Does your propane tank keep shutting off before you even get a chance to put it to work?  Has your frustration level reached astronomical heights because you’ve been unable to grill?

Are you ready to throw in the towel and go buy a new gas grill?

Well don’t.  Not yet. 

But before getting too much further, this article isn’t just about gas grills.  It’s about propane, propane tanks, and anything you might use propane for.

What can that include?  Grills, as already noted.  But there’s also propane fire pits, stoves, ranges, fireplaces, and even water heaters.

The point is, a lot of people use propane for a wide variety of appliances.  This is especially true in more rural areas where natural gas may not be available and a homeowner still prefers to use gas for their appliances.

The bottom line is, regardless of what kind of propane appliances you have, if you have a propane tank that keeps shutting off, you need to do some troubleshooting and find a quick fix.

Below you’ll find some possible reasons why your tank is shutting off and the fix that’s right for you.

1.  Let’s Assume You have Propane in the Tank

This isn’t meant to be insulting and please don’t take it that way.  Believe it or not, a lot of trouble people have when it comes to propane issues is not realizing the tank is empty or nearly empty.

When it comes to propane use in any propane appliance, it’s not only about how full the tank is, it’s about propane flow and pressure.  If you don’t have enough gas in the tank, you’re not going to be able to build up enough pressure to get good ignition.

Best case, you may get flame for a little while but more than likely it will sputter for a bit and then shut off.

Again, though, we’ll assume the gas tank is full or close to full.  However, it never hurts to double check.

Hand Shutting Off Propane Tank
It seems quite obvious, but in many cases, checking that there is actually propane in the tank may be the solution to your problem.

2.  It’s All About Safety

More than likely, if you have a full tank of gas and you’re having problems with the tank shutting off, you’re probably dealing with a safety feature.

Notice we didn’t say safety issue.  Well, if the safety feature is working by preventing further gas from flowing, there is a safety concern, from a technical point of view, that has activated the safety feature. 

All the same, you’re more than likely dealing with an issue that’s easily corrected. *Knock on wood*

Remember, safety when it comes to propane appliances isn’t just about the fire end.  It’s about preventing things from going BOOM.  That means preventing the introduction of combustible gas into the equation if there is a safety issue detected anywhere that gas can reach.

So, what safety issues are you dealing with if your propane tank is shutting off?

3.  Your Control Valves are Open

Ah, control valves.

Let’s go back to the gas grill to illustrate how this could be a problem.  If you hook up a full propane tank to your grill and open up your shutoff valve to your tank without checking to make sure your control valves on the grill are closed, you may be dealing with a Lock Out.

What’s happening is the safety mechanism (usually a check valve) in the propane regulator on the tank side is detecting faster than normal gas flow.  This could be due to a leak, a problem with your regulator, or one or more of your control valves on your grill are open already.

So, inspect to see if your control valves are open.  If they are, then that’s probably the reason your tank is shutting off.

4.  You’re Opening Your Control Valve Too Fast

If you’re opening the control valve too fast or open it too wide instead of one turn, you’re creating a situation where the gas is flowing too fast at one time. 

Ideally, you’d have the control valve closed when you slowly open the shutoff valve at the tank.  After enough pressure has built up in the supply line, you’d ideally open the control valve enough to hear and smell flow before igniting the propane.

If you open don’t allow enough pressure to build up or open the control valve too fast or too wide, your flow rate may be greater than necessary, which trigger the regulator to go into safety mode and lock the tank out.

Remember, the propane regulator’s job is to regulate.  If gas is moving too fast, the regulator will slow it down or shut it down completely (if it’s functioning as designed).

This can also happen if you open more than one control valve at a time (as in the case of a gas grill).  Go slow and open your valves one at a time.

5.  You Have a Leak

Let’s talk about leaks for a second.

A leak will definitely affect your gas flow rate.  If there is a leak, your tank should Lock Out.

