By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Look outside nearly any hardware store, supermarket or Walmart, and there’s the enticing offer: Bring in your empty propane cylinder and “trade it in” for a refurbished full one. With the number of live “filling stations” said to be decreasing, and the “convenience” of nearly 24-hour access to propane, it may seem a real temptation. But let’s compare dollars and cents.
As of this writing, propane in the Quartzsite, Arizona, area is running $2.10 per pumped gallon, in your cylinder. If you were running errands to nearby Blythe, you could stop on the way at the Flying J Truck Stop and you’ll find a big display of Amerigas exchange cylinders. “Exchange your empty,” suggests the signage, “$21.99.” The average customer will scratch their head and say something to the effect of, “Let’s see, my five gallon cylinder will cost me $10.50 to refill. I’ll be paying about $2.09 more a gallon, but I’ll get a fresh tank in the deal.”
Hold on to your wallet, Wally. Here’s the “fine print” in the deal. In fact, in small type on the advertising sign, Amerigas is offering you “Net Weight 15 lb.” With propane scaling in at 4.23 pounds per gallon, you’re not just paying $2.09 per gallon more, you’re getting nowhere close to a full tank capacity and paying $6.20 a gallon – a whopping $4.10 more per gallon than doing a refill at the local fill station. Yeah, you’ll walk away with a “fresh” cylinder.
What about buying a “spare” cylinder from this Amerigas display? Get a spare for $54.99, and yep, it’ll be “filled up” with a little over three-and-a-half gallons of pricey propane which you could buy elsewhere for $7.35, and have $47 left over to buy a brand-new cylinder from Home Depot for $29 (prices as advertised in mid-December). Yes, you’d have to spend a few dollars (typically around five) to have the new cylinder purged, but you can be assured your brand-new cylinder won’t need to be recertified for 12 years. Without carefully scrutinizing the date on your “refreshed” trade-in cylinder, you’ll have no idea when you’ll need to get a re-cert.
Which does bring up a point: If your existing cylinder is getting near its time for a re-cert, it might be advantageous to trade it in on a refurb. It is definitely more convenient than calling around propane service yards finding out who’ll recertify your old cylinder, lugging it out, and waiting around for the job to be done. On the other hand, if you have the time and the re-cert price is right, lug it on in.
You pays the money, you takes the choice.
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