Grocery Shrink Ray Extends To Propane Refills

When the cost of propane shot up to $1.70 or more per gallon last year, propane dealers quietly cut the amount they were putting into refilled tanks without telling customers. Now the cost of propane is under a dollar per gallon, but retailers aren’t increasing the amount back to previous levels.

A Home Depot spokesperson told the Associated Press that there have been no customer complaints, but most of their customers probably don’t know about it in the first place. Home Depot’s customers may be happy, but there have clearly been some complaints in California, because the state has launched an investigation into “short filling” to see why retailers have effectively raised prices on the gas without clearly notifying customers.

“Propane suppliers quietly reduce size of refills” [Associated Press] (Thanks to Larry and Cathy!)
“Propane ‘Short-Filling’ Launches State Investigation” [KTXL Fox40]
(Photo: sidewalk flying)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Blueskylaw says:

    If you were a business, would you fill the propane bottle back to previous levels if no customers complained?

    Home Despot (not a typo) already got used to that revenue stream, giving you more propane would only cut into executive bonuses.

    • catnapped says:

      @Blueskylaw: Somebody else said something about fuel costs being “absorbed” into daily operations nowadays, so you’re right–they’d have to now be willing to lose money if they were to give it back.

      You know if the price starts rising again they’ll cut it down to 12-13 gallons per fill.

    • tankertodd says:

      @Blueskylaw: It’s crap like this that makes people hate business in general. It’s criminal, plain and simple. Consumers expect a full tank of propane. They are no longer getting the full tank. This is a breach of contract at a minimum. What arse came up with this brilliant idea should be exposed.

    • ospreyguy says:

      @Blueskylaw: Because you “expect it” you deserve it. Oh okay. I’ll remember that from now on.

      I expected that prostitute not to give me the herps but dammit!

    • JPinCLE says:

      @Blueskylaw:

      The most frustrating thing about this, unlike some shrink-ray situations, is that I can’t just stockpile propane tanks like I could Frosted Mini Wheats or Tide.

      It’s cost prohibitive because the tanks cost so damned much to begin with.

      I cook out a lot, and it really pisses me off that I run out 25% sooner (15lb) than I did however many years ago they put 20lb of propane in the tank!

      Do the local fill-up places (not exchange) still put 20lb in, or did our wonderful government deem that a safety hazard?

  2. trademarked67 says:

    Saw that the other day on MSNBC. I don’t use the cylinder exchange programs, but take my tanks to a local U-Haul center to have it filled. Still cheaper and it is my tank.

    Something I did notice this weekend – typically I always do the oil changes in my 2 vehicles, but for the past year had been using a local place. This weekend I did the oil changes and found the that oil now is sold in containers that have a “new and improved spout for easier pouring” and is packaged as one gallon rather than 5 quarts. Of course, the gallon price is what you used to pay for 5 quarts. 5 quarts is pretty typical for most passenger cars and I have never had a vehicle that took 4 quarts of oil or less. So now I have to buy the 1 gallon container for $13 and one quart for $3. WTF? Just another way to screw you.

    • trademarked67 says:

      @trademarked67: Typo – the one gallon container was $11, not $13.

    • shepd says:

      @trademarked67:

      I wish I could get those here, assuming they are charging you less than they did for 5 quarts. My corolla uses 4 quarts and as such I end up having to combine containers each change. Sure, after 4 oil changes the 5th’s free, but what a pain.

    • Dansc29625 says:

      @trademarked67: Walmart is the retailer that sells the 5 quart jugs. Others might also, but they are the one that always has 5 quart jugs. Most auto parts stores have gallon jugs.

      @shepd: Free oil. haha. That is hilarious.

      When your oil is on sale, buy a years worth.

    • Megalomania says:

      @trademarked67: because the large container used to be 5 quarts and is now a gallon (4 quarts).

    • Firethorn says:

      @trademarked67: 5 quarts is pretty typical for most passenger cars and I have never had a vehicle that took 4 quarts of oil or less.

      Check out most 4 cylinder compact cars – my old saturn took 4 quarts including the filter change.

  3. Meathamper says:

    These bastards never stop…

  4. olderbudwizer says:

    Yet another reason why I prefer a natural gas grill to propane. I was tired of running out and having to go fill the tank – now I just light the grill and use the time saved to enjoy some cold suds!

    • balthisar says:

      @olderbudwizer: I’m running natural gas to my grill this summer (and replacing the burner with the built-in orifices, which Weber kindly supports and sells).

      Natural gas is colder, though, and wetter. I use the charcoal grill for stuff like BBQ where it matters anyway.

