Smooth Out Your Journey With Expert-Level RV Leveling Techniques
The joys of RV leveling are truly exponential (sarcasm intended). After a full day on the road, cramped into your seat, fighting traffic, and holding back the yawns, it’s time to go to work. Placing your wedges, dropping the front feet, unhitching, and making incremental adjustments is the last thing you want to do when your backside is still asleep from the long trip.
That’s why you’re here—you’re looking for a better way and, who doesn’t want more convenience when you just want to settle in and avoid the stress of getting the perfect level (within 1° to 2° plumb) so all of your appliances function? The good news is, there are a lot of different options out there.
Sit back and let your brain sponge away as we share some of the lesser-known tricks of the trade, the available technology, the importance of leveling your RV, and how to make it as convenient as possible. In other words, spend less time worrying and more time camping.
Why Is RV Leveling Important?
RV leveling is not optional, it’s a must-do task you should tackle immediately. Much of the functionality of your camping adventure depends on how level your RV is. Even your sleep depends on it.
- The fridge won’t function properly.
- It exacerbates gastric reflux.
- It’s difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
- An unlevel RV stresses the frame.
- Tank sensors often won’t read correctly.
- It can bind your slide-outs or damage them long-term.
As you can see, not leveling your RV or not leveling it correctly leads to a lot of stress and unnecessary heartache. On the flip side, you won’t have to worry about any of the above if your RV is level. Plus, there are benefits to leveling your RV that aren’t as talked about as often as the drawbacks.
For instance, properly leveling your RV extends the longevity of your RV, avoids expensive repair costs, avoids pooling in the tanks, and ensures you get a comfortable night’s sleep.
Basic RV Leveling Tips
If you’ve ever worked in the shipbuilding industry or been on a large cruiseliner, or Navy vessel in dock, you know what it feels like when the vessel is just a bit off-balance. This is especially true when emptying or filling the ballast tanks. It messes your whole world up, even when it’s off by only a couple of degrees.
Your mind is always trying to level things out and when you’re standing on an unlevel surface, its messes with your brain. It’s a fundamental principle of physics—Newton’s Law of Conservation of Energy. We naturally seek out level surfaces because everything functions better on a level surface. Before you ever start the RV leveling process, you already have that going for you, which leads to our first point.
How To Find Level Ground
The garrulous explanation above is to let you know that your eyes, feet, and brain will naturally find the best spot. For most practiced RVers, that’s more than enough to kick things off. Find a good, level spot and start unpacking. Avoid slopes and uneven surfaces unless you have no other choice. The leveling process is easier on the ground that’s already close to level.
You should always take the time to check your spot before you park your RV, even if you’re in a campground. You’ll get an idea of how flat and level the surface is and avoid running over anything like rocks, logs, low-hanging branches, etc. Parking your rear, and passenger side tire on a small rock is enough to throw everything off.
Level Side-to-Side, Then Front to Back
Again, it’s a matter of physics. Side-to-side leveling comes first. If your right side is 5° higher than your left, leveling from front to back would place undue strain on the frame. Side-to-side is the shortest distance and leveling it first turns the rest of the process into a simple seesaw.
For newbie RVers, side-to-side leveling is done with the travel trailer still hitched or while you’re still in the driver’s seat in a motorhome. You’ll do a lot of back-and-forth movement with this process, checking your bubble level (which should be placed near the rear axle or in a rear, flat compartment) or your automated leveling system display.
If you can’t achieve a side-to-side level by moving backward and forward, it’s time to break out the leveling blocks. Place them under the RV tires and pull them forward or back up to roll the tires up and on top of them.
Built-In Bubble Levels and Smartphone Apps
RV leveling is a lot simpler when you use the tools you have on hand. Nowadays, just about everyone carries a smartphone around and there are multiple RV leveling apps out there that take advantage of your smartphone’s built-in accelerometer and gyroscope.
- WoBLR: Available on the Google Play Store and the App Store
- LevelMate Pro and Pro+: Available on the Google Play Store and the App Store
- CamperSet: iOS App Store only
- Motorhome Level App: Available on the Google Play Store and the App Store
- Camper Leveler: Google Play Store only
WoBLR and LevelMate Pro require additional hardware but either choice is an affordable and easy-to-use option. With WoBLR and LevelMate, you install a separate device in your RV and that device communicates with the app on your smartphone to level the RV. With the other apps, you enter the wheelbase and RV width information into the app, place your smartphone on a central, flat surface, and let the app do the rest.
Built-in RV levels are bubble levels installed in the appropriate section of your RV. Keeping a steady eye on it as you make adjustments is necessary. Reading a bubble level is very easy. The goal is to maintain the bubble in the center block. Whichever side or end of the RV is higher, the bubble will travel upward in the tube.
RV Leveling Tricks
Carpenter’s levels are excellent tools to have with you no matter what you’re doing. When you’re in the middle of side-to-side RV leveling, keep the carpenter’s level in the rear, perhaps in a storage compartment or somewhere else with a flat, smooth surface. Remember, with a level, if the bubble is too far to the left, your left side is too high. The same goes for the right.
