Going on a camping trip in an RV for the first time and you’re not sure what you need to do to level the vehicle? You’ve found the right guide because we’ve covered everything you need to know about leveling an RV or a campervan!
Why it’s important, what tools you’re going to need, and how to get started are just some of the things covered in this guide. Keep reading to see what it takes to level an RV (or a campervan or a trailer), and get ready for your next camping trip!
So your RV isn’t totally level but it doesn’t bother you too much – do you still need to level it? Absolutely. Even if you don’t mind that the vehicle is a bit sloped, the appliances and the plumbing system inside require the RV to be level to function properly.
The plumbing system might not work, the water sensors might get messed up and display inaccurate values, and your propane fridge will definitely not work properly if the RV isn’t level. Using a propane fridge when you haven’t leveled your camper is the quickest way to damage it permanently, so unless you want to have a non-functioning fridge, you absolutely need to level your RV or campervan.
Also, it’s not just about making sure that the appliances function properly – level RVs are safer and more comfortable. They won’t rock as much while you’re inside, you don’t have to worry about strong gusts of wind, and you definitely won’t have to deal with plates just sliding off your countertop. Leveling an RV is just one of those things that will become a habit after a while, and leveling equipment is a van life essential you’ll always have in your vehicle!
It doesn’t matter what type of vehicle you’re leveling or if it’s got an automatic or a manual leveling system – the first step is always going to be to find a level parking spot. If you find that your vehicle is way off level once you’ve parked, then you need to get back behind the wheel and look for a better spot.
If you want to camp on a hillside or atop a mountain, you will need to drive around until you can find a flat plateau. You should never park the RV on an incline or a slope – these vehicles were built to be level and leaving them parked on sloped surfaces could damage the vehicle.
In case you are parking the vehicle on a parking spot that isn’t entirely flat, it’s better for your front wheels to be at the lower end. The rear wheels are the ones that lock when you’re parked, so it’s much easier and safer to just level the front wheels.
When choosing a parking spot, make sure that you’re close to all the amenities you require. Also, check that you have enough clearance on all sides and that there’s plenty of room for the sliders to come out if your vehicle has them.
Newer RVs are usually equipped with automatic leveling systems that are extremely easy to use. All you need to do is just press a few buttons and your RV will level itself while you’re sipping coffee and watching.
If you know your RV has an auto-leveling system but you’re not sure where the controls are, refer to the vehicle’s manual. It might be a keypad or a touchscreen, and it could be anywhere in the vehicle.
Automatic leveling systems will usually show you which wheels are lower, and you just need to press the right buttons and the RV will do the rest. Most automatic leveling systems use stabilizer jacks and tongue jacks to level the vehicle, and it’s smart to use jack pads even with an auto system.
A jack pad protects the jack from digging into the ground or asphalt, ensuring that the RV stays level. If you don’t use a pad and the jack starts to dig into the ground, the vehicle will need to be leveled again.
Leveling an RV without a hydraulic leveling system isn’t quite as easy as pushing a couple of buttons, but it’s not challenging either. If you’re doing it for the first time, take your time. Measure everything twice and take as much time as you need to make sure the vehicle is perfectly level. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, and it won’t take long before you’re capable of leveling your RV in 5-10 minutes!
Here’s what leveling equipment you’re going to need to level an RV or campervan:
You can use wood blocks instead of jack pads if you don’t have any, but it is important to put something between the jacks and the ground.
Also, plastic leveling blocks are generally easier to use than wood blocks. They’re sort of like legos – you can stack them on top of each other and next to each other, so you can easily create ramps to raise the wheels. Wood blocks are usually easier to source since most people will have something they can use lying around the house, but they’re heavier and not as convenient as leveling stackers.
In Europe, ramp levelers (see the image above) are actually the most common. They usually have 3 levels and you drive up to the level that is more or less what you require. You can even get blocks to stop you from rolling back, which usually comes with a kit like mine from Fiama.
When you’ve got all the equipment sorted out, you can start leveling your RV. In most cases, you can level an RV by doing one of these things:
After you’ve found a mostly level parking spot and you’ve parked your RV, the first step is to check how level it is from side to side and front to back. You can use a bubble level or a carpenter level – place it on the floor of the RV, on a countertop, or even on a bumper. Some vehicles have a built-in permanent level indicator – if you’ve got one of those, you likely won’t need a bubble level.
A tip I have found from extensive leveling while on the road is to make sure that one side or end of your vehicle is level. If you have to level three wheels it is very very difficult. So, even if you can’t park level overall, make sure your one side is even. I use a small spirit level to do this inside our campervan.
