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The speed and convenience of taking your empty propane tank to one of those propane exchange places makes it quite attractive. All you do is bring in your empty tank, pay for a new one and the clerk unlocks the cage and gives you one that is full. Sounds like a great deal, right? Unfortunately, that’s way wrong.

Exchanging your propane tank can cost you more in the long run than you would think. Consider this.

How many times do you return a propane tank that is 100%, completely empty? Rarely. Unless you figured out a way to grill your meals using the exact amount of propane in the tank, there is going to be some left over. You would rather exchange it with some propane still in there rather than risk running out while your meat is still cooking. By doing this, you essentially didn’t get 100% of your money’s worth. You paid for the full tank but only got say, 7/8 out of it. I would compare it to pre-paying for a full tank of gas in a rental car and returning it with 1/4 tank left.

Secondly, by exchanging your propane tank, are you completely sure the new tank you are getting is 100% full? How do you know? Or do you just trust the business you are buying it from to have filled it all the way up?

Since you can’t see inside the tank, you have to judge if the tank “feels full” when you pick it up. Are you enough of an expert in what a full propane tank feels like compared to one that is short a few pounds? I have picked up hundreds of propane cylinders and wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between a full tank compared to one that was shorted. If you think I am some paranoid, conspiracy theorist, take a look at the video below:

So by under-filling your propane tank yet charging the same amount, you are getting the hose job. The way to combat these underhanded tactics? Go to a propane refilling station.

By getting your propane tanks refilled, you are saving money in two ways.

1) If your tank is not completely empty, by refilling it, you are only paying for the propane you are getting. Bringing in a 15 pound propane tank that still has 2 lbs of propane left? By refilling it, you are only paying for 13 pounds rather than 15 pounds an exchange place would charge.

2) By refilling your tank, you know how much propane was put into your tank and you will know you are not getting short-filled.

And think about this. The propane exchange companies are reselling your old tank with the left-over propane while not having to refill it all the way. It is akin to you donating back to them your unused propane for them to turn around and resell to another customer. Again, please reread the rental car analogy one more time.

The only negative to getting your propane tanks refilled is that you have to wait for the station attendant to fill it for you. I haven’t seen any “self-serve” propane filling stations so that is one drawback to refilling your propane tank compared to just exchanging it. But in light of today’s recession economy it might be worth it to know you are getting your money’s worth.

Speaking of saving money, I found a way you can save a buck every time you refill your propane tank at your local U-Haul location. They are offering a Fill-N-Grill Deal where you get a $1 off every refill on every tank from now through December 31, 2009. All you have to do is go to uhaul.com/propane and enter in your email and your zip code. They will email you a coupon that you’ll take with you when you refill at a U-haul location. They will then place a sticker on your tank which entitles you to a $1 discount (minimum $10 purchase) every time you refill from now until the end of the year.

In honor of full disclosure, U-Haul is not paying me to put this deal out there to you all. I just discovered it on my own and figured you as tailgating nation could use a way to save money no matter how small the discount.

So remember, refill your tanks and avoid the propane exchange. You’ll save money in the end.

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4 Responses to “Don’t Get Cheated! Refill Instead of Exchanging Propane Tanks”

  1. Brooks27 says:

    Just wanted to give everyone a heads up. When you take your cylinder to get it refilled they have to bleed the cylinder off before they refill it. Most places that you get a grill tank refilled at know you have the 20 lb tank and just charge a flat rate, they don’t credit you for what you may have left over in the tank…

  2. Sweet G says:

    I was just going to mention look out for the flat rate or minimum fill places. For safety reasons a tank can only be filled 80% full in the first place so the standard 20 lb. tank, which will hold 5 gallons, only gets 4 gallons. It’s still considerably more than what you now get with exchanges.

  3. Bob says:

    @Brooks27: That not my experience… You may be thinking of the 1st fill of a brand new tank where they need to purge the non-propane gas that a new tank is shipped to stores with (to avoid internal moisture and corrosion).

    When I have my tanks refilled, I am only topping them off. The re-fillers (like U-Haul stores) have never taken out any propane. And yes, you need to watch out for flat rate or minimum fill places (I never wait to run completely out)… my uhaul refill station charges for propane by the gallon – Now who’s a uhaul commercial!

  4. Dave says:

    I have two tanks and always run ‘em dry,so no waste,no worries about running out in mid-steak.It’s worth it.

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