Do Motorhomes Come With Self-Leveling Jacks?
Leveling your motorhome is one of the most important steps when setting up camp. There are several ways to level your motorhome, with self-leveling jacks being one of the most convenient options that are installed on many new RVs. With a simple touch of a button, self-leveling jacks drop down beneath your motorhome and automatically lift it up to a level position.
Not all motorhomes come from the factory with self-leveling jacks installed. If yours’ did not, you are still in luck as there are several aftermarket systems that you can add to your motorhome. Here we’ll take a look at self-leveling jack systems, how they work, where you can get an aftermarket add-on system, and some of the common problems you may see with a self-leveling jack system.
While we’re primarily discussing motorhomes here, trailers need to be leveled too. We also have a great article on how to level a travel trailer.
Who Makes Self-Leveling Kits For Motorhomes?
There are several manufacturers of self-leveling jack kits for motorhomes. Here are a few options if you are considering adding a system to your motorhome:
- Glide Rite – Glide Rite offers the HPC fully automatic motorhome leveling system. This hydraulic system features aluminum jacks capable of lifting 2 to 7 tons each, with optional steel jacks for heavier vehicles. The system is operated through a simple touch screen, or a phone app, which allows you to set up four different leveling positions including two-level options, tank drain, and stabilize. Once activated, the system is designed to complete the leveling process within a few seconds.
- Lippert Components – Lippert is one of the largest component manufacturers in the RV industry. If you own an RV, there’s a good chance you own some Lippert components. In the area of automatic leveling, they offer a broad range of systems for everything from light travel trailers to heavy motorhomes. They produce both electric and hydraulic actuated systems so you can choose the system that would work best in your application.
- Equalizer Systems – Equalizer Systems produces a broad range of high-quality hydraulic self-leveling systems for RVs of all types. In their motorhome lineup they produce kits for specific RV types like Class A Diesels, Class A Gas, and Ford, Sprinter, and Chevy chassis Class Cs. Their website provides excellent information on their systems and how to install them. They can even build custom systems for you if one of their off-the-shelf models won’t cover your needs.
Bullseye – Bullseye specializes in electromechanical leveling systems capable of leveling RVs up to 60,000 lbs. Electromechanical systems are non-hydraulic so they are easier to install and don’t require hydraulic fluid or hydraulic plumbing. installing these systems can be as easy as bolting or welding on the legs, connecting the wire harness, and mounting the control pad. Unlike many hydraulic systems, the Bullseye system also works great on smaller motorhomes like conversion vans and Class Bs.
HWH – HWH claims to be the largest manufacturer of self-leveling systems for RVs. They offer several aftermarket hydraulic leveling systems and components for RVs of all types and sizes including Class A, B, and C motorhomes.
How Much Are Self-Leveling Jacks?
The cost of a self-leveling jack system can vary depending on a number of factors. The type of system, electromechanical vs. hydraulic, the weight of your RV, and the height of your RV all play key roles in the cost of the components. The overall system cost will also include installation which will vary greatly by system type and whether or not you can install it yourself.
At a minimum expect to pay between $900 and $8000 for the components. Current RV service rates are running around $125/hr and you can expect an experienced technician to spend several hours installing one of these systems in your RV. Technicians who installed high-end systems in a heavy Class A can easily top $10,000. For most smaller motorhomes expect a complete installed system to run between $4,000 and $8,000.
How Do Self-Leveling Jacks Work?
A self-leveling system is made up of three main components. A control unit, the power unit(s), and a set of actuating jacks. Once the system is installed and the control panel is securely mounted to an interior wall of the RV, you’ll be ready to level your RV.
To operate the system, manually control the jacks to level the RV the first time. This allows the system to zero out any differences in level between the actual RV and the control unit. After that first use, leveling the RV should be as simple as a single button push on your control unit.
The behind-the-scenes magic of the system is really very simple. The computer in the control unit adjusts the power jacks to lift the RV in such a way that the control panel becomes “level”. Because the control panel is secured to the RV, if the panel is level then the RV is level.
The actual mechanics of the system will depend on the type you have, electromechanical or hydraulic. It will also vary slightly by the specific jack configuration your RV requires. RVs with less ground clearance may need different styles of jacks than higher RVs.
