Gauge with red, yellow, green safety indicators for propane tanks.
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An Essential Safety Guide For RV Propane Systems

The day you pick up your first RV, new or used, is a day you will never forget. It’s also the day you realize how much you still need to learn about RV safety and maintenance. One of your top priorities to help ensure safe travels is to understand RV propane safety measures. That’s what we’re here to talk about today.

What You Should Know About RV Propane Safety

During our full-time RV travels I did not take the time to fully comprehend all of the safety guidelines associated with the propane (LP) tanks on my travel trailer. I was a bit naive about our RV’s propane system.

Looking back on it now, I am thankful that we did not end up having any major issues with our propane delivery system as a result of my lack of understanding.

You don’t need to leave it to chance. The best thing you can do is understand how to best keep you and your family safe with propane on board. And decreasing the likelihood of a propane safety incident will require better information, better practices and better products.

Understanding RV Propane Systems


I will kick off with a quick tip that I learned the hard way about the propane system in my RV.

When you open the valves on your DOT propane tanks (normally found on travel trailers and fifth wheels) by turning the triangular knobs on top, you MUST open the valves slowly. Opening the valves too quickly will cause the built-in safety mechanism (excess flow valve) to engage and restrict flow by 80-90%. This will not allow your appliances to operate properly.

We have a simple solution if this happens to you. Turn off the valve. Disconnect the hose or tubing. Reattach the tubing and follow the tip above. Open the valve slowly. Problem solved!

  • PRO TIP

Avoid triggering built-in safety mechanism by opening the valves on your DOT propane tanks slowly.

Important Terms to Know

We’re talking about pressurized gas here. It’s not a common topic of discussion. So let’s start by explaining a few common terms to help ensure everyone understands the terminology and information provided in this article.

  • Propane, liquid propane (LP Tank), and propane gas all normally refer to the same substance, which you will find in your RV.
  • Propane is one type of liquefied petroleum gas (LP or LPG), but these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
  • Overfill Protection Device (OPD) is a safety feature required on all LPG tanks which will not allow the tank to be filled to more than 80% capacity. This leaves room for propane vapor to safely expand as temperatures fluctuate. When it reaches that 80% mark during filling, the propane will begin venting out signaling that the tank is at capacity.
  • Excess Flow Valve is a standard mechanical safety feature of propane connectors (inside green or black attachment knob). The valve cuts off only 80-90% of gas flow if there is a sudden surge in flow.
  • Propane Leak Detection can happen in a number of ways: Smelling a gas odor (rotten eggs), hearing a hissing sound, propane detector alarms (if installed), or spotting a sudden drop in pressure noted on an attached pressure gauge.
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) tanks are small and transportable. This type of tank is often found on travel trailers and fifth wheels. They typically come in three sizes.
  • The smallest is a 20 lb propane tank, which has a capacity of approximately 4.7 gallons. A 30 lb tank has a 7-gallon capacity, and a 40 lb tank will offer about 9.4 gallons.
  • The 40 lb tanks will usually be found only on larger fifth wheels. These types of tanks are also typically used to fuel gas grills and propane heaters.
  • Store tanks upright, not horizontally.
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) tanks are the larger tanks normally found on driveable RVs (Class A, B, C). These are larger tanks, available in various shapes, sizes, and volumes, which are permanently mounted to the RV and cannot be removed to refill.
  • ACME Nut is the green or black circular attachment device attached to the propane hose/tubing which is used to connect the hose/tubing to a propane tank.

RV Appliances Powered by Propane

Depending on the type of RV you own, there are various appliances that may be powered by propane. These are the most common propane-fueled appliances:

  • Stovetop (range)
  • Oven
  • Hot water heater
  • Heating system
  • Refrigerator (likely either a 2-way or 3-way appliance, capable of running on multiple power sources)

In the case of 2- or 3-way RV refrigerators, they will normally default to running on electricity if it’s available. For example, when you hook up to AC shore power or a generator. If electricity is disconnected or shut off, these appliances will normally switch automatically to a secondary source such as propane or DC, unless you have chosen to deactivate the automatic switching.

As you can see, your RV is highly dependent on propane in most cases in order for you to accomplish simple, daily tasks.

RV Propane Safety Tips

Where are RV Propane Tanks Located?

