So, you’re all set up at your campsite with gorgeous views and the smell of fresh air and pine trees. And then – it happens. First, the stove won’t light. Then the water heater won’t fire up. And then you realize your fridge is running on electricity rather than propane! What’s going on! You are sure you filled the propane tank before you left for your RV camping trip. But now the RV propane is not flowing!
Luckily, if your RV propane is not flowing, it’s easy to troubleshoot and resolve. Start by checking these four items and chances are you will solve your dilemma.
- Check to make sure the Propane Valve is On
- Check the Excess Flow Valve
- Check the Propane Pressure Regulator
- Ensure the Propane Detector Inside the Motorhome is On
It is very likely that one of these four things is causing low or no flow of propane to your RV appliances. However, there could be other causes as well. So, read on as we discover what to do when the RV propane is not flowing.
Check to Make Sure the Propane Valve is On
I’m sure you are reading this thinking, of course, the valve needs to be open for the propane to flow. And you are right! But sometimes you might think the valve is open and it’s not. Let me run a very typical scenario by you.
You are preparing to go on your RV road trip. And if you are like me, you turn on the RV fridge the night before to give the refrigerator and freezer ample time to get cold. So, the propane valve is open, and the batteries are on, and you turn on the fridge. And the next morning the fridge is nice and cold. Perfect! You load up all of your food and ice and the rest of your belongings, and off you go!
First stop, is to gas up and top off the propane tank. Well, guess what. For the attendant to fill your propane tank, the propane valve MUST be in the closed position. So, he closes the tank valve and fills your propane tank. Then he leaves the valve in the closed position, as he should. You take off and arrive at your campground and notice the fridge isn’t as cold as it should be. Then you begin to wonder what’s going on. So you try to see if propane comes out of a stovetop burner. And it doesn’t! Why? Because the attendant did the right thing and turned the propane valve off when he filled your propane tank.
It’s a little embarrassing, but I can’t think of an easier problem to solve. Just turn the propane valve on, and you are all set.
Check the Excess Flow Valve
What the heck is an excess flow valve? It’s a safety feature on propane tanks that is also called a flow limiting device. The excess flow valve is designed to stop or substantially reduce the flow of propane gas if there is a leak somewhere in the RV propane system. It’s basically a spring loaded valve or a small ball in the center of the gas fitting that detects propane leaving the tank too quickly. If this happens, the spring or ball engage and stop the flow of propane.
There are three main reasons that the excess flow valve could engage.
- If you have a leak anywhere in the propane system, the valve will engage. The only thing to do at this point is to turn off the propane, close all the stovetop burner knobs, put out your cigarette, extinguish the campfire and get your RV to a repair shop asap!
- If you open the propane tank valve too quickly the valve can sometimes be tricked into sensing there is a leak. It will then engage because it detects propane leaving the tank to fast. To troubleshoot this situation, turn off the propane tank valve, turn off the fridge and water heater, and be sure all of your stovetop knobs are fully closed. Wait five or ten minutes and turn the propane valve on exceptionally slowly. This will slowly pressurize the propane system without the valve engaging, and then you will have a full flow of propane. After you have a flow of propane, you MUST open the tank valve to the fully open position. It is never a good idea to operate the propane system with the tank valve partially opened.
- If you do not screw the propane hose fitting into the tank fitting properly, the valve will remain in the closed position, and no propane will be able to flow. Just unscrew it, line it up correctly and screw it in again. This is very unlikely to happen with the big plastic screw caps like the one in my hand in the picture below. You can’t really thread them incorrectly. But the older brass fittings that are screwed in counterclockwise could misthread.
Check the Propane Pressure Regulator
Your RV has what’s called a two-stage propane regulator. It regulates the pressure of the propane gas coming from the propane tank at high pressure and lowers it to the proper level for your propane appliances. The regulator is installed between the propane tank and the rest of the propane system. The first stage of the pressure regulator lowers the pressure form as high as 250 psi to approximately 10 to 15 psi. Then, the second stage lowers the pressure to around 11 water column inches, which is the proper amount for your RV appliances. If your RV has two propane tanks, then you will have a two-stage propane regulator with two pigtail hoses, but the concept is exactly the same.
Pressure regulators typically last for 10 to 15 years, but inevitably they will fail. So, if your pressure regulator is about 8 to 10 years old, it’s probably best to just go ahead and replace it before it fails in the middle of a camping trip. The good news is they are very easy to install yourself, and they are pretty inexpensive.
How To Tell if an RV Propane Regulator is Bad
If your propane gas regulator is working correctly the flame color should be blue and the flame height will be even around your cooktop burner. All you need to do to troubleshoot your RV propane regulator is to look for some common signs of trouble. Some signs of possible problems with a propane gas regulator are yellow or orange flames; a popping noise when turning a stovetop burner on or off, a roaring noise from the stovetop burners, or an accumulation of soot on the burners. If you have any of these issues, you can try to reset your pressure regulator and see if it resolves the issue.
How to Reset an RV Pressure Regulator
Before you reset the regulator, it is important to understand that it has the same type of safety feature that a propane tank has. Inside the regulator, there is a little valve that will detect propane gas moving through the system too quickly. If it senses this, it will stop or slow the flow of propane. If the pressure regulator is restricting the flow of propane, you will see the symptoms mentioned above.
To reset a pressure regulator just turn off the propane tank, and make sure all of your propane appliances are off inside your RV. Wait a few minutes, and the pressure regulator will reset itself. Then turn the propane tank valve on extremely slowly to allow the lines to become appropriately pressurized. Once this is done, you can ignite a propane appliance, and it should work properly. If not, it may be time to get an RV propane regulator replacement.
Ensure the Propane Detector Inside the Motorhome is On
Many motor homes have an electric solenoid valve which is connected to a Propane Detector inside the motorhome. A solenoid is just a valve that is operated electronically. If there is no power to the solenoid or the propane detector, the solenoid will not open and allow the propane to flow. The most common cause for this is no power to the solenoid or propane detector due to a dead battery or a disconnected or broken wire. You can certainly replace or recharge a battery but if you have a wiring problem you may consider letting a pro fix it for you.
The propane system is such an essential part of your RV that it is important to take the time to learn about it and all of your propane appliances too. The more you know, the better your chances for fixing a problem and staying safe at the same time. You might also want to check out our article called How Long Does an RV Propane Tank Last (Heat, Fridge, Water) for much more information about propane tanks and how long propane will last.
I hope you enjoyed the article. To see a list of all of our articles check out our Blog Archive!