Should you turn off propane when traveling?

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Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
I’m working at a company pumping propane. I’m very shocked at the number of people that travel with propane turned on, seeing that this gas is very volatile and the possibility of an explosion in an accident. It makes me wonder how many RVers are taking their own life or others and putting them in danger. Makes me wonder how many RV fires out there on the highway could be eliminated if people travel without the gas turned on. —twstrucking

Hi twstrucking (sorry, don’t know your name),
That’s a topic that gets a lot of discussion as well as a wide range of opinions. Even among the writers at RVTravel.com there is no consensus. So first the facts. The movement and stresses impacting an RV while on the road cause appliances to move about and put a strain on the lines that connect the propane tank with the refrigerator, stove, hot water heater and furnace, and these lines could work loose or break allowing the gas in the tank to escape – and only a small spark can ignite propane gas. A broken line or an accident can trigger a fire in an instant.

In addition, if you travel with your propane on, you should turn it – and all other appliances – off before going into a gas station and when entering a tunnel. Some states require this by law, others do not. However, when you travel with your propane off you lose the cooling to your refrigerator, heater (except the one in the cab), etc. But there’s a caveat to that also. You will only lose about 4 degrees of cooling for every eight hours your fridge is off, providing you haven’t opened it multiple times for a cold drink.


You can help your fridge to operate more efficiently when turned off with a $20 fridge fan that will circulate the air to help your food stay cool.

The decision you make is up to you – it’s your RV – as long as you follow the respective laws of the states you pass through. But here are the points to consider in making your decision.

Turning off the propane when traveling
• Safer in case of accident
• Reduced danger of a gas leak from gas lines working loose
• Won’t have to pull over and turn off propane before entering gas station or tunnel
• Food will stay cool on average-length driving sessions
• You have a low-risk tolerance

Leaving propane on when traveling
• One less thing to remember to do when leaving campground
• No restrictions on use of fridge, e.g., for lunches and drinks
• One less thing to remember when setting up campsite
• Must remember to turn off when entering gas station or before entering tunnels
• The odds of you having an accident and resultant fire from a propane leak are very small based on the number of miles driven each year by RVers
• You have a higher risk tolerance

To learn about maintenance and testing of your propane system read Gary Bunzer, The RV Doctor’s, informative report on RV propane systems.  

One last note. In my 17 years as a fulltimer I never turned off the propane while traveling. However, if (when) I become a fulltimer again, the extra effort to turn off the propane would be a small inconvenience for the added safety and peace of mind if a leak or accident were to happen. I would likely turn off the propane. Most of the time anyway.

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .

##RVT832

 

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Jillie
Guest
Jillie

I want a cold fridge. But turn everything else off. So on is my preference. Been camping with a trailer for over 10 years.

TXdrawl
Guest
TXdrawl

We have been RV-ing for 40 some odd years (tent camping, pop-up trailer and now on 3rd 5th wheel) and have always traveled with the propane OFF. Not a problem to remember to turn it on when setting up and turn it off when getting ready to go again. Safety first!

John Yellowolf
Guest
John Yellowolf

I never travel with my stove or oven pilots on. And definitely NOT the water heater. The fridge is a hit and miss proposition – depends if I remember. The tiny inconvenience of re-lighting it (even in a 40 year old RV) is completely negligible. I just feel safer with the propane shut off………I really don’t want to die by fire or explosion – there are way better ways to go out.

George
Guest
George

My understanding is that if you develop a major leak in your propane system the valve will close by itself. Also, if you’re really concerned about travelling down the highway with a volatile substance on board, you need to go electric and get rid of that gas tank under your vehicle. In 35 years of RVing I have always run with my propane tanks on.

Steven Scheinin
Guest
Steven Scheinin

I am a full timer. I travel with propane off. However, at the last Forest River Rally in Goshen, I attended a talk by a representative of Onan Generators. I was concerned about heating and cooling my 5th wheel in extreme weather. He indicated it was safe to run the propane generator while traveling, and added that was a good time to exercise a generator not used often.