Propane is essential to RV life. Without it, many of your appliances and systems won’t function. If you’re new to RVing, you might have never refilled your propane tank. Perhaps you’ve only taken out your new travel trailer once or twice.
You’ll soon have to get those Department of Transportation (DOT) cylinders refilled, so how do you go about it? It only takes a few minutes. Let’s walk you through the RV propane refill process.
What Is RV Propane?
RV propane is the same propane used in sticks-and-bricks houses used to start the standard household grill. Sometimes referred to as LP gas (liquid petroleum), propane is a colorless compound that stores as a liquid.
Propane onboard an RV powers the furnace during the cooler months, the gas stove and oven, non-electric refrigerator, and heats the water. Various important RV systems need propane to function.
Can I Refill My RV Propane Tank Myself?
Propane can be dangerous when not handled properly, so you must be very cautious if you go to a self-serve station. If you intend to refill your tanks yourself, make sure you have an overfill protection device (ODP). If your tank doesn’t, then you cannot safely fill the tank.
You can only fill your tanks to 80% capacity, which gives the liquid room to expand into a gas. If you don’t have that ODP stamped on a triangular handle, you might exceed that maximum.
If refilling yourself, always wear neoprene gloves. Liquid propane is extremely cold. Preferably, take your RV tanks — whether DOT cylinders or an onboard ASME tank — to a propane refill station and allow someone there to do it for you.
How Do I Know if My Propane Tank Is Empty?
If you wake up in the middle of the night, and the thermostat says 50, you’ve probably run out of propane. If you try to light the pilot light in your oven or try to turn on a burner, but it just keeps flickering instead of turning on, you’ve probably run out of propane.
If you own a motorhome, the ASME tank probably has a gauge built into it that tells you how much propane it has. Some DOT tanks have an indicator that tells you only if you’ve run out.
And then others don’t have any gadget at all, and you only know when it runs out when something doesn’t work. As you travel and camp more often, though, you learn about how long your RV propane tanks last so you can refill them when the time comes.
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure if you should travel with your propane tanks open or closed, check out our article here!
How Do You Change a Propane Tank on an RV?
If you don’t want to refill your portable DOT propane tanks, exchange them instead. You’ll need to visit a propane exchange location. You can find them at a local grocery, convenience, and hardware store.
This option is more expensive than refilling your tanks, but it’s an easy process. Simply remove your tanks from the RV, place them in the back of your tow vehicle, and make sure they stay upright on the way to the exchange location. Take them in and switch them out for new ones.
Pro Tip: Check out our article here to learn how to hook up an external propane tank to your RV!
Where Do I Fill My Propane Tank?
Not all exchange locations offer refill stations. Make sure to check out the details or call ahead before pulling up with your tanks. You can easily search for a refill near you. Just like transporting your tanks to exchange, take care that your tanks remain upright during transportation.
Flying J, Pilot, and other truck stop locations will have an RV propane refill station near the fuel pumps. Usually, you can push a button to call an attendant who will come out and refill your tanks for you. Then you’ll go inside to pay.
The process is simple and easy, but be prepared to wait if the store is busy. If you have portable DOT tanks, you’ll just transport them in your tow vehicle to the truck stop. If you have an ASME tank onboard your motorhome, you’ll drive it to the truck stop and pull in by the propane refill station.
Walmart does not offer refills for propane tanks. But you can take your tank for an exchange. As mentioned before, this is not the cheapest option, but sometimes it’s your only one. Walmart has propane tanks filled by AmeriGas and Blue Rhino.
If you do intend to exchange your propane tank, don’t take it inside the store. Always leave it outside or in your vehicle until given specific instructions by an employee. If you want a retail location that refills propane tanks, consider going to Costco instead.
Don’t assume every Tractor Supply location has refill stations for RV propane tanks. Call ahead to see if that store offers it. Like going to Walmart, don’t take your empty tank inside.
Leave your tank in your vehicle and then go inside to speak with an employee. The refill process should be easy and painless.
Some campgrounds offer RV propane refill stations. You’ll want to check with the office to find out if they have certain times a ranger comes to refill propane or if you can just swing by at any time.
Transport your DOT tanks or drive your motorhome to the designated location, have your tanks refilled, and then go to the office to pay. Sometimes propane prices cost more at campgrounds, but it’s also more convenient.
If you’re camping near an AmeriGas, a United, or any other propane company location, you can also refill your propane tanks there. Some Uhaul centers and Ace Hardware stores have propane refilling stations.
You can also go to stores like Camping World or RV dealerships. Just make sure always to call ahead or check their website to make sure they offer this service.
Use an App to Find a Refill Location
Apps can help if you camp or travel in an unfamiliar location and need to find the closest propane refill station. You don’t want to go ten miles down the road when you could only drive two.
You can use AllStays, Truck & RV Fuel Stations, and Camp & RV apps to help locate refill stations. RV-specific GPS devices can also help find them.
Is It Cheaper to Refill or Exchange a Propane Tank?
As previously mentioned, refilling an RV propane tank is less expensive than exchanging one. However, your tank will always be inspected first.
If the technician notices any leaks or cracks, they won’t refill it. Also, if the tank needs recertification, the employee will not fill your tank, so always keep an eye on the date on the outside of the DOT cylinder.
Many RVers choose not to get their tanks recertified and just exchange them once they get close to the date. You have to get your DOT cylinders recertified 12 years after their manufacturing date labeled.
How Much Propane Does an RV Use?
How much propane you use varies. If you live full-time in your RV or camp in colder climates, you’ll use more propane than someone who camps on the weekend in South Carolina. Remember, propane can power your stove, oven, refrigerator, water heater, and furnace.
So how often you use those appliances and systems will depend on how much propane you go through. A solo traveler may go through a 20-lb propane tank in a week. A family of five may go through the same amount in two days.
Propane tanks are also different sizes, so someone with a 20-lb propane tank will have to refill sooner than someone with a 30-lb one. You can get accessories like the gauges mentioned before that you can add to your DOT cylinders to alert you when you run low.
Where have you gotten your RV propane refilled? Have you noticed a difference in pricing at various locations?