How To Check Your Propane Tank Level Without A Gauge

TheRVgeeks Not Just For RVs!, Propane 37 Comments

If your propane tank has no gauge on it, you’ve probably had your grill quit in the middle of cooking dinner at least once. Here’s a simple trick for checking the exact level in your propane tank, without a gauge!

We’ve all been there. You head outside to flip those beautiful steaks, chicken, fish or veggies and the grill is cold. You ran out of propane in the middle of cooking dinner and now everything else will be ready, but no main course.

Those portable tanks are notorious, not only because they have no gauge, but because they’re small, so they run out more often. Our big built-in propane tank holds 32 gallons, and has a gauge, so we have a pretty good idea how full it is. But when your tank doesn’t have a gauge, how do you know what’s happening in there?

Besides the inconvenience of having a single meal interrupted, you’ll really want to be sure you’ve got plenty of propane on board before heading out on that remote boondocking trip.

Once you see this ridiculously simple trick, you’ll never run out of gas unexpectedly again!


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Comments 37

  1. Pingback: RVgeeks Quartzsite, AZ 2017 RV Show Appearance - Complete Details

    1. Love this. I wish I had know about this before dark. I will certainly be using this but need it on the small extender tank , you say it will work on those, hope you show that video too. I have an onboard one with a gauge.

      Do you have a video on how to replace the rubber stripping on the slide outs

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        Hi Linda! The hot water trick should work on any tank, regardless of size. Sorry, but we have no video on replacing slide-out seals, as we’ve never had to do that on our RV. If it’s any help, you can see the trick we’ve used to make ours last so long right here.

    2. Hello Peter and John,

      I’m having trouble with my 6 cubic foot Norcold fridge while it’s running on L.P. It may light ok and maybe even stay on for as much as 30 mins but then the yellow and green lights begin to flash-indicating a problem with the gas flow. If I turn on my water heater in propane mode and then my fridge in lp mode the fridge will operate..until perhaps a few minutes after the water heater has reached operating temp and the flame goes out, then the two lights on the fridge will begin flashing again. Otherwise my fridge works great on electric mode and always stays cold. From what research I’ve done, it looks like the most likely culprit could be the propane pressure from the regulator. I don’t have a manometer but I could by one. I have not seen a through enough video yet to be clear about how to use one. Would you guys be able to help me fix this by either making a video or otherwise directing me what to do?

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        Hi Drew! Keeping in mind that we’re not trained technicians, our best guess based on what you’ve told us is the same as what you’ve uncovered in your research: the propane regulator is the likely culprit. But we think that the problem is propane FLOW, rather than propane PRESSURE. You may have a blockage in the regulator, or it’s just sticking, preventing it from responding to the extremely small flow that the fridge demands. So when a higher flow is called for (by the water heater), the flow starts, and gets to the fridge, too. You could test this theory by lighting the stove on very low flame, and see if one burner on very low will stay lit (making sure to shut it off if it goes out of course). If your stovetop stays lit when you have a burner on high (or two or more burners on high), but goes out when turned down to low, that would re-enforce our theory that it’s propane flow.

        So rather than get a manometer, you could try cleaning or replacing the regulator. Now this is NOT an official recommendation…. but we cleaned the inside of our grill’s regulator after if got gummed up with oily residue by removing it and pouring isopropyl alcohol through it, and then letting it dry THOROUGHLY before using it again. Again, a propane professional might tell us we were crazy to use alcohol, so we’re not recommending it. It’s just what we did, and it worked for us. But since regulators are so inexpensive and easy to replace, we might just try getting a new one first. Maybe yours looks just like this one? http://amzn.to/2xb2mBz This is a pretty standard type, but check first to be sure it matches yours. Hope this helps a bit. Please let us know how you make out.

        1. Thanks for the response guys-

          I lit all 3 burners (put 2 on high and the third on low)..all stayed lit with no fluctuation of flame height or anything else. I wonder where I go from here, I don’t think it’s a regulator issue.

          Thanks,

          Drew

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            Hmmm… that flame for the fridge is amazingly small. We wonder if it’s so small that trying the burner on low is still so much more flow that it’s not a close comparison. The thing that’s getting us is the fact that it runs when you’re heating water on propane, but no other time. Hey.. how about this test…. try running the fridge on propane while one or more of the stove burners are on. If the increased flow from the water heater helps it along enough for the fridge to light, it would be interesting to see if another propane appliance has the same effect.

