Should You Exchange or Refill Your Propane Tank?

Propane Gas Tank

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The liquid propane tank that provides the gas to an outdoor gas grill can be purchased at any number of stores, including local hardware stores, larger grocery stores, big-box home improvement centers, and mass merchandise centers, such as Walmart or Costco. Once the gas is used up and the tank is empty, you have two options: You can have the tank refilled (a cheaper option) or you can swap the empty tank for a full one (a more expensive option), perhaps at the same retailer where you purchased the original. So is there an advantage to one option over the other?

Advantages of Propane Tank Exchange

If you exchange a tank rather than refilling, the process is fast and convenient. It is easier to find an exchange location that is open at odd hours, during nights, or weekends. There are usually far more exchange locations than refill stations. Many are at convenience stores, gas stations, chain stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, and grocery stores. In addition, there are services such as Forklift Propane Exchange and Propane Taxi that will deliver exchange tanks to your home or business.

With an exchange, you are assured that the tank is inspected, cleaned, leak-tested, and has up-to-date safety information and instructions printed on the tank. The tank will also have been requalified on its designated schedule. If you receive a tank in exchange that has a leak or problem, you should be able to take up the issue with the vendor. (You may want to check online reviews if you have any difficulty with a specific vendor.)

Tips for Propane Tank Exchange

  • Pay attention to weight. Different tanks have a different empty tare weight (TW), yet the refilled tanks are filled to a total weight. If your tank weighs more empty than the new one, you'll be getting less gas added on the refill. If you're exchanging a tank, look for one with the lowest tare weight, which will be listed on the tank.
  • Inspect the tank's condition. Do not accept a tank that appears to be corroded or old, nor one that is nearing the end of its lifespan. Otherwise, you may find that the exchange site refuses to accept it on exchange the next time. Some have a policy of not accepting tanks that are more than five years old. If you bought a new grill and the threading on your old tanks doesn't match the regulator for the new grill, you can exchange them for ones with the correct threading.
  • Buy two at a time. A pro tip is to buy two of the cheapest empty code-compliant tanks you can find and then exchange both tanks for full tanks. Now you have a spare full tank at all times and you can use one tank until it is empty before exchanging it. This will ensure that you never run out of gas while grilling.

    Advantages of Refilling a Propane Tank

    It is less expensive to refill a tank rather than exchanging. If you are diligent about maintaining your propane tanks and checking for leaks yourself, you may prefer to rely on your procedures rather than those of the tank exchange employees.

    Some people have noticed they get more propane in the tank when they refill them than when using an exchange tank. At many exchange vendors, it seems to be policy to add only 15 pounds in a 20-pound tank. Therefore, you may get more propane if you personally have it filled to the 20-pound limit, which still allows for a 20 percent vapor area for safety. If you have a new tank that was included when you bought a grill, you may prefer to refill it for its lifespan rather than exchanging it.

    Tips for Refilling Propane Tanks

    • Note tank expiration dates. Some refill stations refuse to refill tanks that are over a specified age limit, such older than five years. Be sure to note when your tank will expire.
    • You can get an older tank recertified to extend its lifespan if it is in good condition, but you will have to search for a recertification site in your area. You may also be able to exchange it for a newer one at some home improvement stores or other locations, though there may be a fee for this service.