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Supporting and aligning the caravan – how to avoid common mistakes

How do I level my caravan? Can I use the supports for levelling? And how do I jack it up for longer periods of standing? Three of the most frequently asked questions among first-time caravan owners – and a topic where unfortunately a lot of half-knowledge circulates. We explain to you how to do it correctly and what you should never do.

Basic knowledge: Overview of the different caravan support systems

Mechanical supports

As a standard, caravans are usually equipped with four mechanical supports (“plug-in supports”), which are located at the corners of the caravan and are cranked up and down by hand. These support systems are available in different versions and load levels for all caravan chassis and can usually be easily replaced or retrofitted.

To extend and retract the caravan supports, you use a crank that is similar to an awning crank and is used in exactly the same way.

Sometimes you see fellow campers working on the supports with a cordless screwdriver. This “alternative for the lazy” (which we also use, by the way) seems very charming at first glance, but it has its pitfalls: If you run the cordless screwdriver at too high a power, for example, it can damage the thread, the screw mount and even the body. Chassis and prop manufacturers such as AL-KO therefore advise beginners in particular not to use this technique.

Electric supports

Support systems with electric motors are much more comfortable. Here, the supports extend at the push of a button, so you no longer have to crawl around on the floor and flex your arm muscles.

For people with limited mobility or back problems, as well as for campers who frequently change locations, this is an invaluable advantage! Another plus of this variant: caravans with electric supports can be parked closer to hedges or other plot boundaries, as you no longer have to allow space for cranking.

Hydraulic supports

The top class among the support systems are the hydraulic supports. Unlike in motorhomes, this technology is still relatively new for caravans and, as far as we know, is only offered by the company E&P (as of May 2020). This system consists of two main supports on the axle and four corner supports, which are controlled via control panel, wireless touchscreen or smartphone.

The fascinating thing about this model, which admittedly is not quite cheap, is that the caravan aligns itself fully automatically. As a rule, manual readjustment is no longer necessary. Unlike crank supports or electric supports, levelling via this new system does not cause any damage to the floor or body.

Supporting and aligning the caravan – Dos and Don’ts

Once you have arrived at the campsite, the caravan must be parked, aligned and supported. This is where the most common mistakes happen, because many campers still think that the supports can also be used to level the caravan. This is not the case!

When you lift your caravan with the supports, whether for levelling or changing a tyre, for example, unimagined forces act on the floor and chassis. In the worst case, especially with frequent use, the chassis can warp and damage can occur to the body.

The only exception so far is the hydraulic support system levelC, which, due to its special design, may actually be used for levelling and lifting.

For “normal” stabilisers, whether manual or electric, proceed as follows:

  1. Park the caravan on the plot.
  2. Check the alignment with the 2LINK spirit level function or a small spirit level mounted inside the vehicle (if possible near the axle).
  3. Compensate for any slanting in the transverse axis (“hanging” on one side) using a ramp wedge under the affected wheel.
  4. Use the jockey wheel to align the caravan in the longitudinal axis.
  5. If the terrain slopes more steeply, it may be necessary to level the caravan using a second ramp wedge on the other caravan wheel (therefore it is best to buy the wedges in a double pack).
  6. Check the level again using the spirit level
  7. If necessary, correct the position of the caravan on the drive-up wedge(s) and readjust on the support wheel.
  8. As soon as everything fits, crank the supports down until they are in firm contact with the ground.
  9. Under no circumstances extend the supports so far that the caravan lifts!

Supporting the caravan during wintering and longer periods of storage

You’ve probably already guessed: If the vehicle is parked for a longer period of time, “jacking it up” over the supports is also taboo. In principle, this is no longer necessary today – modern chassis are designed in such a way that they can survive wintering or other long periods of standing.

What can be damaged, however, are the suspensions and especially the tyres. For this reason, it makes sense to relieve the load on the caravan or the axles by means of small “jack stands”. The best place for this is near the axles – the chassis is particularly stable here.

Attention: Please do not “lift” the caravan out of the axle, because this can also damage the chassis. It is sufficient to take the weight off the wheels so that they still have slight contact with the ground.

The supports can be additionally extended for a stable stand.

It is also recommended to move the caravan from time to time to prevent tyre damage – especially if it is not jacked up.

Wheel change: jack or caravan supports?

Even though it’s probably getting on your nerves now, I’ll repeat it one last time: supports are called supports because you use them to support the caravan. Of course, this also applies to this question.

So unless you have the levelC system mentioned above, you must not lift the caravan from a standing position with the supports, even when changing tyres or wheels – especially not so high that the wheel turns free and can be removed. Because here, even more than when levelling, unimagined forces would act on the substructure of your caravan and could severely damage the chassis and body.

Therefore, you should definitely get yourself a jack. Preferably one that is specially designed for the chassis of your caravan or is sold by the chassis manufacturer itself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a mechanical or a hydraulic version – the main thing is that it can lift the weight of your caravan and can be easily attached to the intended attachment points on the chassis.

The situation is different with the levelC: Here, it is not the four corner supports but the two main supports on the axle that bear the lion’s share of the weight. That’s why you can also use these supports to change tyres without worrying – in this case there is no danger of your chassis warping or the punches pressing into the body.

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