install an auxiliary heater

| December 05, 2001

Running a 500-hp diesel engine to generate cab and sleeper heat is like whittling with a chainsaw. It can be done, but not without a lot of excess noise and energy.

The most efficient truckers have long relied on auxiliary heaters to keep them warm during downtime, cutting emissions and saving money in the process. The fuel consumption of today’s heaters is a fraction of that used by heavy diesels.

“Our D1LC burns two-hundredths of a gallon per hour when set on low,” says Ray Lawrence, president of Espar of Michigan.

Part of this efficiency results from a greater use of electronics, which enable auxiliary heaters to operate on multiple output levels instead of merely switching on and off. Electronics also provide diagnostic capabilities that improve and expedite servicing.

Espar Heater Systems, based in Mississauga, Ontario, is one of three main heater brands. The other two are Proheat, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Webasto Thermosystems, based in Lapeer, Mich. All are reporting strong sales this year, despite the dismal condition of the new truck market.

“Green technology is a good seller nowadays,” says Scott Winton, Proheat’s sales and marketing manager. “Communities and neighborhoods are getting testier about the exhaust of vehicles left idling for long periods.”

Webasto marketing director Sandra Jones agrees, saying the federal government is putting pressure on states to lower emissions, and idling trucks are popular targets of those efforts. Pollution issues aside, she says, the biggest selling point of heaters is their contribution to fuel savings.

That was the driving factor at Genmar Transportation in Little Falls, Minn., when its management recently ordered 50 Espar heaters from Interstate Detroit Diesel in Superior, Wis. Dave Waltman, Genmar’s shop foreman, says the initial results look good. “We’ve seen a big drop in the idling time of trucks with heaters,” he says. “And we picked up a half-mile per gallon on them.” Genmar runs 165 trucks. Waltman says auxiliary heaters will be installed in all new units as they’re brought into the fleet.

The following steps apply to an Espar D1LC Compact heater. The job is fairly straightforward and doesn’t require specialized tools. The heater kits come with all necessary mounting hardware, but some people will want plastic loom (gator skin) and extra nylon ties to further protect and secure the wiring harnesses. Shop time is six to eight hours.

The job

1. Unpack the kit. Arrange parts according to their function: fuel, electrical, air, etc. Grouping the hardware will help you visualize the tasks and ensure that all necessary bits are present.

2. Choose a mounting location. The D1LC should be mounted in an enclosed area. On trucks with sleepers, the units are typically bolted inside a cargo box under the bed. Ideally, a heater should be accessible from the ground so it can be easily installed and serviced. It should also be within 6 feet of its fuel supply. The space from which inlet air is drawn should be odor-free. This may mean finding a new home for your oil jugs, shop rags or laundry basket.

3. Bore holes. Use the kit’s templates and a center punch to mark the locations of required holes: ductwork, combustion air and wiring harness. Before drilling, put the heater in the location where you intend to mount it, just to make sure there is clearance between your intended drilling and any hidden electrical components or structural elements. Remove the heater and cut the holes with a drill and appropriately sized hole-saw bits.

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