By Greg Illes
For new RVers leveling seems pretty straightforward. The most difficult thing seems to be getting that pesky bubble centered in the level. This is challenging when using leveling ramps or blocks, but less so when using leveling jacks.
But there are some nuances to leveling and they’re worth the understanding. Leveling actually consists of two distinct components, front-to-back and side-to-side. These have very different needs and caveats.
When you level your rig from front-to-back, the biggest concern when using jacks is raising the wheels off the ground. If you are on a significant slope, getting the rig level can require that one end rise high enough to put air under tires. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it can be horribly dangerous if you reduce or eliminate rear-wheel traction. Whether you are in “Park” and/or have your parking brake set, the only way it is effective is through the rear wheels.
My preference is to select a parking site where I have to raise the front wheels for leveling. This lets the rears stay solidly on the ground. If this isn’t possible, there are two choices: one, chock the front wheels (risky); two, raise the rear wheels on ramps instead of jacks. For these reasons, even though I do have leveling jacks on my RV, I like to carry ramps as well.
When you level side-to-side, you must again use either jacks or ramps. But here the situation changes somewhat. Yes, you still have the same worries about the parking-brake wheels leaving the ground (don’t). But there is also a more subtle concern. When the rig tilts left or right, the suspension sway bars (front and rear) begin to be stressed while trying to level the axles with respect to the chassis. What this means is that if you park on a significantly side-sloped site, by leveling the rig with jacks you strongly stress the sway bar bushings for many long hours instead of the brief loads they were designed for. Consequently, it’s better to level large side-to-side discrepancies by using ramps instead of jacks. The ramps will keep your axles parallel to the chassis and eliminate sway bar stress. This is another reason that I carry ramps in my jacks-equipped rig.
How good is good?
Initially, I thought that bubble had to be CENTERED. After all (I’m an engineer), why call it level if it’s not? Well, after a while I came to realize that it’s the feel and comfort that really count. If I didn’t feel “tilted,” then the rig was level enough. Turns out, this equates to about a half-bubble on my indicator. If that elusive little critter is within a half-diameter of center, I usually feel pretty level.
Paying attention to these subtleties will pay dividends in safety — for you and your rig.
Editor’s note: Keep in mind the happiness of your RV refrigerator. If you have an older fridge, keeping the rig within a third of a bubble (as measured inside the freezer box) is the “accepted” safe range for keeping your refrigerator away from a potentially damaging condition.