Last updated on July 25th, 2023 at 08:37 am
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All types of RVs nowadays are revolutionized by the RV slide-out. These mechanisms are essentially movable walls, able to expand areas in an RV such as lounges and bedrooms. Some RVs may have one slide-out and others may have several throughout the rig!
So, how do RV slide-outs work?
RV slide-outs work through a series of gears, tracks, motors, and even hydraulic capabilities to extend and retract RV walls. RV slide-outs create more interior living or sleeping space, usually with just the press of a button. Some older RVs with slide-outs may work manually, but newer RV slides typically work by hydraulics.
There’s a lot to learn about how each type of RV slide-out works, along with the knowledge required to keep these pieces of kit functional at their best for all the RV adventures to come!
If you’re looking to get started RVing, or are upgrading your rig to something bigger and are wondering if slide-outs are the one for you, take a look at some RVs with slides so you can see what they bring to a space.
How Do RV Slide Outs Work?
There are a few different types of RV slide-outs, and each of them works differently! They all have the same goal of expanding the interior space of an RV, and some are manual, requiring a bit of human effort, whilst others are ultra-convenient and use hydraulics to work.
There are pros and cons to all the different types of RV slides, and the best way to determine which is the best option for you is to take a look at rigs with different types of slides, and also note down exactly what you’re looking for in an RV slide.
The video below is a great example of how different styles of RV slide-outs work and is worth a watch before we dig deeper into these brilliant pieces of RV technology.
As said in the video, different RV slide-outs work in different ways, and each has upsides and downsides. It’s possible to find a rig with the type of slide-out you’re looking for, but it’s essential to understand how the slide works and how best to maintain it so it will keep working optimally for a long time with minimal damage or leaks!
Types Of RV Slide Outs
Although modern rigs with slide-outs generally are supported by the use of electricity of hydraulics, older rigs may be simpler and rely on a bit of elbow grease! Along with understanding how your RV slide-outs work and what type you have on your rig, it’s wise to know how to maintain components such as the seals, as this is a common area where campers tend to face issues over time.
Electric Motor Slide Outs
Electric motor RV slide-outs are the same as all other types of slide-outs except for one key difference; they utilize an electric motor for extending and retracting the RV slide-out. The track and gears may be the same as manual or hydraulic slide-outs, but the electric motor moves and repositions slide-outs with ease. Most of the time, these tracks are lightweight and durable.
Electric motors are ideal for RVs in many capacities. Similarly to having an electric tongue jack to make leveling an RV easy, electric motor slide-outs operate with the press of a button and zero effort. This type of RV slide either uses the RV’s main battery or house battery to work. This means there’s no hassle in operating the slide-outs when boondocking or off-grid.
Keeping your RV battery charged is vital if you have electric motor RV slide-outs, otherwise, they may not work and you could be stuck with open or closed slides! The main drawback when it comes to electric motor slide-outs is their high price tag and the electric motor necessary to use the slide-out.
Rack And Pinion Slide Outs
Rack and pinion slide-outs operate in a fairly simplistic way, and they can be either manual, hydraulic, or electric. Rack and pinion slide-outs operate on a toothed track with a gear fitting within the teeth, allowing the slide-out to move along the track. The gear can move in either direction, hence the slide-out moving outside or withdrawing and becoming flush with your rig’s existing walls.
Given this fairly simplistic way of operating, these types of slide-outs are most likely what you’ll encounter with a new RV, and it’s even possible to find some winter-ready Class C RVs featuring slides too! Rack and pinion slide-outs are fairly inexpensive and can be easier and cheaper to fix compared to complicated electric slide-outs. There is a drawback with this type of RV slide-out; they are heavy!
This may not be a deal-breaker and is often something some RVers may not even notice if they don’t have a manual setup. However, if your rack and pinion slide-out is manual or the electric motor breaks, you may notice a significant struggle trying to get your slide-out flush with the RV wall.
Hydraulic Slide Outs
Hydraulic slide-outs operate on a similar level to rack and pin slide-outs, in the same way that they have a similar track to follow. Hydraulic slide-outs are belts with hydraulic lifts, and these can be operated either manually or with an electric motor. While there’s some physics involved, hydraulics operate using fluid and pistons.
You can anticipate hydraulics being quick, efficient, and relatively lightweight for your RV, making them a great choice for many. Hydraulic slide-outs are best for rigs with very heavy slide-outs, as hydraulic systems are capable of handling a much higher weight than a simple gear or motor. Read more about your various RV weight requirements here.
