Saturday, December 2, 2023


“Does the propane tank have to be empty before refilling?”

By Chuck Woodbury

We get questions like this at every day. In most cases we advise the person to type the question into Google, which usually provides an answer.

“Does the propane tank have to be empty before refilling?” Alas, basic questions like this are everywhere, and we need to answer them sometimes. When we do, we will get letters from veteran RVers who complain to us — sometimes angrily — about why we waste their time posting something “that everybody knows already.” Our reply: Not everyone has been RVing for 20 years (or more), and part of our mission is to provide education about RVing to those who need it. Yet, sometimes, you have to wonder why someone who owns an RV doesn’t invest some time learning the proper way to operate it, which includes using its systems.

This is why we are so happy to have our RV electricity expert Mike Sokol onboard. Electricity can kill if misused, and an RVer who doesn’t learn what to do and what not to do could kill himself or others. It happens.

This question about filling a propane tank is not so unusual to us. It’s par for the course.

A friend of mine sent me this post about propane, amazed at how many RVers’ lack of knowledge is so common.

“What if you added screen shots of these stupid comments to one of your newsletters with a response to each question? Comments like this only happen when the RVer does not do their homework by reading their manuals or seek out training on YouTube or other social media platforms before asking the question.

“Or — and this is more likely the culprit — the dealer or third party person that sold the unit was only interested on one thing, the check, and not interested in conducting proper training and education to assure they are creating a happy camper.”

There are millions of RVers on the road. At we only reach a fraction of them. Most know what they are doing, but far too many do not, and they can pose a danger to others. Imagine an RVer so uneducated that he or she sends their generator exhaust into a neighbor’s bedroom window in a packed campground? This happens and it can prove deadly.

Ever see a video about an RV that exploded, sending flames high into sky, but more significantly into the bedroom window of the RV squeezed next door? It happens.

This is why we publish RVing can be great, but like a loaded weapon in the hands of the wrong person, it can not only harm them, but others as well.

And, no, the propane tank does not need to be empty. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Chuck Woodbury
Chuck Woodbury
I'm the founder and publisher of I've been a writer and publisher for most of my adult life, and spent a total of at least a half-dozen years of that time traveling the USA and Canada in a motorhome.



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David Blomberg (@guest_125416)
2 years ago

Well, I thought I knew. But when you asked the question, I began to doubt my knowledge, lol. I knew!
Sometimes in certain situations, you want to make sure you have a sufficient supply and decide to “top it off” so that you won’t need to worry about it.
If you pay by the tank rather than by the actual amount dispensed, that is the price you pay for “peace of mind”!

Jay Ward (@guest_125379)
2 years ago

Some propane outlets charge by weight, or by volume and some charge a set fee based on the size of the tank. If the latter is true and you fill a partially empty tank you’ll pay for propane you don’t need. I always wait until the auto changeover flips, then fill it. For real peace of mind I use the Mopeka tank monitors. They’re great!

Peter Kehoe (@guest_125371)
2 years ago

I’ve read somewhere that when the tank is not being used, especially in cold weather, it is advisable to keep it full. There is apparently chance for moisture to build up when tanks are not under full pressure, and moisture can lead to corrosion. Hope I read it correctly, as I try to keep my built-in tank on my Class B pretty full.

Mike Albert (@guest_125363)
2 years ago

Excellent commentary. As a newer MH owner (1 1/2 years) and being educated and knowledgeable, at our orientation from the dealer certain things were not addressed. I knew about propane from the danger aspect due to being a firefighter, but, my wife didn’t. When the dealer went through the basics, location, switches, valves, etc… I knew the correct operation, but my wife didn’t.
What I’m saying is that even though you might know, or think you know the correct procedure, those who may be thrown into operating the RV due to an unforeseen emergency, may not. There are no stupid questions, period! BTW, neither the dealer, nor the owner’s manual, instruct how or when to refill the propane tanks. For what it’s worth, the entire orientation took less than 90 minutes. A lot of manual reading took place after that. That’s why I receive RVTravel and read almost every article and comment.
Thanks for providing this service!

Last edited 2 years ago by Mike Albert
Phil Atterbery (@guest_125350)
2 years ago

Chuck, can an authoritative organization be asked to publish a “propane for dummies” handbook? Something akin to Rodger Marble’s tire inflation guide? I guess I’d like to see some of the misinformation be rooted out & removed.

Gary G (@guest_125342)
2 years ago

For this being an “easy answer EVERYONE knows” there sure are a lot of interesting comments about this subject.

Donald N Wright (@guest_125339)
2 years ago

What seems silly to the old timers, may be a major concern to newbies. This may be your opportunity to patiently educate other people and keep everyone safe.

Jesse W Crouse (@guest_125330)
2 years ago

This is off point somewhat, but since we are talking propane here goes. I am a plumber with 52 years experience and IMHO when going down the road the system valve from the tank to the various lines and appliances should be in the OFF position. No propane to the unit for safety reasons. I can list various reasons, but foremost is “When stuff happens” people always ask ” Why did that happen?, How did it happen?, I can’t understand that it happened!
With propane gas you do not put yourself in that position. Stuff includes vehicle accidents, Gas line leaks, appliance malfunctions.
Interested in other peoples opinions.

Warren G (@guest_125333)
2 years ago
Reply to  Jesse W Crouse

Agree completely. I’ve seen several articles stating the same with various reasons, some good ones here on RV Travel. Yet I think the majority of folks leave the propane on, saying I’ve done it for 25 years and never had a problem. By putting blue ice and a 64oz container of ice in the refrigerator with the same in the freezer, we’ve never had a problem keeping our refrigerator in the same temperature area.