You can fine-tune everything by placing the carpenter’s level on the flooring, centered to the best of your ability, inside the RV. This is also something you can do during the stabilization process. RV stabilization comes after RV leveling and is an entirely different topic altogether (though closely related).
Four-point and six-point automatic leveling systems are beasts but not everyone can sell a kidney on the black market to afford a purchase and install. With that being said, there are other, generally effective methods as well. For instance, if your sink is flowing and draining correctly, with no pooling along the sides, your RV is pretty level.
However, using the sink is not the most accurate method. It’s enough to get the fridge operating correctly, but it’s not precise enough to get the RV within 1° to 2° of plumb. Using the sink is what you do when you’re in a pickle and it’s the best method left available. If you have a dual-basin sink, always use the primary. The secondary has an elbow joint, making the whole process more iffy since it clogs easily.
If you have slide-outs, keep them closed throughout the leveling process. Only open them when you’re completely finished. Also, unless you’re in a motorhome, keep your travel trailer/toy hauler hitched while you do the side-to-side leveling. Unhitch it when you are ready to do the front-to-back.
RV Leveling Equipment
Not all RV rigs are created equally. Whether you purchase used or new, what it comes with (in terms of a leveling or stabilizing system) is what you get. Fortunately, RVs are endlessly customizable and there is a ton of leveling hardware (and even software) out there to bring a little more convenience to your RV lifestyle.
This is the simplest and most basic of RV leveling equipment. You should have these on hand no matter how sophisticated your leveling system is. You never know when you’re going to need them. Leveling blocks are exactly what they sound like, strips of hardened plastic that go under the RV’s wheels, raising one level or the other.
There are a few different kinds, including DIY wood blocks, stacking pads, and drive-on levelers. Their strength is in their versatility.
- Versatility: You can stack them for incremental leveling or drive on top of the tapered risers until reaching the desired level. You can also stack up your own boards.
- Lightweight and Compact: They’re easy to carry around and store when not in use. They’re entirely negligible when it comes to weight-carrying capacity.
- Durability: Plastic leveling blocks often come with a lifetime warranty and are designed to withstand thousands of pounds for years.
- Affordable: Leveling blocks are easily the most affordable when it comes to RV leveling equipment.
- Different Types: This would be a pro in most circumstances, but depending on which type you purchase, each has different drawbacks. You need to know what you want and what the blocks can withstand before you purchase them.
- Not Great for Soft Surfaces: Heavy RVs are capable of driving blocks into the ground, negating their purpose altogether.
Probably the most obvious part of any RV leveling equipment is the levels. Usually, these are built-in bubble levels, carpenter levels, or software levels (on your smartphone). Bubble levels are highly efficient because they are ingeniously simple in design and function. If the bubble is in the center, you’re good to go.
- Efficiency: Bubble levels are must-have tools in any trade precisely because of their efficiency and accuracy.
- Affordable: It doesn’t cost much to buy a carpenter’s level and many RVs have them built-in.
- Easy to Read and Understand
- Expedites the Leveling Process
- Lacks Precision Accuracy
- Can’t Calibrate Built-In Levelers
Auto Leveling Systems
Automatic RV leveling systems take most of the guesswork out of the task. They come in two types—hydraulic and electric, both of which have their benefits and drawbacks. Overall, either version involves pressing a button on the control panel.
Hydraulic systems are far more powerful, work quicker, and feature a smooth operation. However, electric systems are generally simpler to fix while being more difficult to troubleshoot. After all, a faulty wire is more difficult to locate than a hose, spewing hydraulic fluid everywhere.
Electric systems are typically much weaker and work more as stabilizers than levelers because they can’t handle the weight like a hydraulic system. Plus, most of these systems are model-specific. If your RV comes with a hydraulic system for slide-out operation, a hydraulic leveling system either comes with it or is necessary.
- Simple to Operate: At the press of a button, the system goes to work, leveling your RV out.
- Powerful: Takes all of the laborious sides of leveling out of the equation.
- Fast: These systems don’t take long to level out the RV.
- Removes the Guesswork
- Very Expensive
- Expensive Repairs
- Often Difficult to Troubleshoot
Manual Leveling Jacks
Far more cost-efficient than auto-levelers, manual leveling jacks are simplification personified. It doesn’t take much know-how to use them, so long as you are frequently checking your level status as you work the side-to-side and the front-to-back.
They’re also highly reliable, will likely last the life of the RV, and are much easier to repair (and much less costly) than automated systems. Tongue jacks are usually the simplest to install and you can make it a DIY project. Other jacks require a degree of precision and should be installed by a professional.
- Cost Efficient: You won’t have to refinance your home to purchase manual leveling jacks.
- Highly Durable: You would almost have to try to destroy these things actively. They’re solid pieces of hardware.
- Excellent Backup and Assist for Automatic Systems
- Easier to Repair: Not only are repairs simpler, professional repairs cost a lot less.
- Come in Power or Hand-Crank Variations
- More Labor Intensive
Not to be confused with the blocks and ramps, wheel chocks go into place once the tires are up on the block/ramp. Even if you don’t use a block or ramp to elevate one side or the other, wheel chocks should always go in place to keep your RV from rolling. It’s a safety feature more than anything else and should be treated as such. You should always chock your wheels before you unhitch.
