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‘Out and About Live’ discuss E&P Hydraulics levelling for caravans

The essential task of levelling a caravan has remained stubbornly low-tech for half a century, relying on wooden planks, or, at best, bespoke, but still basic, plastic levelling ramps.

But, all of a sudden, the 21st century arrived. The pace of change accelerated and engineers turned their attention to the boring and unsophisticated task of winding up and down four metal legs every time we pitch and unpitch.

Even for those who choose to use a rechargeable drill to quicken the process, it’s still surely caravanning’s dullest task?

EP levelC for caravans

Along came automatic caravan levelling systems…

Then, in 2007, with a buzz and a whir, a company in Blackburn changed all that. Enter the E&P Levelsystem, which magically levels a caravan at the touch of a button. Suddenly, there was an alternative to winding a handle or getting out a drill (assuming you’ve remembered to recharge it!).

To begin with, E&P made levelling products which a specialist fitter would retro-fit to your tourer. The process is pretty straightforward and takes just a day for the full system.

But then, the Explorer Group began offering the ‘elbow-grease-removing’ system as standard on its luxury Buccaneer caravans.

I clearly recall its public unveiling, at the Buccaneer factory in County Durham. E&P Hydraulics gave us a lesson in this new, luxury method of levelling.

They passed us a handset. At the touch of a button a series of rhythmic motor sounds emerged from the axle area of the giant Buccaneer, as two substantial pistons, with big, flat bases, slowly descended.

Hydraulic legs

As the feet touched the ground, the big Bucc shifted and tilted on these hydraulic ‘legs’. Within a few seconds, the caravan was level from side to side, on far-from-even ground.

Then, as if with a mind of its own, the system turned its attention to the front-to-back levelling. Four giant corner steadies descended, emitting metallic, whirring sounds. Within two minutes, a caravan that weighed just shy of 2000 kg, was level. Impressive.

Next, Lunar saw the labour-saving potential of Levelsystem and fitted it to its new brand of caravan, Alaria, launched last year. That brought the number of models with auto-levelling appeal as standard to eight.

Caravan magazine’s technical expert, Terry Owen, availed himself of this new advancement. He has a Levelsystem fitted to his Bessacarr 645 and says the ease of pitching firm and level is a brilliant asset to his enjoyment of caravanning.

And there’s now a cheaper, alternative option, too. E&P makes a cut-down version of the Complete Caravan Levelsystem, called Compact Caravan Levelsystem. Less cost. Less impact upon your payload. More appeal? Well, perhaps.

Unless your techie appetite means nothing less than the maximum amount of engineering, hydraulics and wizardry will do.

It’s good to have the option, though. Which is why we decided to find out more. So Caravan magazine headed to Blackburn, and the headquarters of E&P…

How does Levelsystem work?

The brilliant thing is its simplicity: it has a hydraulic pump, an electric motor, two axle jacks and four heavy-duty legs of E&P’s own design (fitted with AL-KO’s Big Foot plates). When you start the system, the hydraulic pump engages and feeds the jacks with 170 bar of pressure to raise the caravan.

The right jack exerts the most pressure and comes down first, levelling the caravan side to side. Then the front legs come down to stabilise, followed by the left jack descending to finish the side-to-side levelling process.

Finally, the rear legs lower to make the final adjustments. All in under two minutes (I videoed the process in real time and it took just 1 minute 27 seconds from the first whir to the final thunk).

Can Levelsystem be fitted to any caravan?

The levelling system can be fitted to any single or twin-axle caravan. The only difference is where you mount the axle jacks. On a single-axle they’re mounted behind the axle and on a twin you mount them in between (forward of the rear axle).

What are the components?

The Complete kit comprises the two axle jacks, the hydraulic pump system, the electric motor, the CPU or ‘brain’, pressure switch, valve blocks and the pipework leading to the jacks and leg pistons.

What maintenance does it require?

The levelling system is fully sealed and self contained (it’s a closed-loop system). It needs no topping up of fluid and the only maintenance required is a quick spray of silicone-based lubricant (WD40) on the axle jacks, and on the leg pistons to eliminate the possibility of corrosion.

Is there a maximum weight of caravan?

This is a simple but mighty piece of kit; the jacks are capable of lifting a remarkable three tonnes! That’s the heaviest caravan on the market, fully laden with eight people inside. Impressive.

How is it controlled?

There’s a fixed control panel in the caravan, a remote handset, and for those wanting to have the ultimate in tech, there’s an app in the pipeline, too. Launching in 2018, the app will be compatible with existing levelling systems (a minor software upgrade will be needed, but will be compatible with all existing levellers).

How much does it weigh?

