Whether It’s Legal or Not, Is It a Good Idea?
New RV owners and veterans alike can often struggle to agree on this question: is it legal to drive with your propane on? In addition, each state has its own set of laws, which is inconvenient for travelers who frequently cross state lines.
One of the rules people seem to be divided on is whether you can legally drive with your propane tanks open. But the question isn’t as simple as whether it’s legal or not. Is it a good idea?
THINGS IN YOUR RV THAT USE PROPANE
Propane is an essential gas for operating specific appliances in your camper. Luckily, propane is also considered by many states to be a green energy thanks to its low emissions. It’s also more cost-efficient than electricity.
Note: While the emissions are much lower than other fuel sources, propane is not pollution free or 100% clean burning. When burned, it emits CO2 and CO gasses (which are deadly when they aren’t ventilated and build up) and should, therefore, not be burned in an enclosed space without proper ventilation. It is also imperative that the CO2/CO alarm in your rig is up to date, working, and regularly tested when any propane applications will be used for any reason.
Propane can run the following devices in your RV:
- Refrigerator: To keep the fridge cool, a propane flame is used to trigger a chemical reaction that absorbs the heat.
- Stove Top/Oven: Similar to a gas stove, it connects to a propane line that connects to the burners on top and the oven. Propane heats up faster than natural gas.
- Furnace: A propane heater will burn propane to create warm air, which is then distributed throughout your RV.
- Water heater: Both regular and tankless propane water heaters are available for RVs. Tankless can be more expensive initially but offer endless hot water.
- Generator: Most generators operate on gas, but propane generators are also available. While less efficient, it releases fewer pollutants into the air.
Is Propane Dangerous?
Liquified petroleum gas, “propane,” is an energy source considered clean and efficient compared to others. When stored inside a tank, it’s turned into a liquid through high pressure that causes the temperature to rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the best way to store propane because it comes very condensed, making it easier to transport large amounts.
When the liquid propane is released from the tank, it combines with heat to turn into gas. While this is fine under a controlled flow, it also contributes to the highly flammable nature of propane. Because liquid propane would cause immediate frostbite and even a tiny spark could ignite a gas leak, propane can be considered dangerous and should always be handled carefully. However, if you follow safety guidelines, using propane is perfectly safe.
Is it Legal to Drive an RV with the Propane On?
If you ask a room full of experienced RV travelers whether they leave their propane on when driving or opt for turning it off, you’ll get answers all across the board. Except for certain situations, there are no laws against driving with your RV’s propane tank on in everyday situations.
Just because it isn’t illegal to do so doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. As mentioned above, propane can be very dangerous without proper care. Unfortunately, even if you take every precaution, accidents can still happen when driving. For this reason, many people decide it’s better safe than sorry and turn off their propane tanks whenever their rig leaves RV parks.
Dangers of Driving a Propane Tank While On
The most considerable risk that propane tanks present are unnoticed leaks. Your risk of propane leaks increases when you are driving your RV.
Other events while driving could also cause propane leaks like a tire blowout, or hitting a pothole can all cause a leak. Once you have a propane leak, the smallest sparks could cause an explosion.
The worst thing that could happen when driving with your propane tank open is an accident that results in flames. However, even when a propane tank is subject to extreme heat, there are safety measures to prevent an explosion. While propane tank explosions are not super common, they may be possible with perfect conditions.
Why Do People Drive An RV with the Propane On?
It seems that however rare these accidents may be, for many, it makes more sense to simply turn off your propane every time you move your camper. So why are some RVers so set on leaving it on?
The main reason to leave your propane valve open is to keep your refrigerator cold, which is pretty important, especially if you’ve just loaded it up with enough food for a few weeks. While RV fridges do have a number of safety features built-in, this reward does not outweigh the risk for most of us. Plus, there are plenty of alternatives for keeping your food cold:
- Keep the refrigerator closed: For short trips, avoid opening your refrigerator once you unplug it, and the food should stay cold. You can also freeze certain items, which will, in turn, keep other things colder for longer.
- Pack perishables into a cooler: Before you leave, take out anything you’re worried may go bad and pack them into a cooler with ice.
- Swap your propane fridge for a fully electric model: An electric fridge that can run off your RV’s battery poses fewer risks than running off propane.
Rules for Propane Tanks
While there is no national law about driving with propane tanks open, there are rules in place for specific situations. If you decide to drive with your valve open, always check state and local laws when visiting somewhere you’re unfamiliar with and keep your eyes open for any signs that restrict access.
- Close propane tank valves at gas stations: Always close the propane valve before pulling into a gas station to fill up. Propane refrigerators have an open flame and therefore make a dangerous combination with gasoline fumes.
- Look for signs near tunnels, bridges, and ferries: Many states have laws regarding traveling on tunnels, bridges, and ferries with propane tank valves in the open position. For example, the Washburn Tunnel in Houston requires that all propane tanks be closed when in the tunnel.
- Check state regulations for open propane valves: Some states don’t allow open propane tanks at all. New Jersey requires all cylinders to be in the closed position when driving on open highways.
- Consider alternative routes for strict regulations: Other tunnels ban propane tanks altogether. For example, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel doesn’t allow any vehicles hauling bottled propane or other hazardous materials to drive through.
Minimizing the Risk of A Propane Leak
While leaks are easily detectable inside due to the odorant put in propane, leaks outside the RV can go undetected as wind dissipates and blows the gas away. In some cases, tiny micro leaks go undiscovered for a while. This is not only potentially dangerous but costs money by draining your propane.
Have a Good Propane Alarm Near the Floor
Even though propane is made to smell so we detect it, it’s heavier than air so a slow leak may not be detected until enough of it builds up on the floor, especially at night when we aren’t moving around to stir everything up. A working propane alarm located at floor level will warn us of a possible propane leak before our noses do. It can be a lifesaver for your pets, who live much closer to the floor than we do as well.
Use An Emergency Shut-Off Device Like GasStop
GasStop is a great product that is easy to install and will instantly shut off the supply of propane in the event of a major leak or regulator failure. Say, for example, you are driving down the road debris ruptures a propane line. Whether you turn your propane off or leave it on while driving, there will be a significant leak when the tank is turned on. GasStop will detect this leak and automatically shut the gas flow off at the tank to prevent dangerous gas buildup and wasted propane.
GasStop can also be used to test for minor leaks before use so it’s an overall excellent propane safety device. You can learn more about GasStop on their official site.
So, It’s not Illegal to Drive with the Propane on, but Should you?
So, it’s not illegal to drive an RV with the propane on, but should you? RVers may never come to an agreement on this but keeping your propane tank valve closed while you’re hauling your RV is the safest. For propane safety tips, check out this article from Do It Yourself RV.
Are you team open tanks or team closed tanks?