          3. Hi Guys,

            Yes, done that- and the fridge stays burning on propane with another gas appliance is running (it doesn’t matter which one or how many….as long as something else is on my fridge will operate on propane if there is another propane appliance running). And like I said, if I turn the other appliance off, my fridge will continue to run for a while- sometimes up to 30 or 45 mins. I wouldn’t care too much about this except once in a while we go on a trip so we need the fridge going…and I don’t like the generator running unless I need the a/c’s on too.

            Thanks.

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            Hi Drew. We still think that it could be the regulator, but the opposite what we were originally thinking. Possibly not too LITTLE pressure, but too MUCH pressure. If the pressure is too high, the flame will be “pushed” further away from the orifice. That may prevent the thermocouple from sensing the proper heat to know that the fridge is properly lit. That would make it think that the flame has gone out, which would shut off the propane. That could explain why running another device would allow the fridge run…. by lowering the pressure to the fridge when there’s another draw on the propane line.

            If we’re correct that it’s too-high pressure coming from the regulator, the one thing we’d expect to see is that after sitting for a while with all propane appliances turned off… then turning on ONLY the propane side of the fridge…. it either wouldn’t light at all, or would only run for an exceedingly short time. Is that what’s happening?

            An issue with the orifice could be causing a hyper-sensitivity to proper propane flow. The thermocouple could be dying and not properly sensing the flame. The circuit board could be failing in some way, or the regulator may be allowing too much pressure.

            BUT…. nothing but the propane pressure would be likely to cause the fridge to work when other propane devices are turned on. We’re leaning toward a failing regulator.

            We hate to replace parts as a trial balloon for fixing a problem without being sure they’re actually bad. But in this case, a new regulator is so reasonably priced, and so easy to install, that we’d consider going ahead and trying it. We apologize in advance if you try that and it doesn’t solve the problem, but we just can’t think of anything else that makes sense.

          5. Guys,

            Thanks so much for all the responses. From all I hear, I think as you do that it could be the regulator so I’ll get some #’s off it later. To answer your question, more often then not-when we first arrive after a period of storage (usually less than a month) many times I start the gen and then right after that I turn on the fridge -always in “auto” mode and never in “gas” mode. So…it’s running on the elec side nearly all the time except when I pull the cord from the pedestal. It will then either switch to gas and light right away or it will do what I’m describing….both green and yellow lights will flash.

            When I get the regulator done I’ll let you know what’s going on and again, many thanks! I’ve referred many of my rv’ing friends to you guys and just this past week one of them looked at all the topper awning videos and ordered two I think. He’s going to call me when they come in so we can work on them together.

            Sincerely,

            Drew

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  2. OMG! What perfect timing! I’m about empty according to the indoor light indicator on the “levels” panel, but I don’t trust it! It’s been saying “empty” for days! I want to squeeze as much out of the main tank before I switch to my portable tank for the rest of the winter. I’ll give the main tank the hot water test tomorrow. What a clever idea! Thanks!

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  3. WHAT! You just blew my mind! Makes me want to go out and check my onboard 25 gal and portable 5gal right now…

    As always… thank you for investing your time to share what you know.

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  4. That’s a great tip. Our 2003 Bounder had lost the gauge, like the one you had and of course the inside gauge is
    never correct…so we ran out of propane on our first long trip. When we returned to Denver, Camping World suggested a propane service (small business) in the area and for less than $45, I had a new one that was easy to attach. We had plenty of the wire and the guy said to use silicone to attach the gauge into what looks like a large nut on the side…just like yours. Works like a charm now.

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  5. I have a hanging scale that’s accurate, and use that to check levels in bottles up to 40lbs., and to measure the amount of refrigerant was used to charge an A/C system. Particularly the ancient R-12 units that have not the condenser, and evaporator capacity to utilize the R-134 refrigerant effectively.
    R-12 is very expensive these days.

  6. Outstanding, simple and no special tools. I use either a laser thermometer or an Infra-read (FLIR) adaptor on my smart phone to see the exact level and temp…but then I teach hazmat teams for a living. CAT (like the tractors) sell a phone with an IR camera already in it. Colleagues call me a Haz-Geek. I am learning so much from you guys that I expect at least continuing education credits! :)

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      1. Great video, its these simple things that I get the most out of! Is there a adapter, (T or other fitting) that I can put a gauge on my Propene tank? Or does it have to be a purpose built tank to have a gauge?
        Thanks, and keep ’em coming!

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  7. Neat trick.

    Question: is your propane tank is open to the ground? Sure looks like the water splashed right through an open panel.

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