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


By Chuck Woodbury

We get questions like this at RVtravel.com 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 RVtravel.com 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 RVtravel.com. 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?

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james Fellows
2 months 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.

3 months 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
6 months 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.

6 months 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…..

6 months 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.

6 months 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 6 months ago by Eddie
Donald N Wright
6 months 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.

1 year 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
21 days ago
Reply to  PennyPA

Yes. I refill at Tractor Supply also.

1 year ago

It seems to me asking , “Whether an RV propane tank has to be empty before refilling” is really the wrong question to be asking in the first place. Clearly the answer is NO.

The question ought to be, “If I am filling up a partially filled propane tank, is the way the pump works, first to evacuate the contents of the tank before fully filling it, like happens, when one gets the contents inside an automobile air conditioner evacuated before it is refilled?” What Say You?

Plain Brown Tabby
1 year ago

Thank you for being friendly to newbies as well as veteran RVers. We’re fulltimers and are always happy to help out our friends who are just getting into RV and camping, whether it be tents, cars, vans, trailers whatever. (we have no experience with Class A life however!) When old timers make fun of newbs, it does nothing to advance campground cameraderie, whether online or at the campfire!

Ed D.
1 year ago

I just filled up an empty tank and a partially filled tank. The vendor charges by the amount filled. My partially filled tank only needed 1 gallon, and the vendor didn’t charge me for that gallon. And I had a 2 dollar coupon for the other tank.

1 year ago

Everything MarkB said needs repeating; but go read his…

15 pound fills are a SCAM and nothing to do with safety. A 20lb tank would hold >25already< allowing for the OPD 80% cutoff. If truly empty, your tank should gain 20#. The tank stays the same size regardless of underfilling.

My filler charges $8 to fill portable 20# tanks regardless of empty or not, OR by the gallon which costs twice as much. I make SURE my tanks are empty and get a deal!

Richard Mazurek
1 year ago

No stupid question ever. By criticizing someone for a stupid question you set someone up to fail. That can be bad.
I don’t consider myself to be that cranky senior…….yet. Hope I never get there.

1 year ago

Also, every western state where I’ve filled my propane tanks can, by law, only fill to roughly the 80% level which is where the bleeder screw starts spraying anyway.

Mark B
1 year ago

If you have a spare tank, then refill when empty or top-off when convenient. Here, a distinction between Motorhome and every other RV is necessary.

With a Motorhome tank, I have not found a location charge for more than the gallons they added. As you can’t remove the tank and put on a scale, the charge is for the gallons they are actually putting in.

Last year, as a newbie MH owner, after camping with some part-time heat and full refrigeration for 3 days, I took for a refill as I didn’t trust the gauge; it had barely moved. The equipment wouldn’t add any propane, because it is designed not to overfill. You learn all sorts of stuff, especially in the 1st year.

At places that refill “portable” tanks, especially the 20lb tanks (BBQ), buyer beware (or educated). Ideally, they are charging customers only for what they put in. In reality, some places charge a flat rate for a refill, whether they top off with 3 gallons or refill a completely empty tank to capacity with 4.7 gallons.

ALMOST-A-SCAM ALERT: Many places don’t fill 20lb tanks with 20lbs, rather they fill to 15lbs. If you are lucky, they post this somewhere so at least you have a heads up. This is very common. So, that $19.99 fill of a 20lb tank is only 3/4 full. Some people only receive a couple of gallons, because they brought in the tank for “fill up” before empty.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Most 20lb tank exchanges are now only filling their tanks with 15lbs. Maybe they claim that’s for safety, but safety is not spelled p-r-o-f-i-t.

Don Lee
1 year ago

Before you take a partially empty tank for refilling know how the propane seller charges. There are some who will only charge by the tank size, regardless of how much it takes to fill. If you are going to do a partial fill, make sure the seller charges by the gallon.

1 year ago

Reading some of the reply’s below, seems some are talking about 5 gallon BBQ tanks & yes thats common to charge for a full tank no matter how full/empty it is, or even if you do an exchange you still pay for a full tank! When I fill my M/H propane tank, its never empty, but I only pay for the amount put into the tank! I think they charge full price for a BBQ tank as they don’t make any money if they only put in 1 gallon!

John Goodell
1 year ago

A common practice I have seen is to charge for a full tank regardless of whether it is empty or not. In Vermont and Connecticut this is apparently standard at most garden and hardware stores. You go through the checkout line and take your receipt outside to the propane station afterwards. Only after I started RV’ing and had larger tanks did I see a propane attendant open the safety valve screw and give me a chit for the amount of propane to pay for. If I plan to fill a tank at a retail outlet I make sure the tank is empty so that I don’t get charged for the propane left in a partial tank.

1 year ago

I agree with Fox, the closest place to me where I “use to” get propane always charged by the full tank whether it was empty or half full. I thought that was the “norm”, so I always let my tanks go empty prior to getting them filled. Now I go to Tractor Supply where they charge by the actual meter reading. A much fairer and honest way to do business. Bravo to TSC for being fair.

Therefore, I use to think the tanks had to be empty prior to getting them filled. I was taught by example, I guess.

1 year ago

No stupid questions, only stupid answers.

1 year ago

True but you have to be watchful, some propane filling places charge you for a full tank no matter how much they put in.

1 year ago
Reply to  Fox

x2 for Fox

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago
Reply to  Fox

I’ve never seen this practice. This makes no sense.