Monday 25 March 2024

Fitting a Diesel Heater to our Defender Camper

Following on from our post about fitting solar panels to the Alu-Cab Icarus roof on our Defender, the next step was to install the auxiliary battery, run the internal wiring, fit the charge controller and fit the diesel heater!

Diesel Heater Location

After much debating on the position for the diesel heater in the Defender, we decided that the best solution for us was to remove the front middle seat and fit the heater in the Nakatanenga heater console. 

Diesel heater console and cubby box in a Land Rover Defender

Nakatanenga supply a full heater kit for the Defender, with all of the components required to fit it.  The only UK supplier is 4x4overlander, the website is not always up to date with stock, so do give them a call or email to confirm availability.

Nakatanenga Diesel Heater Kit for Land Rover Defender

Mounting the Diesel Heater in the Console

I started by fitting the heater console to the mounting plate, and then fitted the heater inside the console.  The power supply to the fuel pump can be fed through the small hole in the mounting plate.

Defender Diesel Heater console

Defender Diesel Heater Console

Diesel Heater fitted to the mounting plate

The console comes with a few options for the mounting plate for the controller, we decided to just keep it simple at this stage and got the option with a single hole for the controller.  The controller has a backing plate which is bolted through the plate, and then the controller simply clicks onto the backing plate.

Nakatanenga Diesel Heater Controller

Solar Charge Controller

We decided to make use of the additional space in the heater console to mount the Renogy solar charge controller.  We went with a 30A DC-DC Battery Charger with in-built MPPT.  
(Use this link for a 7% Renogy discount code on your purchase.)

The charge controller fits nicely inside the heater console, with plenty of space for the required wiring.

DC-DC Battery Charger in a Nakatanenga Heater Console

I wired up all of the cables to the charge controller at this stage, and left the cables long so that they could be run to their final positions in the battery compartment.

Nakatanenga Heater Console with Solar Wiring

In hindsight I should have also fitted the air intake, exhaust pipe and fuel line at this stage too, as they are really fiddly to fit from underneath once the heater is in position.

Installing the heater assembly

The first step was to remove the centre seat, I also removed the passenger seat to make access easier.

Defender front seats

Defender seat box

Budgie's previous owner fitted these great sound deadening rubber mats, so the next step was to carefully cut out the matting to the dimensions of the heater console.

Land Rover Defender seat box rubber mats

With the mat cut out, the access plate can be removed (just a couple of screws holding it in place).  The access plate is exactly the same dimensions as the mounting plate supplied with the diesel heater kit.

Defender middle seat access plate removed

The whole assembly can then be fitted in place of the access plate.  The mounting plate has a recess at the back which catches the frame of the seat box, and uses the same screw positions at the front to secure it in place.

Defender diesel heater console in position

The rubber mats are then refitted, and the seat rails replaced.  All of those long cables from the solar charge controller, which we fitted earlier, are run along the back of the seat box and into the battery compartment. 

The positive cable from the solar panel is also fed along this route and into the charge controller, while the negative cable from the panel is fed into the battery compartment.

Land Rover Defender diesel heater centre console

Battery Compartment and Solar Wiring

With a bit of shuffling about, I managed to get the original start battery moved over slightly which made enough room for the new 100Ah Renogy lithium (LiFePO4) auxiliary battery.

Renogy lithium auxiliary battery in Defender seat box

There's also enough room for the ANL fuses required for the solar wiring and a new Blue Sea auxiliary fuse panel, which all of the auxiliary loads will be wired to.  At the moment the only auxiliary load is the power to the lighting in the Alu-Cab roof, but the plan is to add some more charging points in the back later, and maybe some heated seats!

The two ANL fuses are mounted to the front of the seat box, and the auxiliary fuse panel is mounted to the back of the seat box.

Solar ANL fuse in Defender seat box

Blue Sea auxiliary fuse box in Defender seat box

The diesel heater comes with a fused power supply, so this was wired straight to the auxiliary battery, and the fuse holder mounted beside the new auxiliary fuse panel.  With everything in position the solar cables can be cut to length, terminated with a crimping tool and wired up to the correct positions.

Auxiliary Battery wiring for a solar powered Defender

The charge controller comes with clear instructions and a handy simplified wiring diagram.

Renogy solar charge controller wiring diagram

Air Intake, Exhaust and Fuel Line

With everything sorted inside the Land Rover, it was time to fit the external components.  Thankfully it's easy enough to crawl under a Defender, so no need for ramps etc.

As I said earlier, it would have been easier to fit the air intake, exhaust and fuel lines before fitting the heater assembly into the vehicle, but it is possible to fit them from underneath.  All three lines are pretty close together, so it's just a bit fiddly getting the lines into position and tightening up the fasteners.  It would probably be best to do the fuel line first, as this was really awkward!

Air intake, exhaust and fuel lines for the Defender diesel heater

I ran the fuel line and the fuel pump power supply cable along the chassis rail, following the route of the existing vehicle electrics.  You can then cut the fuel line to length and fit the fuel pump.  The pump is fitted in a rubber mount which I screwed to the chassis leg behind the rear wheel.
 
Diesel heater fuel pump

Fuel pump in position on the Defender chassis

The heater kit is supplied with a fuel pick up, which fits into the Defender fuel filling trunk.  I popped the filling line off, cut the pipe at the required position, fixed the fuel pick up into position, then re-fitted the whole assembly.  Don't do this with a full tank, while parked on a slope, or you will spill diesel everywhere - trust me!

Diesel heater fuel pick up


Bending the fuel pick up pipe down a bit, lets you decide whether the pick-up reaches all the way to the bottom of the tank, or leave a bit of reserve in the tank, so that the heater can't run the tank empty.

For the heater exhaust pipe, I followed the vehicle exhaust pipe.  Cut the pipe to length, and fitted the provided silencer, screwing it to the chassis cross member.


The air intake pipe also runs towards the back of the vehicle, but closer to the middle and above the chassis cross member, so that there is a bit of separation between intake and exhaust.

Powering up!

With everything connected, it was time to power up and test the heater out.  It took a couple of attempted starts, to get the fuel pumped all the way from the tank to the heater, but after that it fired up straight away, and ran for the required 2 hour running in period with no problems.  

Once everything was in and tested, we fitted the Exmoor Trim cubby box to the top of the heater console, and I think it looks great.  Next up is the rear storage and sleeping solution for the boys!

Diesel heater console and cubby box in a Land Rover Defender