TRAVEL TRAILERS

On most travel trailers, removable DOT propane tanks are normally located at the front of the trailer on a plate attached to the trailer’s tongue. Infrequently, they may be located at the rear bumper. In most cases, the tanks will be protected from damage and degradation by a plastic, removable cover.

FIFTH WHEELS

On fifth wheels, the removable DOT propane tanks are located in storage compartments on the trailer. You will normally find two tanks (typically 40 lb tanks) on fifth wheel trailers and they may be located in a single storage compartment or possibly one tank on each side of the RV in separate storage compartments.

DRIVEABLE RVs

For driveable motor homes, the ASME tank can be located in a variety of different places within a storage compartment. But it will not be located on the exterior of the vehicle.

How to Measure Propane Levels in the Tank

Some grills make it very easy to measure how much propane is left in the tank. The hook under our grill moves up or down depending on the weight of the tank. As the hook moves, it exposes a small red marker. How much red is visible indicates the amount of propane. So all it takes to know how much propane is left is a quick visual inspection. This is great because you don’t want to run out in the middle of cooking up a tasty rib eye steak.

  • PRO TIP

Many newer RVs have propane-powered heating systems. You will also tap your propane for cooking and the water heater. Try to use your propane wisely to avoid running out before your trip is over. Seal leaks, insulate windows, park in open, sunny areas, and wear warm layers when camping during colder temperatures.

WEIGHT IS AN INDICATOR

If you use smaller DOT tanks, you can get a feel how much gas remains based on simply lifting the tank. You can also weigh it if you have a large enough scale and compare it to the weight of an empty tank. The first option is not very accurate. The second isn’t very practical.

USE HOT WATER TO MEASURE THE PROPANE LEVEL

Another trick is to use hot water. Simply pour hot water down one side of the tank. Use enough water to warm the exterior metal.

Because propane is extremely cold, you should be able to use the palm of your hand to feel the side of the tank and find a spot where the temperature changes. That line indicates the level of propane you have left.

Can You Travel With Your Propane Valves Open?


To be honest with you, I was hesitant about whether I should even include this topic in this post. Believe it or not, it is one of the most hotly debated points among RVers for a variety of reasons.

I’m not going to try and tell you what to do here. You’re a grown-up capable of managing your own risks and making your own decisions. Accordingly, I won’t give you advice about this specific topic.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRAVELING WITH PROPANE

I will, however, mention the following general points one may want to consider when thinking about traveling with propane tank valves open:

  • It would make sense and is generally strongly advised that all propane tanks are shut off before entering any gas stations. The safety reasons seem obvious.
  • Most refrigerators will only lose about 4 degrees per 8-hour period without power. A small rechargeable fan can circulate air and help maintain cooler temperatures on longer trips.
  • Bumping down the road in an RV increases the possibility that a connection to the propane tank could come loose. One spark is all it takes to turn that leak into a disaster.
  • RV owners have shared their own personal experiences with severe tire blowouts severing propane lines. If those lines are pressurized during such an incident, you can imagine what the outcome would look like.
  • Even without breakage specifically to a gas line, a tire blowout or other vehicle accident can significantly alter the risk level of having a propane valve open.
  • It’s generally a good idea (and in some areas required) to turn off the propane when traveling through tunnels.
  • Essentially, you must consider your own level of risk tolerance and make the decision that is right for you.
  • PRO TIP

For anyone who wants a quick yes or no answer to whether or not the propane should be turned off, my answer is yes. Turn off the propane before driving. It is safer and you are less likely to damage your equipment. You want to avoid having an open flame while driving or pulling into a fuel station. In addition, turn it off to avoid damaging the RV fridge. If your rig has a residential fridge, check the owner’s manual as it may be designed to run on batter power while driving.

Built-In RV Propane Safety Features

Let me put a caveat into the mix here: I am not an expert on RV propane systems. What I am offering here is my best understanding to date about standard safety features.

I encourage you to check directly with RV manufacturers to better understand and implement RV propane safety measures. This is one of those topics in the owner’s manual that should actually be read.

EXCESS FLOW SAFETY VALVE

Having said that, the only “safety feature” that I am aware of related to the propane system is the excess flow valve (EFV) mentioned above. This mechanical safety feature cuts the flow of propane by approximately 80-90% in the event of a major leak (line severed, fitting has come loose, etc.).

Propane Safety Devices

I was recently introduced to a unique propane safety device designed for use on RVs. GasStop is an emergency shut-off valve for propane gas cylinders.

