Are Chinese Diesel Heaters Safe?

Diesel heaters are fantastic pieces of equipment for vehicular use, and the market for these products has been dominated by German and Finnish companies, such as Eberspacher, Wallas, and Webasto, for quite some time. However, a significant source of market competition nowadays comes from China, where they sell these products for a fraction of the cost. The deals often seem too good to be true, but that might be because they are. 

Chinese diesel heaters that are copies of European products created by Eberspacher, Wallas, Webasto, or other reputable brands are typically lower quality and less safe than the originals. Although you might be able to find some Chinese diesel heaters that are high quality or a great bang for your buck, for the most part, they are risky purchases. 

Read on to learn more about what Chinese diesel heaters are and how they work. We’ll also discuss their overall safety and tips you should know before using a Chinese diesel heater. 

What Is A Chinese Diesel Heater?

A Chinese diesel heater is a heating device typically installed into vehicles, such as RVs and motorhomes. The ultimate purpose is for owners to have the ability to heat the inside of these vehicles without leaving their RV or motorhome running or idling, as this will waste fuel and potentially drain the battery.

Therefore, if you plan to sleep in the vehicle overnight or simply want to spend a few hours inside while you’re stopped somewhere, you can switch on your Chinese diesel heater, and it will heat your interior to a toasty temperature in no time. 

Diesel heaters are an effective and sometimes cost-efficient alternative to other RV and caravan heating devices, such as LPG gas heaters that can be pricy to supply or electric heaters. Since diesel is easily accessible in most locations, Chinese diesel heaters are convenient installations to any vacation or traveler’s vehicle. 

How Does a Chinese Diesel Heater Work?

A Chinese diesel heater might sound complex, but functions are actually quite simple. Most diesel heaters are composed of the same parts, including:

  • A hot air outlet
  • An exhaust pipe
  • A silencer
  • A combustion air intake component
  • Connection to the vehicle’s fuel supply 
  • A fresh air intake component

In order to work, a Chinses diesel heater will intake fresh air from the outdoors into the system and mix it with the diesel fuel it obtains from its connection to the vehicle. Combining the diesel fuel with the air allows it to ignite and heat more efficiently inside the system.

This air is then passed over a heated cylindrical metal surface to heat the air enough to heat the interior of the vehicle when it is redistributed. This heated air then passes through the vehicle’s ducts with a fan’s help and into your motorhome or caravan. 

An important note to make is that this process demonstrates how a Chinese diesel air heater works, but there is a water alternative. 

Instead of drawing in air from the outside to heat and redistribute, a diesel water heater is connected to your vehicle’s water reservoir and heats this water to create steam. Of course, you don’t want the interior of your motorhome or RV to get damp from mass amounts of steam. 

To prevent this, the steam then flows to the heat exchanger, where heat is extracted from the steam, so this excess moisture does not flow into your vehicle. Once pure heat has been extracted, it dissipates and is distributed throughout the cabin with the help of a blower fan. 

Chinese diesel air heaters are the more common choice between the two systems, but there are benefits of using either. 

Are Chinese Diesel Heaters Safe?

Diesel heaters might be fantastic products, especially for individuals who love to live their life on the road or embark on frequent road trips, but ultimately, they aren’t worth it if they aren’t safe. Of course, the prices on Chinese diesel heaters make them a tempting purchase.

To help you better decide if Chinese diesel heaters are for you, we’ll describe diesel heaters’ safety as a product and then how safe they are if manufactured in China.

Are Diesel Heaters Safe?

As an overall product, diesel heaters are considered exceptionally safe, particularly when compared to competing products, such as LPG gas or electric heaters.

One of the biggest safety concerns with diesel heaters is that diesel fuel is highly combustible, and so, if the fuel were somehow lit, it could cause serious damage to your vehicle or anyone inside. A significant enough diesel-fueled explosion could even result in death.

Thankfully, diesel heaters are built to prevent such occurrences. It is particularly difficult to ignite the fuel within a diesel heater because the air heaters help confine the diesel gas in a furnace section of the system. This prevents any fuel or fumes from escaping the diesel heater, which effectively mitigates the risk of combustion or explosion. 

Another significant risk with diesel heaters is any diesel fumes that could potentially escape. Excessive and prolonged exposure to diesel fumes could cause:

  • Permanent nervous system damage
  • Respiratory damage
  • Irritation of the nose and eyes
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Luckily, diesel heaters are safe in this regard for the same reason it is unlikely to explode or combust. Any system fumes are effectively contained and won’t seep into the cabin. 

Another important safety measure is that these products are built with an automatic shut-off feature that will turn the system off when temperatures exceed its designed safety threshold. This prevents overheating, which could damage various components of the system. 

Are Diesel Heaters Safe if Manufactured in China?

With products sold at half, or even a third, of its European competitors’ price, Chinese diesel heaters have been a hot commodity for individuals who spend significant amounts of time on road trips or living out of their vehicles. However, there are many issues surrounding these products, and the most concerning is their safety. 

Since Chinese diesel heaters are much cheaper, we can infer that they cut costs somewhere along the manufacturing line. Unfortunately, some of those costs were cut in terms of quality components, and so, many Chinese diesel heaters are unsafe because they are made of cheap materials that are flammable. 

Because diesel fuel is highly combustible, it is essential that all materials are made of the highest quality and protected against overheating or flames, so the product does not lean diesel gas or fuel and potentially explode. Although the product is far more likely to overheat and burst into flames than exploding, it is important to note the possibility.

