By Russ and Tiña De Maris
You see them nearly everywhere: Propane cylinder trade-in kiosks. Bring in your empty and trade it in for a refreshed, full one. Often with 24-hour service it may be tempting to trade-in rather than fill up. But are they really a bargain?
On a visit to a Flying J truck stop we found bulk propane for $2.75 per pumped gallon. The same truck stop offered Amerigas exchange cylinders for $21.99. A quick nod at your calculator says you’re paying $1.64 more per gallon for the exchange, but you’re getting a “fresh tank.” Not exactly!
Reading the fine print on the exchange offer shows that the Amerigas offer is “Net Weight 15 pounds.” Propane weighs 4.23 pounds per gallon, which means you’re not anywhere close to a full five gallons, and in fact, you’re paying the equivalent of $6.20 a gallon — $3.45 more per gallon than having your own cylinder refilled.
And those “spare” cylinders they tout? Buy a spare for $54.99, filled up with a little more than three and a half gallons of fuel (which you could pay $9.75 for in bulk), and you’d still have $45 left over to buy a brand new (not refurbished) cylinder. At the time of the price check, Camping World would sell you a new cylinder for $35 which would be good for 12 years before it needed to be recertified. Those “refurbs” from Amerigas? Unless you look closely at the cylinder, you’d never know how soon you’d have to have the container recertified.
Which does bring up a point: If your existing cylinder is getting near its time for a re-cert, it might be advantageous to trade it in on a refurb. It is definitely more convenient than calling around propane service yards finding out who’ll recertify your old cylinder, lugging it out, and waiting around for the job to be done. On the other hand, if you have the time and the re-cert price is right, lug it on in.
You pay the money, you make the choice.