By this point, you’re probably thinking that all this hardware is going to add a bit of weight to your caravan and thereby drastically reduce your available payload. It’s not as heavy as you might think, though. The factory-fitted unit adds 28kg and the retro-fitted Compact kit only 20kg. While it does impact your payload, it’s only by a manageable amount.

How much does it cost?

The Complete system, with two axle jacks and four hydraulic levelling legs, costs £2957, including parts, labour and VAT. The Compact system, with just the two axle jacks, costs £1808.

Can Levelsystem be moved to a new caravan?

When you get around to changing your caravan, there’s no need to leave the leveller behind; switching/upgrading will cost around £1200.

How long does it take to fit?

Complete system – one day; Compact system – four hours, by one of the 15 authorised UK fitters.

What gradient is the system designed for?

Levelsystem operates on a gradient up to 5%. And when the gradient is greater than 5%? As you would normally, on extreme undulating ground, you will need wooden blocks.

You then activate the manual mode to bring down individual legs until they hit the wood platform, then simply allow the unit to auto-level.

Are there any other benefits?

If your caravan is in storage, you can raise the wheels off the ground, so it just sits on the jacks for prolonged periods, to prevents tyre flat-spots.

Plus, when the jacks are down they constitute an extra security measure because the wheels are not in contact with the ground.

Power failure?

And finally, I ask what happens if the site’s 240V power fails and my battery runs flat with the jacks and legs down? (Or it’s been on a video shoot, and no one bothered to plug it in despite using the levelling system repeatedly all day (As once happened in our team!). It doesn’t use much power, but operate it 25-30 times, and it will drain the leisure battery.)

It turns out there is an emergency retract button. You simply connect the caravan 12-volt cable up to your car in the usual manner (as if you were hitching up) and press the button. This will bypass the leveller’s ‘brain’ and retract everything, meaning you won’t be stuck on a campsite with an immovable, if perfectly level, caravan.

For more information visit: Out and About Live.

E&P: Levelling with touchscreen

The newly revised hydraulic levelling system for motorhomes from E&P Hydraulics is now called levelM and offers users even more comfort. In the past the motorhome steady legs were controlled at the touch of a button; in future, this will be achieved simply and conveniently using a tablet and/or smartphone app, both of which have the same user interface. One advantage of the new, modern operating concept is that it can be updated in terms of user interface and functions. The small touchpad is provided with a fixed charging station in the motorhome. When the tablet is removed from this unit it functions as a practical, wireless radio remote control from which the entire levelling system can also be controlled form outside the vehicle. Simply touching the tablet or smartphone screen commands the system to automatically level the vehicle horizontally. The hydraulic cylinders can also be moved manually so that, for example, a motorcycle carrier can be loaded more easily.

LevelM Stable and level by touchscreen

The principle of the E&P hydraulic levelling system is quite simple. The legs are extended hydraulically out of a cylinder at the push of a button and position the vehicle absolutely horizontally within 120 seconds. But behind the simple functionality there is a lot of experience and a complex technology.

The hydraulic support system includes steady legs, pump blocks, oil reservoirs, hydraulic lines and electronic control. At a press of the button on the remote control, the pump starts and pumps oil from the tank into the cylinders of the steady legs. The steady legs of the E&P system extend in pairs until the contact the ground and a counter-pressure is built up in the system. Thanks to the electronic spirit level integrated into the control unit, the system starts to extend the legs further until the vehicle is absolutely horizontal. To ensure that no damaging forces act on the superstructure, the legs are always extended in pairs on the longitudinal or transverse axis and always with just the amount of travel necessary. Depending on the model, when fitted to a motorhome the hydraulic system can move up to 10,000 kilograms per leg. That is sufficient to level a 22 tonne vehicle.

Each E&P system is matched to the weight of the vehicle. The electronics controls the travel of the legs via the pressure in the respective cylinder. This means that the system does not need any susceptible electrical sensors on the legs. All systems are fastened to the chassis supporting points using adapters specially designed for the respective vehicle and body type, which means that no welding is necessary.

An overview of the E&P levelM levelling system:

• For motorhomes from 3.5 to 22 tonnes permitted gross weight
• Available with different stroke lengths
• Drive-off protection – the system functions only when the ignition is switched off
• Hydraulic pump driven by a powerful motor (12 V / 24 V – 800 W)
• Fully automatic levelling at the push of a button
• Semi-automatic operation of pairs of supports
• Emergency operation in case of power failure
• Lowering of the supports in pairs to avoid stresses being exerted on the chassis or body
• Permanent protection against corrosion, stone chips, moisture and dirt
• Stainless steel base plate as standard
• Can be integrated into an existing air suspension system
• Level and steady in maximum 2 minutes
• Easy touchscreen operation
• Compact and light
• Maintenance-free
• Cable and line routing protected from dirt and moisture

The software can also be retrofitted to enable control using a smartphone app (iOS and Android). This requires a WiFi module that is integrated into the control cable between the control unit and touch panel or conventional operating panel and is supplied with power to operate the levelling system by pushing a button. Power off is automatic after five minutes of inactivity.

