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RV Slide Outs: All You Need to Know

Updated: Apr 29

Are RV slides really worth installing in your rig? Read on as we explore the different kinds of RV slides, how they work, and basic RV slide etiquette.

RV with slide outs

Since the dawn of RVs, space has always been one of the foremost issues with living in an RV full-time. Whether you're a solar traveler or an RV family, you must've faced a little difficulty packing your entire life up in a single vehicle. RV slide outs are the RV market's solution to creating more living space within your rig. This revolutionary addition to the RV lifestyle makes it possible for you to increase your rig's footprint without having to swing for a bigger motorhome.

But which RV slide outs are best for your camper? and how do you use them? Read on to learn all about RV slide outs.

What are RV Slide Outs?

RV slide outs, also known as slides, popouts, and bump-outs, are basically extensions that can be added to your RV to increase its footprint. They are extenders that can increase the living space inside your motorhome and can be added to multiple areas of your RV like galley kitchens and bedrooms. Although they weren't a feature in some of the earlier RVs, today, you will find slide outs installed in motorhomes, campers, haulers, trailers, fifth-wheels, and basically any RV for sale in the market.

Camper with slide out

RV slide out adjustment used to be difficult, but thanks to the 'Father of Power Slide Outs' Mahlon Miller of Newmar Corporation, extending and retracting slide outs has become easy, convenient, and efficient. RV slides are especially important for full-time RVers and those looking for a long-term camping experience. The extra space you can get through bedroom slide outs and kitchen slides can help make your motorhome a lot more comfortable.

RV Slide Out Diagram

The RV slide-out construction consists of several components:

  1. Slide-Out Room: This is the actual section of the RV that moves in and out. It's often a portion of the living area, such as a dining or seating area.

  2. Slide-Out Mechanism: The slide-out room is attached to a mechanical system that allows it to extend and retract. Types of RV slide out mechanism typically include electric or hydraulic motors, gears, and rails.

  3. Seals: To keep the interior protected from the elements, the slide-out has rubber seals or gaskets that prevent damage to the slide outs. RV slide out seals create a tight barrier to prevent rain, wind, and debris from entering.

  4. Controls: RV owners can typically operate the slide-out using controls inside the RV. These controls extend or retract the slide-out as needed.

  5. Supports and Stabilizers: Slide-outs often have additional supports and stabilizers to ensure they remain secure and level when extended. Supports for RV slide outs range from mechanical to electric and may also include RV slide out jacks.

  6. Slide-Out Toppers: Many RVs have slide-out toppers, which are retractable fabric or metal covers that extend over the slide-out room. They provide shade and protection from leaves, debris, and rain, reducing maintenance requirements. The toppers range from basic RV corner trim molding and RV slide out awnings to permanent RV slide out covers.

Here is an RV slide out parts diagram to give you a better idea.

RV slide out diagram

How does a RV Slide Out Work?

RV slide outs work by changing from a retracted position to an extended one and vice versa. Typically, slide outs work using an electric system in which case extending and retracting them can be achieved by a simple push of a button. However, you can also find slide outs that are powered hydraulically, mechanically, or manually (more on these later). You would normally extend the slide out when your RV is parked or is in a camping position. You should never drive your RV with the slide out extended.

Airstream slides

Once you're ready to pack up your RV and hit the road, simply retract the slide out and you're good to go. Inside your RV the slide out can have furniture, cabinetry, or extra storage space installed. While RV slide outs are designed to distribute the weight evenly when extended, you will have to retract the slide outs when driving your RV so that your rig is as aerodynamic as possible.

RV Slide Out Mechanisms Types

There are different types of RV slides available in the market. The difference lies in the way the slides work. It is important to learn how each type of RV slide-out works because it will help you decide which one is the best choice for your rig.

Electrically Driven Slides

Electrically driven slides use an electric motor to drive a cable or gear which in turn retracts and expands the slide. Electrically driven systems are usually used on smaller, lighter slides and they are generally less expensive than hydraulic systems. The system is also easier to override in case of an emergency since most common problems have to do with overloaded motors, broken gearbox, or drag during use.

Electric motors work by taking power from the RV's 12V DC system. This means you can extend and retract the slides even when out camping and not connected to shore power. Since the slide requires quite a load of power, it takes the power directly from the rig's battery without running through the RV's 12V electrical system.

Here is a look at some of the electrically driven slide systems you can install.

Rack and Pinion Slides

The most common type of electrical slide, rack and pinion features a small circular gear with teeth that moves against another gear or rack with teeth or holes thereby moving it in one direction or the other. The rack is installed on the bottom of the slide. Rack and pinion slides are easy to maneuver, don't take up a lot of space, and don't have a lot of moving parts that may need regular maintenance. However, they are heavier than the other electrically driven slide mechanisms.

Rack and pinion slides are capable of getting flush floors between the slide and the living area, only protruding a little bit inside. They allow for higher ceilings since no complicated mechanism needs to be hidden over the slides. They are fairly inexpensive but do require regular lubrication to work properly.

Cable Slides

Some slides use a cable and pulley system to work. These slides are less common because they are more expensive, but with good reason. The cable and pulley system itself is very lightweight but it can support heavier, deeper slides and it has the best service records. Cable slides consist of 8 cables attached to the inner and outer corners of the slide. Four cables are used to pull the slide out and the other four are used to pull it in and all the cables run through a series of pulleys connected to a chain.

Cable slides require very little maintenance, the only drawback of installing them is that the mechanism has to be housed above the slides inside the camper wall. This not only decreases the height of the camper over the slide but also causes the slide frame to protrude into the RV by several inches.