Because they can handle such a high weight, hydraulic slide-out systems are not often thought of in an RV setting. However, you may find they suit your rig best, or your RV manufacturer has utilized them already.
How To Maintain RV Slide Outs?
Having a brand new RV with working slide-outs is a blessing, but how can you ensure your RV slide-outs work for years to come? It all has to do with RV maintenance, something you’ll soon learn to master and appreciate!
Inspect RV Slide-Out Parts
A happy RV is a frequently inspected RV. These inspections don’t have to be performed by a licensed and professional RV repair person, and often they won’t know your rig as well as you do anyway! Inspecting your slide-out parts, including the track, seals, windows, and gears is key to maintaining your slide-outs and extending their life for RVing trips over the coming years.
Inspecting often goes hand-in-hand with exterior cleaning. You should plan on cleaning your RV slide-outs from top to bottom before storing or otherwise retiring your RV for the season. There are certain things you should keep a close eye on to help prevent damage like mold, mildew, or even rust.
For example, investigate how your sealant is holding up and if it’s drying out or not. Some types of RV antifreeze can dry out rubber gaskets in your RV plumbing system, and similarly, time and nature can wear down your RV’s various seals, including those on slide-outs.
When it comes to investigating your RV slide-out gears and mechanisms, you may need to turn it to a professional in order to tell if something is wrong. However, these items need replacing far less than your slide-out sealant.
Keep RV Level When Using Slide Outs
Having a level RV when your rig has slide-outs is vital, as these delicate pieces of machinery can easily become damaged if you use them when your rig isn’t level. Stepping on an unlevel slide-out can cause the floor beneath your feet to warp easier, so even if you’re on a sloped driveway, take the time to ensure your RV is level before engaging the slide-outs.
Any added weight to an RV slide out while your rig isn’t level can lead to it coming off its track, bending, or being incapable of retracting. None of this makes for a good time when it comes to packing up and leaving camp! While this doesn’t help if you are parked on uneven ground or a slanted surface, you may consider not using your slide-outs if you can’t help the fact that your rig is unlevel.
Avoid Slide Out Stabilizers (Unless Your Rig is Old)
A slide-out will never feel as sturdy as the main floor of your RV, and it makes sense why. Whether you have a light and compact toy hauler or a large Class A motorcoach, slide-outs hang off the main body of an RV, often many feet in the air, so they simply aren’t as rigid as the main body of the rig.
You may consider RV stabilizers or slide-out stabilizers to better support your slide-out, but use these with caution. Most RV ground stabilizers are safe to use while your rig isn’t level, but slide-out stabilizers have the potential of damaging your slide-out permanently. Older RV slide-outs may not be as high-tech as new ones and may appreciate the added support from a slide-out stabilizer.
I’d advise only using them if you’re parked on concrete, and very level concrete at that! If you own a new RV, many warranties will become null and void if you damage your slide-out while using slide-out stabilizers. Plus, all newer RV slide-outs are capable of working without the use of slide-out stabilizers. They are designed to handle whatever weight is put in them, so it may be worth giving them a miss!
Lubricate Slide Outs
When you inspect your RV slide-outs, it’s important to lubricate the gears and pinions, depending on the style of slide-out you have, of course! This process should occur before your monthly RV storage or retirement and may need to happen once more throughout the year as well.
This product (available on Amazon by clicking here) is just one example of a useful slide-out lubricant. There are many others, and every RVer has their favorite. Don’t forget to lubricate the mechanisms of your slide-out when the time comes!
Keep RV Interior Aisles Clear
It’s easy to roll out your slide-outs upon arrival at camp, but what about when it comes time to retract your slide-outs, close your RV curtains, and hit the road? It’s imperative to keep your RV interior aisles clear and free from any furniture, luggage, or anything else when you begin packing up. You can permanently damage both your RV and RV slide-out if you retract your slide-out and there are obstacles in the way!
Always keep a checklist of RV ‘to-dos’ you need to complete before hitting the road. This can include everything from checking your propane regulator and dumping your holding tanks to keeping your slide-out aisleways clear. I recommend getting down on the floor and inspecting your slide-out area closely. You may find something small, such as a child’s toy or stick- even these tiny items are enough to disrupt your RV slide-out!
Extend Slide Outs Fully
You may not have considered this yet, especially if you are new to RV ownership, but you need to always extend your RV slide-outs to their fullest point while in use. Why might this be? Your slide-outs are only designed to be sat in or otherwise utilized while fully extended. The track and support systems will not engage unless the slide-out is fully engaged.
