and filter fitted internally. Ray then cut holes and fitted vents into the toolbox to optimise air intake to the burner and allow for heat from the muffler to escape.

Ray made a checkerplate aluminium cover for the heater unit with four over-centre latches to retain it in place and a handle on top. As a final measure to keep the noise levels down, he lined the inside of the cover with sound absorption material he purchased from Jaycar.

The exhaust pipe and hoses travel inside the cover when not in use, so everything stays in one neat package.

The fuel tank – with its soldered on fuel line – is a 3L olive oil can, which Ray feels gives it a rustic touch, and is mounted in an aluminium tub at one end.


To operate, Ray simply sits the unit on the ground outside and pokes the ducting (included in the kit) into the corner of the door. Ray’s wife Diane says it’s great for warming the shower tent for comfortable showers even in cold and blustery weather.

The unit requires pre-heating of an element within the unit to commence fuel consumption, and Ray plugs his into an Anderson plug on the exterior of his camper, adjacent to the door. It draws at a rate of 10A on start-up and then 2A/hour on high or 1A/hour on low.

Diesel consumption is about 0.2L/h on high or 0.1L/h on low, which is the way Ray runs it normally to achieve 20 hours on a tank. Temperature and air volume are adjusted with a controller that comes as part of the kit. Noise is equivalent to that of factory-fitted units in other campers, though with the unit sitting on the ground seems less intrusive.

All up, as we saw Ray’s heater, it had cost him $780 for the initial kit plus about $50 in ancillary items.

Ray said they have even taken it with them to heat rented cabins or even in tents, as it is all totally portable and quite compact.

As Diane said to us: "It’s lovely. You can turn it on in the morning when you wake up and just lie in bed while the camper warms up."

Sounds good to me!

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Check out the full feature in issue #96 January 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.