Jesse W Crouse (@guest_125364)
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren G

Thanks for your support. When I posted my opinion on an rv forum almost every reply said ‘I have been doing it for 20 to 30 years and see no problem.” Only takes 1 KABOOM or BONFIRE to have a different opinion. These people should ask their insurance co. or a fire marshal what they think.

Zephod (@guest_125367)
2 years ago
Reply to  Jesse W Crouse

I would be curious if there were any stats on propane incidents with rv’s. I am now inclined to turn mine off for travel especially when on long trips i am gassing up twice a day.

Jesse W Crouse (@guest_125394)
2 years ago
Reply to  Zephod

I belong to the local chapter of PHCC- google the letters- and we run the apprenticeship training center. One of the things we teach is how to handle, install and respect propane. It is a valuable and useful fuel when handled correctly. Just because you have gotten away with doing something unwise doesn’t mean tomorrow won’t catch up with you. Better safe than sorry. Good idea Zephod.

Thomas D (@guest_125329)
2 years ago

Part of the price you pay for filling your tank is labor. If the person filling your tank makes $10 an hour ( starvation wages) and it takes 5 minutes to fill , it adds 83 cents to your bill. Regardless of empty or partially full it takes time and the boss still wants to make a profit. Ask if the price is by weight or volume or are you charging me for full tank. Thats why i dont go to tank exchange. Only fill to 3gallons.

Royce (@guest_125323)
2 years ago

Well that took long enough to get to the answer, even though I knew it.😃

Ron (@guest_125318)
2 years ago

Ok Chuck,should I get the”regular” or the “high test”/premium propane?
Sorry CW,couldn’t resist!😂

John Goodell (@guest_125308)
2 years ago

The tank doesn’t HAVE to be empty, but be aware that in some places you get charged for a full refill regardless of how much was in the tank to start. I like the places that only charge for the amount they put in!

Edward (@guest_125368)
2 years ago
Reply to  John Goodell

You’re so right. More and more propane refillers are starting to charge by tank rather than the gallon. Guess it’s too much math for them.

Frank Hembree (@guest_125302)
2 years ago

I have found U-Haul reasonable for filling tanks. They also charge by the gallon.

james Fellows (@guest_100772)
3 years ago

I believe the problem is that some places evacuate your tank before they will fill it. You end up paying the empty tank price even though your tank was partially full. I had this happen. The person said it was the law. I never went back there but I have had many tanks filled in this same city and know one has ever heard of such a law.

Dan (@guest_125305)
2 years ago
Reply to  james Fellows

I’ve only had to evacuate, or purge, brand new tanks. I wouldnt go back either. In fact, I wouldnt let them refill my tank, even if they purged it.

Bob P (@guest_125307)
2 years ago
Reply to  james Fellows

I have had tanks over filled by service men who didn’t know how to fill a partially full tank and didn’t weigh the tank prior to filling and just pumped in gas until it overflowed and then couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t hold the normal amount of gas. Their boss told them put X number of gallons in the tank and that’s what they did even though it spit out on the ground.

MrAlaska (@guest_100208)
3 years ago

Nice! The answers I was seeking were found in the comments. I was wondering if there were any not so obvious pros or cons to filling a partial tank. I had no idea there were so many local customs that can affect the wisdom of such a decision. In my area everybody charges by the gallon. From the place advertising, “Cheapest gas in town! 3.89/gal”, to the one next door to it selling for 3.49/gal.

Bob Weinfurt (@guest_85229)
3 years ago

I liken it to putting gas in your car. You don’t wait until your tank is totally empty unless you have a second tank to switch over to.

arlene (@guest_85222)
3 years ago

i just want to say that i have read my manuals and at times (depending on the subject), the instructions are not clear. and for that, i will ask a forum like RVTravel or others for advice to see what the veterans do. It is not always from a lack of seeking information, it can be from too much information. a perfect example, how do you get rid of vermin in your RV. the countless ways to do this…..

Glenn (@guest_85184)
3 years ago

Now that covid-19 is with us, the local propane dealer charges my credit card over the phone for a full tank, regardless of the level of propane already in the tank. Then they have me drive up to their electric sliding gate and call into the locked office to get through the gate to the propane filling station, where I remove the tanks from my pickup truck and walk about 20 feet away before an employee comes out and fills the tanks. Then he leaves, I load the tanks back into the truck and drive away. No contact with a cashier or the propane filler.

I have three 30-pound tanks – two on the trailer and one spare (bought at tractor supply), and I wait until two are completely empty before getting them filled.

Eddie (@guest_85226)
3 years ago
Reply to  Glenn

I take my propane tanks to Tractor Supply to be filled. I backup within 10 feet to the place they fill then call the store. They send someone out and they pick up my tanks and fill them. I leave my credit card on the tailgate and they charge for what was filled. they return my tanks and leave, I pick up credit card and leave. No covid so far!
Edit. I meant to say I only get charged for the amount of propane that is need to fill tanks. Not automatically charged for a full tank.

Last edited 3 years ago by Eddie
Donald N Wright (@guest_85181)
3 years ago

Funny, I consider myself a newbie, yet at Campgrounds, folks come over to ask questions. I have never been trained on propane systems. Sometimes the folks who rent the RV’s need someone to walk beside the drivers window when parking rather than a spouse waving arms.

PennyPA (@guest_57409)
4 years ago

Family Camping Center (Amarillo TX) charges $10 to fill a partially empty tank, flat rate. Tractor Supply usually has the best price on propane.

Larry G (@guest_108958)
2 years ago
Reply to  PennyPA

Yes. I refill at Tractor Supply also.

Jim Frazier (@guest_148465)
2 years ago
Reply to  PennyPA

Tractor Supply is $1.00/gallon higher in my area than the local guy…

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