You risk permanently damaging your slide-out if it’s used while only halfway out. This damage can occur in various places, such as the exterior of the slide-out, underneath the bulk of the moving piece, on the main wall of the RV, underneath the slide-out, or inside the RV, along the slide-out floor. You’ll no doubt hear an unfortunate sound should you step on or use your RV slide out while it isn’t fully extended.
Stepping on an unsupported section of your slide-out is a recipe for disaster, so it’s best to proceed with caution and check that all steps have been completed before walking around in the slide-out. You don’t have to extend your RV slide-outs every single time you camp, only when you need the additional square footage. It could be easier to just leave them withdrawn, especially if you’re just camping for a night.
However, you should never set up your slide-outs halfway. Always make this clear to whoever you are camping with as well. Unless your RV manufacturer explicitly says it is okay to use your slide-outs in a halfway position, avoid doing this at all costs.
Pros And Cons Of RV Slide Outs
Even though RV slide-outs are standard on most modern RVs, there are many other things to consider before purchasing an RV with a slide-out on it. They have benefits and downsides, just like every RV addition, but understanding the pros and cons of RV slides will help you decide if they are something you want on your rig.
Pro: Slide Outs Crease Additional Space
I don’t travel in the world’s biggest RV, and living in a relatively small space means I have to keep organized and tidy all the time and have an ingenious (if I do say so myself) layout to utilize the space in the best way possible. Slide-outs are fantastic space-enhancing features on RVs that effortlessly transform interiors from being on the smaller side to looking like a studio apartment!
Con: RV Slide Outs Are Heavy
Weight is very important with RVs, whether or not you have a motorhome or a travel trailer. Something important to consider with RV slide-outs is their often hefty weight. You can always purchase RV slide-out stabilizers should you be worried about the overall weight of your slide-out damaging the frame of your RV. However, most modern RV manufacturers build slide-outs without stabilizers in mind.
If you have old and manual RV slide-outs, you should consider the amount of muscle necessary to both pull them out and return them to their flush position. The amount of strength it takes may surprise you! Plus, RV slide-outs can be a big factor in an unlevel RV, especially if you’re parked and set up and notice your RV is tilting to one side or another.
Pro: RV Slides Can Create Additional Sleeping Areas
One of the most frustrating parts of RVing is often when there’s not quite enough space for everyone to get on board! I struggle to find space in my travel trailer for guests to sleep, but slide-outs are a great way of creating additional space that can often be used as sleeping areas.
Some RVs utilize cab over bunks and Murphy beds to help make sure everyone can come along on vacation and have a comfortable place to sleep for the night. But in smaller travel travelers or RVs, this can be easier said than done! Slide-outs can increase the square footage of a camper in next to no time, so there’s no need to panic about whether the whole family can fit inside the RV!
Con: Slide Outs Can Leak
Given slide-outs are very complicated pieces of machinery attached to the side of an RV, the chances of your slide-outs leaking are high. But why might this be? Let’s go into slide-outs in more detail. Slide-outs are equipped with carefully constructed seals along the sides, roof, and bottom. The seals are designed to protect your RV’s interior from rain, snow, and any other adverse intruders, including pests.
However, RV slide-outs should also be looked into at least once a year in order to confirm the seals are still operational. If your slide-out seals are worn, broken, or otherwise not working properly, you may get unwanted water or worse inside your RV. Hopefully, it’s an issue you catch early on, but this is not often the case for many RVers.
You should plan on investigating your RV slide-outs before placing your RV into storage or under a specially fitted RV cover. Plan on removing any debris and inspecting the seals close up. Keeping an eye on the condition of your RV slide-out sealant is key, especially when it comes time to replace them. Your RV slide-outs will most likely need resealing every other year, but it will depend on how often you use your RV and other conditions.
Con: Slide Outs Aren’t Well-Insulated
While an RV wood stove is capable of keeping anyone warm and toasty in an RV, your slide-outs are not going to be the most insulated locations in your rig. Given the walls actively move, they are not built with as much insulation or other heat-retaining properties when compared with the rest of your RV. It also counts when the weather is hot outside: you’re more likely to feel the heat while sitting in your slide-out.
Even the most efficient RV air conditioner may have trouble combating the heat or cold weather that often comes with camping in beautiful and remote locations. If your master bedroom is located with an RV slide-out in it, you may feel the adverse effects of extreme weather.
Any newer RV is most likely going to have a slide-out installed somewhere in it, whether it be to add square footage to your master bedroom or create a fantastic open living space. It’s up to you to know how your slide-outs work and maintain them so they last for years to come!