Rear Heater Haters: Why GoWesty? Why?

Up to 1983 year model, VW vans were notoriously lacking in the interior heating department. This is because the engines were all air-cooled. The way the “heater” worked was by blowing cold, exterior air past heat exchangers that were wrapped around the exhaust system. What could go wrong, right?! Well, besides the potential issue with carbon monoxide poisoning, the colder the ambient temperature got (you know, when you really want heat), the worse the system would work. Over about 70 degrees F ambient temperature: They worked GREAT! Busses and Vanagons sold in very cold climates were often fitted with an optional gasoline-burning, undercarriage-mounted heater booster that would receive the (not) heated (enough) air that just (did not) got warmed in by the exhaust system, but not (at all) quite enough. Bottom line: air cooled VW vans had HORRIBLE heaters.

In 1983 VW switched from air-cooled to water-cooled engines, and everything changed. Now there was plenty of toasty-hot, thermostatically controlled coolant available to be plumbed throughout the vehicle. Heat was no longer a problem! But, VW was still reeling from many decades of “no heater” complaints, so they went WAY overboard. Not only did they install relatively massive heater core up front in the dash, all water-cooled Vanagons and all Eurovans also got a second, rear heater. And, the rear heater did not have to warm the cold, ambient air: These were recirculation-only heaters that would take the already warmed interior air, and turbo-heat it!  Problem solved! (and then some….).

So, you might ask, “Why does GoWesty hate rear heaters so much? They make a kit to delete them in both the Vanagon and the Eurovan. What gives? I like seeing my kids melt in the back seat!” There are two reasons that apply to both the Vanagon and Eurovan, and two more, but only apply to one vehicle type, each. Huh? Let me explain…

Vanagon and Eurovans: The first reason that applies to both Vanagon and Eurovan is that, unless you live in the arctic circle, you just don’t need it. The front, dash-mounted heater works GREAT. The second reason is that it takes up extremely valuable space. In the case of the Vanagon, that great big box under the back seat inside of which the rear heater is housed can instead be used for at least two six-packs of your favorite beverage.

In the case of the Eurovan, that stupid wedge-shaped grill on the floor behind the front passenger seat is RIGHT IN THE SPOT where your Engel fridge needs to go!

Our kits come with all the parts and information you need to get rid of these space-consumers so you can better utilize the space.

Vanagon-specific reason: All water-cooled Vanagons have a rear heater under the back seat that uses engine coolant as a heat source. These rear heaters have a nasty habit of leaking coolant. This can happen slowly, dumping small amounts over days or weeks, or it can happen suddenly-dumping coolant all over the fresh vegies under your back seat! You might think the latter is much worse than the former. But, we have seen people go from one shop to the next trying to figure out where the heck the coolant is going as it accumulates beneath the sub floor and soaking into the carpet, and/or dripping out in several places under the van. They end up spending hundreds of dollars in the process replacing hoses front to back—because there are coolant hoses running front to back all over the place under a Vanagon. Or worse-they get sold expensive engine repairs convinced it is bad head gaskets, and that is where the coolant must be going. Or even worse: you run low on coolant and overheat your engine-necessitating replacement of the whole thing. So, yeah, we always recommend getting rid of the rear heaters in all water-cooled Vanagons.

Eurovan-specific reason: All EV’s have an auxiliary heater located beneath the floor, behind the passenger front seat—which also uses engine coolant as the heat source. This auxiliary heater is recirc-only, air enters the heat exchanger via a flush-mounted grill in the sliding door threshold area:

Then, the super-heated air exits through wedge-shaped grill on the floor behind the passenger seat. The Eurovan Winnebago campers have the controls for this heater on the dash panel, directly above the front ventilation controls.

On pop-top weekender models, the controls for this heater are located in the ceiling above the left, rear passenger spot.

In either location, the controls for this heater are confusing. There are red and blue dots on the controls intended to illustrate less/more HEAT. The blue dot is often misinterpreted to be cool air, or even “rear AC”. But, all you get is hot or HOTTER air. Thus, this heater is inadvertently turned on (happens all the time), blasting heated air in the rear of the vehicle when you got the AC cranking out of the dash! So, yeah—the EV rear heater is a menace, but at least they are not known for failing. So, the solution is much simpler than that for the Vanagon, you just disable the rear heater controls so it can never be turned on—no reason to fully remove the entire heater assembly, just one fuse…. and the pesky wedge-shaped grille.

So, are we haters? Sure, I guess so. But there is a time and a place for everything—hate included. The time is now, the place is under the rear seat (Vanagon) or right behind the front passenger seat (Eurovan)! Get rid of it!