A look at the various types of leveling systems and components available to motorhome owners today.
By Lazelle Jones
Not too many years ago, just about every motorhome owner had to dedicate an exterior storage bay “” or a good amount of space inside the vehicle “” to a collection of wood blocks. This wood wasn’t to be used as campfire fuel, but rather served a much more important purpose to the RVer. It was used to level the motorhome upon arrival at the campsite.
Armed with a bubble level, the owner would maneuver the motorhome as close to even as possible. Once the bubble came to rest in the level’s bull’s-eye, the job was complete. However, too many times the uneven surface of the campsite made it impossible to center the bubble. At that point, it was time to pull out the wood blocks. One or more blocks would be placed in front of or behind the wheel or wheels that needed to be raised, and the motorhome would be driven onto the blocks. This was far from an exact science, so it might take the driver several tries, adding a block under one tire and taking away a block from another, before the motorhome reached a level state.
Fortunately, RV builders and suppliers came up with a different solution: leveling jacks. What follows is an explanation of the different types of leveling systems and components available, how they operate, and some tips on how to keep them working properly.
Why A Leveling System?
The purpose of a leveling system is to make the interior living area of the motorhome both level and stable when a campsite or destination is reached. When a coach is level, it looks and feels right to those inside and looks right on the outside. This yields a subtle but substantive type of creature comfort. For example, when a coach is not level, it can be detected when you lie in bed, and becomes evident when items placed on countertops move about on their own. For the cook working in the galley, it becomes more difficult to measure liquids when the counter is slanted in one direction. Sinks, tubs, showers, and dish and clothes washers drain and operate properly when the motorhome is level. If a coach is not stable, movement by those in the front of the motorhome can be felt by those sleeping in the rear.
A level motorhome also will reduce or eliminate twisting stress that’s put on the chassis and frame. Slideout rooms, skid-mounted gen sets, and even awnings operate more efficiently when the motorhome is level. For example, slideout rooms articulate in and out smoothly, and the seals around the openings seat correctly in both the extended and retracted positions. Properly set seals prevent outside ambient temperatures and elements from intruding into the motorhome.
Most leveling systems are installed by the motorhome builder at the factory and are original or optional equipment when a coach is purchased new. However, for those wishing to add or replace an existing leveling system, all is not lost, because aftermarket leveling systems are available. Depending on the type of motorhome and leveling system selected, the installation may need to be done by a qualified service technician.
Components And Configurations
If you decide to have a leveling system installed on your motorhome, you must first determine which type would be appropriate for your situation. There are three types of systems based on the motive force used to level the motorhome: air pressure, hydraulic pressure, and electric motors.
In an air-leveling system, the suspension’s air bags are inflated or deflated to achieve a level condition. Pneumatic leveling systems utilize an onboard air compressor to inflate the individual air bags as needed. The system’s computer may periodically recheck to verify that the coach is maintaining a level condition and, if needed, activate the compressor to make the necessary corrections. For motorhomes equipped with air-ride suspensions, the leveling system computer may add and subtract air from the appropriate air bag(s) to maintain the stability of the vehicle when turning corners, driving in high crosswind situations, and traveling over uneven roads.
Hydraulic and electric levelers are considered mechanical systems, because they have jacks that extend or retract to level the motorhome. A hydraulic leveling system utilizes either one central pump and valves or localized individual pumps and valves to operate the jacks. For an aftermarket installation, this can be an important consideration depending upon the location of each jack and the room available for installation. Electric jacks utilize motors at each jack with gearing on the motor shaft and on the piston to extend and retract the jack.
A pivoting foot or pad is attached to the end of each jack to provide a flat, stable contact surface with the ground when the jacks are extended. For a larger “footprint,” you might consider putting wood or plastic jack pads under the jack feet to assure that the jacks don’t sink into soft ground or asphalt. Make sure to use wood that is at least 3/4-inch thick to support the weight of the motorhome. Retracting the jacks can be accomplished by using the same motive force that extended them, or through the use of heavy metal coil springs on each of the legs that pull the jacks back into travel position.
