Keeping Your RV Level with Hydraulic Fluid

A level RV means everything works right – from your fridge to your shower, nobody wants their eggs rolling out of the pan or toilet water running the wrong way!

That’s why having a good leveling system is so important. And to keep that system running properly, you need to make sure it has the right hydraulic fluid. I learned that lesson the hard way on a trip last summer, so let me share some of what I’ve picked up since then about hydraulic fluid and levelers.

Why Hydraulic Fluid Matters in Leveling Systems

See, the leveling system works by using hydraulic cylinders that extend and retract to raise and lower the wheels. They run off an electric hydraulic pump that pushes fluid through those cylinders.

So hydraulic fluid is like the blood of the system – without it flowing correctly, your levelers just won’t work right. Things like:

  • Uneven leveling side-to-side
  • Extremely slow operation
  • Jerky or erratic movement
  • Leaking cylinders
  • Pump overheating

All can be signs that your hydraulic fluid isn’t up to snuff.

The fluid needs to be the right viscosity to flow through the system smoothly. And it provides lubrication to prevent wear and tear on the pumps and cylinders. So using the manufacturer’s recommended type and changing it when needed is crucial.

Pick Your Hydraulic Fluid Wisely

RV leveling systems are designed to work with certain types of hydraulic fluid. The owner’s manual will specify what kind you should use.

Some key things to look for on the label:

  • Viscosity rating – this measures the thickness of the fluid. Look for the number your manual specifies.
  • Detergent added – detergents help keep parts clean. Make sure to use hydraulic fluid with detergent if your manual calls for it.
  • Anti-wear properties – some hydraulic fluids contain extra lubricating agents to prevent wear on pumps. Highly recommended if your manual doesn’t forbid it.

The two main options are:

Dexron/Mercon ATF

This red fluid is the same as used in automatic transmissions in many vehicles. It’s readily available and affordable. But it may not have optimal viscosity or anti-wear additives for leveling systems. Check your manual.

RV/Camper Hydraulic Fluid

Fluids like Camco RV Leveling System Fluid are custom-made for leveling systems with the right mix of detergents, viscosity, and lubricating properties. Pricier but designed to maximize performance and longevity.

When to Change Hydraulic Fluid

Don’t wait until you have leveling problems to maintain your hydraulic fluid! Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on when to replace it.

For typical systems, every 1-3 years or after about 20-30 uses is a good rule of thumb. More frequent changes may be needed with heavy use.

Signs it could be time to swap hydraulic fluid:

  • Age – fluid can break down over time, especially in heat and cold. Replace at least every 3 years.
  • Usage – heavy duty cycles can contaminate and wear down fluid faster.
  • Color change – fresh fluid is generally clear, red or purple. Dark color, cloudiness or sludge indicates contamination.
  • Leaking cylinders – fluid leaks point to possible seal wear and contamination.
  • Pump noise – higher pitched whining can mean low fluid or air in the lines.
  • Slow operation – sluggish leveling speed can mean worn hydraulic fluid.

Replacing hydraulic fluid periodically is much easier than having to replace worn out pumps or cylinders if contaminated fluid damages the system. A $20 jug of fluid now can prevent a $200+ repair job down the road!

How to Change Hydraulic Fluid

Swapping out hydraulic fluid is a straightforward DIY job any RVer can tackle in about 30 minutes. Here’s a quick rundown:

Supplies Needed

  • Replacement hydraulic fluid (2-4 gallons usually)
  • Empty clean containers for old fluid
  • Rag or shop towels
  • Funnel
  • Wheel chocks

Steps to Follow

  1. Level and chock wheels to prevent motion.
  2. Locate hydraulic fluid reservoir, cylinder ends and hoses.
  3. Disconnect power to leveling system.
  4. Open reservoir and use suction pump to extract old fluid.
  5. Detach hydraulic hoses one at a time and allow fluid to drain.
  6. Reattach hoses once drained.
  7. Carefully pour new fluid into reservoir using funnel.
  8. Turn on leveling system and cycle up and down.
  9. Check fluid level and top up as needed.
  10. Safely dispose of old fluid.

And that’s all there is to it folks. Properly maintaining your hydraulic fluid lets your leveling system run like a dream and saves bigger repair headaches down the road.

Here are some other fluid maintenance tips I’ve picked up:

  • Always use jack pads or wood blocks under jacks to prevent sinkage and damage.
  • In cold weather, store coach with jacks retracted – this prevents frost damage to cylinders.
  • Install hydraulic leveling system support brackets for extra stability.
  • Bleed air from system if jacks move erratically or sluggishly.
  • Keep an eye out for leaks and loose fittings.
  • Extend jacks briefly at least once a month if not used regularly.

Well, there’s my download on hydraulic fluid basics for RV leveling systems!

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