By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Leveling your RV in a camp site not only makes for a more comfortable stay, if too far out of level, you can actually damage your rig’s refrigerator. Leveling an RV is a skill that has to be learned, but happily, it’s not a difficult one.
Some RVers have it easy: They may have a rig equipped with automatic levelers that bring the rig into plumb at the touch of a button. For the rest of us, we have to rely on the manual system of leveling, involving leveling blocks or planks. How do they work? You drive the “low” tire or tires up on the leveling blocks, bringing the low end or side of the rig up to level. One thing to note, some trailers are equipped with stabilizer jacks, usually a scissor jack permanently mounted to the trailer frame. These are only for stabilizing the trailer, not for leveling it. We’ll touch on that more later.
To manually level your rig you’ll need levelers. There are home brew levelers, and you can buy manufactured leveling systems. Home brew usually equates to a collection of boards, 2×8 lumber is perhaps the most common. Commercial leveling systems break down into about two styles Leveling blocks are somewhat akin to giant size Lego blocks–they snap together to help you reach the right height. Another common style is a graduated ramp.
Many carry home made levelers as they’ve found it inexpensive, perhaps picking the boards out of their own scrap piles. Just make sure whatever material you use completely supports the tire footprint. A tire hanging over the edge of a leveling board can be damaged. While home brew levelers may be less expensive than their commercial counterparts, they aren’t without problems. The weight of wood leveling boards adds up quickly; we’ve found that much of the dimensional lumber sold on the market today is a bit fragile–we’ve had a number of our recently purchased boards split, particularly in boondocking situations.
Another tool you’ll find essential in the leveling process? A level. Some rigs have “stick on” levels placed on their rigs; these can be helpful, but their “stickiness” can decrease with time and weather exposure, making them useless. We’ve found that a small builder’s level, a “torpedo” level to be more useful.
Here’s the procedure: When pulling into a site, stop and take a look at the lay of the land. Try and park in an area that’s already as close to level as possible. Consider rig leveling a “fine tuning” adjustment. With the rig placed where you want to park, check your outside levels, or better still, place a builder’s level on the floor of the rig. Eyeball level both side-to-side and front-to-rear.
Start by adjusting side-to-side level. You’ll need to lay leveling blocks on the ground in front of or behind the tire or tires that need to be raised. We say “tire or tires,” because we’ve found in some cases, it’s not necessary to raise both of our tandem tires up where the things aren’t too far out of whack. With blocks placed, roll the rig up onto the leveler. Having an assistant spotting you is a great help. Remember, keep the tire footprint completely on the leveler.
Not high enough? You may have to add more blocks, but use your stack blocks or chunks of wood to form a gradual climb for the tires. Don’t try and force the rig to climb from ground level up say, 2″ or more–build a ramp. Once in place, check the level again. When side-to-side is correct, you can use the trailer’s front hitch jack (or a fifth wheel’s “landing gear”) to adjust front-to-rear level.
Never try to level the rig using stabilizers. For trailer folks, these are often an integral part of the rig–scissor jacks attached permanently to the trailer frame. Other stabilizers are “stacker jacks” that can be placed under the trailer frame and are like a screw jack. These stabilizers come into play only AFTER the leveling blocks are placed. Stabilizer jacks aren’t strong enough, nor secure enough for the actual process of leveling. Their purpose is to simply to keep the rig from bouncing as you walk about in it.
Like a lot of things in RVing, learning to level the rig seems like a big deal when you first undertake it. You may take ‘several whacks at it,’ adding or subtracting leveling blocks or driving up and down a leveling ramp to ‘tune in’ to the correct spot. With time and practice, you’ll soon be able to gauge just how many blocks you’ll need, or how far up the ramp you’ll need to drive.