There are three types of mechanical jacks: straight-acting, kick-down, and scissors. Straight-acting jacks articulate in and out (extend/retract). Kick-down jacks also articulate in and out but are hinged near the bottom of the leg to provide drive-off protection. Scissors jacks have jaws that open and close.
Mechanical leveling systems can employ two, three, or four jacks. On a three-jack system, a single jack is located and attached to the frame at the front of the coach. The remaining two jacks are attached to the coach frame at the aft end of the coach. On a four-jack system, two jacks are attached to the frame at the front (typically just aft of the front axle) and two are attached to the frame near the rear axle. Two-jack systems for small motorhomes typically are installed at the rear end of the coach.
Today’s state-of-the-art leveling systems (be they mechanical or air bag based) usually incorporate a computer that does all of the work to level the coach. The system control panel typically will be located to the left of the steering wheel. Some control panels feature an automatic function in which the computer brings the coach level with the touch of a single button. Many control panels also can be manually operated. Some systems include a bubble gauge to indicate the fore-and-aft and side-to-side planes of the coach.
Control panels can include a joystick-type or push-button controller. Indicator lights (red and/or green) may be included to tell the operator when the coach is level; which corner needs to be raised or lowered; whether one or more of the legs are not fully retracted; and when the jacks are up and the coach is ready for travel.
As with other motorhome systems and components, the leveling system may require some type of maintenance. The specific maintenance required will be included in the leveling system’s operating manual.
Typically, you should perform a regular visual inspection of the system and routinely check the foot pad mounting bolts. Periodically operate and exercise the leveling system (valves, pumps, motors, etc.) when the coach is in storage or idle for any extended period of time. For hydraulic systems, you may need to check the hydraulic fluid and change it at the recommended intervals as outlined in the owners manual. Occasionally, you may need to spray road grime or mud from the jacks or foot pads with a hose or pressure washer. Lubricate the jacks only according to the recommendations supplied in the owners manual.
Motorhome Leveling & Stabilizing Systems
Atwood Mobile Products LLC
Atwood’s leveling system for motorhomes utilizes four electric-powered jacks. The jacks are selected based on the gross axle weight ratings of both the front and rear axles. Atwood offers three jack sizes: 7,500 pounds, 10,000 pounds, and 15,000 pounds. Atwood’s leveling systems come with Auto Position Control, which allows users to automatically level the motorhome at the touch of a button. The jacks can be installed with either bolt-on or weld-on mounting bracket kits.
Atwood Mobile Products LLC
1120 N. Main St.
Elkhart, IN 46514
Barker Manufacturing Company
The Outrigger is an aftermarket stabilizing system for Type C motorhomes. The jacks are powered by 12-volt-DC motors and mount on the rear of the RV. The unique out-and-down lowering of the large foot pads provides stabilization. Each jack is capable of lifting 1,500 pounds, and each foot pad measures 4 inches by 4.5 inches. Outrigger jacks are constructed of heavy-duty, powder-coated steel and rustproof aluminum. The system includes two jacks along with mounting hardware, switches, and installation and operating instructions. Four models are available to accommodate different frame-to-ground-distance heights.
Barker Manufacturing Company
730 E. Michigan Ave.
Battle Creek, MI 49016-0460
(269) 965-2371 www.barkermfg.com
The folks at Equalizer Systems design and build the MH-4 SL/16 model hydraulic-powered leveling system for Type A and Type C motorhomes. For larger diesel motor coaches they offer the MH-4 DP hydraulic model. The DP jacks feature a taller design with more stroke and lifting capacity. Both systems are four-point (or four-jack) systems that feature Auto-Level, the company’s patented one-touch push-button system that is said to level a coach in two minutes. The touch pad also features automatic All Retract, which stows the legs for travel. A manual override can be used at any time. Audible and visual indicators warn the operator of any pending drive-off situations that may cause problems (such as a leg not being fully retracted).
The company also offers an electric-powered system called the Stabi-Lite for Type B and Type C motorhomes that’s designed to prevent the coach from leaning when a slideout room is extended, and to prevent swaying when occupants are moving about the vehicle. It includes a set of two stabilizer jacks with risers, and it features clamp-style mounts that require no welding or drilling to install. The Stabi-Lite System offers one-touch automatic operation. It adds less than 80 pounds to the gross vehicle weight of the motorhome and is designed specifically for motorhomes built on Ford E-350, Ford E-450, Chevrolet C-5500, and Dodge Sprinter chassis.
