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When we started RVing it seemed obvious that we would want our RV to be level when we were camped for the night just for comfort. Little did we know there are other more important reasons why you should always level your RV.
So, why does an RV need to be level? RV’s need to be level to allow the ammonia in your refrigerator to circulate properly otherwise it can suffer serious and permanent damage. Other reasons to level your RV include personal safety and comfort, proper plumbing function, correct water level readings and preventing slides from binding.
Since I discovered some of the reasons I should level my RV I wanted to further understand the why behind them. I also wanted to know what is the best way to level an RV and how do I know my level is level.
The Effect of Slopes on RV Refrigerators
The refrigerator in your RV works differently than your ones at home. It functions through absorption and a chemical reaction between ammonia, water, and hydrogen. For a full description of how an RV fridge works, you can read my article on Decoding Your RV Fridge – How It Works.
The system uses gravity in the cooling process so if your fridge is not level the chemicals won’t be able to circulate properly. This can lead to fluids sitting in the boiler for too long, overheating and causing pipes to burst. Obviously a very costly repair.
Best case scenario, your fridge will be less efficient when you are parked on a slope. Worst case scenario, you need a new fridge.
The real question is how level does your fridge need to be. Generally, I’ve found you can be 3 degrees off from side to side and 6 degrees off from front to back. This is the fridge’s side to side NOT the RV’s. This works out to be about a half bubble on your RV’s indicator.
Any time you are stopped for 30 minutes or more you should either level your RV or turn off your fridge. The need to level your fridge applies any time your fridge is running whether it’s working off of propane or electricity. If your fridge is off then there is no need to worry about damaging your fridge.
Leveling with Your Slides In or Out?
Most RV manufacturers will have you level your rig with the slides retracted, then after you have leveled and stabilized, you can deploy your slides. This prevents binding of the slide mechanism.
The caveat is that some RV manufacturers actually want you to extend your slides then level your unit. It’s important to read your owners manual and find out which way is recommended for your rig.
If your RV recommends leveling before extending and your RV is not level, slides can bind or get pinched making it difficult to retract the slide when its time to break camp. Extra strain is placed on the gears that move the slide in and out if the rig is on an angle. That strain can lead to damaging the shear pins forcing you to manually move your slide in and out.
It’s also important to use your stabilizers once you are level. This will help prevent shifting once your slides are out as well as the all to common RV wobble.
Leveling for Personal Comfort and Safety
Of course, it seems obvious that for your own personal comfort you want your RV to be as level as possible. But it’s amazing how frequently laziness can trump comfort. There are also safety factors that go along with this.
No one liked to roll out of bed, into their bedmate or have their bedmate roll into them. I especially don’t want to roll out of bed since our bed comes down from the ceiling and is 5 feet off the floor!
If your RV is not level then your balance is affected and you won’t be able to easily catch yourself should you happen to trip. This is a great point if you have little ones who are unsteady on their feet. An angle to the floor could mean more bumps and bruises for your kiddos.
It’s also exceptionally difficult to sleep when your head is lower than your feet. And actually sleeping with your head downhill can actually lead to migraines and glaucoma due to excess blood pressure in your head (though one or two nights with your head downhill won’t cause this immediately).
Cooking is another thing that will be affected by a tilted RV. Water will be higher on one side in a pot and more likely to boil over. Eggs will all slide into each other and be a pain to flip when frying (I hate it when I break the yoke).
Of course, these are all fairly minor, though you might not feel that way when you trip after enjoying a few brews by the fire. But there are a few real functional concerns caused by an unlevel rig.
How Level Effects Plumbing
Liquid flows downhill. And your plumbing pipes are no different than in your house and work best when gravity is in their favor.
If you have a major angle to your RV then your plumbing pipes may not drain as well as they are supposed to. This can be as simple as the sink draining slowly or worse not at all.
Another thing to consider is the p-trap. If the angle is intense then the fluid in the p-trap of your sink or shower could flow out of the pipe and down the drain letting the dreaded sewer smell infiltrate your RV. YUCK!
How Level Effects Tank Sensors
Your black, grey and freshwater tanks are all equipped with sensors to detect the levels within them so you know when they are full or empty. If your RV is parked on an angle then the fluids within the tank will also be on an angle, pretty straight forward right.
Well, the angle of the tank fluids will lead to giving you inaccurate readings. So you might end up not emptying your black and grey water tank or not filling your freshwater tank when you should have.
For the most part, this isn’t a huge deal but if you were about to go boondocking and you didn’t dump and fill your tanks, you might need to break camp early in search of a dumpsite. Or you don’t dump your tanks and you end up overflowing (ewwww). Or you don’t fill your water and you run out.
Just keep in mind how level your RV is when you check your tank levels.
How to Level Your Motorhome
There are two ways a motorhome can be leveled and it’ll depend on your model for how you do it. Newer or more expensive RV’s may come equipped with a self-leveling system. The rest of us have to do it manually with wood or leveling blocks.
But, there are a few things to keep in mind when leveling your RV both manually and with your automatic system. To start you’ll want to scope out your site to pick the flattest available area. The flatter the site you start with the easier it’ll be to level.
Whenever possible you should park with the front of your RV at the lowest point so your front tires will end up on blocks or jacks. This is because your rear wheels will be locked while you are in park (unless you are the odd duck and have a front wheel drive RV). Since the rear wheels are locked you greatly reduce the risk of your rig rolling off your jacks or blocks.
