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Espar B4L Heater not starting at Elevation

37440 Views 322 Replies 60 Participants Last post by  brío
So I installed a Espar B4L in my 2020 transit, under the passenger seat and have a problem with the heater starting when I am at elevation.

I live in Boise ID, at around 3k feet elevation, when down here in the valley my heater starts 99% of the time without issues. When I travel to my local ski area around 6800K feet the heater NEVER starts first try and generally will take around 30+ minutes of trying to get the thing started. Once it does starts at elevation, it will run absolutely fine stopping and starting. When I got back down in elevation it also will always start fine, and then back up to elevation I again have the problem.

Ive completely taken apart the entire gas line from the pickup in the tank all the way to the heater, ensuring rise, fittings, etc are perfect... still have the same problem of getting it started at elevation.

Heatso has been sorta OK to work with, but I feel like they dont really know either. They will be sending me a new ECU (when they get them in a couple weeks).

Has anyone had this problem, is there a trick to getting it started I could use until i get the root cause sorted?

Appreciate any pointers!
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In case anyone needs further convincing that tube diameter matters:
I once had a diesel Espar D5 that was installed by an upfitter. It never worked worth a d*mn. I chased the issue for a year and finally took it to a professional. He took one look at the setup and said "That tubing is way too big. Won't work. He tore it out and replaced it with real Espar fuel line. Instant fix, with zero problems ever since.
 

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My upfitter used bigger-than-spec'd fuel hose. Took me a year of flakey performance to figure out the problem. I finally listened to a professional and tore the whole thing out and used the proper stuff. All issues disappeared.

The only reason these heaters have a reputation for unreliability is that people choose to ignore the very-specific installation instructions, thinking they couldn't possibly matter. You would be crazy to do this.
 

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Well, you should do what you think best.
Maybe it will only fail a "few" times out of 100.

EDIT:
Excuse the sarcasm in the above. The point is that such systems are on the edge of working OK. Mine was fine when brand new. But every failed start (and there should be none) will lead to a fuel-rich ignition on the second try, and will contribute to the fouling of the burner. You will slowly use up the margin of robustness that these heaters have.
Or, maybe you will be lucky and never have issues. Do you really want to depend on luck? There is a reason why the manufacturer goes on-and-on about proper fuel line installation. It is silly not to follow their specifications, IMO.
 

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FWIW, I think the objective around here is to present our own experience and let everyone draw their own conclusions.

I seriously considered @Bazz99 reports of working great when installing ours; then I also considered his notes of it taking a few tries to start a few times. I weighed those things against my willingness to do the extra work and my skill, tools, etc between the two methods. I chose standpipe.

I think it would be perfectly understandable for someone else to come to a different conclusion. One doesn't even have to disconnect /anything/ to do the aux connection - let alone remove the tank. That might be a determining factor for some folks. And the risk that it takes a few tries to start might be worth it to them. 🤷‍♀️

Of course, knowing it was someone you PAID to do the install for you... that might piss me off a bit. 😠

I like the phrase, "you do you," but realized that it offends at times - often being read as sarcasm when I don't mean it that way. Both methods are acceptable on this.
I agree with all of that. It's just that it is kind of easy for a casual reader to come to the conclusion that the shortcut methods are "just as good", and I believe that the evidence suggests otherwise. I do admit that your post doesn't actually say that. I just hope people are reading carefully. I am perhaps overreacting due to my experience. It is less that the screwup was by a professional than the years' worth of pain and effort on my part that it took to track down an issue that should never have been there in the first place.
 

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Getting back to constructive discussion:
Is it possible to replace the factory fuel pickup with the proper standpipe (understanding that this requires dropping the tank) and then using the BL4 extension? Or is the latter completely useless if I want to use the standpipe?
 

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Not sure I understand which "extension" you mean. If you're referring to length of the standpipe, it comes longer than usable - it must be cut to fit in the tank. You choose how long to cut it based on how much "reserve" you want to have. I cut about 2.5" off mine - reasoning that looked like it would amount to 4 gallons or so in reserve on the 31-gallon tank.
Sorry, cut-and-paste error.
I am asking about the usefulness of Option 63F -- Auxiliary Fuel Port Extension Line under the assumption that I am going to use the Espar standpipe rather than the Ford one. I.e., is there any value to paying $100 extra for 63F if I am going to drop my tank anyway?
 