Depending on what the level says, you’ll need to raise either the left or the right wheels of the camper. Position the leveling blocks and wheel chocks accordingly – if you’re going to go forward onto a leveling block, put the wheel chocks in front of the blocks. If you’re going to reverse onto a leveling block, place the wheel chock behind the block. Move the vehicle slowly and stop once you start to feel the resistance of the wheel chock.
Engage the parking brake, secure the wheel from the other side, and go and check if it’s level. When one block isn’t enough, you can make a stack of two or three leveling blocks, but be sure to also create a sort of a ramp so that the wheels can climb onto the blocks more easily. If you can’t get your RV level with a stack of three blocks, you need to look for a better parking space.
One thing worth noting is that if your RV is off-level both side to side and front to back, you might be able to solve the issue by raising just one low wheel. Otherwise, you need to raise either the left or the right wheels, depending on what your level is telling you.
If you do not have four-wheel drive then wet ground can be a nightmare. You can get extra grip elements in some kits, but the ideal thing is to get a run-up onto your leveling blocks.
Normally I park close to the blocs and go from there, but if it is wet you will definitely need a bit of speed to get onto them.
Once you’ve made sure that the vehicle is level side to side, it’s time to level it front to back. Use the hydraulic jacks to level the vehicle front to back and stabilize it, and make sure you’re using jack pads of wood blocks underneath the jack. This prevents it from digging into the ground, and it’s essential for a headache-free camping experience. It’s worth noting that on a hot day, hydraulic jacks can dig into asphalt if you don’t put anything underneath.
Leveling an RV front to back means you either need to raise the front or the back wheels. It’s usually better to raise the front wheels, which is why it’s smart to park so that your RV’s front wheels are on lower ground.
Lower your fifth wheel’s landing jack onto a wooden block or a jack pad, and adjust it until your RV is level front to back. Some RVs have power jacks while others have hand crank jacks – they both get the job done, but power jacks are faster and easier to use than manual jacks.
When you think you’ve got it right, go back inside the RV and check the bubble level again. It doesn’t have to be perfectly level, but the bubble should still be inside the lines.
Leveling a travel trailer is similar to leveling an RV, but it requires a few more steps and it needs to be done in stages. Travel trailers and towable homes don’t have any transmission or breaks of their own, so it’s essential you level them before you unhitch them from the vehicle.
Also, chock blocks are necessary for leveling towable homes – without them, your trailer can just roll away into the sunset. You should use them to chock the wheels that aren’t leveled with blocks, and only after you’ve secured the wheels with chocks should you unhitch the trailer.
The process is very similar to leveling a motorhome or a campervan. Use a bubble level to check if the trailer is level side to side and see which wheels you need to adjust. It’s worth noting that, with travel trailers, it’s generally easier to pull them forward onto blocks, so adjust the wheel chocks accordingly.
After you’ve leveled the trailer side to side, it’s time to check if it’s level front to back. At this point, you still shouldn’t unhitch the trailer – if it’s not level front to back, it can just roll off even with wheel chocks.
So, make use of the stabilizers to ensure the trailer is level front to back and stabilized. Once you’ve got the trailer level side to side and front to back, plus you’ve ensured that all the wheel chocks are in place so that it can’t move, you’re free to unhitch it and get the slides out. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and have some fun too!
Two or three leveling blocks at the most are enough to level an RV or campervan. It’s never a bad idea to have more in your vehicle just in case, but if you end up needing to park the vehicle on a tower of more than three blocks, you need to look for a different parking space.
Also, it’s worth noting that if you need to raise a wheel three blocks, you can’t just stack three blocks onto each other – it will probably be too high for the wheel to climb. Instead, create a ramp with 3-4 blocks in the first row, 2-3 blocks in the second row, and 1-2 blocks in the final row where the wheels are going to sit.
If you own an RV/camper/motorhome without an automatic leveling system, you should know that it is possible to install an aftermarket one. You can do this at most RV dealerships and repair shops, and you can even attempt to purchase an auto-level system and install it on your own.
It’s worth noting that installing these systems is quite tricky, and unless you’ve got plenty of experience with RV fixups, you will likely need help from a professional. How much all that is going to cost depends on quite a few things – the type of your vehicle, the exact kinds of leveling system, where you’re having it done, etc.
The price varies a lot, but it’s generally in the $3,000-5,000 ballpark. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it if you spend a lot of time camping and you don’t want to be bothered with leveling the vehicle with blocks and wheel chocks every single time you arrive at a campsite.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!