By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Step into most any RV and you’ll find a panel with a set of gauges. Press the button, and you’ll quickly have a handle on how much fresh water there is in your tank, and how much black and gray water you’re carrying. Chances are equally great that you won’t find much to tell you how much propane you have in your cylinders.
If you’re a motorhomer, this isn’t too great a problem. Most motorhome LP tanks have a dial gauge showing the level of propane in the tank. Yes, you’ll have to step outside the coach to check it out, but it works. The same isn’t true for “towables” and truck campers, rigs that come with portable “DOT” cylinders. A few (and we say, “very few”) RV manufacturers include a gauge on the panel monitor that shows LP levels, but it’s rare.
So what’s to do? Is there a way to know how much LP you’re carrying? There are a few methods. A couple of after-market “level indicators” are out there. One is a simple flat plastic rectangle that magnetically sticks to the bottom of your LP tank. A color chart on the indicator changes colors as the LP level drops, warning you when you’re getting close to the ‘bottom of the barrel.’
Another is an add-on dial gauge that inserts between the LP cylinder and the RV’s gas pigtail. A pointer needle gives an approximate indication of how much LP remains. Both of these approaches have their problems: If your LP cylinders are under a cover, you’ll have to pull the cover off to check out the gauges. One couple found–after buying a new set of gauges–that while they worked fine, they wouldn’t fit under the cover. If they wanted to know how much LP remained, they had to remove the cover, install the gauges, do the reading, then remove the gauges to put the cover back on.
Costs? The simple plastic “stick on” gauge is less than $4 each; the in-line gauge sells in the $20 range. Both are available at Camping World and similar outlets.
For a completely accurate account of how much LP is in your tank, you must weigh your LP cylinder, subtract the “tare weight” of the cylinder (stamped on the cylinder by the letters “T.W.”) and then multiply the result (the actual weight of the propane) by 4.2 pounds to know how many gallons of LP you have. OK, that 4.2 pounds is at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
We found a great scale of this job. Called the Balanzza, powered by two AAA batteries, is a small palm-of-the-hand scale that does a great job with LP tanks (and fish!). The Balanzza retails for $24.95, and can be purchased online at balanzza.com or locally in many Target stores. The device weighs up to 100 pounds or 44 kilos.