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I have never heard the voltage range recommendation before, but it certainly makes sense. The fuel volume test is checking the fuel pump, which is the closest thing the system has to a precise metering system. If the voltage is slightly too high, I could easily imagine the symptom you are describing, since you may be getting just a hair more fuel than the burner can deal with over time.

If that turns out to be the issue, a fix might be to feed the heater through a 12VDC regulator, or even a large low-value resistor if you don't mind wasting power.
 

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if this ends up being a voltage issue, I'd be a bit surprised. I'm assuming most everyone else is driving theirs from a lithium setup as well and this hasn't been reported that I can recall.
That is true. But, when something is just a little out of spec, that is what you see. The system tolerances have enough margin that small "fudges" usually work fine. But every unit is slightly different, so some small percentage of the time it will come back to bite you.

I am definitely just speculating, but these units are known for being a bit fussy when things aren't just right.
 

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Hmm. Tough one.
First of all, I concur that you definitely don't want a fuel line larger than spec. They do not work. I speak from experience.

It seems to me that there are only two possibilities:
1) Both pumps are out of spec (or you have the incorrect pumps).
2) The controller is sending pulses at the wrong rate.
I think it is time to measure pulses. This reference gives the correct values for various units:

He also says that you can adjust the spring tension in the pump. I wouldn't try that prior to a diagnosis, though.

Keep us informed.
 

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Here's an illustration from an older D5 installation manual. Seems to suggest that the absolute length of the suction part of the line is more important than the ratio of "push" to "pull".
[EDIT: Actually, looking more carefully, it kind of supports that theory, but subject to absolute length restrictions as well.]
Font Line Parallel Slope Auto part
 

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+1.
These units are very robust (despite their reputation), but only if they are set up just right. Unfortunately, the definition of "just right" is complex and sometimes counterintuitive. It is really helpful when folks like you take the time to coax out the details and document them.
 

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I have the proper pipe after first using the Ford aux. You'll see my posts well up in the thread. Not new to this. At this point I'm here to tell people in Colorado to not waste their time with a gasoline powered heater. Diesel or propane works much better.
I asked because as far as I have seen, most reported altitude problems have involved the Ford tube. I had pretty much convinced myself that this was causal. There are certainly plenty of folks who report no problems @ 10K. 🤷‍♂️
 

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Name 3 people who use their gasoline espar heaters regularly above 10k. I don't recall any, definitely not plenty.
Oh, come on...

Should I demand that you name three other people who have your problem with a demonstrably correctly-set-up system?

All I am saying is that there is no shortage on this list of people who report proper operation without high-altitude problems. I don't know how to ascertain "regularly".

I had plenty of issues with my Espar diesel, too. Then I determined and fixed the problem and it has been perfect ever since. I see little evidence that it won't be the same with petrol. These units are unforgiving, without doubt. That doesn't mean they don't work when properly deployed. Your experience counts, and I appreciate your reporting it. But is just one negative data point, and I have seen few others.
 

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My understanding is that downstream of the pump it is normal for there to be a stream of very small, uniform bubbles spaced abut 1/2" apart. That is how my properly-operating D5 works.

However, if you look around the Web, you find a diversity of views on this topic.
 

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Here is a video of what my fuel line looks like between the pump and heater, lots of bubbles and no errors (anymore). Does yours look better or worse?
My post-pump bubbles are much smaller and more uniform than that. It is diesel, though, so perhaps apples-and-oranges. I will report on petrol experience if Ford ever builds our new van.
 

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These heaters - along with the webasto - are very finicky - not a trip goes by where we do t think … oh God are we going to have heat this time or not. The problem you are experiencing is most likely related to the OEM standpipe in your fuel tank being too big - what happens is that pathetic little pump cannot draw a head on the fuel and so it takes forever to get fuel to the heater.
I don't think that last bit is quite correct. The problem isn't an inability for the pump to draw a head. Rather, it is a tendency for large diameter fuel paths to experience cavitation, which introduces air bubbles into the fuel flow. The fuel pump is just fine. In fact, a larger one would likely make the problem worse.

My only significant experience is with a diesel Espar, but once I got the fuel feed setup properly sorted, it has been totally trouble-free. My belief is that these systems are only "finicky" in the sense that they are not robust to out-of-spec installations. Using the proper standpipe is well worth the effort IMO.
 
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