But RV refrigerators need fuel to stay cool, and that fuel usually comes in two forms: electricity and propane. A majority of RV refrigerators are hybrid models that allow the fridge to be run off of electricity or propane, depending upon the user’s wishes. This handy feature helps to guarantee that a camper’s fridge has a source of fuel in any situation, including while in transit.
This brings us to the focus of this article: is it even safe to run an RV refrigerator on propane while driving?
Propane is a volatile gas and should always be handled with caution. If you own a rig with propane appliances and propane lines running through the body of the RV, it’s critical to know how to handle natural gas appliances, and when you can, and more importantly, cannot use your propane.
Can I run my RV refrigerator on propane while driving?
If you’re just here looking for a quick answer then yes, you can run your RV’s refrigerator while driving.
But don’t go yet!
There are a number of safety and legal considerations that are important to know if you plan to drive with your fridge running on propane.
Quick overview: What is propane gas?
Propane is a gaseous fuel source that is made as a byproduct of petroleum refining and natural gas processing. Propane exists in a gas form when it is at room temperature and not compressed. Under extreme pressure, propane moves to a liquid state and can be transported in high-pressure gas canisters. Because of this, propane is often referred to as liquid petroleum gas or LPG.
Propane is flammable. When exposed to even a small spark or flame, it can ignite quickly and violently. Many explosions and fires occur every year as a result of careless propane usage.
With that said, propane is safely used every day by millions of people worldwide as a fuel source for cooking, running furnaces, and operating machinery. When handled properly and with caution, the risks of using propane as a fuel source are greatly mitigated.
Driving with your propane gas on
The biggest perk to driving with your propane on is that your RV fridge is able to stay cool during the drive. This ensures that any snacks, drinks, ingredients for future meals, or leftovers stay cold and safe to eat all day.
On a majority of RVs, the propane tanks are stored externally, and are mounted in the front of the vehicle. The external and forward mounting of the tanks prevents them from leaking propane gas into the enclosed body of the RV and protects them from damage in the event of a fender bender.
To drive with your propane gas on, all you need to do is not turn them off before driving away. Propane tanks are opened and closed using the main valve at the top of the tank. Keeping the valve in the “open” position while driving allows the propane gas to continue flowing to your fridge and other appliances.
In most states across the US, there are no laws prohibiting the use of propane while a vehicle is in motion.
While this signifies that you can drive in most parts of the country with your propane on, it is unwise to assume laws stay the same when crossing state lines. Always research the specific laws pertaining to the owning, driving, and use of recreational vehicles in every state you plan on traveling through. The most reliable source of this type of information is found on government websites and by calling government agencies directly.
Most states dohave two important laws that pertain to propane usage while driving. The first is that RV propane must be turned off before pulling up to a gas station and filling fuel tanks. The purpose of this law is to minimize the risk of accidental fire and explosions at gas stations.
The second law, which is equally important, and slightly less common, is to turn off the flow of propane gas while driving an RV through a tunnel. These types of laws are in place to prevent tunnel fires, which have historically led to much trauma and death.
Just because you can drive or tow your RV with your propane on, doesn’t mean you should. Accidents can happen at any time, and it’s always best to reduce the risk of accidents as much as possible, especially while traveling.
It’s one thing to leave propane on while driving in order to keep your fridge running, as this is an intentional and utilitarian action. But it’s another thing altogether to leave your propane on while driving for no specific reason at all.
It is definitely a best practice to turn off your propane if you are traveling in your RV and are not using any propane powered appliances while driving. Why is risk driving with your propane gas on if you don’t need it to be?
So then, what are the risks of driving an RV with propane gas on?
The primary concerns are fire and explosion due to a leaky gas line. RVs bounce around a considerable amount while being driven and towed. They are designed to withstand this bouncing and rattling, but even so, sometimes things break. A propane line that was sound and whole before driving might become loose or disconnected midway through a drive.
If you are driving with your propane off and this happens, no big deal. You’ll smell the leak when you are safely parked at your next campsite and turn on your propane gas.
But if you are driving with your propane on and a leak occurs unnoticed, there is potential for your RV to fill with the leaking flammable gas.
All it takes is one small spark or flame to ignite propane gas. Even static electricity traveling between a person’s hand and metal is enough for ignition to occur. If an RV fills with propane and is not given a chance to properly air out, there is a tremendous risk of fire and explosion.
If you do plan on driving your RV with the propane on, always re-enter the rig cautiously, and use your nose to detect if there is a propane leak. Propane smells like rotting eggs. If you ever detect a foul, rotten egg smell in your RV, evacuate the rig immediately and contact emergency authorities.
Do I have to run my RV fridge while driving?
No, you do not need to run your RV fridge while driving.
Not surprisingly, fridges are exceptionally well suited to keeping food and drink cold, even when turned off. When off, a refrigerator essentially turns into a cooler.
The insulated walls and rubber gasket on the fridge door act to keep cool temperatures in, and warm air out. This allows an RV fridge to be turned off for up to eight hours (sometimes more!) before risking food spoilage.
If you plan to drive for more than eight hours straight with your propane gas off, try to minimize the number of times you open the refrigerator door in order to keep cool air in. You can also extend the duration your fridge stays cool by putting a bowl of ice cubes or dry ice on the top shelf.
What other appliances in my RV run on propane?
If you have propane lines running throughout the body of your RV, it is very unlikely that you only run your fridge on propane.
In addition to keeping the RV fridge cold, many RVs also use propane to power the heating system. Propane is an efficient and relatively affordable fuel source for powering an RV furnace during cold-weather camping. Similar to RV refrigerators, RV furnaces use small amounts of electricity to initially start the appliance and to spark the ignitor before using propane to produce heat.
Typically, an RV’s water heater also uses propane as a source of fuel to produce the heat necessary to keep water hot. These water heaters are commonly found installed in rigs that feature other propane-powered appliances.
There are some companies that produce electric water heaters that require no propane. These units are more expensive, and thus, less popular than propane models.
Lastly, RV stoves usually use propane gas as a fuel source. These stovetops are operated in the same exact fashion as gas ranges in a building’s kitchen. Personally, I try to cook all of my camp meals outside using a portable camping stove which, incidentally, also runs off propane.
Frequently Asked Questions
You have questions, I have answers!
Can I use a residential refrigerator in my RV?
Yes, you can absolutely use a residential fridge in your RV, but keep in mind that they consume absurd amounts of electricity compared to typical RV fridges. A residential fridge in an RV works best if you consistently camp at parks with electrical hookups.
Are propane refrigerators expensive?
A propane refrigerator can be a pricey item to purchase. They typically cost between $1,000 and $2,500. While expensive, many RV owners claim they save money in the long run by using propane to power their fridge.
Based on everything we’ve gone over here today; my best suggestion is to only drive with your propane flowing if you absolutely have to. Otherwise, just turn those valves off and get them flowing again once you are in your new campsite.
Trust me when I say that this one little action could save you and your crew from a serious accident. Fire safety is cool, practice it.