RV Propane Safety Device
GasStop designed for use on LP gas cylinders with an OCC Type 1 Connector.

Disclaimer: We received a promotional sample of this external safety valve in order to test and provide an honest review of the product. This review is the honest opinion of the author after using and evaluating the GasStop.

GasStop claims to be “the only shutoff safety device for propane” on the market today. They offer the safety device pictured above for use on LP gas cylinders with a QCC Type 1 connector.

GasStop Propane Tank Gauge for RV ACME
$64.99

Propane Gas Gauge with Acme universal connection for cylinder, RV camper, travel trailer, and fifth wheel. Emergency shut-off and color coded pressure meter.

Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/19/2024 05:20 am GMT

This model is designed for use on POL LP gas cylinders. It’s designed for Class A and Class C motorhomes.

GasStop Propane Tank Gauge for RV POL Connection
$64.95

POL Connection for Cylinder, emergency shut-off, color coded pressure meter. Designed for Class A and Class C motorhomes. RV-POL device connector.

Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/19/2024 05:11 am GMT

Here are some additional details about this RV propane safety device that will probably interest you:

  • Safe – 100% automatic shut-off in the event of a major leak
  • Practical – Useful indicator that shows you when your gas is running low
  • Easy – Easy to install, easy to use
  • Useful – Installing a GasStop enables you to quickly check your propane system (with included gauge) to ensure that you do not have a minor leak at any connection, hose, or pipe
RV Propane Gas Stop

HOW TO USE A PROPANE TANK GAUGE

How easy is this device to use? The simple four-step directions sum up the answer quickly.

  1. Connect the GasStop to your bottle
  2. Tighten the GasStop to cylinder
  3. Connect your propane regulator to the GasStop and install your hose and device as normal
  4. Pump the gauge 4-6 times to prime the system.

That’s it, you’re good to go.

RV Propane Safety Device

For RV owners, these are the four steps for how to use a GasStop:

  1. Connect GasStop to a propane tank
  2. Tighten connection
  3. Connect RV propane line to GasStop safety device
  4. Pump pressure gauge 4-6 times to prime the system

IS THERE A WARRANTY ON A GASSTOP GAUGE?

GasStop proudly backs their RV propane safety products with a 5-Year Warranty.

*Note: According to GasStop’s documentation, “During normal gas usage, GasStop will not shut off the system in the event of a minor leak. During normal gas usage GasStop will only shut off in the event of a major leak.”

USING VALVE GAUGE ON A CHANGEOVER

The GasStop can be used on a bulkhead, an automatic, or manual changeover gas pressure regulator.

If you have two propane tanks, you would need to have a GasStop device for each tank. Simply attach a device to the first tank as instructed and repeat the process with the second tank. This will work in line with any changeover device.

WHERE TO PURCHASE A GASSTOP GAUGE

We often buy RV accessories from Amazon for the convenience of free shipping. Of course, you can also stop at just about any local hardware store or Home Depot.

Propane is NOT a DIY Issue!

Always consult a certified LP technician for any issues with your system. Stay safe and don’t attempt a DIY fix on such an important and potentially hazardous system in your RV.

The potential consequences do not justify taking any risks to troubleshoot the problems with a propane system.

Be Prepared to Safely Navigate Your RV Propane System


As always, I hope this information has given you a greater level of confidence related to your RV propane system.

I further hope that you understand the importance of always staying on top of issues related to RV propane safety and making informed decisions related to your own well-being.

Additional Safety Tips for Propane System

Here are a few final propane tank safety tips. Yes, some are obvious, but it’s always worth keeping these top of mind because you know how the saying goes: safety first!

  • Check for leaks by squeezing a soapy water solution on all connection points. If bubbles appear when you turn the propane on, it’s likely you have a leak.
  • Use a propane gas detector or natural gas sniffer to detect any gas leaks.
  • Ensure your RV has carbon monoxide detectors installed indoors. Given that RVs rely heavily on propane to power multiple systems, you should install a back up detector to protect yourself from risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always double check the batteries as part of your regular RV maintenance.
  • Exchange your tank if you find dents or rust.
  • Check the lines for any fraying or cracks.
  • Never smoke near propane tanks.
  • Shut off the propane and igniters when you stop at the station to refuel your RV. It’s also a good idea to have everyone exit the vehicle.
  • Tanks should be elevated off the ground and stored upright.
  • Do not store tanks indoors, including in any vehicle, garage, or shed.

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