Friday, June 2, 2023


Save your RV’s refrigerator: Leveling tips for overnight stops

I recently read the following tip on about leveling an RV:

Do you level? That’s a question repeatedly posted on RV forums, regarding leveling an RV when stopping at the end of the day. Here’s a typical response: “I try to get it relatively close unless it’s just for an overnight stop, in which case I don’t bother.” Unless it’s an overnight stop? ALWAYS level your RV. Another comment tells you why: “I’m on my second Dometic 4-door. I level METICULOUSLY every time I stop to camp and I check level every morning. I refuse to go thru all that replacement AGAIN.” RV refrigerators need to be level to work properly, and to prevent damage. No absorption-type RV refrigerator has ever read the fine print that says, “Don’t count the damage caused by operating off-level if it’s only overnight.” Seriously, damage to an RV cooling unit is CUMULATIVE, and every “only overnight” adds up. Can’t level? Shut off the fridge.

(Click here to read the original quick tip.)

I was rather shocked by people’s thinking that running an absorption refrigerator out of level overnight or for any length of time is an acceptable practice. As mentioned above, the damage is cumulative, adding up each time you operate your refrigerator out of level.

Analogy of what happens when you operate absorption fridge out of level

Here is a good analogy to help RVers understand what happens when you operate an absorption refrigerator out of level. Compare it to the human body and the plaque that slowly builds up inside your arteries each time you eat something your cardiologist says you shouldn’t. You can’t see the plaque accumulating slowly in your arteries until you are rushed to the hospital with a heart attack caused by a blockage.

The same thing happens inside the cooling unit “arteries” at the back of your absorption refrigerator. Each time you operate your refrigerator out of level, the solution of water, ammonia, hydrogen gas and sodium chromate are unable to circulate properly (via gravity). The circulating solution gets hot, causing crystals to accumulate on the inside of the cooling unit tubes. All is good until enough crystals (i.e., “plaque”) create a blockage and your refrigerator suffers a “heart attack” due to the lack of circulation.

“Off level operation causes overheating in the boiler section. Continued operation in an over-heated condition results in cooling unit blockage when the sodium chromate particles turn to crystal and block sections of internal piping in the boiler.” This is one of many leveling tips provided by the late Gary Bunzer, the RV Doctor.

Turn off the refrigerator

Anytime I find myself having to park the RV out of level for 30 minutes or more at a roadside attraction, grocery store, lunch stop, etc., I turn off the refrigerator. I am on my fifth travel trailer over my 40-plus years of RVing and have never experienced a cooling unit failure.

“If your fridge runs while tilted for longer than about 30 minutes, you run the risk of damaging the refrigerator’s cooling unit.” Per most experts.

Not only do I level my travel trailer to protect the refrigerator, but I also prefer not to have blood rushing to my head or falling out of bed while sleeping, either.

Statistically, more than 50% of you reading this own a “towable” RV in the form of a fifth wheel or travel trailer, like me. The following leveling tips are for you.

Like other RVers, I like to take the easy way out and prefer not to unhitch my towable RV from my tow vehicle to level it for an overnight stop. After all, I will just have to hitch it back up again in the morning to resume my travels.

Bonus tip

In fact, you might even consider me lazy, as I prefer not to unhitch even if I am camped somewhere for days. There is another advantage to keeping the tow vehicle hooked to a towable RV – stability! Staying hooked up greatly reduces front to rear rocking in my travel trailer as my pickup truck (tow vehicle), with the parking brake set and transmission in park, acts as a 5,000-pound anchor. Staying hooked up also negates the need for wheel chocks. No need to retrieve them from storage, bend down and deploy them, then collect and stow them again before leaving camp. Much easier to leave the truck hooked up. Okay, maybe I am lazy!

Leveling tip to keep the refrigerator happy

This is all fine and good until you find yourself at an overnight stop that isn’t level front to rear and the leveling gear on your rig is not capable of bringing your rig into level. I suspect this is the number one reason towable RV owners fail to level their rig for an overnight stop—too much work for a short stay.

Here is what I do when faced with a sloped campsite:

  • If the back-in campsite slopes downhill from front to rear, leaving the nose of the trailer too high to level: I place blocks/ramps behind the wheels on both sides of the trailer and back onto them until the rear of the trailer is level with the front, or is close enough. If it is close, I can “fine tune” the leveling with my stabilizing jacks.
Leveling tip - raise trailer
Back the trailer onto blocks on both side to bring it into level while hooked to the tow vehicle. Staying hooked to the truck adds stability and negates the need for wheel chocks.
  • If the back-in campsite slopes uphill from front to rear, leaving the nose of the trailer too low to level: I place blocks/ramps behind the rear wheels on both sides of the truck and back onto them, raising the rear of the truck high enough that the nose of the trailer is raised sufficiently to be level with the rear of the trailer, or is close enough. As above, if it is close, I can “fine tune” the leveling with my stabilizing jacks.
Truck on blocks
Back or pull the rear wheels of the truck onto blocks to raise the tongue of the trailer into level. Fine tune with tongue jack.

You will be amazed at how 3 to 4 inches of lift to the trailer axle or rear of the tow vehicle axle helps in leveling an RV in a sloped campsite.

