Campground Setup and Getting Underway

What's the proper procedure?

Is it jacks first then slides, or slides then jacks?  There is much debate on this subject.  It seems that the argument about whether to level the coach before the slides go out - or not - crops up in all Internet RV forums every few months and some times results in heated arguments.  Even motor home technicians, and design engineers can't seem to agree on this subject.

While I am neither a technician nor an engineer, I have given this subject a fair amount of thought, read opinions from both sides of the argument, and I've come to the conclusion that...   it depends.   There may be no stock answer.  I believe the answer depends on such factors as what kind of coach you have and how it was built,  what kind of leveling system you have, and even to some extent, where you are parking.  Some motor home manufacturers recommend that you level before extending the slides, while others say the opposite.  Since this site is about a Monaco Diplomat, I'm going to confine my remarks to that type of coach, with its PowerGear leveling system and three hydraulic jacks. 

Monaco advises that you should always extend and retract the slides while the wheels are firmly on the ground and the air bags are filled to full ride height.  They give a couple of reasons for this.  First, Monaco coaches with raised rail chassis have a 3-jack system with only a single jack in front.  (More about that later.)  They contend that at no time is the frame of the coach more stable and square than when it is firmly on the ground at full ride height.  It does not matter if the coach floor is level or not, at that point.  They advise that the frame of the coach is less likely to be twisted at that time, than it may be up on the jacks.  So, that's when the slides should move in and out.  I've also heard the argument stated that Monaco builds the coaches (including fitting and adjusting the slides) with the chassis tires on the floor and the air bags inflated to ride height, so they claim that's when the slides are most squarely oriented to the frame.  I'm not sure, however, if there are many motor home manufacturers that do not install slides that way.  

I tend to think that the main reason Monaco recommends extending the slides before leveling, is to minimize movement of the coach with shifts in weight.  With a 3-jack system, the level coach will move a bit with weight redistribution.  It stands to reason that movement inflicted by slide extension or retraction may tend to be harmful for the big one-piece Panaview windshield.  So, the bottom line is that, for whatever the reason, I think it is a very good idea to follow  Monaco's advice on when to extend the slides.  There are a couple of exceptions that I will get to later .

With that in mind, here is the procedure I use (in the order shown) to set up the coach in a camp site...


 Obviously, try to pick a site as level as possible to begin with.  Sometimes, however, you don't have a choice.


Situate the coach within the site at a spot convenient to all hookups, and with enough clearance for all the slides to extend without hitting anything.   (It's usually my wife's job to help with this, as I back in or pull in.)  I've discovered that the width of my large roadside slide is about the length of my extended arm, so this helps to judge clearance for the slide if obstacles are close.  When the coach is situated where I want it, I turn off the engine.


Since I find it easier to hook up the utilities before extending the slide, now is the time to do that.  Before leaving the coach, I try to remember to move the driver's seat forward so the slide won't catch on it. 


When everything is hooked up, and while I'm still outside, my wife extends the slides (after moving the driver's seat forward because I forgot it again).  I watch to make sure the slides don't hit anything on the outside.


Going back inside, I turn the ignition key on and dump the air.  With regard to air bags and jacks I have a simple rule:  Air is always first, both when arriving and when leaving.  When setting up, I want to get the coach as low as possible before extending the jacks, so I dump the air first.  (More information below .)  When retracting the jacks I want to drop the coach the least amount possible (to protect the windshield), so I fill the air bags first.  Either way, air always comes before jacks.  (To help me remember, I put a small label on my jack control box that says, "Air First".) 


After the air is dumped (it helps to pump the brakes a few times while you hold the button down), it's time to level the coach.  I like to do this manually because the PowerGear automatic leveling system does not operate as smoothly as I would like.   Again, my concern is for the big one-piece windshield.  Here's a picture of the level I use for manual leveling.  (Click on the picture for more information.)  A 6" carpenter's bubble level works well also.