For further information on the levelM motorhome levelling system from E&P Hydraulics, visit: E&P Hydraulics.

‘The Fit RV’ test VB Air Suspension in the US… what did they make of it?

Stef and I have been rolling with VB Air Suspension in our RV for over a month now, and there’s no going back. We’re hooked!

We made a before-and-after video right when we got it installed, and we both thought it improved the ride quality for us. But that was a pretty subjective test. Since I’m me, I had to go a little further with it. I wanted actual data to prove that things really were smoother. The result is this video:

To do this right, I needed three things:

  • A control rig and our rig, together on the same day
  • A bumpy road
  • A way to quantify ride quality

The first one was pretty easy. Right after we left Advanced RV, who had installed the VB Air Suspension on our ProMaster, we headed to Winnebago’s Grand National Rally. While we were parked there in a row of 40 or so nearly identical rigs, I realized I had found my control rig! I searched around the row until I found a similar Travato with stock suspension. Our RV is pretty unique, but the Soloway’s RV was as close as practical. They were nice enough to let us use their rig for our video.

Finding a bumpy road was also pretty easy. Stef and I led bike rides all throughout the rally. I just paid close attention and found a straight section of road with plenty of expansion joints, cracks, potholes, dips, and bumps. It didn’t take long to find our test track, just outside the rally grounds.

Finding a way to quantify ride quality took a little more thinking, but ultimately the answer was in my pocket. Modern smartphones have accelerometers in them. These are what lets the phone know if you tip it, shake it, whatever. So I found an app that tapped into the phone’s accelerometer data, and displayed that in a graph. In practice, it looks like a seismograph. The app I used is called “Vibration”, for the iPhone. The important thing here was that it let me export the data so I could look at it afterward.

Once I had those things in place, you can guess how the experiment worked. We drove each van, loaded with the same passengers (and same driver) over the same bumpy road at the same speed and recorded the data. We also had the Soloways give us their impressions of the ride quality. Since they hadn’t spent the money on an air suspension system, we figured their opinions were bound to be less biased than our own! And when we got back home, I took a long look at the data and produced the analysis you see in the video.

So now that you have the data, ask yourself, which van would you rather be riding in? I did ask myself that question! Not only do I ride in the van, but I have to work on a laptop on the dinette while Swervy McWhiplash (aka Stef) is driving. The end result of all this is that I’m convinced that the VB Air Suspension did indeed smooth out the ride. Stef and I felt it. Ms. Soloway certainly felt it. And now, I’ve got data that shows it.

I’m considering this case closed, and a verdict in favor of the VB Air Suspension.

For the full article, please visit: The Fit RV

Insurance specialists ‘CaravanGuard’ discuss the benefits of E&P levelling systems

We often hear about the difficulties of levelling a caravan on a slightly sloping pitch and then lining up the wheels to fit an axle wheel lock, particularly on a twin axle caravan van. Levelling the ‘van can often be a two person operation and sometimes very stressful for all involved. You’ve taken ages to get your caravan level and then you can’t get to the receiver for your lock lozenges!

If you’re lucky enough to afford a new Lunar Alaria or Buccaneer caravan, like the Galera, then you won’t have these problems…Welcome to the E&P automatic levelling system!

How does it work?

At the press of a button the E&P Levelsystem allows you to tilt and lift up the caravan with its six hydraulic supports. You can then turn the wheels by hand and get those axle wheel locks fitted with ease. Using a control panel inside the caravan or a remote control, you then press auto to activate the levelling system and watch it automatically put down the hydraulic steadies and level the caravan in less than two minutes.

Caravan guard

This automatic levelling system can be retro-fitted and although it’s not cheap, it’s simple to use and will get you perfectly pitched in no time at all – without the need for jacks, blocks and spirit levels.

Using hydraulic axle supports (or jacks) the system lifts and tilts your caravan, taking the weight of your tourer and reducing the stress on the caravan suspension, corner steadies and tyres. When in storage you can also take the pressure off the tyres completely and use the jacks to take the stresses out of the axle.

The system also includes four hydraulic corner supports with AL-KO Big Foot feet to help spread the load and make your caravan floor feel as solid as concrete!

The levelling process is completely automatic and having the ability to tilt the caravan from side-to-side also makes it possible to repair a puncture at the side of the road whilst still attached to the tow car.

The system is also a good theft deterrent as there’s no way of lifting up the corner steadies or the jockey wheel, and with the axle jacks down any caravan would take some moving!

For more information visit: Caravanguard