    • raygun21 says:

      @olderbudwizer: just remember, natural gas burns colder than propane so it takes more gas to get up to grilling temperatures (that’s the nozzles are different between LP and NG connectors).

  5. menty666 says:

    Given I use propane to power the torch I use to melt glass, yes, I would be pissed off to find out I was being shorted. Somehow I think the same people who aren’t upset would be angry to find out they were getting .9 gallons instead of a full gallon at the pump for their cars.

    Incidentally I get my 100 lb torch tank filled at my welding dealer, the bbq tank goes to a reputable independent hardware store.

  6. catnapped says:

    There’s pretty much no regulation on propane (aside from safety concerns, of course), so it’s not much of a shock that they’re pulling this. Even worse when you use it as a household fuel source (cooking/heating) as the difference in prices between suppliers can be staggering (several dollars per gallon).

  7. ColoradoShark says:

    I just checked the two tanks I have. When one is empty I get it filled and swap to the full one so there is no running out.

    Both are from Blue Rhino. One is labeled as having 17 pounds from sometime last year and one is labeled as 15 pounds from sometime this year. I never would have noticed without seeing this information. Now the tank won’t last as long requiring an extra trip every now and then.

    Yes, Mr. Home Depot, I didn’t complain because you hid the change. How about labeling it with $/pound along with the total charge?

    • crashman2600 says:

      @ColoradoShark: My new Blue Rhino tank I bought today was 15lbs. The old one I turned in was 17. Man what a screw job.

    • David Schwartz says:

      @ColoradoShark: It sounds like simple fraud to me. If I buy a “refilled tank”, the tank should have in fact been refilled. A “partially refilled tank” has not been refilled.

      • JPinCLE says:

        @David Schwartz:

        They are labeling the tank guys… it’s not fraud any more than it is fraud to use the same size box of Cheerios, but to only fill it with 15 ounces instead of the usual 17, and lableing it 15 ounces.

        It just sucks a lot… per my previous post. Inflation happens. If I have to buy a two-pack now of Product X and the cost of the packaging is not prohibitive, I’m OK with that. I have no strong preference on whether the higher cost per unit results in a higher overall package cost or a lower number of units per package.

        But there are a few products where I damn well do care. Propane is one of them. If it cost $19.99 to exchange my tank for 20 pounds of LP ten years ago, I’d much rather pay $26.65 for 20 pounds per tank than I would $19.99 for 15 pounds.

  8. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    That’s why we need more Hank Hill and less M. F. Thatherton in our propane and propane accessories.

  9. shepd says:

    This is why I go to a station that fills my propane tank while I wait–you pay by the litre, kg, or m^3 (can’t remember which, but underfilling means I pay that much less–they may as well fill’er up). Why would you buy it prefilled?

    • zentec says:

      @shepd:

      People buy it filled with those cylinder exchanges because they’re more convenient. All sorts of stores have the exchanges, they’re open at all hours as opposed to getting to a refill place when they’re open.

      It’s an expensive way to go. Fortunately, I only use one cylinder every three years. Prefer charcoal.

      • shepd says:

        @zentec:

        There’s three propane gas stations that I know of near me, and one is a 24 hour one. The nearest cylinder exchange place is actually a further away drive than the 24 hour station. This in in a city with a population of ~200k. Maybe propane is just more popular here. Some places here do sell conversion kits to convert your car to run on propane or LNG, although they aren’t very popular except with taxi cabs.

  10. Anonymous says:

    We just went on Saturday to have tanks filled, and I noticed that the last tank that my wife had grabbed at swap in a rush was labeled 15 lbs. Boy was I upset. We normally get our tanks filled at a BJ’s Wholesale but we were having a party and needed a tank fast. We won’t be using the swap again. I think I may buy a 3rd tank, to make sure we always have an emergence spare. Especially considering the swap tank was 22, for 15 lbs, and the BJ’s fill Was 11.50 for 18.

  11. Anonymous says:

    How funny that I saw this article today! Just yesterday I had to change a tank on my grill. I have a spring loaded gauge that you hang the tank on to show how full the tank is. When I hooked it up, it was only 4/5 full! And we’re just supposed to sit back and accept that this is the way it is?! I guess I just won’t use Blue Rhino to swap tanks anymore. I always did like charcoal better!

  12. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    I only run a 100 lb tank in my house for my propane stove. The tank is from home depot, and only costs me $200 every year. The small local company comes out and fills her up for us and we get the stamp for how many gallons we paid for. I’d bring my little cook tank to their business in town any day of the week.

    I don’t trust those cylinder exchanges.

