Propane tanks are a very convenient way to make your furnace and potentially fridge work on the road in your RV. They can be found at some gas stations and many hardware stores – sometimes you can even fill them yourself.
Propane does run out. Changing out tanks the first time can be a little intimidating, as the process features unhooking the propane tank and a few other steps to do it safely. Just because the gas inside is combustible doesn’t mean it should be hard.
Switching propane tanks is often a simple matter of turning the gas valve off and removing the connector that supplies propane. Some RVs also have a rack that holds the tank in place. We’ll address it all below.
Getting Started with switching propane tanks – are they low?
Let’s first figure out if we need to switch propane tanks. Some propane tanks have a physical meter on the outside that shows how close to empty they are. Another easy way to tell is by lifting the tank. A 20 pound propane tank should weigh at least 10 pounds. If it feels light, it’s come time to change it out.
Your tank probably won’t have sensors built in. RVs normally have sensors for water and waste tanks, but putting sensors inside a propane tank is more difficult because it contains a combustible gas and they are changed out frequently.
Taking off the propane tanks
In order to keep your propane safe and secure on the road, most RVs have a propane carrier. This carrier often has a cover that keeps debris, dust, and animals out. Sometimes removing the carrier is a simple matter of literally lifting it up.
The cover could also be physically strapped on. Just remove the buckle.
- With the cover off, first turn off the gas if it isn’t already off. The valve for the gas is typically on top of the propane tank. Turn this right until it is very tight. You might also hear a hissing sound as the propane tank closes.
- Disconnect the side twist knobs. This is the knob and hose that offers a secure connection for gas to enter your RV. Turn it left slowly until it comes off. Again, you might hear a hiss sound.
- In the case of most propane carriers, you’ll have a vertical bar separating and holding both tanks. The bar also has a big screw or nut on top that keeps the tanks in place. The bar that is held in place is also typically inserted into the openings in tank handles. Turn the nut or big screw left until it loosens. The tanks should stay stable in the carrier.
- Once you remove this screw, you can remove the horizontal bar that holds the tanks. Removing this bar will make your tanks loose enough to fully remove.
- You can now replace or refill your tanks. This is in opposite order, of course.
Putting tanks back on
Now that you are done getting new propane or new tanks, you can reassemble.
- Start by placing the propane tanks in the carrier, right where they were before
- Connect the horizontal pole needed to hold them in place
- Reconnect the vertical screw and replace the nut. Turn right this time instead of left and get it nice and tight.
- Reconnect the side twist knobs. You can do this without turning on the gas, of course.
- Put the cover back on!
- Once the propane tanks are secure and the side twist knobs are in place, you can turn the propane back on when you need.
Do I need tools?
We didn’t mention tools above because you probably won’t need them. The screws and knobs present on the propane tanks are designed in a way that makes hand tightening and removal possible. At most, you could consider wearing gloves, especially if you are changing out propane tanks in the cold. The metal surface of the propane tank might be quite chilly and unpleasant to grab.
The screw that holds the vertical bar in place is usually pretty large and designed to be turned by hand.
Do I need two propane tanks?
This is entirely up to you and your usage. Your RV can run with just one propane tank. The purpose of the carrier is to protect and hold your propane tanks.
Most RVs come with a dual holder for convenience. Disconnecting and reconnecting is the same methods with one or two.
Any potential dangers in replacing propane tanks?
The one thing you can do to cause potential problems is to disconnect the side valves that carry propane without turning off the gas first. You’ll hear a hiss for sure.
Propane isn’t toxic in itself. Unfortunately, it does present a danger because it is heavier than air and will displace the oxygen in your lungs if breathed in. Propane inhalation can lead to suffocation.
Thankfully, the propane tank is usually also on the outside where this risk is lessened. Also, turning off your propane tank is pretty easy – just turn the top knob right until it stops.
If your propane tank is leaking instead, keep the propane tank turned off and replace it with another.
The only next danger is dropping a propane tank on your foot or other body party. They weigh about 20 pounds but have pretty good grips that should prevent you from letting go too early.
Changing out propane tanks might be a task the first time, but it’s a quick and easy skill to master. Most propane carriers are easy to disassemble and might even come with instructions. You’ll just want to take some precautions like turning off your propane first and disconnecting the valves necessary.
The propane carrier is otherwise an essential piece of safety equipment. Just make sure everything is nice and tight before you hit the road.