Are gasoline heaters a good way to heat my VW Bug...or a fire hazard?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I am truly desperate. I have this adorable 1975 Volkswagen Bug, baby
blue with daisy decals. It's been completely overhauled both inside and
out. It's beautiful. The only problem is that I live in Colorado, and it's
COLD. One shop recommends a gasoline heater. It's guaranteed to toast my
tootsies for $250. Another VW shop says "Don't do it -- it's a fire
hazard." I really want to be toasty, but I don't want to catch fire. Do you
have an opinion on gasoline heaters and/or do you have any other
suggestions? Please answer soon, I'm losing the feeling in my extremities!
-- Susan

RAY: Sorry to hear it, Susan. Unfortunately, I have vivid memories of using
a fire extinguisher on more than one of those gasoline heaters in my day.
So I would second the vote against it.

TOM: You know how these things work, don't you? They have a spark plug, and
they take gasoline right from the gas tank and burn it to create heat. It's
one step less barbaric than building a campfire between the front seats --
which we also advise against, by the way.

RAY: The solution is obvious, Susan. You need to accelerate the arrival of
global warming in Colorado. You can start by driving around spraying an
aerosol can out your window at all times.

TOM: Don't say that!! We're going to get more hate mail than you've ever seen!

RAY: All right, forget that, Susan. Here's my real suggestion. First,
replace your old heater boxes and repair the duct work, if necessary. The
heater in this car didn't work very well when it was new, but it did
provide some heat. And your heater boxes probably just rusted away. Plus,
your vents may not be connected tightly. So that's the first thing I'd do
-- get whatever heat you can out of the original technology.

TOM: And then I'd go and buy myself the warmest pair of Bronko Nagurski
long underwear you can find. Seriously, you need to dress more warmly. I
know it's not high tech, but at least it's safe. New heater boxes, a set of
long johns, warm gloves and pair of electric socks ought to keep you nice
and toasty without attracting the attention of the local fire department.
Good luck, Susan.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One