  13. Lance Uppercut says:

    Last week I decided I would get my tanks filled instead of exchanging them. It was surprisingly hard to find someplace that would fill them. Every place I checked had converted to an exchange program.

    I ended up at a Flying J truck stop. $2.799 a gallon and a 20# tank holds about 4 gallons. They even filled my Blue Rhino tank for me.

    Some U-haul locations also fill tanks.

    • Aaronjk says:

      @Cletus:
      That’s the best way to do it, even at @2.80 a gallon you only spend about $12-13. Half the exchange where I’m at.

  14. Dansc29625 says:

    Gas stations, equipment rental places, hardware stores. Always cheaper to refill than swap out.

    • balthisar says:

      @Dansc29625: I’ll add outdoor equipment dealers to the nice list above! (Although in these parts, the gas stations are mostly switching to exchanges, the weasels!)

  15. coan_net says:

    I guess I don’t understand…..

    If a person is paying by the gallon for something…

    …. and someplace does not put as many gallons in it for some reason….

    ….. Wouldn’t they be paying LESS since they got less gallons?

    And why would a store which charges by the gallon purposely sell less gallons… wouldn’t they be losing money?

    • Coles_Law says:

      @coan_net: The thing is, places like Home Depot don’t charge by the gallon-they charge by the tank. You bring an empty tank, they give you a full one. Or ‘full’ one, as it stands. Since the tank isn’t really full and the price has remained the same, the cost per gallon effectively went up.

    • shfd739 says:

      @coan_net:

      Because with these exchanges you leave an empty container and take a “full one”. You pay a flat charge for the new bottle.

      Example: Here locally I think it’s $18 for a new bottle when leaving the old one. So $18 for only 15lbs of propane when before this the bottle would have had 18lbs of propane. When propnae prices went up the companies lowered the fill amount to preserve profit margins. Now that the propane is cheaper they could go back to the original 18lb fill and the old profit amount or keep filling with 15lb at a higher profit.

      • Wombatish says:

        @shfd739: They should’ve never gone down to the 15 to begin with.

        They should have at least told people they were doing that, and/or given them a discount (the discount would just be a nice bonus).

        It’s BS that some people are accepting one and not the other.

      • catnapped says:

        @shfd739: Go back to the old profit amount?!? Are you some kind of anti-capitalist socialist America hater or something?!?!?

  16. Barney_The Plug_ Frank says:

    I just avoid the trade-in your tank for a new one ripoff stores. I have 3 tanks and go to a location that fills the tanks on site. These tanks can hold up to 20 lbs. of propane. A fully (20 pounds) filled tank lasts me at least a month.

  17. bagumpity says:

    The really sad thing is that the “new” tanks you get are almost always in such crappy shape that you wouldn’t want them anyway. I actually had WalMart refuse to accept the exact same tank they had given me just a few weeks earlier in exchange for my brand new tank (I didn’t realize the side burner was on, and ended up wasting the entire tank). Home Depot took it, though.

  18. Aaronjk says:

    I just avoid the hassle and fill my tanks at about 1.75 to 2 dollars a gallon. Which means a 20lb tank since thats about 5 gallons costs me $10 to fill, not the almost $30 they charge for the prefilled.

  19. morlo says:

    The shrink ray is bad, but at least it has to be truthful. This is like if the gasoline industry decided to define a gallon of gas as 3 quarts without telling anyone. Except Weights and Measures would take notice, as they should would propane; but the government is too busy banning chimpanzees, securing the Canadian border, etc.

    • Lance Uppercut says:

      @morlo: The label on the tank says 15 lbs. I don’t think it’s a weights and measures issue. It’s just that they know people assume a 20 lb tank would have 20 lbs in it and aren’t going to read the label.

  20. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    You don’t take the fuel tank off of your car and swap it out for another one when you run out of gas, why would you do that with propane? I take my propane tanks to the local gas station and have them refilled. I pay for the propane by the gallon, so I only pay for exactly what I get, and I get MY tank back.

  21. layton59 says:

    Looks like the EXCHANGE PROGRAMS grew to overtake the REFILL PROGRAMS. Lots of refillers have switched over to being exchangers only. It really sucks when a fast and convenient feature (exchanges) MORPHS into a big rip-off. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL REFILLERS or they will cease to exist as you remember them. Say NO to exchangers. The real power is always in the consumers hands, but it takes effort.

    • catnapped says:

      @layton59: There’s a possibility of there being regulation or licensing issues. I’d think the certification would need to be more strict for places to actually refill tanks as opposed to just collecting and exchanging them which may be why they’re going with the latter.

