One of the first things I do when I enter a new RV park is evaluate the quality of my assigned pad. This inspection is part of the ritual I perform before I pull into a site. Primarily, I assess the site’s length, width, ground type, and exact hookup location, as well as how level the site is. The latter issue is the focus of this article.
Why Being Level Matters
One reason an RV should be level is personal comfort. People are used to existing on a horizontal plane. We don’t feel comfortable walking up or down an incline in our RV, or sleeping on an angle (generally speaking, of course). Leveling the RV helps to ensure that your bed is oriented to allow for healthful and restful sleep. It’s hard to cook eggs when the RV is slanted. The list goes on. In addition, an absorption refrigerator can malfunction when it operates outside its manufacturer’s level specifications. According to Norcold, modern fridges work fine at angles of plus or minus 3 degrees side-to-side and 6 degrees front-to-back. Dometic has similar specs. These angles pretty much match what is comfortable to people inside an RV. If you use a bubble level, half a bubble from level should be sufficient for short-term stays, while longer stays should warrant a more concerted effort to center the bubble.
When To Level
Generally, an RV should be leveled as soon as you have a suitable pad, although there may be subtle variations as to when leveling fits into the order of operations. For instance, for RVs with powered leveling jacks and slideouts, some manufacturers mandate the slides be extended before the jacks; others specify jacks before slides. Make sure you understand and follow the manufacturer’s recommended order. Also, after extending a slideout, recheck that the refrigerator is level. Before you finalize the RV’s position and begin the leveling procedure, check for clearances for the slideouts, awnings, steps, and entry doors. Look for anything that may interfere, including tree branches and power/water pedestals. Make sure you have enough power cord, fresh-water hose, and sewer hose to reach those services. If you use a satellite dish, be sure you can position it to have a clear view of the sky. Ensure you have enough door-side space for a picnic table and/or eating area. Perform a physical walk-around of the RV prior to final positioning. Look for bumps, dips, and other uneven spots, especially in unpaved areas. Sometimes moving just a few feet can simplify the leveling process.
How To Level
First, it is important to understand the difference between stabilizing jacks and leveling jacks. Stabilizing jacks on lighter travel trailers and some motorhomes should never be used to lift the RV. They should be lowered to the ground only until they stabilize the RV, but not enough to take vehicle weight off the wheels and axle. Stabilizing jacks generally utilize a worm-drive shaft with a hand crank (although powered versions are available). If your RV has stabilizing jacks, do not use them to level the vehicle, but lower them to the ground once the unit is level. Leveling jacks, on the other hand, usually are hydraulic or pneumatic (air) rams/pistons (with the notable exception of travel trailer tongue jacks). Make sure you know the difference as indicated by your manufacturer. Both hydraulic and pneumatic systems often incorporate suspension dump capability on RVs with air suspension. This enables the system to evacuate the bags prior to the leveling process, allowing the leveled RV to be closer to the ground. To level an RV without power levelers, you must carry ramps and/or leveling blocks with you, as well as a bubble level, although good smartphone apps are available for this purpose. If possible, place the level in the freezer compartment, as this is the most significant level surface. Position your ramps or blocks, and then slowly and carefully drive your RV onto them until it is level as indicated on the bubble. Be sure to use a spotter to carefully monitor the tire locations on the ramps/blocks. The biggest risk is driving off the end of a leveling ramp. In addition, be sure the entire tire footprint is supported; otherwise, tire damage can result. With practice, you should be able to identify how many blocks are needed or how far up the ramp you need to go to correct for different off-level conditions. If you have a travel trailer, you often can level the unit using only the tongue jack, but be sure to chock the wheels when you finish the leveling procedure. Indeed, whether you are leveling a motorhome or a trailer, chock all wheels still on the ground, and in the case of a motorhome, set the parking brake. For motorhomes without leveling jacks, position the coach so only the front wheels require raising, as it’s safer and easier to ramp or block the front tires than the rear. If the front wheels must be lifted a significant amount, it may make sense to move to a more level spot.
Use Of Leveling Jacks
If your RV is equipped with leveling jacks, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You may have auto-leveling or manual jacks. As I noted with manual leveling, it’s important to lift only a motorhome’s front axle. Raising the rear wheels off the ground is dangerous because it negates the parking brake feature. The parking brake on the rear axle prevents vehicles from rolling away. If the rear wheels are lifted off the ground, it’s possible the vehicle can roll off the jacks. While some people may argue that the jacks prevent the motorhome from moving laterally, that may not be the case, as the friction between the jack pad and the ground may be insufficient to keep the RV from moving. That is especially true in the case of kick-down jacks, which may be kicked up if the RV is jolted or otherwise disturbed. If you are using leveling jacks, I recommend the use of jack pads. These can be purchased or homemade. They are usually thick, square blocks of a larger size than the jack feet and they are used to increase the stroke of the jacks and/or protect against soft ground by reducing the force exerted over the area. Make sure you don’t end up in a precarious situation when the leveling is complete. If the RV appears unsafe or is raised too much (to the point you can’t enter your RV without a step stool), I recommend you either reposition your RV more favorably or get a different site. This is true regardless of the leveling method you use — ramps, blocks, or jacks. In extreme cases, I have had to leave campgrounds that did not have any available sites that were even remotely level.
On a side note, I often am asked my opinion on storing RVs with powered jacks extended to take the weight off the tires. I don’t store my coach this way, since there is risk of corrosion or rust on the extended ram over time, especially in inclement weather. Therefore, I prefer to leave my jacks retracted. I protect the tires by parking on pavement or pieces of wood. Commercial products made of nylon or similar material are available to insulate the tires from concrete, the ground, or other surfaces. I also move the RV periodically to alter the tire positions. Even if your RV has leveling jacks, it is a good idea to use a bubble level or app occasionally. Leveling jacks can go out of calibration, resulting in an out-of-level condition. The bubble level allows you to properly level your RV and determine whether the jacks require calibration. If the jacks report an out-of-level condition when the bubble level indicates the RV is level, follow the jack manufacturer’s instructions to calibrate the system. Also remember to maintain your jacks according to your manufacturer’s instructions. This includes keeping the reservoir topped off with the correct fluid (often transmission fluid) and ensuring the electrical connections are clean and tight. Significant current is drawn from the batteries to power the hydraulic pump, so loose or dirty connections can cause damaging or dangerous arcing. For a variety of reasons, it’s important to level your RV at a campsite. Be sure to understand the methods that apply to you.
By: Steve Froese, F276276