Getting your Caravan Level: Is it best on air?
How a wheelbarrow tyre inner tube and a scrap car airbag led to a revolutionary caravan levelling system and fitting wheel locks at the same time
Words by Val Chapman
Photos by Richard Chapman
Over the generations, since the dawn of caravanning time, caravanners have come up with their own solutions to the problem of laterally levelling a caravan. Most of them involve planks of wood (how horribly basic but we do that, too!).
There are ramps, of course. But the ones that work best are big and bulky to transport, just as are chunks of wood.
"For us, years of time-consuming struggles with caravan jacks to fit the second wheel lock disappear into thin air – literally."
Whatever plank or ramp solution you may use, none of these solutions answers the dual need of levelling and fitting AL-KO Secure wheel locks to a twin-axle caravan. We've been aware of all the options, of course – including a product called Lock 'n' Level – for some time.
But we had not investigated this one in detail, until a visit to Lock'n'Level's stand at the NEC show led us to suggest, to the company which makes it, that we'd like to put one to a real-time test. It was about time we discovered what this bright blue airbag system was all about.
We arranged both a single and twin axle caravan. First, though, we sat down over coffee with the system's inventors, caravanners Terry Culver and Derek Ibbotson, to find out how Lock'n'Level began.
Derek and Terry have been friends for 30 years; two caravanning families met because their children went to the same swimming club. The families have been on convoy-caravan holidays together in France.
"About five years ago we decided we had both had enough of levelling caravans using ramps and chocks, plus the challenge of putting on wheel locks," says Derek.
Terry takes up the story: "The motivator was the AL-KO wheel lock. Derek suggested we take a week in which we both go away and think of a solution." Derek adds: "We came back together and Terry said perhaps we should think about using air. That kicked the whole thing off."
"The challenge was that we had to create something with virtually no money," says Terry. "Then we had to prove it would lift a caravan.
"We came up with an idea. I went to a scrapyard and got an old car airbag. Derek got an inner tube from a wheelbarrow. We went to Derek's caravan (a single-axle) and put the bag under a wheel. It lifted it. And then exploded. The point was proved, though.
"Then it was a case of designing, building, developing an efficient version. That was in 2008. We made 50 in Derek's workshop. And sold them."
Derek and Terry were then launched into business.
How it works
Levelling a single-axle caravan
Over coffee in the restaurant at Woodland Waters Holiday Park, Derek explains: "You roll the caravan onto the bag (towing it or using a motor mover), fit the lock, then inflate the bag, using a standard car tyre inflator, until the caravan becomes level.
|Step one - You roll the caravan onto
the bag, with the tyre within the markers
Step one - we line up the bag ready to reverse
Then you level front-to-back in the usual way with the jockey wheel. The bag will raise a single-axle caravan by up to six inches.
Levelling a twin-axle caravan
The twin Lock'n'Level unit is divided into two sections. You can inflate both sections simultaneously, to level your caravan, or independently, to fit the second wheel lock.
|Step two - inflate the bag; we're taking
the power supply from the Cadiz's 12-v socket
|Step two - the wheels are preciiself
postioned between the lines on the bag
Terry advises: "People have always got to bear in mind the usual necessity of chocking the wheels on other side and putting the handbrake on; it's normal safety practise."
Fitting AL-KO Secure wheel locks to a twin-axle caravan
|Step three - check when the caravan is level
- we did this using a smartphone app
|Step three - we fit the first wheel lock|
Derek explains: "You roll the caravan wheels onto the twin-bag unit, lining up the valve on the rear wheel with an aperture in the spokes so that you can fit the lock. The valve systems are set up to inflate the rear pad first.
Step four - single axle - The Cadiz just needs
|Step four - we inflate the rer bag
to rasie the rear wheel so that we can rotate
the front wheel
"You close the valve which separates the two bag sections, so only the rear section will inflate.
Above: The valve between the two bags enables you to equalise the air in the bags once you have fitted the second lock
"Once you reach about 20psi on the pump's gauge, the front wheel will be free to rotate. Then you can fit the second wheel lock.