How will you know if you have a leak?  Well, if you smell gas even if your control valves are closed there’s a good chance you have a leak.

However, rust build up inside a propane tank can temper the smell of gas.  Another way to check is to take soapy water and spray it lightly in areas where gas can leak.  If you see bubbling where you sprayed, there’s your leak.

6.  Your Regulator is Having Issues

If you’ve got a problem with your propane regulator, this can also affect the flow of propane.  It may not lead to a Lock Out.  Instead, you may end up playing with the shutoff valve if you notice an issue with how much gas you’re getting.

In other words, if you’re opening your propane valve more and more to increase the flow of gas, your regulator may need troubleshooting and replacing.  It’s not your job to take the place of the regulator.  If you’re throttling that valve, that’s essentially what you’re doing.

If your regulator isn’t Locking Out even as you constantly throttle the shutoff valve, then you’ve got another indication your regulator needs work or replacement.

Two Propane Tanks Connected To A Regulator
The purpose of the regulator is to control the flow of gas vapor from the container to the burner tip.

7.  Quick Fixes

Now that the possible issues have been covered, let’s review some quick fixes you can try to see if you’ve corrected your propane tank shutoff problem.

  1. Ensure there’s gas in the tank.  Again, it never hurts to double check.
  2. Check the Control Valves.  Ensure they’re shut before opening your propane tank shut off valve.
  3. Open your Shutoff and Control Valves slowly and one at a time.  Before opening your control valves, ensure your shutoff valve is open and has been given a few moments to pressurize the supply lines.  During this step, you can also listen for any odd noises like hissing or smell for gas.
  4. Check and confirm leaks.  If you do hear hissing or smell gas, then it’s time to check for leaks.  Remember, soapy water sprayed in prime leak areas is the easiest detection method.  Repair/replace parts that are leaking.  Do not use the appliance until then.
  5. Replace your regulator.  If you’re dealing with a faulty regulator and you’ve essentially become the regulator by manually throttling valves, replace it.

8.  Steps to Correct a Lock Out

Now let’s return to the topic of safety.  Or rather, let’s take a look at the steps to take to correct or reset your propane tank if you’re experiencing a Lock Out.

If your gas tank did indeed enter a Lock Out condition and if you don’t have any leaks and your regulator is fine, there are some easy steps to take to reset your tank from Lock Out.

  1. Ensure the control valve(s) and shutoff valve at the tank are closed.
  2. Disconnect the propane tank and let sit for at least 30 seconds.  While waiting, you may here a click.  That’s the internal check valve in the regulator that locked your tank out resetting.
  3. Reconnect the propane tank.
  4. Slowly open the propane tank shutoff valve (one full rotation should be enough to start).
  5. Slowly open your control valve.
  6. Ignite.
  7. Open any other control valves as necessary.

On a side note, if you continue to experience a safety Lock Out, you may be dealing with another situation that isn’t related to your propane tank’s regulator, leaks, or valves being open that shouldn’t be.

No, you may need to take into consideration external temperatures.  This is true not just if it’s hot outside but also how much direct sunlight your propane tank may be exposed to.

If you’re dealing with a hot day or an intense sun, your propane tank will get hot.  That heat can cause the propane in the tank to heat up, expand, and a lead to more pressure than normal in the tank.

When the shutoff valve is opened, even if it’s opened slowly, that already built-up excess pressure will lead to the gas flowing faster than normal as it seeks the path of least resistance.  Which may cause a Lock Out.

The steps to correct this are the same.  However, until the pressure in the tank normalizes, it may take repeating the steps above several times before the Lock Out is completely reset.  At this point, you’re basically “burping” the tank to normal pressure.

Conclusion

If you’ve got propane appliances and a propane tank that keeps shutting off you have, essentially, propane appliances that are not currently functional.

That doesn’t mean you need to go out and replace your propane appliances.  However, there is some troubleshooting you’ll need to do to hopefully identify the issue and fix it quickly to prevent further interruption to your appliance’s performance.