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Refillable LPG/Autogas Cylinders - FAQ

 
 

Gaslow RefillablesOverview: Refillable cylinders replace ordinary gas bottles but instead of exchanging for a full one you simply pull into a garage and top up with 'Autogas' anytime to suit yourself - just as you would with your petrol or diesel. Refillable tanks* work in the same way but are installed separately under the vehicle.

What exactly is Autogas? Autogas is LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). The commonly used bottled gases, Butane and Propane, are also LPG. Autogas is usually propane but may contain some butane. LPG may be called GPL elsewhere - in France for example.

Aren’t all gas bottles refillable? Well yes but not by the user. What we’re referring to here is an installed system that you can not only refill yourself but also top up at any time. This is usually done with an Autogas fuel pump at an ordinary filling station or possibly at a gas depot. This info relates to all refillable cylinders but specifics about sizes, weights etc relate to the Gaslow products sold on our sister site www.motorcaravanning.co.uk

Filling with AutogasWhy is it so good? Because they are so much more convenient than standard bottles and especially so for European travellers. This convenience comes in several ways, first you no longer have to lift heavy cylinders in and out of your motorhome because they are installed complete with a remote filler, second you no longer have to search for the right brand and size of bottle, third you no longer have to worry about the best moment to change because you can top them up any time you like, and fourth because widespread European availability makes continental travel much easier.

Aren’t they expensive? It’s true they are dearer to install than standard bottles but they are increasingly affordable. Also if choosing refillable cylinders over an installed tank you can keep these gas cylinders when you change your motorhome so the cost of ownership is quite modest in the longer term. You could also benefit from the added value and/or saleability. Popular comparisons are not always realistic either; we’ve seen the price for sophisticated auto-change-over refillable systems compared with a second-hand bottle from a car boot sale!

Is the gas expensive? No quite the opposite, a real bonus is that the gas is quite a bit cheaper too, often around half the price of bottled gas. At the time of writing 70p/L was normal for garage LPG and I buy a lot of mine at less than that at a local gas depot. Autogas performance is directly comparable with standard propane or propane-butane mixes for most purposes. Normal bottled gas in exchangeable bottles is much more expensive - especially so in smaller sizes. For easy comparison 2L of gas weighs about 1Kg.

What sizes are available? Our refillable cylinders along with several others come in two sizes, the 6Kg size is similar to the UK Calor 6Kg while the larger 11Kg cylinder suits most continental lockers where 11 Kg is the norm; it is quite a bit smaller and much lighter than the common UK 'Calor' 13/15Kg bottle. Unlike ordinary bottles that have to be in pairs to cater for one being empty for exchange, a single refillable cylinder system is perfectly possible and usable, as is a mixed bottle system.

A Snug Gaslow InstallationAre they complicated to install? No, it is almost ‘meccano’ set assembly these days. Refillables are different in that they have both an 'in' and an 'out' so you have to have a filling system on the 'in' and also the usual regulator and optional change-over on the 'out'. On newer vehicle systems (post 2004) all components are screwed together. On older, pre-2004 vehicles the old hose and clip output is still used. It isn’t necessary by the way to employ a 'Corgi' fitter for LPG systems for personal use. The easiest filling-kit installation is using an in-cupboard bracket as illustrated. This can result in filling difficulties at just a few filling stations - we have reports of this from Italy for example - but there are many hundreds, thousands even, in regular use. The more difficult installation through-body-side seems to have no issues at all in use. You can however convert from one to the other if you feel you need to.

How big & heavy are the cylinders? Gaslow cylinder sizes are 492h x 246dia for the 6Kg and 580h x 304dia for the 11Kg size. The capacities are 11.5L & 21L at 80% fill. Net weights vary, newer Gaslow bottles are individually marked on the skirt while older Gaslow and other brands may be marked on the collar. As a guide the two Gaslow refillables are 7-8Kg and 12-15Kg net. This is broadly similar to 'Calor' style bottles. The gas-out fitting is a screw fitting the same as the German type and our own small butane cylinders, this accepts the new style standard hoses. To assist with problem cupboards the latest Gaslow cylinders have a collarless design - a great improvement wherever there is a sloping cupboard roof. The minimum height necessary to use a No1 cylinder is just under 550mm but you need 580mm for a No2/twin system.

How will I know when to top-up? Mostly by checking the supplied gauge. The newer gauges are readouts of an internal float so really quite accurate. They don't go all the way from full to empty though - the gauge will start to move away from full at 50% used and will show empty when just a reserve is left - in practice about 3L in an 11kg cylinder. This works really well once you get used to it. Helpfully twin systems with auto-change-over have indicators to show the change has occurred.
A Mixed Refillable-Standard System
Can I really use a single cylinder system? Yes. There’s a popular misconception that you have two cylinders but this is wrong and is based on the old thinking about needing to completely empty a bottle for exchange. As long as you occasionally check the cylinder gauge you can manage perfectly well with just one bottle because there is no exchange involved. Simply top up your gas whenever you wish or when the gauge says you are getting low, just as you would your vehicle's fuel tank. The case for twin refillables is mostly based on carrying more gas for longer intervals between top-ups. Some smaller gas lockers apparently designed for 2x6Kg will take the compact 11Kg Gaslow cylinder so you get nearly as much gas in the single cylinder anyway. And if you do decide later that you need a second cylinder of either size the upgrade route is usually very easy.

