The Ins and Outs of Adding Auto-Leveling to Your RV

If you’re like me, after a long day on the road, the last thing you want to do is spend 30 minutes getting your rig perfectly level by placing pads under the tires. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just push a button and have your RV automatically level itself? Well my friend, you’re in luck – adding auto-leveling is totally doable for most RVs.

How Does Auto-Leveling Work?

Auto-leveling systems use a combination of sensors and hydraulic jacks to get your RV perfectly level at the push of a button. Here’s a quick rundown of how they work their magic:

  • Sensors – The system has sensors that measure the slope and tilt of the RV in multiple directions. Common sensors include pendulum sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and electronic accelerometers.
  • Control Unit – The sensor data is fed into an electronic control unit. This brain of the system analyzes the data and figures out which jacks need to extend and by how much.
  • Hydraulic Jacks – Based on the measurements, the control unit will extend or retract the hydraulic jacks as needed to get the RV level. Many systems have 4, 6 or even 8 jacks to provide stability.
  • User Interface – The user interface is typically a simple control panel inside the RV. You just push a button to activate the auto-level sequence. The system does its thing automatically, getting you perfectly level within a minute or two in most cases.

So in essence, auto-leveling uses smart electronics and hydraulics to take the guesswork and hassle out of leveling your rig. It’s incredibly convenient, making setup a breeze at any campsite or parking spot.

Key Benefits of Adding Auto-Leveling

There are a few big advantages that make auto-leveling an awesome upgrade for your home on wheels:

  • Total convenience – No more squatting and placing pads by hand. Just push a button and your RV will level itself in about a minute!
  • Precision leveling – The sensors and electronics result in a perfectly level RV every time. It’s more accurate than the human eye.
  • Stability – Hydraulic jacks at multiple points stabilize the RV and reduce shaking from wind or movement inside.
  • Faster setup – Auto-leveling is much faster than manual leveling. You can be settled into a site within 5-10 minutes.
  • Independent operation – You don’t need an extra set of hands. The system works automatically with the touch of a button.
  • Peace of mind – Take the guesswork out of getting level. Auto-leveling prevents unbalanced setups that strain components.
  • Resale value – Auto-leveling is a premium feature that can increase resale value of your RV down the road.

For anyone who values convenience and stability when camping, auto-leveling is a game changer. It makes the whole experience much more relaxed.

Cost Considerations for Adding Auto-Leveling

Of course, with any RV upgrade, cost is an important factor to weigh. Here are the main costs to keep in mind:

  • Parts – The auto-leveling kit itself ranges from $2,000-$4,000 depending on the features and components. Higher-end systems with more jacks and advanced electronics sit at the top of that range.
  • Labor – If you pay to have auto-leveling installed by a pro, labor will likely add $1,000-$2,000 or more to the total. DIY installation can save significantly on labor.
  • Hydraulic jacks – For auto-leveling to work, hydraulic jacks are needed. If your RV doesn’t already have jacks installed, you’ll need to factor those costs in too. Basic jacks are around $60-100 each.
  • Wiring – Additional wiring will be required between the jacks, sensors and control unit. This can entail extra costs for wiring and professional installation.
  • Maintenance – Like any system, auto-leveling will need occasional maintenance. The jacks need to be inspected and sensors calibrated once in awhile. Budget $100-200 per year.

While not cheap, many RVers find the convenience and stability of auto-leveling makes the investment worthwhile. And DIY installation can help lower the overall costs significantly compared to paying an RV shop.

Step-by-Step Auto-Leveling Installation

Now for the fun part – walking through the installation process step-by-step! I’ll focus on a DIY approach here since professional installation can cost thousands. With proper precautions and some mechanical know-how, adding auto-leveling yourself is entirely doable.

Here are the key steps:

Step 1: Gather the Parts and Tools Needed

First up is acquiring all the necessary gear:

  • Auto-leveling kit – This includes the brains of the operation (control module), sensors, and user interface/control panel. The Lippert Ground Control 3.0 is a popular mid-range system.
  • Hydraulic jacks – 4 jacks is common for smaller RVs, while larger rigs may use 6 or more. I prefer the Barker VIP 3000 jacks due to their durability and lifting capacity.
  • Basic tools – You’ll need wrenches, socket set, screwdrivers, wire crimpers, voltage meter and other standard tools. A drill with various driver bits also comes in handy.
  • Electrical supplies – Pick up hookup wire, connectors, shrink tubing and other basic electrical parts from your local auto parts store before starting.

