What to do if the only available parking for your RV is on a hill? Can you park an RV - motorhome, travel trailer or 5th wheel - on an incline? And if so, how do you do that?
You can park an RV on a hill if you must. You need to need to follow these steps (we'll cover them in more detail in this post) -
- Place your wheel at the correct angle
- Level your travel trailer or 5th wheel (if you're towing)
- Put the parking brake on
- Place your chocks and wheel stabilizers
- Rearrange the bed
While far than ideal, if you have no choice and must park on a hill, these steps will help you avoid damage to your trailer and sleep better at night. Keep reading to make sure you fully understand how to implement them.
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Why You Might Park on an Incline
Parking your RV - especially a travel trailer or 5th wheel - can be difficult enough on level terrain. After all, it can be difficult to find the space to squeeze your setup. RVs don’t exactly fit in the average parking spot. That’s why sometimes you might end up in some unique parking predicaments.
One of these might be parking on an incline. While this isn’t the most desirable parking situation, there are a few reasons you might be forced to stop on a hilly road or otherwise inclined street:
- Lack of space elsewhere. As mentioned, travel trailers are large vehicles that need lots of room to park. That gives you limited parking options, and sometimes an incline is all that will work.
- The environment is hilly by nature. According to news site Mother Jones, states like California, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii are known for their inclining streets. If you’re traveling in San Francisco or Pittsburgh, steep streets are the norm.
Similarly, some state parks and other campsites may have hills and other steep terrains in which you must navigate and park.
How Gravity Affects Hillside Parking
Gravity keeps us anchored to the ground, but when it comes to parking on a hill or incline, it can be a real pain. What normally happens when you put something on an incline? It starts rolling or moving down the hill.
Your recreational vehicle could theoretically do that, unless if you have the parking brake on. Besides that potentially horrifying predicament, gravity also works in more subtle ways. A 1985 article from the LA Times outlined all the vehicular effects of prolonged parking on an incline. Yes, it’s an old article, but cars and trucks haven’t changed that much.
What happens if you repeatedly park your RV on a hill? Your transmission could suffer for the decision. In most vehicles, a pawl will shift into a transmission gear when you put park mode on. The pawl is just a metal arm. When you’re on the decently-even ground, the pawl works well.
This little metal arm is not meant to stand up to gravity once you park your travel trailer on an incline, though. It could eventually let go, leading to very pricy transmission damage. If you’ve noticed that you can’t turn your transmission lever from its parking position easily, the damage may have already begun.
Why Level Parking Is the Better Option
If the above-mentioned transmission issues didn’t convince you, here are several more reasons why you should park your travel trailer on flat, level ground when possible.
The first and most important reason to stick to level parking is safety. Motorhomes are super heavy. Travel trailers can weigh thousands of pounds and 5th wheels are even heavier. Your truck or SUV is quite heavy, too. If your RV were to go rolling down a hilly street, the results could be disastrous. Cars could be smashed, pedestrians potentially struck, and that’s not to mention the thousands and thousands of dollars in property damage you could accrue.
Even if the trailer came free of its hitch and went rolling down the road while the truck or SUV remained in place, again, that’s a lot of expensive damage to have to account for. On top of that, your travel trailer would be toast.
Why risk the effects of gravity if you don’t have to?
Have you ever tried to get comfortable while on an incline? It’s not exactly easy. If you were to spend the night on a street or campground where there was a steep incline, you’d quickly find that sleeping would prove to be quite the challenge.
Your feet would be up higher than your head, which feels unnatural. Even if you decided to just chill out and play games, read, or otherwise relax, getting comfortable would not be simple. You’ll be able to feel gravity pulling on you in a way it’s not supposed to. That makes it hard to unwind.
Gear and Appliances
Your transmission isn’t all that could bust with prolonged hilly parking. Certain appliances aren’t meant to withstand uneven conditions. One that comes to mind is the refrigerator.
Your fridge is a fussy appliance, to put it nicely. If it’s not on completely even ground, then ammonia sediment is likely to occur. This sediment can also develop from lack of use or age.
The sediment is a liquid, and if left unchecked, it will get all the way to your fridge’s cooling unit. This stalls the cooling unit and prevents you from having cold food and drinks. The fridge can even start running warm, which is extremely problematic.
Fixing the issue isn’t easy. You either have to turn the fridge completely upside down to let all the liquid ammonia flow out or you have to buy a new fridge entirely. Both options are not great.
How to Park an RV on a Hill
All that said, sometimes you may find yourself in a predicament where parking on an incline is your only option. We do caution you to limit your time parked on a hill. Avoid overnight stays if you can.
If hilly parking is your last resort, you’re going to need to know how to maneuver your travel trailer setup. Parking on an incline is not the same as parking on even terrain.
Here are the steps you should follow.
Step #1: Wheel Placement
The placement of your motorhome's - or truck’s/SUV’s - wheels makes a big difference in you staying secure or rolling away. Here are some tips to follow:
- If you are parked on terrain in which there aren’t any curbs but you’re still on an incline (either downhill or uphill), angle your wheels as close to the edge of the road as possible. This way, if you have brake issues, your travel trailer won’t go careering down the middle of the street.
- If the terrain has a curb and is uphill, angle from the curb. Your truck might move a little, just several inches. This is okay. It’s also alright if the curb and your wheels are making slight contact. Don’t park up on the curb, of course.
- If the terrain has a curb and is downhill, angle towards the curb.
Step #2: Level Your Travel Trailer
Now that you know what to do with your wheels, you want to level your vehicle as much as possible. If your RV is a travel trailer or 5th wheel, you need to level that too. Trailer tongue jacks and lower stabilizer jacks are going to come in handy here. Leveling blocks can also be used.
These Lego-like blocks are part of the gear every RVer needs to have with him at any time - for this reason exactly. If you're not sure what these are, check out our list of RV gear and you'll find them there.
Step #3: Put Your Parking Brake On
Congratulations. You’re now parked on an incline. Before you hop out of your truck or SUV, your parking brake should be on. This boosts the chances of your vehicle staying secure, even on a hill.
But that's only the beginning.
Step #4: Place Your Chocks and Wheel Stabilizers
Chocks are a must-have safety item - make sure you use them and plenty of them when parking on a hill.
If you're new to RVing, chocks are these brightly-colored sturdy plastic triangles that you place against your wheel when parking. In essence, they counter the wheel's natural inclination to follow the law of gravity. It's always a good idea to use chocks - but absolutely necessary when parking on an incline.
Wheel stabilizers are X-shaped instruments that you can place between pairs of wheels. They lock your wheels in place, preventing them from moving. This is great for making your RV feel more stable when you walk inside, which is why many RVers use them in every parking situation - not just on hilly terrain.
Again, if you're not sure what they are, hop over to our RV gear list for more explanations and pictures.
Step #5: Rearrange Your Bed
Lastly, you’re going to want to rearrange your bed. Lift the mattress or add more pillows so that your head is up higher than your feet. This will allow you to get a comfortable night’s sleep.
While you should always strive to park your travel trailer on even, reliable terrain, navigating hills and inclines doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If you can, avoid the steepest inclines. Smaller, slight hills aren’t as bad and can lessen potential damage to your vehicle.
How About Finding a Different Spot?
As mentioned earlier, sometimes parking on a hill is unavoidable. Other times, it certainly is. Most campgrounds offer fully-leveled sites, even in hilly areas. That's part of what you're paying them for. It may just be worth the investment.
If you're just stopping for a few hours, there are other - often free - options too. Check out our post about where you can park your RV for a few hours to get some ideas.
And as always, if you have your own tips to add, leave us a comment!