You love being able to connect to shore power at a campsite, as then you can run your RV refrigerator on electricity. Yet when the time inevitably comes to hit the open road, it’s back to using propane as your main fuel source. You worry about the legality of an open flame in your moving travel trailer. Are you allowed to keep the propane on while driving?
In most of the United States, yes, it should be legal to drive a travel trailer with the propane on. Canada has rules about dangerous item transport, but propane tanks in an RV or trailer seem to be exempt. Even still, just because it’s legal to drive with propane on doesn’t make it a good idea, as it can be deadly!
In this article, we’ll talk further about the legality of keeping propane burning in your RV fridge while driving your travel trailer. We’ll also delve into whether it’s smart and discuss some ways to keep your fridge cool with no propane!
Can You Legally Drive Your Travel Trailer with the Propane On?
RV fridges are absorption refrigerators, which means they lack a compressor like your kitchen fridge back home has. An absorption fridge operates with a heat source–propane–that burns up water, hydrogen gas, and ammonia to make these chemicals evaporate. The evaporation causes condensation that provides coolness to your fridge.
Without propane, your RV fridge will get warm in a jiffy. You probably spent a good chunk of change at the grocery store shopping for beverages, meals, and snacks for your trip. You’re going to be driving nonstop for hours, and you know the food will be all but spoiled if it doesn’t stay cool for that long. Therefore, you figured you’d just keep your fridge plugged in while you drive. It will be fine, right?
If fine means legal, then in most cases, yes. According to Good Sam, between Canada and the United States, there do exist some restrictions on when you can use propane, but not many. Keep in mind their list of laws is from 2010 and might not be currently active. That said, here are the instances we found by combing that list in which it’s illegal to drive with propane on.
- Maryland: You cannot keep your propane tank on when driving through tunnels
- Massachusetts: You cannot keep your propane tank on when driving through tunnels, specifically I-90 in Newton and Route 1A, 1-90, and 1-93 in Boston
- New Jersey: You cannot keep an open propane tank when driving along open highways
- Virginia: You can bring no more than two propane tanks and each cannot exceed 20 pounds, and you cannot drive through tunnels with the tanks on
- Manitoba, Canada: You cannot keep an open propane tank when driving along open highways
- Nova Scotia, Canada: You cannot keep an open propane tank when driving along open highways
- Prince Edward Island, Canada: You cannot keep your propane tanks on when using the ferry
In Canada, the country has a law called the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulation. In that law, it appears that–for the most part, anyway–propane tanks would be exempt. Here’s the exemption in full: “1.27 (1) These Regulations do not apply to dangerous goods on a means of transport that are required for (d) ventilation, refrigeration or heating units that are necessary to maintain environmental conditions within a means of containment in transport or the means of transport and are intended to remain with the units or in the means of transport until used.”
In other words, it seems to us that you’d have a pretty strong argument when driving through Canada that yes, you should be allowed to use propane in your travel trailer to keep your fridge running since you need the fridge to “maintain environmental conditions within a means of containment in transport.”
Also, we do just want to be clear on one thing. Although this article is about travel trailers specifically, the above laws and regulations would apply to RVs and other types of trailers as well.
Is It Safe to Drive Your Travel Trailer with the Propane On?
You reviewed your driving route and confirmed that you’re not passing through the above locations that have restrictions on propane use while your travel trailer is in motion. Let us remind you that other cities and towns throughout the US and Canada might have rules on propane use as well, so don’t get lax!
But let’s say for example’s sake that it’s completely legal for you to drive your travel trailer with the propane on. Does that necessarily make it a safe decision for you and your fellow passengers? That’s a whole different can of worms.
The short answer is no, it’s not safe. Why? For a whole multitude of reasons that we’ll talk about now.
Reasons to Keep the Propane Off
You Want to Avoid Food Poisoning
Let’s start with the not-so-scary one. The whole reason you want to burn propane when driving your travel trailer is so your fridge can stay cool. Yet the thing about RV fridges, as you may recall from earlier, is that they’re filled with fluid. They need a completely level surface to work. If the floor is angled, the fluids can’t travel freely.