"When the lock is fitted, you open the valve which prevented the air from travelling between the two; the air in the rear bag will then move to the front bag and equalise the pressure between the two.
|Step five - with the rear wheel raised, there is enough
clearance under the front wheel to rotate it
"You check your spirit level. If the caravan is too high on that side, you deflate a little; both bags will deflate simultaneously. When your spirit level indicates the caravan is level, you turn off the value and stop the air coming out."
|Step six - with both locks fitted, we open the valve
to equalise the amount of air in the two bags
The whole process takes six or seven minutes (four minutes for a single axle caravan) – and that includes fitting the lock(s).
- A single-axle unit is £119.95
- A twin unit is £199.95.
A combined pack of one of each units is £290; for twin-axle caravan owners who want to level the caravan on the offside and still fit the wheel locks on the nearside.
All prices include postage and packing.
Lock'n'Levels are sold direct and at both October and February NEC caravan shows.
The units carry a 12-month warranty.
What they're made of
The bag fabric is nylon reinforced polypropylene, UV stabilised.
Its valves are made of chrome-plated brass, for weather resistance and the steel ends of the bags are mild steel zinc plated. The screws that hold the two sections of the steel ends together are stainless steel.
Derek and Terry make the Lock'n'Levels in their factory unit in Leighton Buzzard.
The Caravan test
We've had the theory lesson – time to put Lock'n'Level o the test. Enter a Bailey Unicorn Cadiz and its twin-axle cousin, the Barcelona.
Test one – to align and fit the AL-KO Secure wheel lock on the Cadiz –and then level the caravan.
We find just about the only sloping piece of ground at Woodland Waters Holiday Park, and position the Cadiz on it. We put the single bag in front of the wheel. We roll the caravan forward so that the wheel is on the bag; guidelines are on the bag to mark exactly where edges of the tyre go. Then we fit the lock.
Now for the levelling.
We're using the 12-volt socket inside the Cadiz to power the tyre pump. We press the button and watch the caravan become level.
It's impressively quick – in just a minute or so the Cadiz's nearside has risen by the 10cm it needs to get the caravan level, although the bag would take it higher were it needed by the terrain.
Photoman Richard checks using the spirit level on his phone; we can level the caravan to millimetre accuracy using this method.
Now we level the Cadiz from front to rear using the jockey wheel and put the corner steadies down. We're on grass, so we don't need a mat under the bag to protect it; on hardstanding or gravel, a basic, thin doormat from a supermarket is ideal.
Test two –fitting both locks to a twin-axle caravan
Without this device, the only way to fit the second wheel lock is to use a jack to raise the caravan to rotate the second wheel.
We tow the Barcelona into position over the bags and fit the lock to the rear wheel. Next, we turn the balance valve off so that air goes into the rear bag only. Then, we inflate and watch as the rear bag begins to raise the rear wheel.
We can then rotate the forward wheel. And the lock can be fitted. Simple!
Finally, we open the balance valve and the pressure equalises between the two bags
Using the combined single and twin unit
You can use the single bag to raise one wheel to fit the second lock on a twin-axle caravan and use the twin bag under the offside wheels to level the caravan. We'll be putting that combination to use later this year when we get opportunity to take the long-term-test Barcelona to a park where it's necessary to raise the offside to get it level. Watch this space!
For us, years of time-consuming struggles with caravan jacks to fit the second wheel lock disappear into thin air – literally. This device revolutionises caravanning for twin-axle caravan owners – that's not an exaggeration.
Years of transporting planks of wood and ramps, for levelling, in the car's luggage area are gone, too. As is coping with the mud that often sticks, when we pack them away to tow home. All we now need is the easily-wiped-clean bright blue Lock'n'Level unit that folds away into a nylon bag. And the tyre pump that lives in the car anyway.
Visit the Lock'n'Level website for more details: www.locknlevel.co.uk