What’s the 80% rule all about? Cylinders should not be filled to more than 80% of their total capacity. Quality equipment like our own Gaslow cylinders will cater for this automatically, they just shut off once 805 full. The Gaslow quoted capacities are at 80% fill.

Can I get gas anywhere in Europe? Well yes and no! The answer generally is yes. 'Autogas' is readily available in the UK, France, Holland, Germany, Italy, etc and is often signed as LPG or GPL at garages. Adaptors are needed for filling in countries other than the UK and two or three adaptors will cover Europe and much beyond. autogas_flogas_pumpAutogas can be hard to find in garages in northern Scandinavia and in Spain and is still sparse in parts of Eastern Europe. Gas depots are less obvious but can be found and almost all will assist. There are on-line guides to availability but be aware these can be rather pessimistic - for example only four stations are listed for Turkey but someone who lived there said “every garage sells LPG”. Spain is the biggest problem for most of us but the situation is improving there - now with over 60 points at the time of writing. Some of these are not the obvious ones in roadside garages so it is important to take the information with you and to plan ahead!  This privately created Google map is a really good resource for that, but even on this Portugal's stations are under represented http://tinyurl.com/5fwfnh. Visitors normally arrive from France or Portugal with full tanks and make the occasional trip to a known filling point maybe every 3-6 weeks. Although not ideal the alternative is not straightforward either since Spanish bottles, regulators etc. are not the same as ours so exchange bottles are difficult too. In extremis you can link in a locally sourced bottle and the Gaslow Euro-standard hose connectors and adapters make that rather more straightforward.

Wouldn’t a Euro lightweight like “Gaslight” be better? This is indeed an interesting product but it has three drawbacks over refillables, one you still have to find an agent to exchange it, two it isn't light when full of gas and still has to be manhandled on exchange, and three it isn't yet European - the UK and European bottles are different and although there is a European exchange program already in operation you can't exchange the UK bottles abroad(!!)(at time of writing). I asked BP about this and they said "The UK is currently not part of the EEP (European Exchange Programme) ... This is under review and as advised at the NEC, we hope this facility will be available soon". Mmmm so the Euro-bottles aren't all the same, ours in particular are different, and BP 'hope' they can square the circle?  The new Calor Lite is being much vaunted but has little extra to offer over and above a small weight saving - Calor is still a UK-only product and the modest weight saving comes at a price because the refill costs more than the standard 6kg. The Lite is only available in the smaller size at the moment and saves about 4.5Kg i.e. about 11Kg full instead of 15.5Kg full.

Stainless Steel HosesI’ve heard scare stories about problems with regulators, what’s the truth? The truth as far as we can tell (and we’ve put some effort into the research) is as follows. The problem with regulators concerns all gases not just Autogas. It has been looked into by the National Caravan council and the cause appears to be an oily substance leaching out of the rubber hoses and running down into the regulator. Others claim it is in the gas itself but Calor for example deny that. This problem isn’t new, I experienced it 15 years ago on a wall mounted gas fire. What is new is the post-2004 remote regulator and hose arrangement that may allow this oily goo to run back down the hose into the regulator. The solution is to loop the hose so that it falls below the regulator and/or to substitute a stainless steel hose.

I’ve heard scare stories about problems in the cold, what’s the truth? The cold weather problem is rare but can occur. Autogas, in common with other branded gases (Camping Gaz, Patio Gas, e.g.), can be a blend of gases and this blend can vary by region and by season. Butane is the ‘summer gas’ because it doesn’t work well at lower temperatures, while propane is the low temperature gas. Naturally enough warm weather summer blends tend to contain more butane - anywhere from 20-50% we believe. As a result there can be a circumstance where southern summer gas with higher butane content is taken into cold alpine regions for an extended stay. It is then possible for the propane part of the blend to be used but the butane part to remain due to the cold. The situation then is that you appear to run out of gas when your gauge says you still have some remaining. This might be an issue for long-term skiers, especially those coming from the south. Our own experience travelling across Continental upland regions in February at -7C to -12C with UK Autogas plus French top-ups was trouble free. Given that this is very rare it is worth knowing that you can get round it by simply warming the bottles and/or cupboard somewhat - with a container of hot water for example. Once the warmed butane is largely burnt off, subsequent cold weather top ups would normally be with the ‘winter blend’ higher propane blend Autogas and the problem then disappears.autogas_calor_shell_logo

Conclusion? Why struggle connecting, lifting and carrying heavy gas bottles and then pay a good deal more for the gas than you have to? And why experience the European travel nightmare where you run out of gas and cannot exchange your empty cylinder for a full one? Well, no reason at all if you go refillable!

Gaslow products are sold on our sister site www.motorcaravanning.co.uk

* For info: The tank systems used to fuel converted cars are different to the ones used for motorhome ‘habitation’. The car engine versions provide liquid take-off but the habitation versions provide gas take-off as required by hobs, fridges etc. - please note they are not interchangeable.
 

 

 
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