Does a Travel Trailer Have to Be Perfectly Level?

You may be wondering – how level does my travel trailer really need to be when I park it? It’s a great question. After all, a travel trailer is designed to be mobile, so it can’t be expected to sit perfectly level all the time. However, there are some very good reasons why you’ll want to get your trailer as close to level as possible whenever you set up camp.

The Refrigerator Needs to Be Level

One of the most important reasons to level your travel trailer is so that the refrigerator will work properly. Unlike your refrigerator at home, the one in your RV doesn’t have a compressor. Instead, it uses an absorption system that relies on gravity and tilted coils to circulate the refrigerant.

If the RV is not level, the refrigerant can’t flow like it should. Food will not stay as cold, and the fridge may even stop cooling altogether. Worst case scenario, operating it at too steep an angle for a long period can cause permanent damage. I found this out the hard way on a trip through the Rockies one summer. After a night on a 15 degree slope, the fridge died completely! Luckily I was carrying a cooler as a backup, but it was an inconvenience I never want to repeat.

So to keep your perishables from perishing, you’ll want to get your rig level enough that the fridge is within just a few degrees of true level. The manual will recommend no more than 3-4 degrees off, but I like to get it as close as I can. Just a degree or two off level is usually fine. Visually, about 1/2 of one bubble off on a small bubble level is about the limit.

Towing Safety

Driving a large trailer properly leveled also gives you better control and a more stable, safer towing experience. Having one side significantly lower than the other can cause swaying, fishtailing, and make the trailer more likely to bottom out over bumps or dips in the road. This unstable situation makes quick maneuvers more difficult and increases the chances of a tire blowout or insane “Oh no we’re all going to die” moments!

I’ll never forget the time I was hauling a rental trailer through Kansas. Came over a hill and there was an accident blocking the interstate – slammed on the brakes and swerved just in time, but the trailer started to fishtail something fierce. I barely managed to keep ‘er straight and avoid a deadly multi-vehicle pileup. My knuckles were white that day for sure. Ever since then, I’m extra careful to distribute weight evenly and keep things as level as possible before heading out.

Comfort and Safety Inside

Having a level rig is also important for basic comfort and safety inside the trailer once you’ve parked. Appliances work better, plumbing drains properly, you don’t feel like you’re sleeping on a slope, and walking around is less likely to turn into an acrobatic stumbling act after you’ve had a few beers.

As a klutz myself, I’ve had some painful spills and embarrassing wipeouts in unlevel trailers over the years – including the time my favorite lava lamp tipped over and shattered all over the floor at 3am when I got up to pee in Dead Horse Point, Utah. Would’ve been less hazardous if I had taken the time to get the trailer a bit more level!

Accurate Water Tank Readings

When checking your fresh and grey water levels, you want the panel gauge readings to be correct. Same goes for properly using and washing dishes in the kitchen sink. Significant tilt will give you false readings and make the sink drain poorly.

Nothing’s worse than thinking you have empty grey and black tanks, only to end up overflowing them because your trailer was off-level! I helped a buddy clean up a messy learning experience like that at Joshua Tree National Park. Still gives me the heebie-jeebies thinking about that soupy scene. A few minutes with the stabilizers and a level could’ve saved him bigtime.

Prevent Slide Out Binding

If your unit has slide-outs, they can bind up and get damaged if the trailer is too far off level. The slides rely partially on gravity to slide in and out smoothly. Let the slope get too steep, and you can end up forcing them over time and burning up the motors.

My neighbors had major slide issues that ended up costing $1500+ to repair, probably because they rarely leveled properly. I always take the extra time to get my 5th wheel nice and even – keeps the slides gliding like butter. A bubble level on the slide itself helps dial it in just right. Prevent the hassle and get your trailer square with the ground. Your wallet and your sanity will thank you!

How Perfectly Level is “Level Enough”?

