In search of a place to fill a barbecue propane tank

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Prefilled propane tanks

For years, filling our barbecue propane tanks was a quick and easy task. Take them to the gas station a two-minute drive away, hand them over to the propane-qualified attendant.

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But one day, the station dropped its propane filling service, and switched to selling prefilled propane tanks. The first time, you buy the tank and the propane in it. In the future, you bring back an empty tank and get a filled one, paying for just the propane.

I was set in my ways and didn’t want to go the prefilled route. But finding a conveniently-located replacement station proved to be more of a hassle than I expected. All the other nearby stations also had opted for prefilled tanks.

Most Peninsula Co-op stations provide propane filling, but they’re all a long trek away.

I eventually found a station that requires a 10-minute drive, instead of two minutes.

That propane search sent me on an Internet search, where I discovered several articles written by prefilled-tank haters. See below.

I can understand why gas stations are dropping propane filling service. You need to have attendants who have propane training, and they get tied up for five or 10 minutes with every tank. Sometimes, things get complicated when someone brings in an expired tank, and an argument ensues because it’s illegal to fill a too-old tank. (Tanks have to be inspected and “re-qualified” or replaced every 10 years.) In a self-serve age, filling propane tanks doesn’t fit the business model.

The response has been prefilled tanks. Cages stocked with those tanks have popped up all over the place, from gas stations to hardware stores to grocery stores.

I haven’t figured out the pricing math. But the haters of prefilled tanks are pretty convinced that they cost more. And maybe they should, for the convenience.

This is what I found for prices in late July.

I had a 20-pound tank filled for $21.42 before tax. The receipt said I received 18 litres.

A new, basic 20-pound tank at Canadian Tire is $34.99 before tax. Add the two together: $56.41.

At the neighbourhood hardware store, it’s $25.95 for a prefilled tank if you bring in a tank to exchange.

If you’re getting the tank and propane together, it’s $59.99.

(I’m not sure how the tax is calculated for a prefilled tank; that’s why I’m listing pre-tax prices. I’ll find out about the tax rules.)

Some pros and cons for prefilled tanks:

Pro:
Convenient. You don’t have to wait for someone to fill your tank.
You don’t have to search all over town for a filling station. The prefilled tanks are sold in many places.
You don’t have to worry about your tank becoming too old to fill; you’ll receive a tank that’s been inspected and hasn’t expired.

Con:
Might cost more.
You don’t own the tank. You’ll get whatever is in the tank cage.
You might get a scuzzy used tank.
You probably won’t get a tank with a gauge.
Tank might not be filled as full as at a filling station. (80 per cent full seems to be the standard, to allow room for expansion.)
You might get an older tank that expires before you manage to take it back for exchange.

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Several people in my circle have natural gas service in their neighbourhood (we don’t) and have installed gear to hook up their barbecues to a natural gas line. No more tank hassles.

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Greater Victoria places that will refill a barbecue propane tank. I'll add more as I discover them.

Many Peninsula Co-op stations refill propane tanks

Quadra Mohawk Service, 2100 Quadra St., Victoria (near Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre)

Petro-Canada, 3095 Shelbourne St., at Shelbourne and Hillside, Victoria, near Hillside mall

Many readers recommend Costco, 799 McCallum Rd., Langford

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eLivermore.com, Bill Nale: Propane tanks — to refill or to exchange. Definitely refill, he says. And he gives many reasons. Examples he gives are from the U.S.

A U.S. store that fills propane tanks explains why prefilled tanks are not a good idea.

pnepropane.com: A prefilled tank vendor explains its service and why prefilled tanks make sense. A quote: “Our cylinders are filled at no more than 80% of their capacity . . . to ensure security in case of climate change. The cylinders are inspected with each refill. New tanks are properly purged at no extra cost. Additionally, they meet and even exceed all government standards. Simply look for our sealed cylinders to guarantee those safety commitments.”

Tank Traders: More benefits of prefilled tanks — “save time and money.”

Barbecue propane safety PDF

Deciphering propane tank markings, PDF

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