Keeping Things Nice and Steady: A Deep Dive into RV Leveling Systems

Ah yes, the modern convenience of automated leveling systems. No longer do I have to spend 30 frustrating minutes crouched outside with a stack of wooden blocks, trying to get my home on wheels situated just right. Now with the press of a button after parking, hydraulic jacks and sensors do all the work for me!

But how exactly do these high-tech gadgets work their magic? Come along on a deep dive as I nerd out over all the technical details and inner workings of RV leveling systems.

Keeping It Stable: The Lowdown on RV Leveling Systems

Before we get into the nitty gritty details, let’s quickly cover the basics of RV leveling systems. Their main purpose is to keep the RV parked on an even plane, avoiding a tilted orientation. This prevents stress on components, makes movement inside easier, and provides a comfortable sleeping surface.

There are a few main ways modern RVs can self-level:

Hydraulic Jacks: Most common are 4-6 powerful jacks that extend from the frame and can lift the wheels off the ground. Level sensors automatically adjust each jack’s height.

Air Suspension: Uses air bags as “helper springs” that can alter ride height. Combined with sensors, they self-adjust to keep the RV level.

Stabilizer Jacks: Also called “scissors jacks”, they don’t lift but apply downward force to discourage rocking.

Some systems combine hydraulic jacks with air suspension or stabilizers for maximum effectiveness. There are also slide-out mechanisms with built-in jacks to keep room extensions level.

Now that we’ve got the general idea, let’s move on to the magic ingredients that make self-leveling possible: the sensors!

The Inner Ears of an RV: All About Leveling Sensors

Level sensor is a catch-all term for devices that detect slope, tilt, vibration, and orientation. They’re the “inner ear” of an RV, providing constant feedback to the control system. Different designs exist, each with pros and cons:

Pendulum Tilt Sensors

These work exactly like your inner ear – using a weighted pendulum level with gravity. Simple and robust, but low precision.

Reminds me of a trip through the Appalachians. My RV was parked slightly askew at a campsite with a noticeable tilt inside. My morning coffee had dribbled all over the counter thanks to the exaggerated slope made clear by my pendulum kitchen level!

Electrolytic Tilt Sensors

Uses conductive liquid and electrodes to detect tilt angle based on changes in electrical resistance. Very accurate and responsive.

On a weekend trip to the coast, my RV’s electrolytic tilt sensors did a bang-up job keeping things precisely level despite camping on the side of a steep sand dune! Felt just like home.

MEMS Accelerometers

Uses microscopic mechanical parts on a silicon chip to detect acceleration and orientation in 3 axes. Highly accurate and versatile.

Accelerometers are a technical marvel – giving the leveling system an extremely precise 3D view of the RV’s orientation. Helps correct both fore-aft and side-to-side tilt when parked on uneven ground.


Measures angular velocity in 3 axes. Used with accelerometers to accurately track motion and positioning.

This powerful combo means gyroscopes and accelerometers can spot even the slightest deviation from level and kick the jacks into action!

Dual Axis Inclinometers

Measures tilt angles on two perpendicular axes using electrolytic fluid or a pendulum. Simple and compact.

Low-cost dual axis models work well for basic leveling needs. I used them for a lean-to shed I built, though RV systems demand higher precision.

Level Sensors

Directly detect if the RV is plumb and level, even on extreme slopes. Pendulum style, electrolytic vial, or bubble levels are common technologies.

Having multiple types of orientation sensors is crucial for a robust leveling system. It provides divergent data for cross-checking and accuracy!

Now let’s move on to actuators – the muscle that lifts and adjusts the RV:

Keeping Things Lifted: Hydraulic & Pneumatic Leveling Actuators

All those sensors would be useless if not for the mechanical systems they command to keep the RV on the straight and level. Hydraulic jacks and air suspension are the heavy lifters:

Hydraulic Jacks

These powerful jacks extend from the frame and can lift the entire RV’s weight. Each has an electric hydraulic pump and ram powered by 12V DC.

I opted for 6 point hydraulic leveling for maximum stability. The 20,000 lb lift capacity makes light work of getting my 8,000 lb trailer perfectly level!

Hydraulic jacks are placed at critical points:

  • Front – Counteracts hitch weight
  • Rear – Evens out rear load
  • Side – Corrects left/right tilt

Air Suspension

Uses compressed air to adjust “helper springs” that change ride height. Combined with sensors, it self-levels by altering the air pressure.

Air suspension is great for minor leveling needs, but hydraulic jacks do the real heavy lifting. I use both for optimal performance!

There are a few air spring designs:

Trailing arms connect the axle to chassis and pivot to change ride height

Air bellows are rubber sleeves that lift the chassis when inflated. More heavy duty.