    • 2 replies says:

      @layton59:
      Also inform your friends & family of the exchange rip-off.
      (point out they are paying for a full tank, but only getting ~3/4)

      The limited in the know, can only do so much on their own without expanding their ranks through word-of-mouth (and Consumerist, that is).

  22. DrRonster says:

    Was reading these posts earlier. Looked up propane refillers. Went to one 3 miles away. Exchange $20. Next time near work at the storage facilty.

  23. MooseOfReason says:

    That’s fraud.

    This might actually be a job the government should do.

  24. golddog says:

    Leave it to Home Depot to come up w/this logic…and from their PR guy talking to the AP no less. Genius. By that logic, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments were OK b/c the patients all died before their noses fell off, or the non-consent autopsies were alright b/c everyone was too dead to complain.

    The cylinder exchange is convenient, but many RV / hardware stores will fill a permanent tank just as quick and w/a counter just like a gasoline pump.

  25. matt314159 says:

    I refilled a 15 pound blue-rino tank just this afternoon as a matter of fact. last time I swapped it was because our tank was starting to look really crummy so I swapped it, but when I was picking up the new tank it seemed light, so I asked the guy if I could feel a few other tanks in the cage. To my surprise, they all had different weights, some significantly lighter than others, and they were all the same size tanks. I found the fullest one and swapped for that, but that cost me $19.99…..when I had it filled, it cost me $10.40.

  26. HeartBurnKid: Agent of R.O.A.C.H. says:

    Most people haven’t complained because they probably haven’t noticed they’re being short-changed. You can’t tell you’re being shorted on propane just by looking. You have to test the level with a cup of hot water.

  27. HomeDepotInfo says:

    I work at The Home Depot and wanted to clarify. It is never our intent to mislead customers on a price or volume change. We sell 15 pound propane tanks and each tank is clearly labeled as such. Our propane tank exchange program is operated by Amerigas, who has relabeled each tank to clearly reflect 15 pounds.

    If for some reason a tank is labeled 17 pounds it is either an empty return that will not be refilled or it is full and actually holding 17 pounds of propane. There may be a few 17 pound tanks left over from before the change to 15 pound tanks last August.

    Propane suppliers across the industry lowered the volumes about one year ago. Since then we have collected feedback from customers. Some agree with the decision to hold the price, others would rather pay more and make fewer trips for their propane. If customers have further concerns about the propane tanks please call Amerigas customer service at 800-434-2323.

    Sarah, Home Depot Communications
    information(at)homedepot(dot)com

  28. suburbancowboy says:

    I can’t say this enough. Support mom and pop stores. I try to avoid Home Depot whenever possible because they put mom and pop stores out of business. The service is much better at independent stores, and they are much better for your community.

  29. consumerd says:

    There is local refillers in just about every small town, where exchange isn’t ideal. in the urban areas it’s not a bad idea, let everyone exchange tank to tank. Out in the rural areas some people use propane for heating and just put a branch off that to a gas grill. They fill one large tank a year.

    Check farm co-op places, MFA, gas companies, local hardware stores. I know there is one off of Route 3 here in IL that refills all kinds of tanks. They even check the tank for you for cracks and such!

    Here is some links to information:

    http://www.PropaneCouncil.org

    Propane

    Tips, Service, Repairs & Rentals Ace Hardware Has The Help You Need

    http://www.AceHardware.com

    Also check: Amerigas,

    If it’s blue rhino that you get the ones from home depot they are part of ferrel gas.

  30. haoshufu says:

    When crude oil was $140 last summer, gas price was about $4.50 a gallon. Now that crude oil is around $60 (~43% of 140), our gas price is over $2.50 (over 55% of 4.50). Oil and gas companies are always good at math. Same for those fuel surcharges that you have gotten used to paying. No one is removing them either.

  31. cnrdog says:

    I think it needs to be pointed out that the amount was never reduced in these exchange tanks. You were always getting less than 17 lbs, you just didn’t know it! When industry was caught, instead of fixing the problem by filling to the correct amount, they chose to lower the labeled net quantity.

  32. jharrell says:

    Hacked my grill – hooked it up to Natural Gas. Now I use my grill almost daily. Before I was always worried about running out and having to drive the the gas station and find an attendant to refill my tank… NEVER EXCHANGED it has ALWAYS been a rip off.

  33. anduin says:

    huh..I always get a full tank whenever I fill up my propane, last time I got 20 lbs from empty…maybe its cause I live in Canada

  34. admiral_stabbin says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I take a gravity-based gauge with me when picking up a fresh tank. I thought it was just out of alignment when it reported the tanks I was getting were 3/4 full. I now think the gauge is right…(and I’m one of the ignorant fools buying from Home Depot).