P.O. Box 668, 55169 C.R. 3 N.
Elkhart, IN 46514
HWH has been making RV leveling systems since the 1970s. Their leveling systems feature individual components manufactured in-house, with their jacks designed and built specific to each vehicle. Because RV front loads typically are less than loads at the rear, the jacks are sized accordingly. HWH has mounting brackets for every common chassis and suspension combination, with the brackets and jacks placed at the ideal suspension points for proper leveling and to reduce stress on the chassis and the shell. The company’s Bi-Axis leveling logic design raises sides or ends of the motorhome in tandem rather than raising individual corners one at a time.
All HWH systems include hydraulic-powered, straight-acting, power-up and power-down jacks with capacities that range from 3,000 to 24,000 pounds per jack. The company offers both fixed and pivot-style jacks. The pivoting jacks extend outward rather than straight down, allowing the motorhome sides to be lifted with minimal sliding of the jack foot. Both jack styles utilize large pivoting ball-and-socket foot pad connections to reduce stress on the rods and to maximize foot-to-ground contact and stability. The jacks are corrosion-protected.
The HWH Computer-Controlled Air Leveling System is available for motorhomes equipped with air-bag suspensions. It automatically levels the coach and then rechecks for a level condition every 30 minutes. If the vehicle has dropped out of level, an air compressor restores the level condition. The air system is ideal for short layovers, while the hydraulic jacks provide stability for longer stops. The Computer-Controlled Air/Hydraulic Leveling System controls both leveling systems with a single computer and touch panel. HWH controls range from a manual joystick-type controller to a computer-controlled automatic system.
The company’s single-step Leveleze computer-controlled hydraulic leveling system allows the operator to level the coach with the touch of one button. The computer selects the fastest, most efficient way to level the vehicle. It also can be operated manually. The controller features a touch panel with yellow level indicator lights when manual operation is desired, and red “jack down” indicator lights. The Manual Joystick Controller is a hands-on controller with an integrated Leveleze light package.
To save weight, space, and cost, all HWH systems (power steps, interior step covers, pocket doors, awnings, slideouts, etc.) can be powered off a central unit called the HWH Systems Control Module. The controller comes standard with the Active Air suspension feature, a four-point electronically controlled air-suspension system that rapidly adjusts the suspension system toward proper height. HWH Active Air senses movements caused by wind, curvy roads, and other conditions and adjusts the individual air bags to the proper ride height. When cornering, the system automatically reduces roll by increasing outer air bag inflation while reducing inner air bag inflation. Active Air includes the HWH Air Leveling system.
For smaller coaches, HWH offers a single-step, push-button controller that levels and stabilizes the motorhome with the push of a button.
2096 Moscow Road
Moscow, IA 52760
Lippert Components Inc.
Lippert’s four-point leveling systems are hydraulically powered and feature aluminum construction that includes anodized aluminum alloy jack legs and solid aluminum rods with an impregnated hard-coat finish to prevent pitting that can tear seals and cause failure. This leveling system can be operated in the automatic mode or in the manual mode. Other features include an auto-retract drive-off system and an excess slope LED that is mounted on the control panel. Lippert leveling jacks operate in pairs and power both extension and retraction movements. Because of their aluminum construction, Lippert’s leveling systems weigh a total of 70 pounds on average.
Lippert Components Inc.
2703 College Ave.
Goshen, IN 46528
Power Gear Products
Power Gear offers four hydraulic PowerLevel leveling systems to accommodate most Type A motorhomes. All are one-touch, automatic systems. The Heavy Duty with Tag Axle system is used on motorhomes with gross vehicle weight ratings of 54,000 pounds, while the Heavy Duty version is for vehicles with GVWRs of up to 36,000 pounds. Both use hydraulics for extension and retraction. The Medium Duty system handles motorhomes with a GVWR of up to 30,000 pounds, and the Light Duty is applicable for vehicles with GVWRs of up to 18,000 pounds. These systems use hydraulics for extension and springs for retraction. PowerLevel jacks have lifting capacities from 6,000 pounds to 22,000 pounds. Power Gear leveling systems can be purchased only through warehouse distributors or RV dealers.
