Motorhome Block Heaters — Not Just For Winter Use!

TheRVgeeks Winter RVing 14 Comments

Does your RV have a block heater? Do you only RV where it’s mostly above freezing, so you never use it? Maybe you should sometimes.

Since a block heater is designed primarily for helping an engine start in extremely cold conditions, many people never use theirs, even if their motorhome is equipped with one. But even if it’s not below freezing,  there are times when a block heater can make starting easier, and be good for your engine’s health, too.

After long periods of inactivity in just moderately cold conditions, an engine can take longer to start, causing extra wear and tear on internal components before oil can begin fully circulating. It’s also tougher on your battery and starter motor.

If you ever take advantage of discounted monthly RV park rates, check out the short video above. Even if you’re not in extreme cold, your engine, batteries and starter motor will appreciate the extra care.

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Comments 14

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Efrain. It won’t damage anything, but there’s no reason to do that. The purpose of the block heater is to aid starting, and overnight before the day of departure is plenty long enough to do the job.

  1. Some great points about using the block heater, the issue with planes is correct they can spot heat their blocks are set-up much different and you do not want to run the block heater to long, but in a big diesel it is not any problem as the block design is made in such a way as they wanted to be plugged in and left on for an extended time period. With a diesel when you run the block heater you will get capillary action so that it almost seems like the engine is running and this is why you can leave them plugged in for extended time. your points on helping the batteries and the starter are very good points as both are expensive items to replace today.

    1. Post
      Author

      Before we started RVing, we owned a Bellanca Super Viking (turbocharged 300 HP Lycoming IO-540). Whenever we were planning a trip during very cold weather… we twice flew it to the Bahamas in February :) …. we had a great way to pre-heat the engine. I had taken a little ceramic heater and attached a length of 8″ round flexible aluminum duct tubing to the front of it. The night before any cold-weather start-up, I’d stop by the hangar, which was conveniently only 10 minutes from our house, to fire it up. I’d put the heater on the hangar floor, with the end of the tubing inserted into the bottom of the engine nacelle alongside the nose gear, gently blowing warm air all night. When I would arrive the next morning, the engine compartment was so toasty that it warmed my hands when I’d open the access panel to check the oil. LOL The engine started as easily as a summer day every time.

  2. Great info as usual. I try to apply my old “round engine airplane” logic and use the block heater anytime temps are below 50f. Is there any concern about “spot heating” caused by leaving the heater on for extended periods of time since the engine fluids aren’t circulating?

    1. Post
      Author

      We’ve never heard of “spot heating” being a problem, especially just for an overnight. I used to work in the bus business, and both companies I worked for had rows and rows of plugs in the lots. Any time the temperature was forecast to drop below freezing, every coach in the lot got plugged in every night. They all started instantly in the morning, and I’m not aware of any adverse effects.

  3. My older rv has a plug in electrical bay for the block heater. I have to plug it in. No switch on the dash. Don’t be mistaken by the “wait to start light” that comes on when the key is turned. That is not the block heater.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for mentioning that, Dave. The “wait” light just tells you to wait for the glow plugs to finish their job when you’re about to start a diesel engine. On a cold morning, our wait light can stay on for up to 10 seconds before we can start the engine. When the block heater is left on overnight, the wait light never stays on for more than a second or two. We also get less smoke on start-up from the exhaust after a long period of inactivity, and engine heat is available very quickly. Block heaters rule!

    1. Post
      Author
  4. As always great information. I have been doing this for years…if it’s 50F or less outside, block heater goes on before starting. As you stated an overnight cycle is best, but I have found that a two hour cycle will do the trick in most cases, if I forget the night before. Of course boondocking brings it own challenges, as most folks don’t want to run the generator all night to power the block heater. In those cases I do a minimum two hour cycle via the generator before breaking camp.

    1. Post
      Author

      Great point about boondocking! We do the same thing sometimes… fire up the generator in the morning before breaking camp. We can make coffee, run the water heater, run an electric heater if needed, and the block heater too. A side benefit from doing that is the house batteries are on charge that whole time, which helps reduce the load on the engine alternator after starting up.

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