December 22, 2019

Winter in Arizona

It was cold.  Colder then it was supposed to be and Nicole was shaking me awake. I looked at my phone and it was 4 in the morning. The auxiliary heater had stopped working.

I had been concerned about my battery bank even before we had left Iowa. The capacity of the batteries had been declining last year when we came home and I didn’t check the capacity again before we left. I realized I was rolling the dice a little bit, but figured we could make it another 4 months or so on the batteries we had.

My first thought when the heater stopped working was that the batteries had depleted too much and the safety features of the heater had kicked in. If the voltage is too low, it doesn’t want to damage your batteries and will shut itself off and display an error code. I tried starting up the heater again and got the voltage error code.

I started the van to get the alternator recharging the batteries and tried again. The heater still wouldn’t start and instead gave a different error code. This one didn’t make any sense. It was the lack of fuel error code.

I began the heater startup sequence again and went outside to check the heater. It is mounted under the van on the driver side frame rail. I noticed a lot of black material on the ground under the heater exhaust. It was carbon from the heater. My heart sank. Running the heater at too high of an elevation can cause the fuel-air mixture too run too rich and clog up the heater with carbon. I couldn’t understand what went wrong. We were only at 4000 ft and 5000 ft was the where problems were supposed to happen at.

The next morning after a couple of phone calls I found a place in Phoenix that would work on the heater. This is no small accomplishment. The heater is a Wabasto gasoline heater that isn’t even sold in the United States. It is used in Europe, but is uncommon here. Even the diesel version, used in Semi’s and some campers isn’t common.

We immediately left Cottonwood and headed to the repair shop in Phoenix. Once there, we grabbed the cats and headed to a private waiting room. A couple hours later (at their $130/hr shop fee) they came back and and let me know that a sensor had failed and that the heater would have to be disassembled to clean the carbon out of it. The repair estimate was actually more than I had paid for the heater itself.

If I was closer to home, I would have simply ordered a new unit and installed it myself. As it was, I was just happy to find someone who would work on it. I had them order the parts needed and Nic and I headed to a close campsite to wait it out.