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Espar B4L Heater not starting at Elevation

37455 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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Yeah I get tons of error codes. What do I do about them? Contact Germany? Buy a tool? Download an app?

Lol it is the modern way of product support. All digital nonsense.
How old? Batch of bad firmware a few years ago could explain it.
I'm on my third ECU (first two had wrong firmware).

Heatso seems to have best info on codes. Otherwise hard to find much info on the error codes.
 

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You guys are being super helpful but....as we are saying there isn't anything wrong. It is the product that is inconsistent and has goofy sensors, hardware, and software. Mine is brand new and we are going to warranty after I get finished with my ski season. I didn't pay this much for a product I have to troubleshoot.
 

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I haven't tried mine at altitude, otherwise no issues. I did read a post somewhere this week that said Heatso makes their own wire harness and some Espar tech said they have had issues with them. I have the latest model of Airtronic and Hydronic from them and both did not come with the CAN harness as specified in the manual to allow easy hookup to one Easystart pro. Could have just been old stock harnesses with updated heaters, not sure.

I have had my CC# stolen from esparparts, so be careful and use a virtual number. No issues with the items I've bought there though.
 

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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!
If you are only having problems at elevation, it seems like it must be a air fuel issue. have you verified the fuel pump screen is clean? What exact codes are you getting? Is it throwing a "H1 service" error and or "fuel pump/ fuel supply" on display"? Code 128, 129 are the flame failure codes, if I remember right. My issue was the heater was inconsistent at 2K feet elevation, so definitely not the same situation as yours.
Here is a summation from my experience with the B4L, and advice from Esparbacher technicians. Buy a quart of kerosene and run the heater for 20 minutes. My heater would run great with kerosene and I disconnected the tank line to the fuel pump and and attached a short fuel line to the bottle. This verified to me, that there were no air links at the bottom of the heater connections.It also seemed to help my no start issue, at least for a few attempts. After 4-5 gas feed starts after the kerosene run, it would be back to its old tricks of "huffing and puffing" without firing consistently and throwing H1 service.. The real problem, according to Esparbacher, is that gasoline cavitates much more than other fuels, causing air in the fuel and ignition failure. If you have the clear fuel line you may be able to see air bubbles in the line on start up. I have the blue fuel line so I can't verify this troubleshooting aid? Check the software version on your ECU. There should be a sticker on it, I needed SW version 04 to finally make the fuel pump deliver the correct quantity of fuel. I was only getting 2-3 mills of fuel with the old ECU and NEW fuel pump. There may be other air/fuel quantity parameters that Esparbacher has modified in the new firmware to solve issues at elevation. I have had success at 7K with the new SW version. Good luck, I know how frustrating this can be.
 

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Not sure if it'd be related, but according to the guy at Esparparts.com you need this standpipe when using the B4L on the transit:

I was told the same thing. The Ford auxiliary port has a standpipe built in with 3x the diameter needed/recommended for use with the Espar heater. Supposedly thats the issue that'll keep the pump from delivering the right amount of fuel to start it at elevation.
 

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Yes, that'd likely result in a very rich condition (too much fuel, not enough oxygen) - which would be exasperated by running at altitude (even less oxygen).

Although it seems the opposite of people reporting having issues with not enough fuel moving through?
 

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A slight update to this issue:

It dawned on me that when I first installed my heater and went to elevation, it would always start after 1 or 2 attempts. In my quest to get it to start EVERY time, I dissembled the fuel line, reassembled, etc, but I also adjusted the fuel pump angle, increasing it to probably at least 30 degrees.

After these changes the heater for sure would take at least 6 or 7 times for it to start. I readjusted the fuel pump to be probably closer to 15 degrees, and tested it while skiing this evening and it did fire back up after one failed attempt, which is far better than the 6 or 7.

I have plenty of other trips planned in the next week in similar elevations so I will continue to report back. But I am curious if others tried adjusting the fuel pump angle if they had better luck?