If it’s not possible to set your RV up nose facing downhill then chock your tires to be safe. Actually, you should always chock your tires for safety.
You also want to keep at least one wheel on the ground, ideally a rear wheel as mentioned above. This will provide maximum stability for your RV.
If you are lucky enough to have a self-leveling system with hydraulic jacks then with the push of a button your RV becomes level. It’s like magic.
Okay, it might not be quite that simple so read your user manual so you can safely and quickly level your RV.
It’s a good idea to use blocks or jack pads under your leveling jacks. These will prevent the jacks from sinking into the surface below and throwing off your leveling job or damaging the pad below.
For the rest of us, we need to manually level our RV’s using blocks of some sort. Now you can go basic and use just some large blocks of wood but these are heavy and cumbersome to pack around with you. They will also absorb any water on the ground.
Personally, we purchased two sets of leveling blocks that nest inside each other and look a bit like Lego. One set is narrow for our front wheels while the other set is wide for our back wheels (we have dual tires on a single axle in the rear). See the ones we purchased on our Recommended Products Page.
It’s important to ensure your wheels are fully supported by your leveling blocks. If your wheels are hanging off the block it puts stress on the sidewalls weakening them prematurely. This can lead to possible tire blow-outs, trust me you don’t want that to happen!
To start you’ll want to assess which wheels require blocking to bring your RV up to level. At this point, it’s okay to just eyeball it and make the call on how much you need to block your wheels to get it level. But as you get to know your rig you’ll quickly learn how much you need to block to get that bubble centered.
Leveling your RV goes a lot quicker if you have some to help. Since Beau is usually the driver, once we had surveyed our site and maneuvered more or less into position, assessed where and how much we needed to block, I hop out and grab the leveling blocks from the storage bins.
I then get the blocks lined up in front of the tires that needed to be raised and guide Beau onto them. Once we were up on our blocks we would assess the level of the RV.
At the beginning of our traveling days, we would do the counter water jug test since our round bubble level was untrustworthy from our renovation. Keep reading to learn why you should NOT use your COUNTER to check your RVs level.
Now that we have installed a proper bubble level and know it is level (I explain how later on) Beau can easily see once he’s driven onto the blocks if the RV is level or not, or at least level enough.
Sometimes, when we have misjudged the number of blocks needed we need to redo our leveling job. This involves driving off the blocks, adding or removing blocks then driving back on to them.
As you get more experienced RVing leveling your rig becomes a normal part of setting up camp and doesn’t take long at all.
Quick Leveling Tips:
How to Make Sure Your Level is Level
The bubble level in our RV was a circular style that is supposed to tell you the level of your RV in 360 deg. We didn’t trust it because it was installed on an L-bracket secured by a single screw. I’m sure it got bumped a few times during our renovations. (In retrospect I should have just removed it then to make painting easier).
I’ve also seen friends setting up their tent trailer and the level that was on the outside of the trailer was easily moved by hand while they were trying to get it level. Not a very accurate way to check the level of your rig if the level itself can move freely!
So to make sure your level is actually installed correctly you’ll use a torpedo level (the little 6 inch ones) in your freezer. Why your freezer? Well, it’s because the bottom of your freezer is metal and is not prone to warping the way the counter, floor and other parts of the fridge are.
You’ll go through the steps of leveling your RV but you’ll use the level in your freezer to check if you are actually level. Once you are near perfect you can check how your current indicator reads. If it’s off you can reinstall it or else you can replace it.
Ideally, you want two bubble levels with degree indicators. One will be installed to check level from front to back and the other to check from side to side.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Counter to Level
When we first started RVing instead of using our untrustworthy bubble level, we used the highly inaccurate method of feel and water jug on the counter. Ignoring the fact that eyeballing the water in a jug for level isn’t an accurate way of checking your RV for level just using a torpedo level on your counter isn’t the most reliable either.
The problem is most counters aren’t level themselves. During the installation, process counters can end up twisting due to pressure from the screws holding it down. Overtime screws can also loosen and corners of your counter can start to rise since they aren’t secure anymore.
Another issue is if the cabinets weren’t properly leveled before the counter was installed. If you install a flat surface on a non-level one you aren’t going to get very good results.
If you level your RV using your counter as your “level” surface you might think your RV is properly leveled but really your crooked counter is now level and the rest of your RV is a bit off kilter.
Stabilizing Does Not Equal Leveling
Stabilizing and leveling go hand in hand but they are two different things that require two different sets of equipment. Leveling is raising the RV to get that bubble centered. Stabilizing reduces the sway and wobble caused by movement inside the RV as well as from outside, i.e. wind and weather. Basically, it stops the “when the RV’s a-rockin so don’t come a-knockin” jokes.
First, you will level your RV then you will stabilize. Stabilizing jacks come in many forms but should never be used to support the RV’s weight. Not only will this damage the stabilizers themselves but the frame of the rig can be damaged too.
Stabilizers work by creating a firm contact point between the ground and the structure of your rig. Some come with built-in stabilizer jacks or scissor jacks that work off an electric motor. Others have to be manually cranked or can be extended using a drill.
If your rig has jacks installed but you’re not sure if they are leveling or stabilizing jacks, a good rule of thumb is that stabilizers are electric while levelers are hydraulic.
Now that you know the importance of leveling your rig, how to level your rig and how to check if your level is actually level you can feel confident when you set up camp that you are ready to enjoy your RV safely and comfortably at least from a level perspective.