Step 2: Install the Hydraulic Jacks

If your RV doesn’t already have jacks installed, this is the first order of business. Consult your RV owner’s manual on the proper jack locations. At minimum, you’ll want one jack near each corner. Use the installation instructions provided with the jacks you purchased.

Key tips for jack installation:

  • Reinforce the mounting points underneath the RV. Add additional support like steel plates if needed.
  • Make sure jacks extend down far enough when fully extended. They need to contact the ground to lift and stabilize the RV.
  • Leave access holes/panels so you can service the jacks if needed.

Step 3: Mount and Connect Sensors

The sensors included with the auto-leveling kit need to be strategically installed around the RV:

  • Pendulum sensors measure side-to-side tilt. They mount along the side walls, towards the front and back.
  • Accelerometer sensors measure front-back tilt. Place them on the floor, aligned with the RV’s axis.
  • Ultrasonic sensors (if included) measure ground clearance. They go on the underside of the RV.

Follow the distances and locations specified by the manufacturer. Carefully mount the sensors, keeping them as level as possible. Connect corresponding wires from each sensor so they can plug into the main control module later.

Step 4: Install Control Panel and Control Module

The “brains” of the auto-leveling system include:

  • The control panel with buttons the user presses to operate the system. Mount it in a convenient spot like the command center.
  • The control module that takes sensor data and controls the jacks. Install this central unit somewhere easily accessible.

Connect all the control wires between sensors, jacks and control module. Make sure to leave enough slack for slides and movement. Use grommets when routing wires through compartments to avoid pinching.

Step 5: Connect Power and Complete Wiring

Now we need to provide power to the system:

  • Connect the power lead from the control module to a fused 12V power source. This could be directly to the RV battery, or to a fuse panel.
  • Make sure to install a dedicated fuse on the power connection line. This protects the system from electrical issues.
  • Complete any remaining sensor and jack wiring according to the manufacturer diagrams.
  • Neatly secure and stash excess wiring out of the way using zip ties and wire loom.

Step 6: Program and Test the System

Before enjoying your new auto-leveling, it needs to be programmed and calibrated:

  • Turn on the control panel and run through the system setup according to the manufacturer instructions. This connects all the components.
  • Adjust sensor settings and input your RV’s dimensions so it can calculate level position.
  • Visually examine all installed components to make sure everything is secure and properly connected.
  • Run the auto-level test function. The jacks should extend and level the RV on their own.
  • Repeat the test on various slopes. The system should get your RV level within 1-2 degrees every time.

If the auto-level sequence has any issues, recheck the sensor placement, connections and programming until it runs smoothly.

Step 7: Use and Maintain Your Auto-Leveling System

That’s it – you now have auto-level superpowers! Here are some usage and maintenance tips:

  • Let the jacks fully retract before moving the RV. Prevent damage by not driving with jacks extended.
  • Keep an eye out for leaks or unusual noises from the hydraulic jacks. Address any issues immediately.
  • Re-calibrate the system if you install modifications like a satellite dish that can impact balance.
  • Every 1-2 years, thoroughly inspect jacks, wiring, sensors, etc. Make sure everything is still solidly installed and undamaged from weather and road vibrations.
  • Winterize the jacks by retracting and spraying with anti-corrosion lubricant before storing.

Take advantage of your new auto-leveling system to spend less time fussing with setup and more time enjoying your adventures! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Adding auto-leveling is a big project, but the comfort and stability payoff can make it totally worthwhile for avid RVers. The key is weighing the costs versus benefits for your own situation. If convenience is critical and you have some mechanical inclination, DIY installation can save substantially on labor costs. Take all the proper safety precautions, follow the manufacturer instructions, and you’ll be automatically leveling like a pro. Most importantly, get out and savor the new ease of setup as you journey to all those off-the-grid destinations. Happy camping!

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