Another issue with Chinese diesel heaters that customers have reviewed is that these products are sometimes made without thermal protection. If the component that draws in the air becomes blocked, the heater won’t automatically shut down. This could lead to a series of issues, from overheating to component damage. 

In terms of product safety standards, Chinese diesel heaters still adhere to NZ safety standards, so they are certified as safe in some form. 

However, according to an article by Heatspace that compares Chinese to European heaters, it was stated that heaters from dominant, high-quality European companies, such as Eberspacher and Webasto, comply with the current 2001-56 EC directive.

This directive specifically relates to heating systems for motor vehicles and their trailers rather than being a more general standard in the case of the NZ safety standards. 

Meeting this standard means that the company has gone to extreme measures to ensure their products are certified by “the highest European safety standards, both for general use, and for use while asleep.” As a result, European diesel heaters are far safer than Chinese diesel heaters, particularly if the Chinese products are copies or composed of low-quality materials. 

Are They Safe To Use In Motorhomes?

You can use Chinese diesel heaters in motorhomes, but they aren’t likely to be your safest choice, as we touched upon previously. Purchasing a Chinese diesel heater can act as a sort of lottery system. You might get lucky and purchase a product that is significantly cheaper than competitors and works fantastic for your motorhome, or you might purchase a Chinese diesel heater that overheats and breaks within the first few uses. 

The best thing you can do is thoroughly research the particular product you might buy and compare it to its European competitors. Compare:

  • What materials are the same? 
  • What materials are different?
  • Do they have the same safety precautions?
  • What safety standards are they certified for?
  • Is the price reasonable even though it’s cheaper, or does it seem too good to be true?
  • Where are you purchasing the product from (third party source, Amazon, direct from company)?

The more the Chinese product has in common with higher-quality European products, the better. It is likely to be a safer and more functional product is obtained from a reliable source, built with quality components, and certified with relevant safety standards.

If the product has a price that is too good to be true, odds are, it’s unsafe. It may work fine for the first few uses or even months if used sparingly, but over time, it is likely to break much faster than a competitor’s product and risk the safety of your motorhome and yourself. 

So, ultimately, you can certainly install a Chinese diesel heater into your motorhome and many individuals before you have done this. However, remember that this can be a risky decision and might cause you to replace and repair more than just your cheap heater. 

What Should I Know Before Using A Chinese Diesel Heater?

If you decide that the reduced price is worth the chance and you want to invest in a Chinese diesel heater, here are some tips to help you ensure your product is safe and lasts as long as possible. 

Limit Your Usage

Since many Chinese diesel heaters are manufactured with lower-quality materials and aren’t typically as safe as competitor products, you’ll want to limit how long and how often you use them. This will prevent the system from overheating quickly and potentially damaging other heater components. 

If you intend to heat your vehicle’s interior while parked, consider idling the car rather than turning the heater on if this is a brief stop that won’t last longer than an hour. If you are going to be sitting in your vehicle for a longer period of time, it is not safe to have it idling for hours, and so this is an appropriate time to use the heater. 

However, once the interior has reached a comfortable temperature, turn the heater off. It is likely the interior will maintain a comfortable temperature for some time until you need to turn it on again rather than leaving it running for hours on end.  

Turn it Off When It Isn’t Supervised

Due to the fact that these products have a reputation for overheating or breaking, you don’t want to leave them on when you aren’t around to supervise them. If the worse were to happen and the heater combusted without you there to intervene, it could easily damage or destroy your vehicle and all your belongings inside. 

Therefore, when you aren’t in your vehicle, even if you are just outside for some social time or a meal, turn your heater off. It might be nice to walk into a toasty warm interior, but it isn’t worth the risk of breaking the heater or causing an accident.

This is particularly important when you are asleep. It is certainly uncomfortable to sleep in cold temperatures, and this is a driving force behind the reason most individuals buy a diesel heater. However, it is not safe to leave a Chinese diesel heater running for 6+ hours while you sleep.

For one, your system is far more likely to overheat and break when left on for this amount of time. Secondly, overexposure to diesel fuel can be extremely dangerous. If a system component were to break from overuse and this gas leaks into the interior of your vehicle, you could easily breathe it in while you are sleeping and suffer serious health consequences. 

For the safety of yourself and others, turn your heater off when you sleep. This might mean that you’ll have to turn it off and on a few times throughout the night if you’re sleeping somewhere particularly cold, but at least you’ll be safe. 

Give it a Tune-Up 

Sometimes, individuals will opt for the bargain Chinese diesel heaters over European heaters because there is a huge community on Facebook and YouTube filled with others who have previously purchased these heaters and troubleshot all of its common issues. 

These people will post all sorts of content that aim to help fellow owners of Chinese diesel heaters get their money’s worth and make their heaters safer and more functional with just a few simple alterations.

Therefore, if you are mechanically savvy, you could potentially buy a Chinese diesel heater that you know has plenty of troubleshooting content and just fix it up yourself. Many of these videos are user-friendly and include basic parts and tools that don’t require vast amounts of cash or mechanical knowledge. Just the ability to follow the creator’s instructions.

It is likely that, even with the extra funds invested in alterations and repairs, this approach will still be vastly cheaper than buying a German, high-quality heater that is nearly three times the cost. 

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