Here's the leveling procedure I use...

a. Extend the front jack down first, until you feel it push against the ground, to create a pivot point up front (always thinking of that one-piece windshield).
b. Lower the rear jacks to the ground.
c Raise the front or the rear as necessary to level front to back.
d. Now raise the right or left side to level side to side.
7 Turn off the ignition key, and you're done.

When it's time to leave camp, I do this...


Turn on the engine and fill the air bags ("air first").


While waiting for the air to come up is a good time to double check that antennas are down and there is nothing that may obstruct slide travel (like the driver's seat).


Retract the jacks.


Shut down the engine and bring in the slides.

5 Unhook the utilities. (Visually inspect jacks & awnings; check the camp site.)

Earlier I mentioned two exceptions to this procedure.  Here they are...

1 While I try to avoid setting up on extremely unlevel ground, if I must do this, I first check to see that one tire position on the coach is not significantly lower than the other three while parked in the camp site.  If it is, and I can't do anything about that.  I feel that's one time when it's safer not to follow Monaco's suggestion of "slides before jacks".  I don't want to extend or retract the slides with the frame twisted, so I may reverse the "slide/jack" order in this instance, and level the coach first.
2 The other exception is unique to retracting the large full wall slide on the SFT floor plan.  If I must park the coach with the road-side lower than the curb side. I will bring the large road-side slide in while the coach is still level.  The reason for this is that the slide is extremely heavy - especially on the extended outer edge.  When retracting, the slide must first rise up over the floor of the coach and then gravity pulls the leading top edge down so that it slides straight in.  If the coach is parked with the left side very low, the extreme weight of the slide may keep the outside edge down too long, which in turn makes the leading inside edge too high.  In that event there may not be enough clearance between the top leading edge of the slide, and the ceiling lights, as the slide comes in.

Why dump the air before leveling?

Some may question the need for dumping the air before leveling the coach.  Unless I'm parking on a perfectly level firm pad, I always do this for the following reasons:


It's easier to level.  The jacks don't have to go down as far.


It gets the coach as low as possible, making it easier to get in and out - especially if the ground is sloping down toward the front of the coach.


On uneven ground, there is much less chance of having to lift a wheel off the ground to get the coach level.

4 If you reduce the air pressure below about 60 psi, the parking brake cannot accidentally be released while parked. 


Is it ever safe to lift a tire off the ground while leveling?  

This is another question that sometimes comes up, often accompanied by disagreements.  Some say it is not safe under any circumstances.  I don't know that I entirely agree.  I would not want to lift the rear tires off the ground because I don't want to loose the traction of the parking brake while up on the jacks.  But, as the photo above illustrates, sometimes you must set up in a site where the front of the coach is much lower than the back.  In that instance I sometimes lift the front wheels off the ground with the front leveler.  I don't see a problem with this.  I carry an "extra step" along for these instances to make entry and exit to and from the coach easier. 


Why three jacks instead of four?

Monaco has chosen to use three jacks on their raised rail coaches for a couple of reasons.  First, three jacks, like a 3-legged stool, make the coach easier to level.  There is less potential to twist the frame when it is up on the jacks.  (A 3-legged stool never wobbles, no matter where you place it.)  The second reason, is that the front center jack, when placed on the ground first, creates a pivot point when leveling the coach in any direction.  That protects the front of the coach from twisting, which in turn protects the huge Panaview one-piece windshield on Monaco coaches.  You never want that big windshield to to be subjected to twisting.  If it twists too much, it may develop a crack, or it might tend to pop out of its housing on one corner.  For that reason, you always want to get that front jack down first, when leveling the coach.

The "downside" of a three-jack system, is that when the jacks are extended, there is always a little movement in the coach when weight shifts (like when you're walking around).   The movement is so slight that I really don't notice it anymore, but it's there.  Though Monaco does not state it, I think this is probably the real reason they want owners to extend the slides while the coach is still sitting solidly on eight full air bags.  Again, the idea is to always do what is structurally best for that big beautiful front windshield.

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