Thus, there exists the possibility that you can burn propane on your travel trailer and your food can still end up being spottily cooled. To you, the food can appear edible, but once you and your passengers ingest it, you end up with food poisoning or another food-related illness. That will ruin your road trip in a hurry.
This kind of scenario, as inconvenient as it is, is really small potatoes when you consider the far more severe dangers that could befall you.
You Want to Avoid Gas Poisoning
For example, let’s say you have to come to a sudden, hard stop. Your RV fridge skitters forward during the stop, snapping the gas line. This is unbeknownst to you. Now the gas line is leaking.
Travel trailer accidents can also easily cause gas line leaks or ruptures. The gas within the propane line is now free to travel elsewhere. Perhaps the gas gets stuck in a cavity within your travel trailer. Maybe the gas redirects to the compartment that houses you and your fellow passengers.
Breathing in gasoline is toxic. Should you have gas poisoning, you might experience symptoms such as:
- Bad headaches
- Vomiting, including bloody vomit
- Vision issues, including vision loss
- Stomach pain
- Esophageal burning
- Throat burning and pain
- Breathing issues
Fire and Explosions
Gas is very flammable, so should it begin leaking around or within your travel trailer and you have any sources of fire in the vehicle, the most disastrous consequence of all could occur. A fire could quickly spread across your travel trailer. In some instances, the vehicle could even explode. Whether that would lead to a loss of life is hard to say, but it’s definitely possible.
We’re sure you care very much about the people you travel with, be those your friends or family. You don’t want to put them at risk just as you don’t want your own life to be at risk. That means the smartest thing is to unplug your RV fridge and leave the propane off until you get to your destination.
Tips for Keeping Your Fridge Cool When Unplugged
Did you know that your food doesn’t have to spoil and melt if you unplug your RV fridge, even if you’re driving for hours? It’s true! The following methods can prolong the coolness of the fridge so you don’t have to risk lighting any propane.
Set Your RV Fridge Settings to Very Cold Before You Drive
You have your travel trailer itinerary long since planned, so foresight should come easily. At least a day before you’re set to depart, turn on your RV fridge and leave it running. Crank the cold setting as high as it will go. Continue this until the night before your trip.
Then, on the morning you’ll be driving, unplug your fridge. The next time you go into it, it should still be pretty frosty. If anything, some food and beverages towards the back of the fridge might be so cold they’re almost frozen!
Fill in Gaps in the Fridge
Creating a wall of coldness that surrounds your foods and drinks in the fridge is another great option for prolonging its coldness. Take items like bottles, cans, and bags of food and slot them into any openings throughout the fridge. Avoid items from your freezer, especially icepacks or ice blocks. They will melt in the unplugged fridge, which can cause water leaks.
All the food that you’re packing together will get warm eventually, but since everything is in such close proximity, it takes longer for the foods and drinks to lose their coldness than it would if they were separated.
Rely on Your Generator
You brought a generator along for the trip, so why not use it? No, not when driving, of course. For about an hour before you leave, plug your RV fridge into the generator so it can run on electricity and begin cooling the foods and beverages inside. Then turn the generator off and be on your way.
After a few hours, you can stop at a source of shore power, plug in the generator, and cool your fridge again. Repeat this every few hours as needed until you reach your destination. The fridge will be a lot cooler, which is great, and you didn’t have to light a propane tank.
Leave the Fridge Doors Closed
No matter which of the above methods you use, make sure that you’re not opening the RV fridge door more than necessary. This can sometimes be easier said than done. If you have young kids traveling with you, then ask what they want to eat or drink before you start driving. Adults should make the same decision.
Tell everyone to be absolutely sure of their choices, because once the fridge doors close, you don’t want to open them too many more times. Whenever you or a passenger opens the fridge, all that cold air you worked so hard to create will escape, leaving your food lukewarm before you know it.
More often than not, you can legally drive your travel trailer with the propane on to keep the fridge cool. However, horrific, life-threatening scenarios can transpire from doing so, such as a gas line leakage that causes a fire or explosion. You’re much better off packing your RV fridge with cold foods, running it on cold the night before, keeping the fridge door closed, and using a generator if the fridge begins running warm (when you’re in park, of course!). Be safe out there!