Note: If the campsite is also unlevel side to side, just add more blocks to the low side before backing onto them.

Give these leveling tips a try next time you find yourself in a sloped campsite regardless of whether it’s just an overnight stop or at your destination. Not only will your absorption refrigerator appreciate it, but you will enjoy the experience of a more stable, level RV with less work setting up and breaking camp.


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.


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15 days ago

How close is “close enough”?

Mark Weiner
16 days ago

Better yet, forget leveling and get a 12 volt compressor refrigerator. I’m so happy that I replaced my old “inconsistent” propane absorption refrigerator with a 12 volt Danfoss unit that uses very little electric….

And, because it’s a compressor that can be used in marine situations, it’s designed to work up to 30 ( thirty) degrees off level. Quiet too, we sleep all night and can’t hear anything. Cools down rapidly, no waiting 24 hours to precool the unit and it works in 90 plus degrees heat….. Easily one of the best upgrades I got.

Check out Nova Kool…. there’s other companies like Isotherm…..we picked Nova Kool for the reputation and service…. here’s a breath of fresh air…. those guys at Nova Kool will actually answer the phone and respond to any questions you have…no kidding. Excellent customer service.

16 days ago

I’ve heard a lot of mixed answers about whether I need to worry about it with a 12v electric refrigerator – any guidance there?

Mark Weiner
16 days ago
Reply to  Mike

Mike, you DO NOT have to level a marine refrigerator like Nova Kool. Call them on the phone in Canada. They will explain everything to you. 604-523-6515

17 days ago

Dave: I noted a problem a couple weeks ago when I turned on my Norcold fridge. The freezer ovenite went to 25f however, the refrig, side only went to 55f; and has maintained that ratio. Normally, it would be in the 40f range. I am an*l about leveling for the refrig! I don’t even use it on the the road!

What happened? Last fall some kind sole flattened my street side duals (off the rim). (Class A 34′). Immediately, upon discovery, I went in the turned off the fridge. I am not exactly sure how long it operated while it was tilted – but it must have been close to 12-18 hours! Cumulative damage? Is this the reason it is not cooling the refrig section enuf? Do I now have a dangerous refrigerator?

Dave Solberg
17 days ago
Reply to  DW/ND

Running it for 12-18 hours out of level typically would not cause it to stop cooling? When it is out of level, the solution can’t zig zag back down the cooling unit and it pools in a corner and builds up heat which eventually makes it start to flake and after a while it blocks the tube permanently. What probably happened is the thermistor got frost on it or is going bad. It is clipped to the evaporator fins inside the ref. Pull it off and get any frost or ice off it and try raising it up the fin. The freezer should be at 0 degrees and the ref at 40. Check out the article on troubleshooting in the archives.

17 days ago
Reply to  DW/ND

Sadly you may have a partially blocked cooling unit. Here are some other things to look for / try: Is the problem the same on both gas and electric operation? Check your exterior venting to make sure there are no obstructions. Shut it off, let it cool and restart it and see what happens. Check your thermostat probe that “measures” the temperature in the refer section to make sure it is in the proper location or not covered with something like food debris.

Diane McGovern
17 days ago
Reply to  DW/ND

Hi, D and J. You got responses from both Dave Helgeson and Dave Solberg because I wasn’t quite fully awake when I saw you wrote to “Dave” and I accidentally emailed your question to the Dave who didn’t write the article.😲 But now you have lots of information and I hope you can get the fridge working! Have a great day. 😀 –Diane at

17 days ago

Nice tips. However, using stabilizer jacks to actually raise the trailer is not a good idea.

17 days ago
Reply to  Carl


Agreed! That is why I call it “fine tuning”. I can get my bubble level to move 1/4 tp 1/2 a bubble without applying much lift to my stabilizing jacks.

Billie Sue Patrick
14 days ago
Reply to  Carl

I’m with you on this. We always level to within an acceptable tolerance in both directions before putting down the stabilizer jacks. We use a drill with adjustable torque settings so that the Jack makes solid contact with the ground but doesn’t do *any* lifting. Maybe we go overboard on the execution. My husband is an engineer, and he loves specialized tools. However, the bottom line is that you should do what the manufacturer says, and they are adamant about not using the stabilizer jacks to lift the trailer.

Mike Rodgers
17 days ago

So what happens to fridg if your driving in the mountains and constantly going up and down steep inclines?

17 days ago
Reply to  Mike Rodgers

Mike, As you travel and your RV bounces up and down it is constantly passing through the plain of level allowing the contents of the absorption refrigerator to circulate.

17 days ago

You neglected to define “level”. Many folks go overboard on getting their rig nearly perfectly level. If it is for their comfort, OK, but the frig is much more forgiving with manufacturer’s specs typically 3 degrees out one way and 6 the other. That’s actually a lot of tilt allowed. You can use a phone app to determine actual tilt in each direction. I then have set bubble levels marked with max allowable tilt for easy and quick reference.

17 days ago
Reply to  Mike

Mike, Properly defining “level” would take another article! You are correct though that today’s absorption refrigerators are fairly tolerant regarding tilt.

Bill T
17 days ago

Agreed. In all the years we have traveled with absorption refers the same has always applied. If its comfortable enough to live in its’ been good enough.

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