Power Gear Products
1217 E. Seventh St.
Mishawaka, IN 46544
Powerplus Leveling Systems
PowerPlus Leveling Systems are designed to accommodate Type A, B, and C motorhomes. The company’s totally electric systems include either two or four jacks. Each jack is powered by a high-torque, water-resistant electric motor to extend and retract. Just press a button and the computer does the rest; however, a manual override switch for each jack is included. With the PowerPlus Standard and Basic control systems, each jack is operated by a single switch. More than one jack can be operated at a time; all four jacks can be extended or retracted together; or two jacks can be moved in tandem. After being lowered, the jacks are mechanically locked.
When using the auto extend switch on the automatic control, all four jacks come down and stop approximately 1 inch from the ground, allowing the operator to position jack pads under the feet. When the switch is pushed a second time, the jacks extend again to level the motorhome.
PowerPlus Leveling Systems can be upgraded from a two-jack stabilizing system to a four-jack leveling system. Users also can change controllers from a standard system to the company’s advanced Computerized Automatic Control System.
PowerPlus Leveling Systems
6605 N. Nebraska Ave.
Tampa, FL 33604
Quadra Manufacturing Inc.
Quadra Manufacturing has been in the business of designing and building leveling systems for 22 years. The company offers the Bigfoot leveling system, with foot pad sizes of 100 square inches, and applications to fit any Type A or Type C motorhome. The systems provide weight capacities of 17,00o pounds per jack on diesel pusher motorhomes and 12,000 pounds per jack on gasoline-powered Type A and C units. Featuring an all-in-one control panel, the Bigfoot is a fully automatic four-point, four-pump hydraulic system that levels the coach (to within a quarter of a degree) with the push of one button.
Quadra also offers the Bigfoot EZE system, which utilizes a single-pump design with a simple 3-inch-by-4-inch touch-pad control panel. To prevent the frame/chassis from twisting, this system powers two jacks simultaneously. The operator manually levels the coach by pushing the appropriate buttons. This lightweight hydraulic system can add as little as 170 pounds to the coach.
305 U.S. 131 S., P.O. Box 536
White Pigeon, MI 49099
RVA offers a full line of push-button leveling systems for Type A motorhomes. All systems feature three-point leveling that is remote-controlled from the driver’s seat. The controller includes a multiple warning system with a flashing red light and bong alarm to alert the user of the jack position. RVA Jacks can be obtained in kit form as an accessory or as standard equipment in many motorhomes.
The five JII RVA models include the 16A (16,000 pounds GVW); 22.5A (22,500 pounds GVW); 32 (32,000 pounds GVW); 35 (35,000 pounds GVW); and 45 (45,000 pounds GVW). All feature push-button control and all-directional swivel foot pads. There are two additional springs per jack for retraction on all but the 16A system. The foot pad size for the 16A, 22.5A, and 32 models measures 50 square inches, while the contact area for the 35 and 45 models is 75 square inches. The control system incorporates an automatic “ALL-Jacks-RETRACT” feature that’s activated by pressing one button. An adjustable dash-mounted lighted bubble level is standard.
320 N. Market Place
Escondido, CA 92029
Valid Manufacturing Ltd.
The Valid Trueline Leveling System is an automatic one-step leveling system designed specifically for RV and specialty vehicle applications. The system can be air, hydraulic, or a combination of both. Trueline utilizes accelerometer technology to measure along three separate axes (across front and rear axles, and longitudinally) of the vehicle chassis to check for both level and twist.
The control process is automated to simplify operation with one-touch leveling. The Trueline system also allows for manual leveling and low-speed maneuvering in manual mode. After a level condition has been achieved, the Trueline also provides for overall coach height adjustment.
Valid Manufacturing Ltd.
5320-B 48th Ave. S.E.
Salmon Arm, BC, Canada V1E 1X2
On The Level (PDF) — includes diagrams and photos