Keeping Things on the Level: A Guide to Auto-Leveling Systems for RVs

So you’ve got yourself a shiny new Class A motorhome – congrats! Those big, beautiful machines are a dream to drive on the open road. But when it comes time to park at your campsite, things can get tricky. Getting your rig perfectly level makes sleeping, cooking, and just hanging out way more comfortable. But who wants to fuss with stacks of wood blocks and bubble levels multiple times a day? That’s where auto-leveling systems come in handy!

These clever gadgets use high-tech sensors and hydraulic or electric jacks to get your coach sitting just right, at the push of a button. As someone who’s leveled many an RV manually, let me tell you – it’s a total game changer. Keep reading for the lowdown on the different auto-leveling options out there, so you can decide which one is right for your home on wheels.

Hydraulic Systems: The Gold Standard for Leveling

Hydraulic auto-leveling systems are the tried and true choice of many RV manufacturers. HWH and Equalizer are two of the biggest names in the biz. These systems use a centralized hydraulic pump, activated by an electric switch inside your coach. The pump pressurizes hydraulic fluid to extend heavy-duty jacks located at each corner of the RV.

Sensors at the jacks relay information back to the control panel so you can see when you’ve reached level. Most also have an automatic shutoff feature once level is achieved. The hydraulic systems provide plenty of power to lift even the heaviest rigs on uneven terrain.

Key Benefits:

  • Powerful lifting capacity – Can handle big, heavy coaches even on uneven sites
  • Precise leveling – Hydraulic cylinders allow micro-adjustments to get perfectly level
  • Automated process – Push-button operation levels coach in about a minute
  • Durable components – Made to handle frequent leveling cycles and rugged conditions

The major downside is that hydraulic systems require maintenance like fluid changes and are pricier to repair if something breaks. But their strength and precision make hydraulics the top choice for many full-timers and luxury RV owners.

Cost Considerations:

Hydraulic leveling systems range from $4,000-8,000 installed. More jacks for bigger rigs means higher cost. Popular brands include:

  • HWH IPS: Around $5,500 for 4-point system
  • Equalizer Stabilizer: Around $4,500 for 4-jack system

Installation labor adds $500-1,500+ to the total cost.

Electric Systems: A Budget-Friendly Alternative

For motorhome owners looking to save some cash, electric auto-levelers are a great option. Instead of hydraulic fluid, these systems use electric motors and gearboxes to extend and retract heavy-duty screw jacks.

Brands like Power Gear and Atwood make reliable electric levelers. The basic operation is similar – push a button and let the system work its magic. Electric systems take a bit longer to level and may not have quite as much lifting power per jack. But they get the job done for a fraction of the price.

Advantages of Electric:

  • Lower equipment cost – Systems under $2,000, installation extra
  • Minimal maintenance – No fluids to change like hydraulic
  • Simple, quiet operation – Electric motors run smooth and quiet
  • Lightweight, compact design – Allows flexible jack placement

The trade-off is that electric models may struggle lifting heavier coaches on extreme angles. But for moderately sized, newer RVs on fairly level sites, an electric system offers a lot of value.

Budget Options to Consider:

  • Atwood 8012 Power Leveler: 4-jack kit under $1,500
  • Power Gear 501E4: 4-jack system around $1,800
  • Lippert Ground Control: Starts around $1,200 for 3-jack

Installation fees typically add $400-800 for wiring and labor.

Manual Leveling – Old School But Has Its Place

Let’s not forget the classic method of RV leveling – hand cranks and stackable plastic or metal leveling blocks. It takes more effort than pushing a button, but manual leveling gives you precise control over getting your coach situated just right.

Crank-down stabilizing jacks located around the RV can get you close. Place removable blocks under the wheels that need a boost to fine tune as needed.

The Upsides of Manual Leveling:

  • Total control of the leveling process
  • Simple, inexpensive equipment – jacks plus some blocks
  • Lightweight – no heavy jacks or pump motors to haul around
  • Easy troubleshooting – no complex machinery to break

Manual leveling works best for smaller motorhomes and folks who like to be hands-on. Just be ready to put in some elbow grease!