In a hydraulic system, there will likely be a single hydraulic reservoir, an electric motor attached to a hydraulic pump, and a distribution valve system that will send hydraulic fluid to the various jacks as needed. Then the system operates, and the electric motor turns on, which pumps hydraulic fluid to the distribution valves.
Those valves are controlled by the computer to send fluid to the jacks that need it to raise the RV into a level position. When lowering the RV, things work in reverse, the pump takes fluid from the jacks and returns it to the storage reservoir. This brings the jacks up, lowering the RV back into a driving position.
In an electromechanical system, there will be electric motors that actuate the jacks. In most cases, there will be one motor attached to each jack. Between the motor and the actual jack, mechanism will be a reduction gearbox. That gearbox will allow the motor to produce enough torque to lift the RV. When the system operates, it automatically controls the jack motors to raise to a level position. It reverses the motors to return them to a driving position back on the ground.
These systems use a lot of power so you’ll normally need to have your engine running to supply power while the system operates. With the engine off, the system can put a huge strain on your batteries.
How High Can Self-Leveling Jacks Go?
The height will vary depending on the length of the jacks relative to the height of your RV frame above the ground. Generally, a properly sized system will easily lift the RV high enough to have the wheels off the ground. You will want to consult the owner’s manual for your specific system for details like the maximum extension height of the jacks. Knowing that number, and the height of the jack pad above the ground when fully retracted, you can calculate the maximum lift your system will produce.
What Is The Maximum Slope For Auto-Levelers?
The maximum slope will depend on the system and your RV. While leveling jacks can safely lift the wheels off the ground it is considered unsafe to do so in most circumstances. Typically, you’ll want to make sure that the wheels with the parking brakes (usually the rear wheels) are in contact with the ground.
This will prevent the vehicle from sliding or moving when the jacks are down. As a general rule, if the slope is great enough that some wheels are off the ground while others are not lifted at all then you should add some leveling blocks to help your system out.
Is It Safe To Lift Your RV’s Tires Off The Ground With A Self-Leveling Jack?
When using your self-levelers on a grade within the manufacturer’s recommended range it is perfectly safe to lift the RV’s tires off the ground with one of these systems. This is actually one of the primary differences between a leveling system and a stabilizing system.
Leveling systems are designed to support the entire weight of the RV which allows you to lift the wheels of the ground. Stabilizing systems are not designed to support the entire weight of the RV, they are only there to add additional points of contact with the ground (in addition to the tires) to keep the RV from moving while you walk around in it.
While these systems can lift the wheels off the ground it is considered poor practice to lift the rear wheels off the ground. These are the wheels that lock when in the park, and they also have the parking brakes. If you lift them off the ground, there isn’t anything preventing the vehicle from moving other than the jacks themselves, which is not a safe situation to have. When parking, it’s best to have the front of the RV on the low side of the pad if possible. That way the leveling system will bring the front up to match the rear and the rear wheels will stay on the ground.
Since self-levelers can lift the wheels off the ground, they can also be used for changing tires or doing service on wheels, bearings, brakes, and axels. Never rely on the jack system as the sole method for suspending a wheel for service, always use another support method like blocks or a properly sized jack stands for the additional level of safety.
What Are The Most Common Problems With Self-Leveling Jacks?
The most common problems you’ll have with self-levelers will depend on the type of system you have. Hydraulic systems can have issues with fluid leaks, pump failures, and distribution valve failures. These can manifest themselves in a number of ways including compete system failure, failure of single jacks to deploy, lift or retract; and messy oil spots forming under your RV while parked.
Routine maintenance of these systems should include inspection of the fluid level in your hydraulic reservoir as well as inspection of all plumbing joints and jack rams for leaks. Always address any leaks ASAP as these will eventually result in bigger issues down the road.
Electromechanical systems will most commonly see motor failures resulting in the attached jack not functioning correctly. The motors are attached to the jack through a gear system or other mechanical linkage. Failure of that linkage is also common. In that case, you’ll hear the motor run, but the jack won’t move.
Regardless of the system type, if you have a complete system failure always start by checking your fuses. These systems have a high-power draw which can cause fuses to blow. That should not happen in a properly functioning system with a properly sized fuse.
If your system blows more than one fuse in a short period of time then look for other issues within the system which could be drawing too much current for the fuse. You will usually find electrical shorts to be the culprit, either in the exposed system wiring or within the various motors and electrical valves these systems employ.