Still dumb it doesnt start first try, but I am determined to get this sorted.
 

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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!
One thing to consider is that no matter what product or component you have, you are fighting against the physics of gasoline vapor pressure. What this means is that there is an altitude above which any and all pumps will ALWAYS vaporize the fuel making it impossible to run the heater - probably around 12,000 feet. This is what causes vapor lock. This aspect is due to the properties of gasoline and has nothing to do with Espar or any other heater. Some factors that affect this are: how much "head" is your pump pumping, where "head" is the vertical distance from the bottom of the standpipe to your pump. Other factors include the diameter of the standpipe, the number of 90 degree elbows, etc. In addition, "gasoline" itself is variable, and significant differences in vapor pressure can occur depending on the blend, even with certain standards. As an example, one solution for high altitude carbureted cars is to add 10% diesel, which has a lower vapor pressure than gas. Another solution used by auto makers has been to make the fuel pump a "sump pump", so that the pump itself is in the gas tank reducing the "head" to zero.

I don't know how your Espar fuel pump is plumbed, how high above the bottom of the stand pipe the fuel pump is, what kind of stand pipe you have, etc., but just wanted to highlight that if the problem is vaporization, you won't be able to solve it by exchanging parts. Reconfiguration of the pump location, standpipe or fuel additives are possible alternate solutions.
 

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A slight update to this issue:

It dawned on me that when I first installed my heater and went to elevation, it would always start after 1 or 2 attempts. In my quest to get it to start EVERY time, I dissembled the fuel line, reassembled, etc, but I also adjusted the fuel pump angle, increasing it to probably at least 30 degrees.

After these changes the heater for sure would take at least 6 or 7 times for it to start. I readjusted the fuel pump to be probably closer to 15 degrees, and tested it while skiing this evening and it did fire back up after one failed attempt, which is far better than the 6 or 7.

I have plenty of other trips planned in the next week in similar elevations so I will continue to report back. But I am curious if others tried adjusting the fuel pump angle if they had better luck?

Still dumb it doesnt start first try, but I am determined to get this sorted.
Oh, just reading this now after my reply. That makes some sense to me.

EDIT: I looked at the Espar documentation. They recommend putting the pump between 15 and 30 degrees above horizontal. I believe the lower angle will help reduce cavitation. I suspect they need at least 15 degrees in order for the metering pump to function properly.

Although I thought they did not recommend less than 30 degrees. This might be because it interferes with the pump's metering.

The other main thing to consider is the height of the pump above the tank. In my case, the line from the standpipe (at the top of the fuel tank) goes down about 6 inches to the pump inlet. I believe that mounting the pump anywhere below the top of the tank is about as good as you can get.

Also keeping the line short and with no tight elbows (except the one in the standpipe) may help.
 

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Yes, that'd likely result in a very rich condition (too much fuel, not enough oxygen) - which would be exasperated by running at altitude (even less oxygen).

Although it seems the opposite of people reporting having issues with not enough fuel moving through?
The Espar pump is a metering pump, so the problem is not that it's too rich - actually it's probably the opposite problem, the suction negative relative pressure of the pump causes air bubbles (vaporization/cavitation) due to the high vapor pressure of gasoline, and this problem gets worse as altitude increases, causing no gas to get to the heater. The 2mm (vs 6mm) stand pipe helps a little bit by having lower cross-section so that the surface tension of gasoline (small as it is) can help reduce vapor lock (vaporization/cavitation).

