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The Complete RV Propane Tank Guide

The Complete RV Propane Tank Guide

Imagine RVing without heat, warm water, or the ability to cook food and store it in a refrigerator. If that were RV life, you’d be better off saving money on an expensive rig and tent camping instead. Fortunately, RVs are equipped with propane tanks, which provide the fuel needed to run essential appliances. These inconspicuous tanks are truly the unsung heroes of RV life.

Today, we’ll look at everything you need to know about an RV propane tank. Let’s get started!

What Is an RV Propane Tank?

RV propane tanks typically look similar to what you’d find on a gas grill. These tanks vary in size but function similarly. However, an RV propane system uses propane in multiple ways and makes RVing much easier and more comfortable.

large external propane tank for full-time stationary RVing
Full-time RVers who remain stationary for long periods often invest in larger tanks to avoid frequent fill-ups.

Depending on the RV type, the tanks may or may not be removable. You’ll typically find non-removable tanks in large motorhomes or other motorized RVs. This means that you’ll need to find a place to take your RV to refill your tanks.

What Are the Different Types of RV Propane Tanks?

There are a couple of different types of RV propane tanks. It’s important to know which kind of tank you have on your RV. Let’s look closer at each type to identify which you have on your rig. 

ASME Tanks

American Society of Engineers or ASME propane tanks are typically installed permanently on your rig. While other types of tanks use pounds for their size, these tanks use gallons. Some of the most common tank sizes range from 120 gallons to 2,000 gallons. 

You’ll most commonly see these tanks at homes and other places that use propane as a heat source. However, motorhomes also often use this style of tank and mount it to the vehicle’s frame. 

Motorhome LP Propane Stationary Tank Fill-Up|| Motorhome RV Living

To have an ASME tank refilled, you could either drive your motorhome to a refill site or call a local propane supplier to come to the tank’s location.

DOT Cylinders 

DOT RV propane tanks are designed with mobility in mind. They’re typically smaller tanks that you’ll use to power a propane grill, portable heater, or in this case, RV appliances. Larger DOT propane tanks are available but require drivers to follow specific regulations to avoid potential risks during transport. 

Many RVers rely on portable propane heaters for extra warmth in the winter, but is this a good idea? Find out here: Are RV Propane Heaters Safe?

These tanks require certification, which lasts for 12 years from the original manufacturer date and then every five years after that. Depending on their intended use, you’ll typically find DOT propane cylinders from 5 lbs to 420 lbs.

Airstream with tanks on tongue
DOT cylinders are usually found on the tounges of travel trailers but are sometimes held in exterior storage compartments.

How Much Fuel Can an RV Propane Tank Hold?

The different types of RV propane tanks use different measurements. DOT cylinders measure in pounds, while ASME tanks measure in gallons. 

A gallon of propane weighs 4.24 lbs. So a 30-pound DOT RV propane tank holds approximately 7 gallons of propane. On the other hand, a 120-gallon propane tank will weigh about 420 lbs. 

How Long Does an RV Propane Tank Last?

How often you use your RV propane tank greatly influences how long it lasts. If you’re using your camper on weekends only, the propane tank on your RV might last an entire camping season. However, if you’re camping full-time and often use propane to cook, heat water, cool your refrigerator, and run your furnace, you may need to refill a tank every few weeks.

RV Kitchen
Without propane, some of the appliances in your RV kitchen would not work.

Be aware of your usage so you can plan to refill your tanks before they’re empty. You don’t want to find yourself without propane and have no plan for refilling your tanks. Doing so can be a recipe for a miserable camping trip or a cold night in your RV.

Where Are RV Propane Tanks Located on a Rig?

Your RV type will likely determine where the tanks are located on an RV. Travel trailers typically house their propane tanks on the front near the jack. However, fifth wheels and motorhomes will house their propane tanks in a less visible location. Finding out where your propane tanks are located should be among your first tasks when acquiring a rig. 

Do You Need an RV Propane Tank Cover?

Many travel trailers have a DOT propane tank mounted to the front of the frame. This means if it’s not covered, it’s constantly exposed to the elements while parked and driving. 

Using a propane tank cover can help keep the connections and components of the propane tank free from dirt, grime, and moisture. Many RVs come with tank covers, but not all do. If you need to buy one, get the correct size to fit securely and cover it completely. Here are our recommendations: 7 Best RV Propane Tank Covers.