Helpful Gear for Hassle-Free Manual Leveling:

  • Camco Stack Jacks – Interlocking blocks are sturdy up to 3 feet
  • Lynx Levelers – Nested yellow plastic blocks rated for 20,000 lbs
  • BAL Deluxe Jacks – Sturdy but lightweight for easy storage

Jacks start around $15-20 each, blocks $25-40 per set.

Leveling on a Budget: Smart Tips and Ideas

Hydraulic systems may be the “Cadillac” of RV leveling, but even manual leveling means investing $150-200 minimum for gear. If your camping budget is already stretched thin, here are some creative ideas for DIY leveling on the cheap:

  • Use thick boards or timbers cut to size instead of commercial blocks
  • Stack layers of solid concrete patio blocks under tires
  • Drive the tires up onto sturdy wooden ramps to lift one end of the RV
  • Use a small bottle jack or scissor jack to lift low corners
  • Make your own stackable leveling blocks from 2×6 or 2×8 lumber
  • Extend leveling jacks partway and remove blocks from underneath to lower that corner

For a few hundred dollars or less, you can cobble together functional make-your-own gear. It won’t be as fast or foolproof as a hydraulic system. But a little Yankee ingenuity can get you level on a tight budget.

Key Questions to Help Choose the Right Leveling System

  • How large and heavy is your RV? Bigger rigs need more robust jacks and lifting power.
  • What type of terrain will you camp on? Rough sites call for stronger leveling systems.
  • How often will you need to level and re-level? Frequent leveling favors hydraulic automation.
  • Do you prefer an automatic system or hands-on control?
  • What is your budget for purchasing and installing a system?
  • How confident are you in your DIY skills if something breaks?

Answering these questions will help narrow down the best option. Mix and match elements too – even with auto-leveling, blocks can help fine tune. Don’t feel like you need to break the bank for hydraulic perfection. Start with what fits your budget and needs today, then upgrade down the road if wanted.

Installing an Aftermarket Auto-Leveling System

Many newer Class A motorhomes come outfitted with an OEM auto-leveling system. But if yours didn’t, you can add an aftermarket system yourself or hire a pro. Here are some tips for getting a system smoothly installed:

  • Choose a system with at least 4 leveling jacks – one at each corner. More jacks provide greater stability.
  • Look for direct bolt-on jacks that work with your existing jack mounts. Makes installation simpler.
  • Factor in the point load capacity – the max pounds per jack. Ensure it fits your RV’s weight.
  • Allow extra space for the hydraulic pump unit if going that route.
  • Use a wiring harness kit for plug and play electrical hookup. Makes connections easier.
  • Clearly outline expectations with the installer if hiring the work out.

Install time ranges 4-8 hours for a full system install. Take your coach in with empty holding tanks – less weight makes the job easier. Thoroughly test the system once it’s in place before hitting the road!

Maintenance Tips to Keep Any System Working Its Best

Leveling systems take a lot of abuse from road vibration, weather, and heavy use. To get the longest life from your investment:

  • Keep jacks clean – wash grit and debris off regularly
  • Lubricate screw jacks with automotive grease
  • Check fluid level in hydraulic reservoir
  • Change hydraulic fluid filter annually
  • Inspect wiring for damage, corrosion
  • Have jacks serviced once a year – check mounting bolts, gears, etc
  • Use boards under jacks for stability if camping on soft ground

Take care of your equipment and your auto-leveling system will take care of you. Having to manually level because of a broken system is no fun.

Auto-leveling systems are well worth the investment. Major brands make quality products that last, backed by solid warranties. Take the time to understand your needs and options. Hydraulic jacks offer brute force and automation. Electric systems get the job done at a bargain price. Manual leveling is simple and affordable. Many choices exist – find the one that fits your motorhome and budget.

Leveling your home every day of a long trip used to be a backbreaking chore. Now it’s as easy as punching a button and kicking back while technology does the hard work.

About Author