As I mentioned above, this is a physics issue that applies (in different measure) to all fluids. For example, with water, the theoretical maximum vertical height (head) that a perfect vacuum pump can accomplish at sea level is about 33 feet, due to water's vapor pressure of 1 atmosphere at sea level. At 6000 feet altitude this theoretical maximum lift decreases by 33% to 22 feet. Putting a pump any higher than that (above the inlet of an open air tank) and the water will begin to vaporize. In practice, due to friction, less than perfect vacuum, and other factors the practical limit is 22 feet at sea level (or for a centrifugal pump, even less at about 15 feet), and again it will be 33% less than that at 6000 ft, so about 15 feet (or 10 feet centrifugal). To be clear, these "head" heights refer to the vertical distance between the inlet (suction-side) of the pipe and the pump itself. So for a well, if the pump is located at ground level, it won't be able to pull/suck the water up from the well shaft if the inlet pipe to pump height is greater than that.

Gasoline has a vastly higher vapor pressure of about 9 to10 psi, which is about 40X more than water. I'm not exactly sure what the maximum lift of gasoline is at sea level, but it's likely not more than about 3 feet. And at altitudes higher than about 12,000 feet, standard gasoline will start to boil, so that the maximum pump lift is zero. No pump from any manufacturer is going to work pulling gas out if the gas is already vaporizing, because the pumping action is now merely serving to increase boiling/vaporizing.

The point is that due to gasoline's high vapor pressure, high altitude operation of the Espar, Webasto, or other heater is going to depend in part on the fuel line and pump configuration. The most critical factor is minimizing the vertical height from the standpipe inlet to the pump, but reducing the tank stand pipe-to-pump line length, reducing the number of tight elbows, using the 2mm standpipe and tube, and orientation of the pump to between 15 and 30 degrees above horizontal will also help reduce the tendency to cavitate/vapor lock the heater.
Adding kerosene or diesel will also help, because their vapor pressures are both significantly lower than gasoline (kerosene is more than 50X lower!), but obviously this may have unintended consequences for the engine.

For example, kerosene (and aviation gas which is very similar), boils at about 125 degrees C at sea level (vs. 100 degrees for water). This explains why @Chainman1 's heater started working when he put kerosene in.
 

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@Launcher - Adding to the vapor lock / cavitation discussion, they also mention in the Espar installation manual to make sure that the butt joints inside the rubber hoses are tightly made with no gap (i.e. where the plastic lines meet the metal fittings, etc). If there is a gap, they show bubbles forming.
 

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@Launcher - Adding to the vapor lock / cavitation discussion, they also mention in the Espar installation manual to make sure that the butt joints inside the rubber hoses are tightly made with no gap (i.e. where the plastic lines meet the metal fittings, etc). If there is a gap, they show bubbles forming.
Yes, that's a good point that I forgot to mention. In my case, it took a few tries to cut the 2mm tubing such that it was both square and round. And then it took additional effort to get that tubing fully butted up to the stainless inlet and outlet ports on either side of the pump and to the heater itself. I used gasoline to "lubricate" the rubber hose couplings, since I didn't want to use any other fluid, but I couldn't tell that it helped at all. Brute force and twisting ended up doing the trick. Probably a little vasoline would have helped and work fine, but I didn't want to risk fowling the heater, as I wasn't sure that there would be enough fuel flow to adequately dilute the vasoline.
 

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I have the pre 2019 B4 in my Promaster for almost 6 years and only had an issue at 11,500 with a couple of false starts. I have the altitude sensor. I just ordered another B4 today from eu.heaters4you so we'll see what happens. The standpipe is interesting. I'd hate to drop the tank twice.
 

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I have both, tbd on the install. I got my kit faster than expected from esparparts in MI. I'll ping them for tips/instructions before I start.
 

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Just another data point, my B4L is having issues at altitude too. Hard starting and shutting down with a service code while running. Installer looking at it this week, will report back with any findings.
 

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I have a B4 in my current van (promaster) and have only had issues over 10,000'. Even then it's not all the time. I have the previous generation B4 with the add on altitude sensor.

My Transit is being built and I bought another previous generation B4 for it. I don't have the altitude sensor yet. I assume I'm going to need the sensor AND a different fuel straw? I'd love to know these answers.
 
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