Alright, so it’s clear you’ll want to get your trailer as level as you reasonably can. But you don’t need to chase absolute perfection either. Getting every single bubble 100% centered simply isn’t practical out in the real world.

Most recommend getting your rig level within a couple degrees side-to-side and front-to-back. Usually under 2-3 degrees off is considered good enough. For a visual reference, that’s about 1/2 a bubble off on a small vial level.

If you’re close to that standard, any tilt should be minimal enough that the appliances work fine, everything drains properly, and the slides andfixtures operate smoothly. Just use your best judgment – if everything seems to be functioning normally and you’re not experiencing major leaning, then your leveling is likely adequate.

Certain rigs and floorplans may be a little more forgiving than others when slightly unlevel. Some trailer brands like Airstreams have designs that adapt well to unevenness. My 22′ Casita handles modest slopes like a champ. But it’s still smart practice to get all trailers as close to level as realistically possible.

Leveling Methods

Alright, let’s dive into the practical part – how do you actually get your trailer level? There are a few different approaches, each with their pros and cons. Which options you choose will depend on your budget, how often you camp, and the features included with your trailer model.

Lynx Levelers

One popular option is driving up on Lynx Levelers. These are stacked plastic or metal blocks that raise up the low side of the trailer once you’ve parked. They take the place of a jack for quick, simple leveling.

I keep several sets of these around. They’re lightweight, pack up small, and make getting level a breeze. Position under the tires wherever the trailer is dipping. Drive forward slowly until the rig is stable. Blocks can stack in different configurations based on the amount of lift needed.

Downsides are that you have to buy multiple sets to level both sides, and it takes some trial and error to get just right. Also, not ideal for long term camping in the same spot. But for weekenders and frequent hitchers who change locations often, Lynx Levelers are fantastic. Around $25-50 per set of four, they’re affordable too.

Scissor Jacks

Many travel trailers (especially 5th wheels) come with manual scissor jacks on each corner. Crank them down to raise that corner until your trailer sits evenly. Often quicker than stacking blocks.

But most stock scissor jacks aren’t meant for significant lifting. If you’re camping somewhere quite uneven, their max height may not cut it. Replacing with more heavy-duty 10k or 15k aftermarket scissor jacks can help.

I installed bigger jacks on my 5th wheel after scraping my underbelly too many times pulling into marginal sites. The bigger jacks give me more confidence and stability on uneven ground. Caution though – manually cranking bigger jacks gets tiring on your arms!

Power Tongue Jack

An electric tongue jack on the hitch is hugely helpful to get the front of your trailer level by just pushing a button. I put one on my 5th wheel and will never go back. Takes all the effort out of cranking up the front end.

Combining a power tongue jack with a few scissor jacks makes getting level easy as pie. Just remember to recharge the battery every few trips. Some are even solar powered now so you never have to plug in.

Hydraulic Leveling Systems

The creme de la creme are full hydraulic auto leveling systems. Found on higher end RVs, these use electronically controlled jacks on each corner to automatically level the rig with the touch of a button. They’re amazing, but expensive – anywhere from $4000-6000 installed.

I dream of having this on my rig one day. For now, I’ll keep leveling the old fashioned way. But if money were no object, hydraulic auto level is one luxury I’d spring for in a heartbeat!

Be Patient and Get In a Routine

Getting your trailer truly level does take a bit of time and effort compared to simply unhitching and calling it good. But forming consistent leveling habits from the start will save you hassles down the road.

Take it slow and be patient. Try to park on flatter ground as much as possible. Invest in quality leveling gear that meets your needs. And get in a rhythm of using tongue jacks, scissor jacks, and/or blocks in the proper sequence and amounts.

Leveling your trailer thoroughly each time might add 5-10 minutes to your setup. But that’s a small price to pay for saving appliances from damage, preventing embarrassing falls, and ensuring you get a good night’s sleep! As long as you have the right gear and get in a groove, getting level can become a quick, painless part of your camp routine.

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