RV propane tank cover
RV propane tank covers help protect your tanks from damaging weather and road debris.

If your propane tank is mounted in an exterior storage compartment, it’s already protected, and you won’t need to purchase an additional cover for it.

How Do You Fill an RV Propane Tank?

Refilling propane is extremely dangerous, and only a person who has been trained should do it. As a result, you must take your propane tanks to a propane refill station or hire a propane company to come out and fill your tank. Refilling propane yourself, if not trained, may be illegal where you live.

Where Can You Fill Your RV Propane Tank?

When you need to refill, you’ll most likely need to track down a local vendor. You can start by calling local gas companies and asking if they refill propane tanks. Many of these companies sell propane in bulk and offer some of the lowest prices. However, if you can’t find a local supplier, there are other options as well.

Many hardware stores like Ace Hardware and True Value will also refill propane tanks. Rates vary from one location to the next, so ask for their price to avoid overpaying. However, if there are no supplies or hardware stores nearby, there’s one final option to consider.

Campground propane fill
Many campgrounds and RV parks offer propane tank filling services.

Some RV parks offer propane services. If the campground you’re staying at doesn’t offer this service, you may be able to call a local RV park to see if they offer the service and inquire about costs.

Your immediate propane needs will largely determine how picky you can be when looking for a place to purchase propane. Sometimes, you just have to take what’s closest, no matter the price. 

Pro Tip: Make sure you factor in the cost of propane tank fill-ups when budgeting for full-time RV life.

What Do RV Propane Tanks Power?

RV propane tanks can power most refrigerators, stove burners, water heaters, and furnaces. While it’s common for RV appliances to use propane as a power source, there may be exceptions. Check your owner’s manual and the connections to understand where your propane lines run. 

RV Propane. What You Need To Know!

If you’re on electricity, you may not need propane to power those items. Sometimes shore power or battery power can run RV appliances, except for gas stove burners. Again, check your owner’s manual if you’re unsure.

How to Maintain Your RV Propane Tank

Your RV propane tank is an integral part of your RV, so maintain it properly. You’ll want to keep all propane components and the tank itself free of dirt and debris. Give it a good cleaning every few months to avoid debris buildup. 

This is also a great time to inspect the hoses and connections for leaks and secure connections to your RV. You don’t want it moving around as you travel down the road.

Propane leaks can be dangerous! Make sure you Avoid Disaster With an RV Propane Detector.

RV propane tank connection
As part of your routine RV maintenance, clean your propane tanks and check the hoses and connections for leaks.

How Often Does an RV Propane Tank Need to Be Recertified?

Once an RV propane tank is 12 years old, you’ll have it recertified. From then on, get it recertified every five years. No one will refill your tank if it is not certified. This is because propane is extremely dangerous in the wrong circumstances, and a faulty tank could cause a dire situation.

RV Propane Tank Tips

Here are a few tips to consider when it comes to using and handling your RV propane tanks.

Keep Your Propane out of the Heat

When a propane tank sees extreme temperatures, the pressure inside the tank will build up. DOT propane tanks have safety mechanisms that allow the tank to release pressure, but you don’t want to take chances. The safest place to store your tanks is outdoors in the shade when the temperatures are cooler but not freezing.

Outdoor propane tanks in shade
Keep external propane tanks in the shade to avoid overheating.

Only Store in Vented Spaces 

Storing tanks in a vented space helps prevent issues if the tanks need to release pressure. If a tank should release some pressure, propane will be released into the room. Propane is a heavy gas, so it’ll gather at the floor of a room. A large explosion can occur with even the slightest spark if propane fills the environment. Static electricity from your shoes, for example, could cause a serious explosion. 

Get an Accurate Propane Gauge

Using an accurate propane gauge can help you avoid running out of propane. This can be incredibly frustrating whether you need it for cooking, heating your RV, or some other purpose. Several gauges are available; some offer Bluetooth capabilities that keep you aware of your propane level.

GasSaf Propane Tank Gas Gauge Leak Detector -...
  • 1.Compatible with all appliances with a QCC1 / Type1 connection...
  • 2.Monitors fuel level without removing the tank. color coded dial...
  • 3.With leak detection function, if the leak is detected, the...

