Leveling Jack Pad Comparison

Leveling Jack Pads

E. Don Smith
January 30, 2013
Filed under Gear Reviews, Top Stories

Bookmark and Share

To many motorhome owners, jack pads are simply a nuisance item they are forced to use at upscale RV resorts in order to protect the decorative concrete at these posh locations. Not only is the concrete stamped and stained, it is also perfectly level and the only purpose the jacks serve is to stabilize the motorhome.

This is what happens if you don’t use a quality pad when parked on grass and the soil gets soaked during your stay. Not only are the jacks a mess, they can get stuck if the soil is soft enough.

There is another group of motorhome owners who value their jack pads and use them regularly, even without a mandate. They are camping in unimproved areas, state fairgrounds, dog show lots and fields at NASCAR and other racetracks. At these places, jack pads are important, and these motorhome owners would not consider leaving home without them. If you are one of these adventurous types who are not afraid to drop your jacks in uneven and unimproved locations, this article is for you.

When you search online or look in retail stores you will find a wide range of jack pads priced from as little as $40 for a set of four, up to $300 or more. When I began researching this topic, I could not imagine how the price could vary so much for what appears to be the same product. The truth is they are not all the same; there is a tremendous difference in the form and function of various jack pads. The way you use your motorhome will dictate the type of pad you need and the cost.

To save money, some motorhome owners make their own jack pads. After all, anyone with a circular saw and a drill can fabricate a homemade set of pads in about an hour at a cost of less than $40. With that in mind, what could possibly motivate anyone to spend $100, $200 or even $300 for a set of four jack pads? That is just one of many questions we will answer as we point you toward the best jack pad for your coach.

First, we need to define what a jack pad is and what it does before we compare the features and benefits. Jack pads are solid units (made of various materials) that are placed under your motor­home’s jacks. The pads are designed to serve four functions: spread out the load of the jack foot onto a larger area to prevent that load from sinking into the subgrade; protect the subgrade (decorative concrete, paver stones, soft soil, sand, asphalt, etc.) from being damaged by the foot of the jack; provide additional lift to allow the coach to obtain a level position when parked on uneven ground; and provide an even surface for the motorhome jack foot to press against when parked on rocky or uneven subgrades.

There are several characteristics that help the jack pads perform these four functions. First, the pad should be strong enough to support the load of the motorhome and spread it out over the subgrade. If you always park on asphalt, concrete or hard-packed dry soil, then a jack pad will simply transfer the load to the subgrade with no deformation of the pad. If you park on grass, sand or very soft soil, however, and have a heavy motorhome, you can expect the pad to deflect under the load of the coach. In that case, a rigid and strong jack pad is needed.

Another factor that comes into play regarding stiffness of the pad and the condition of the subgrade is the total size of the jack pad. Naturally, a large jack pad offers a lot more surface area to spread out the weight of the coach, but it also allows for more deflection of the pad assuming the same thickness and material type. Many manufacturers offer different size pads in addition to different thicknesses. If you have a heavy 45-foot tag axle bus and intend on using it on soft soils, not only should you get a larger pad in terms of surface area, but you will also need a thicker pad to prevent it from bending if subjected to uneven or soft ground conditions. Many manufacturers offer thicknesses of 3/4-inch, 1 inch, 2 inches or more if needed. Of course the cost and weight goes up along with the thickness.

One of the most demanding uses of jack pads in the commercial world is for outriggers on construction equipment such as cranes, backhoes, utility trucks, etc. In these applications, where failure can result in the loss of human life, you will typically see 2-inch-thick (or more) pads with a large surface area used to prevent the outriggers from deflecting or settling into the ground and allowing the equipment to become unstable.

In order to simply protect decorative concrete or prevent the foot of the jack from scarring the asphalt, most any commercially sold jack pad will do the job. Even plastic kitchen cutting boards will work in this instance. If that is your only need, save your money for other things and buy the cheapest pads you can find.

The next desirable feature of jack pads is to provide lift to help obtain a level coach on uneven ground. To achieve this function the thickest pads are by definition the best. Our homemade pads were constructed out of pressure-treated 2-by-10-inch lumber cut to 12-inch lengths that were then laminated on top and bottom with half-inch pressure-treated plywood and screwed together with construction screws. For those of you who rely simply on pressure-treated lumber cut to length, you will find that as the lumber dries over time the boards will split. This can be eliminated by the use of plywood (also pressure-treated) top and bottom, and of course the plywood adds some thickness as well.

Thickness and rigidity are important aspects of a jack pad, but as pads get thicker and more rigid they will naturally become heavier, which not only makes them more difficult to store but also harder to load and unload. In our scores we rated each pad on weight and amount of lift so you will have to balance these aspects against your needs and budget.

An ideal jack pad should be easy to clean and to place under the motor­home. Many of the jack pads we tested are made from a hard plastic material that is naturally impervious to water, dirt, mud, etc., making them ideal for use in these areas. One product (Hosspad) takes a different approach. It is made from recycled tires, which offers some unique advantages. For example, if you are setting up on rocky soil or crushed seashells, the rubber pad conforms to the uneven subgrade very well. The drawback is that the pad is somewhat heavy and not as stiff as some of the other pads we tested.

All of the products tested also have a molded handle, a cutout or a rope/cable to allow you to easily reach them under your motorhome and move them around. This feature makes retrieving them very easy with an awning rod and prevents you from having to get on your hands and knees and crawl under the coach to reach them. Two of the manufacturers (Dica and OFL) even include a convenient storage bag that can help prevent the pads from dragging dirt into the basement of your coach.

In most comparison tests here at Motor­Home, we rate products on a variety of factors and then total them up for a winning score. However, for this test the total scores are not meaningful since we can’t possibly capture the intended use of the jack pad for every motorhome owner. So instead of giving a total score, we have simply ranked each product (including our own homemade pads) in each category, with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “best.” You can look at the scores and compare them to your needs and pick the pad that most closely suits your needs.

Jack Pad Comparison

Jack Pad Comparison

Print Friendly

Comments

Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!





Get a FREE issue of Motor Home Magazine

Sign up for your trial subscription and you'll receive a FREE issue. If you like Motor Home, pay just $19.97 for 11 more issues (12 in all). Otherwise, write "cancel" on the invoice, return it and owe nothing.