The Ins and Outs of Upgrading Your RV’s Leveling System

Thinking of taking things to the next level with an advanced auto-leveling system. I feel you! As someone who’s been road tripping in RVs for over 20 years, I definitely understand the appeal. Let’s dive into the pros, cons, and key factors to weigh when considering whether upgrading your RV’s leveling system is right for you.

Why Auto-Leveling?

For starters, what does an automatic leveling system actually do? These high-tech systems use electronic sensors and hydraulic or electric motors to level and stabilize your RV with the push of a button. Depending on the specific system, auto-leveling can:

  • Level your RV from front to back and side to side within a certain range. Most can compensate for variances of up to 6-10 degrees or more.
  • Automatically deploy and adjust stabilizing jacks at the corners of the RV to reduce rocking.
  • Engage on uneven surfaces, inclines, and declines.
  • Provide information on exactly how level the RV is via digital readouts.
  • Be operated via remote control or touchscreen displays, so you don’t have to go outside each time to adjust jacks and pads by hand.

The key benefit is convenience. Auto-leveling systems reduce the hassle of getting situated at a new site and breaking camp. They also help stabilize your RV for optimum comfort inside. Trust me, you don’t want dishes sliding out of the cupboards or to feel like you’re sleeping on an angle!

What Are the Key Options & Features?

There are a few major manufacturers of RV auto-leveling systems: Lippert, HWH, and Power Gear are some of the big names. Most operate hydraulic jacks, but some use electric motors. Some are simple automatic leveling systems, while others include more advanced features like:

  • Jack sensors to show jack positions
  • Automatic jack retraction
  • Touchscreen controls and displays
  • Custom leveling modes (e.g. for extension of slide-outs)
  • Automatic re-leveling if sensors detect the RV has shifted
  • Integration with other RV system controls and utilities
  • Capability to engage the parking brake automatically when leveling
  • Larger motorhomes may have up to 6 or more jacks for maximum stabilization.

When shopping for systems, look for one that will support the size and type of RV you have. Check weight ratings, hydraulic fluid capacity, and jack lift height. Make sure the system has enough jacks at optimal locations to properly stabilize your specific RV.

Installation & Compatibility Considerations

Installing an aftermarket auto-leveling system can be quite an involved process – these aren’t simple plug-and-play devices. A professional, experienced installation is a must, unless you really know your way around RVs and are prepared to tackle a major project.

Some key factors:

  • The existing jacks/stabilizers will likely need to be removed and new jacks welded into place. This takes some work to locate optimal placement points on the frame or chassis.
  • Hydraulic lines, valves, pumps, and reservoirs must be installed if going with a hydraulic system. Electric wiring is needed for power and controls.
  • Integration with other RV systems may be required. For example, integrating the auto-leveling controls with the existing dashboard and display.
  • Programming and calibration is required to get the automatic leveling functionality working right for your RV.

So in short – you can’t just buy some magical auto-leveling gadget and stick it on there! The time and labor involved in installing a system properly means costs quickly add up. This is where things start getting pricey.

What Does It Cost?

You can expect to invest $3,000 to $5,000 for a basic automatic leveling system, including professional installation. From there, costs go up for larger RVs that need more jacks and capability, or for higher-end systems with all the bells and whistles.

Realistically you’re looking at a $5,000 to $10,000 upgrade if you want a robust, premium auto-leveling system with advanced electronic controls and displays for a sizable RV or motorhome. Add in a few more thousand for installations on very large Class A motorhomes.

Ouch! Yes, that’s a hefty chunk of change that gives many RVers pause. You can likely recoup some resale value down the road by having an auto-leveling system, but don’t expect it to pay for itself.

Key Questions to Ask Yourself

With costs high, here are some helpful questions to reflect on as you evaluate whether upgrading leveling systems is the right move:

  • How often do you relocate your RV campsite? If you mostly stay put in parks for extended times, auto-leveling loses some appeal versus constantly striking camp every few days on the road.
  • What type of terrain do you camp on? Rougher and more varied terrain increases the benefits of auto-leveling. But if you stick to even, paved sites, manual leveling may suffice.
  • Do you camp solo or with others? Setting up camp yourself using manual jacks can be tedious. With others to help, it may not seem so bad.
  • How steady do you want the RV? Automatic systems generally stabilize better on uneven ground. If feeling totally level and secure inside is important to you, auto-leveling can really improve that.
  • Is convenience or cost more critical? Upgrading means investing thousands for the convenience of auto-leveling. Whether that convenience justifies the cost depends on your priorities.
  • How long will you keep the RV? The longer you own it, the more opportunities to recapture some costs through increased resale value.
  • Can you install yourself? Sweat equity by DIY installing saves on labor costs, but know your limits! Most need a pro install.

Really take time to consider your RVing lifestyle, priorities, and budget to weigh if the benefits are worth the hefty price tag. It’s not the right choice for everyone, but for some, taking the auto-leveling plunge can definitely elevate the RV living experience!

Leveling Options for Lower Budgets

Now maybe after all this, you’ve decided that full-blown automatic leveling is overkill for your needs. Luckily there are some simpler, lower cost options to make leveling easier while keeping thousands in your pocket! Here are a few to consider:

Upgrade to a high-end manual leveling system – Replace the basic scissor jacks with heavy-duty models that are easier to operate. Add quality, interlocking stackable lego-style pads to create a more stable base on uneven ground. Cost for upgrades: $500 – $1,500. Sweat equity required, but saves big on installation.

Try a manual leveling controller – Simple digital devises show exactly how level the RV is front-to-back and side-to-side. Takes the guesswork out of manual leveling for around $300.

Install airbag helpers – Air springs with compressors installed at the wheels or chassis let you use air pressure to level the RV and stabilize the suspension. Cost can be $800 – $1,500 for parts and professional install.

Use smart phone apps – Apps like the $10 LevelMate Pro use your phone’s tilt sensors to provide digital level readouts. Low cost, but still have to level manually.

Get a helper device – Aftermarket products like the $700 JackPad from Andersen Hitches slide under your RV’s jacks to help compensate for uneven terrain. Saves some manual hassle.

While more affordable, these options do require more physical work on your part. But for some RVers, they offer sufficient convenience without the major investment and install headaches of a fully automatic system.

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