Shock absorber style are similar but smaller and not as robust.

Of course all these mechanisms would just chaotically flail about without some brains directing the operation:

Masterminds of Leveling: Control Units & Software

The smarts behind self-leveling lies in the controller unit and software running the show:

Control Unit

This is the “brain” that takes in sensor data and executes leveling functions via electric motors and valves that operate jacks or air systems.

My Lippert Level Up system has a central touchscreen control unit. The software is intuitive and walks me through the automatic process. I can also control jacks individually if needed.

Built-In Logic

Programming guides the leveling process:

  1. Orientation: Takes static measurements of slope and tilt from sensors
  2. Analysis: Compares measurements to ideal level state
  3. Action: Sends signals to extend jacks or adjust air pressure accordingly

This logic allows incremental adjustments and cross-checks. My system repeats the process until reaching an allowable margin of leveling error.

Automated Sequences

Self-leveling uses pre-programmed routines for common scenarios:

  • All jacks down: Extends jacks to frame contact in preparation for leveling
  • Auto level: Tilts, raises, and lowers jacks as needed to find level
  • Retract jacks: Returns the RV to road-ready ride height

The sequences are optimized to minimize abrupt movements and shaking inside the RV. Overall an impressive automated system!

Of course with so many mechanical parts and sensors, there’s still potential for hiccups:

When Things Get Out of Whack: Troubleshooting Leveling Issues

Like any complex mechanism, leveling systems can malfunction. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Tilt sensor misalignment: If installed incorrectly, they’ll provide inaccurate orientation data. Laser alignment tools can recalibrate.

Hydraulic fluid leaks: Damaged hoses, seals, or valves will cause jack malfunction. Time for replacement parts!

Faulty angle measurements: Bad sensor data leads to improper leveling. Test and replace the problematic tilt, accelerometer or inclinometer component.

Air pressure errors: Over/under-inflation will prevent proper leveling. Find air leaks and re-calibrate air spring sensors.

Control unit issues: Software glitches or failed electronics can cause erratic jack movement or non-response. May require expert recalibration or replacement.

With sensors and software calibrating the system during use, most issues stem from leaky hydraulics, damaged suspension air bags, or physical sensor failures. But a technician can troubleshoot any electrical gremlins in the brains of the operation too.

While problems are usually repairable, anything compromising stability or safety requires immediate service. Refrain from overnighting until it’s fixed!

Now that we’ve covered the intricacies of these clever systems, let’s discuss why they’re so invaluable for RVers:

Why Leveling Technology is a Game Changer

After many nights spent sleeping in questionable angles, I’m convinced automatic leveling is a total game changer for the modern RVer:

Total convenience – At camp, just push a button and hydraulic jacks seamlessly level without any manual effort. It’s brilliant!

No more stacking blocks – Gone are the days of playing a precarious game of leveling block Tetris.

Reduced setup time – Leveling and stabilizing takes just minutes versus nearly an hour of frustration. More time to enjoy the sights!

Improved stability – Multiple heavy-duty jacks provide superior support compared to just a few blocks. I feel much more secure.

Decreased wear and tear – Eliminates suspension stress from prolonged angled parking. Helps appliances, fixtures and systems last longer.

Easier movement inside – With the RV nice and level, I don’t feel like I’m stumbling sideways as I walk down the hall!

Enhanced comfort – Sleeping and lounging is much more relaxed without feeling tilted.

Emergency auto-retract – If a jack fails, built-in redundancy safely retracts them for travel. Crucial safety feature.

Leveling tech has definitely improved the RV experience. Chocking wheels and stabilizing by hand is now a distant memory. My mobile cabin is perfectly level at the push of a button thanks to sensor-assisted jacks!

Keep On Keeping On: Tips for RV Leveling Success

Based on my experience, here are some tips for selecting, using, and maintaining RV leveling systems:

  • Choose hydraulic jacks with capacity 25-35% over your RV’s weight for optimal stability and minimal strain.
  • Opt for systems using accurate accelerometers and gyros that provide precision 3D data.
  • Make sure your jacks extend fully before auto-level sequence to allow full range of motion.
  • Take it slow on initial descent – let jacks down gently to avoid chassis shuddering.
  • Extend slide-outs prior to leveling for best performance.
  • For manual operation, level front to back first before side to side.
  • Inspect hydraulics yearly for leaks. Repair any drifting or sagging air bags.
  • Keep control panels and interior sensors away from moisture and extreme temps.
  • Automated leveling removes guesswork and frustration! Trust the technology.

Follow those tips and your RV’s leveling gear should keep you comfy and stable for years of adventures. Time to hit the road and put it to the test! Where to next?

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