Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Propane exchange could be an expensive pain


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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4 years ago

We’ve found Tractor Supply or Atwoods usually fill for the lowest price in any given area. It pays to check around.

4 years ago

Arizona DOT requires a recertification in 10 years

Tim Stratford
4 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Federal govt requires a revert after 10 years. The propane suppliers are using the old law waiting for a response from usgvt to change back to 12 years. The federal law reads 10 years. The company I’m working for uses the 10 year law. New tanks state 10 years

4 years ago

I bought a new 20 pound tank in December 2017 at Tractor Supply for $30.00. It had been purged at the factory. They filled it with 4.5 pounds of propane at $2.15 per pound. The date on the tank was 9/17. All of the new tanks at Lowes were dated 2/16.

John Snell
4 years ago

We took our out of date tank to a propane distributor and they did the pressure test and brought it up to code for less than 20 bucks. I actually had another one done also. You can’t always find exchanges for 30 lb cylinders. We never do exchanges.

4 years ago

By the way, shops around me advertise $5 to recertify, but I’ve never been charged (I guess I buy a lot of propane and it’s a courtesy?). The only time you should ever pay more than $5 is if you’ve hauled an ANCIENT tank out of your shed and don’t have an OPD valve on it (legally required now, so that gets replaced if you recert). My filling station does a basic leak-check everytime they fill (reality over legality).

Between RV, house, and shop, I rotate over dozen tanks, so I may be getting “extra good service,” but I wouldn’t reward any business that doesn’t take care of you at least fairly.

4 years ago

CountryMax near me refills your 20lb/5gal tank for about $8, and it’s actually filled to the proper OPD capacity, not short. As Bert mentioned, they won’t be charging you for the gas already in your tank if it’s not totally empty, either. This ends up MASSIVELY cheaper. Vote with your wallet by supporting anyone who still fills your tanks honestly.

Also, with some careful shopping, you can get brand new Worthington tanks with a real float-gauge on them for $30, which makes paying double that for a nearly worn-out (but painted with a pretty plastic label!) exchange tank obscene.

Now let’s talk about refilling your 1lb mini-tanks, which I do for a QUARTER each, instead of $5… and replacing butane with propane (in approved devices), which becomes almost un-pricably cheap for much of my gear (under a penny fills my firestarter or stove that each take a $4 can of butane when not on LP).

Merl Bell
4 years ago

Right on, Russ and Tina. I looked into that when I need a new tank and found just what you reported. Got to read the fine print.

4 years ago

Most exchange LP gas places only fill to about 50-60% of the tank capacity. When you have your own tank they will fill to the roughly 80% of the design fill limit. Filled properly it will start to vent at about that designed level. If you have gas left in your tank they fill by weight or gallons and charge you appropriately.

With an exchange tank you get less at a higher price.

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