Camp Safely with Propane Power 

RV propane tanks can greatly enhance your camping experience. They let you enjoy your RV in comfort. These tanks give you a bit more freedom in where you use your RV. Propane is a safe, affordable, and useful way to power your RV excursions–as long as you know how to use it! 

Sinlge propane tank in RV storage compartment

RV propane tanks can also be used for convenient and clean outdoor fun. For example, here are 5 Reasons Portable Propane Fire Pits Are Better Than Wood Campfires.

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Clyde

Sunday 21st of November 2021

I appreciated your article on propane tanks. I've never trusted propane tank gauges. I think the most reliable way to check propane tank level is to pour a glass of hot water (from the tap) down the side of the tank. Then wipe your hand down the wet side. You'll feel a definite change in surface temperature at the liquid gas interface.

Steve Hericks

Sunday 21st of November 2021

Tom, Your statement that 'DOT propane tanks have safety mechanisms that allow the tank to release pressure' would be helpful if there were some additional clarifications because there is a lot of fear (and fearmongering) associated with it. The normal pressure of a propane tank is ~145psi at 70F. At 100F, it is 175psi. The relief pressure is specified to be a maximum of 250 psi ('The tank shall be fitted with a pressure relief valve with a maximum set pressure of 250 psig and minimum relieving capacity as specified in National Fire Protection Association - 58 - Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code, NFPA-58). The temperature at which a tank experiences 250psi is easily found on a PT chart http://virtualmark.net/wx/pressure.htm) is 127F. This should not be concerning for anyone whose tank is inside but those on the tongue of a trailer in the summer sun in an Arizona trailer park should be a bit more concerned.

The second issue is to understand the behavior of pressure in a propane tank which directly relates to the usefulness of pressure gauges to assess tank level. 1) Propane is (most of the time) in both liquid and gas states inside the tank. As long as there is liquid in the tank, the tank pressure will be exactly as stated on the PT chart, regardless of the amount of liquid. 2) Assuming the tank is at a constant temperature, as propane is used, liquid will boil into gas and the tank pressure (as seen on the gauge) will not begin to decline until all of the liquid is gone (at which point the tank is nearly empty). 3) In order to obtain a more accurate understanding of the overall fuel quantity, a method that can sense the level of the liquid is needed. This is done by sensing temperature differences in the tank wall because releasing propane, causes the liquid to boil, cooling the cylinder. The liquid will be cooler than the gas. These gauges can be more accurate than pressure BUT operate only when propane is or has recently been drawn off.

Finally, there are two methods of recertifying a DOT pressure cylinder. Visual inspection (5 years with a sticker) and pressure (10 years with engraved stamp). https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/propane_en_v3.pdf

There is also a legal conflict regarding the testing/retesting of tanks. The '12 years' from manufacture date (which included a hydrostatic test) till the first retest was changed to 10 years (some time ago but I don't recall when) but is either unknown or intentionally violated. See the attached guidance doc in about the center of the page.

Marc Stauffer

Sunday 21st of November 2021

Good morning and hope that you have a joy filled and thankful Thanksgiving! Is Lake Mead filling at all? We were there in March and it was amazing how low it was. Regarding the propane tank gauges that are available, have you done a study on accuracy? I have found most to be a " best guess" or totally inaccurate. Would appreciate a more indepth look into that from you folks. Thanks, and again, Happy Thanksgiving from the high country of Wallowa County!

Steve Hericks

Friday 10th of December 2021

Marc, See my comment below yours. Pressure is a TOTALLY inaccurate way of measuring propane quantity (energy). The pressure of a tank anywhere between full and nearly empty only varies with temperature. The temperature change can be caused either by chilling during use (rapid consumption has a 'refrigerant effect') and daily temperature swings driven by the sun. If you were to insulate the tank from the weather and use propane slowly, the pressure would not change at all the whole time there is still liquid in the tank. That is why those gauges have a broad color range around the 'full' end and whiy it stays there such a long time before dropping like a rock. The only time the pressure gauge is actually useful is to measure the loss of gas after all of the liquid is gone. Since a tank of propane gas is a very small percentage of the total energy of a full tank, your gauge will 'seem' erratic (because it is - by design).

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