Recommended RV Leveling Equipment
On their own, RVs are expensive, even if you buy used ones. A moderately customized, used teardrop will run you a cool $5K all by itself. Throwing in leveling equipment can either be an affordable exercise in convenience enhancement or an expensive endeavor.
Fortunately, a toolbox full of quality but affordable RV leveling gear is just as effective as an automated system. The only difference is the added work to get the job done.
RV Leveling Blocks/ramps
Andersen Hitches produces a leveling kit that includes one block and one chock. The ingenuity of the block itself is fantastic. All it consists of is a single piece of plastic, with a moderate curve, that’s four inches thick on one end and tapers down to 1/2 an inch on the other end.
This allows RVers to ease the tire onto the low end and only go forward enough to level on one side. The curved plastic elevates the wheel smoothly and seamlessly. It’s that simple. If you prefer stackables, Camco Heavy Duty Leveling Blocks are the end-all-be-all. They’re extremely durable, long-lasting, and stack on top of each other for quick and easy storage.
Manual Leveling Jacks
Keeping things in the realm of affordability for the moment, manual leveling jacks are the way to go. Lippert is a huge name in the RV industry and one of their more popular options is the Lippert Power Tongue Jack Electric Trailer A-Frame. It can lift up to 3,500 lbs, comes with LED lighting for those inevitable nighttime arrivals, and is very easy to install.
If you need a little more oomph, there’s also the Husky HB4500 4500 lbs. Brute Power Jack. If both are still a little too rich for your blood or you just don’t see the need for the power lift feature, there’s the CURT 28204 A-Frame Trailer Jack for the frame or the Quick Drop Tongue Jack.
Stabila makes some of the most accurate bubble levels on the market. They have different lengths and use steel hairline indicators within the vials. It’s hard to find a bad bubble level but if you want the most accurate picture when leveling your RV, you should go with one of Stabila’s kits, such as the Stabila 196 Level Set Kit.
It’s a bit on the expensive side but it’s the most accurate and precise spirit level on the market. Fortunately, they sell individual bubble levels as well, like the Stabila 29072. If you want to use your smartphone as a level, WoBLR and LevelMate Pro are the most accurate.
Both options require you to download their respective apps on your phone, as well as purchase and install their devices. The first is the RV Intelligence WoBLR, and the second is the LogicBlue Technology LevelMatePRO+ Wireless Vehicle RV Leveling System.
These systems are typically OEM (factory-installed) on motorhomes and large, premium travel trailers and fifth-wheels. However, you can purchase them as an aftermarket installation as well. One of the best hydraulic systems is the Bigfoot, four-pump, four-point leveling system with 100 in² foot pads. The system comes with a lifetime warranty and 24/7 customer support.
Equalizer Systems manufactures hydraulic lifting and leveling systems for fifth-wheels, Class C, and Class A motorhomes. The system is designed for aftermarket installation but it’s a system that is regularly used as an OEM on brand new motorhomes.
Lippert manufactures four-point, five-point, and six-point leveling systems in electric and hydraulic options for travel trailers and fifth-wheels. They also have a six-point hydraulic option for motorhomes.
How To Use RV Leveling Equipment
Now that you have all of this stuff and you’re off on your very first RV adventure, how to use it? Well, we glossed over some of the ways to use these devices and equipment above—now we’re getting into the nitty gritty.
Bubble levels are the tried and true leveling systems for RVs and everything else, for that matter. They’re tried and true because they work. However, you can’t just throw a bubble level down anywhere you want and expect the RV to come out level.
First and foremost, side-to-side leveling. You want to place the bubble level near the rear axle or you can place it in a rear compartment, so long as the compartment features a flat, smooth surface that’s level when the RV is level. Placing it on a surface that the kids could use as a slide is not a good idea. After placing your level, the level blocks/ramps come into play as well.
To use stackers, ramps, or blocks, the trailer has to remain hitched. First, you check your level without anything under the tires. Once you have an idea which side needs to go up, place the block beneath the tire as far as it will go and either reverse or drive forward (very slow and easy) over the top of the block, depending on where your RV is positioned.
For front-to-back, place the level so it aligns with the front-to-back axis. If you envision a seesaw, the rear axle encompasses the central pivot point of the seesaw. Raise or lower the front as needed. Of course, automated systems take much of the trial and error out of the equation. However, you should still make leveling adjustments to get as close as you can before engaging the automatic system.
RV leveling is the most important step when you first pull into the campground or before you start your first journey into boondocking. Find that level spot and get to work, even if you have an automated leveling setup.
Without properly leveling your RV, you’re bound to foment chaos within—a non-functioning refrigerator, sleep deprivation, wonky holding tank readings, shower not working, faucets not draining, etc. The good news is there are plenty of tools for the job, including bubble levels, chocks, leveling blocks, manual jacks, and automated systems.
RV leveling is the key to having a good time on your camping trip. It’s an easy thing to get in a hurry over the excitement of arriving but if you take your time to level and stabilize the RV properly, you’ll be that much closer to having a blast on your camping trip.