Knowing we were going to be living in our Sprinter through a cold northwest winter meant making provisions for a heater. While the German made Espar diesel heaters tend to be the most popular, they also come with a pretty price tag. In order to save some money for other features we were interested in, we decided to go with a Russian made Planar diesel heater, which we found for a reasonable price online. Like Espar heaters, Planar heaters tap into the vehicle or boat's fuel tank and can run for numerous hours on a single gallon of diesel. There were of course some downsides of going with the Planar heater, the biggest being the rather poorly translated and often confusing installation/owners manual. However, we found a fair bit of information online regarding its install and were able to get it up and running last weekend without too much difficulty as the electrical part of the installation/placement of the heater under the passenger seat had already been completed prior to our moving in.
The base of the passenger seat in our Sprinter was empty and open on the top when we removed the seat, which made for the perfect spot to tuck the heater. We were working on the van in New Mexico at the time with the help of our parents, so my father actually did all the wiring and install under the seat, so pardon my rudimentary knowledge of those steps of the process. Basically, he removed the seat and the base, cut two circular holes in the floor for the heater's air intake and vent hoses, then bolted the heater to the floor via a mounting stand. The heater needs power to run the fan and the fuel pump, so electrical wiring, secured in conduit, was run from the battery under the bed to the heater, then attached to the floor with aluminum tape to keep things tidy. He then cut an opening in the base of the seat just the right size for the vent.
Our seat bases were pretty grimy and ugly, so we decided to carpet them with a gray industrial carpet we purchased by the roll from Home Depot. It's really affordable and nice and thin, so it cuts easily with scissors and can be adhered to pretty much any surface. We stuck it down with 3M adhesive spray and ended up using it to finish a lot of the surfaces in the van.
That was as far as we got with the heater install while in New Mexico. With temps as low as 34F over the last few weeks, we decided the time had come to finish the install and so with the help of a wonderful friend who assisted us with dropping the fuel tank, we managed to get everything squared away over the course of two weekends. Since the heater needed to tap into the Sprinter's fuel tank, the first step to finishing the install was lowering the tank in order to insert the stand pipe. We'd driven it down to an 1/8th of a tank so that it wouldn't be so heavy and managed to lower it using some boxes and containers in a Home Depot parking lot since we don't have a floor jack. Once we had it down on the ground, our friend Nick drilled a hole in the top of the tank while Justin reached inside the tank and held a container under the area where Nick was drilling to avoid ending up with plastic shavings inside the tank. They then fed the stand pipe through it from the inside of the tank up, as instructed in the manual. After that they covered the end of the stand pipe with plastic and hooked the fuel tank back up.
Last weekend Justin completed the install by mounting the fuel pump under the vehicle and connecting the fuel line from the heater to the pump to the stand pipe. He ran the fuel line through plastic electrical conduit to help protect it from breaking by rubbing on the frame. He then zip tied the conduit to the frame of the van through holes that already existed. Heat resistant insulation was added to the section of the fuel line that runs near the exhaust.
Electrical wiring from the heater needed to be dropped through the floor and attached to the fuel pump to give it power, so Justin removed the rubber plug from a hole in the floor just in front of the heater and fed the wiring through that to the underside of the vehicle. He then drilled a hole in the center of the plug just the right size for the wiring conduit to run through and cut a slit in the edge of it so that it could be slid around the conduit and pushed back into the hole, sealing things up again.
We ended up with extra length for our electrical wiring and so we folded it up and taped it down in a channel running between the front seats. The mat fit over it beautifully and you can't tell that anything is under it.
The final step in the process was attaching the cable from the heater to the temperature controller we mounted beside the cabinets over the front seats. The only problem was that they connected by attaching wires from the end of one cable to pins in the end of the other cable in a specific order, supposedly guided by color coordination, but the colors didn't all match up. For example, there was a yellow wire on the cable coming from the heater but no matching yellow wire on the cable coming from the controller. We weren't sure if we'd be able to disconnect the cables once they were engaged, so we wrote to the company to try and figure out the correct pairing. They wrote back right away but needed the serial number from the heater, which would require removing the seat. We had just resigned ourselves to doing so when Justin found a photograph online that showed the correct color pairing from an individual who'd had the same problem. We followed what he did exactly and voila, the heater started up beautifully! If you get a Planar heater and have the same color pairing issue, the wires match as follows:
- green - aqua blue
- white - white
- yellow - dark blue
- brown - red
So there you have it - a very basic description of how to install a Planar heater in a Sprinter van. Since I (Betsy) am the one who wrote this up, please forgive any mistakes in jargon etc. If you have questions, let us know and we'll do our best to answer them :)
P.S. If you notice rhythmic popping sounds while the heater is running, that's the fuel pump and that's just what it does, so don't be alarmed.