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How does an RV Propane System Work?

    Updated December 7, 2022

    While summer cookouts may be where non-RVers are most likely to associate propane, an RV propane system offers much more than a grill. This adaptable fuel frequently powers multiple important parts of your equipment.

    A lot of the appliances that keep you comfortable while RVing run on liquid propane (LP gas), a flexible fuel. When using an absorption refrigerator, RV propane systems can also power tiny propane heaters, portable propane fire pits, and even portable propane grills.

    Propane-powered appliances are a wonderful gift, especially if you prefer boondocking (off-the-grid camping) than being confined to busy campgrounds and RV parks. You may go camping nearly anywhere, untethered, and with all the conveniences of home if you utilize gas to power your gadgets.

    However, propane must be used responsibly. A propane leak anywhere in the system might result in deadly carbon monoxide exposure, a fire, or an explosion in addition to the fact that propane is stored in DOT and ASME propane tanks under high pressure. Because of this, it’s critical to comprehend how your propane system operates, which is the subject of today’s column. Every day, tens of thousands of RVers use propane safely. Let’s go over some crucial information to keep you and your RV secure.

    What Does an RV Propane System Do?

    Several other systems that make life in your trailer comfortable are powered by the propane system in your RV. Typically, your propane system will supply fuel for your furnace, refrigerator cooling system, and water heater in addition to fuel for your kitchen’s culinary needs. In a tank on or within your site, you’ll keep liquid propane under high pressure. It is released via a regulator, boiling into vapor that can be used in a variety of appliances.

    How does my RV Propane System Work?

    Despite their potential complexity, RV propane systems generally operate relatively simply. The tank releases high-pressure propane into a regulator. There, the regulator lowers the gas pressure so that it can be used with propane appliances in a controlled, low-pressure flow.

    A propane tee (or T-fitting) can be used to connect a gas barbecue, an additional propane tank, or other accessories. The tank and the regulator are typically connected by these tees. Check out our instructions for connecting a grill or an external propane tank if you need further assistance expanding your propane setup (here).

    Depending on whether you have a motorhome or a travel trailer/fifth wheel, your configuration will vary slightly. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers regulates the use of built-in ASME propane tanks in motorhomes, while DOT tanks are often removable in travel trailers and fifth wheels (regulated by the Department of Transportation). Larger campers typically have two tanks, whereas smaller fifth wheels and travel trailers typically only have one.

    Why is this important? Although the functions of ASME and DOT tanks are similar, these tanks may have somewhat different fittings and different choices for filling.

    How to Fill a RV Propane Tank?

    Whatever style of rig you have, you’ll eventually need to refill your propane system. However, different tanks for various rig types will call for various filling techniques. The benefit of being removable is a feature of DOT cylinders for trailers. This implies that when you get a refill, you don’t necessarily have to bring your entire RV. These amenities are not available to RVs with ASME tanks. Make sure your RV is properly positioned for filling.

    A few campgrounds or RV parks might provide propane refills. If that isn’t an option, gas stations, truck stops, RV dealerships, neighborhood propane dealers, hardware stores, and other outdoor-friendly stores are frequently worth a try. A staff member will typically fill your tanks for you. Although it might seem simple, propane can be dangerous, so it’s usually best to leave it in the hands of people who know how to handle it.

    It may also appear that your tank is not completely full, but it is on purpose. Based on temperature, the volume of propane can alter significantly. As a result, a tank that is completely full on a chilly day runs the risk of being damaged or exploding on a hot day when the fuel expands. Tanks are thus only permitted to hold 80% of their maximum capacity.

    How Often Should You Have your RV Propane System Inspected?

    This partially depends on the kind of tank that your rig is using. Depending on the model, DOT tanks used by trailers or fifth wheels need to have their certification renewed every five or ten years. Every time you refill, you should also perform a visual inspection to look for wear, corrosion, and mechanical issues.

    No national rules or regulations for RVs employing ASME propane tanks require you to recertify your tanks. This is due to the tanks remaining fixedly positioned within your RV. Even so, it’s usually a good idea to have a skilled technician inspect it once a year. This can be planned as a component of routine RV maintenance.

    One of the most crucial yet least known components of an RV is the propane system. You’ll have a reliable source of hot water, cooking fuel, and much more if you keep this knowledge in mind.