Schwintek Slides

These may not be the most popular slides on the market, but their bad reputation has to do with their misuse more than anything else. Schwintek Slides are designed to carry low loads and shallow slides like sofas and closets. They are fairly inexpensive, above-the-floor, and don't need to be hidden inside the RV.

The slides work through a series of rails that are mounted on the top and bottom of the sides of the slide and worm gears that are used to roll the slides in and out. The slide is designed to move in and out in a straight line so it isn't floor flush capable. However, it does have a self-aligning function so you don't have to worry about misalignment of the slides.

Power Gear Slides

Power gear slides are the fastest electrically driven slide outs in the market. However, they are also the most expensive and the least common. They are designed to handle heavier slides than the Schwintek system can handle and are more floor flush capable.

This lightweight system has an electric mechanism that is installed under the slide and is hidden from plain sight. However, that means that you have to step up to access the slide.

Hydraulic Slides

The hydraulic slide mechanism is used in heavier slides; think kitchen and living room. This system, although much more complicated than the electrically driven one is actually much faster and less expensive than the latter. In essence, hydraulic slides work in a similar way as rack and pinion slides; hydraulic fluid is pushed into rams through a motor-driven hydraulic pump, pushing the slides in and out.

Hydraulic slides work much faster than electric ones. This system also makes sense if you want to install more than one slide on your rig since the same system can power both slides. The lighter slide will pull out first and the heavier one will follow.

Tips on Proper Slide Out Etiquette

Slide outs are a great way to make your rig more comfortable for long-term living. But there are certain rules you need to follow when using slides on your trips.

Motorhome with slide out

Only Extend Slide Outs When Parked

When the slides on your RV are extended, they add extra weight on one side of your RV (the side where the slides are installed). If you drive out with the slides extended it can mess with your rig's equilibrium. Not to mention it is really dangerous driving like that in traffic. So a good rule of thumb is to only adjust RV slide-out once you're parked and ready to camp.

Make Room for Extending the Slides

It is important to understand just how much your slide is going to extend outside of your vehicle because that is the amount of space you need to leave on the sides when you park your rig. This might not be such a big deal if you're boondocking out in the wild and are parked in an open space. But if you're planning to park your RV at an RV park or campground, make sure you leave enough space on the sides of your rig to easily adjust the slideout on RV.

Level the RV Before Extending

Like we said before, slides add both mass and weight to your rig when extended. This means if your RV is not level before you extend the slide, it is going to tip over to the side of the slide even more once the slide out is extended. So make sure your RV is leveled before you extend your slide out. This tip is especially important when you are planning to park on uneven terrain like in the mountains or on the beach.

Clear the Slide Out Top Before Extracting

Just like the roof of your RV, the top of the slide out can gather a lot of dust, particles, and debris when extended for longer periods of time. While most of this dust is harmless if the debris is large enough it can actually get stuck while you're extracting the slide, sometimes even damaging it. So it is always a good idea to clear the slide out roof as well as the RV slide out rollers before you start extracting it.

Clear the Pathway Inside the RV

When the slide out is extended you get to use all that extra space any way you like. But you have to remember to clear the pathway inside the RV before extracting the slide so that nothing gets in the way. Be very careful about smaller items like small toys or cutlery items because they can get stuck when the slide is moving in and may damage the slide mechanism.

Don't Store RV With Slides Extended

Another handy tip about RV slides is to never leave them extended when you're storing your RV. This is because of a number of reasons. One, an RV with an extended slide will take up more space in storage. Two, the walls of the slide out are thinner than those of your RV and they can crack under extreme weather, like the weight of the accumulated snow.

RV Slide Out Operation and Troubleshooting

RV slide out maintenance begins with troubleshooting any issues the slide out may be facing. Here are some of the most common slide out issues along with RV slide out repair ideas.

RV slide out problems clicking noise

To address a clicking noise in your RV's slide-out, start with safety in mind by parking on level ground and turning off the engine. Next, pinpoint the source of the clicking sound, which could be either inside or outside the slide-out. Check for loose items or objects causing the noise within the slide-out. Lubricate moving parts using specialized RV slide-out lubricantion, and inspect gears and rollers for any looseness that might be contributing to the noise.

Ensure that there are no obstructions blocking the slide-out's path, and examine the seals and gaskets for wear and tear, replacing them as necessary. Consult the RV slide out repair manual to make sure you are troubleshooting the slide outs correctly. If needed, adjust the alignment of the slide-out. If the issue persists despite your efforts, consider seeking professional assistance from an RV technician.

How to adjust RV slide out

Adjusting an RV slide-out is crucial for ensuring it operates smoothly. Here's a guide on how to do it safely:

First and foremost, prioritize safety. Park your RV on a level surface and engage the parking brake. Disconnect the power source to the slide-out to prevent accidental movement. Next, locate the adjustment points on the slide-out mechanism. These are typically situated on the exterior of the slide-out near the corners.

Determine if your RV slide-out system is manual or electric. Manual systems usually have crank handles, while electric systems are controlled from inside the RV. For manual adjustments, use a crank handle to turn the adjustment points. Clockwise turns typically retract the slide-out, while counterclockwise turns extend it. Make small adjustments, testing the slide-out's operation after each turn.

For electric systems, partially extend the slide-out, usually about halfway. Access the control panel inside your RV and operate the slide-out from there. Make small adjustments, retracting or extending as needed, and test the operation. While adjusting, keep a close eye on the slide-out's alignment. It should move smoothly without binding or tilting. Balance the slide-out by ensuring both sides are adjusted equally.

After making adjustments, thoroughly test the slide-out by fully extending and retracting it several times. This ensures it operates correctly. While the slide-out is extended, inspect the seals and gaskets for any gaps or damage. If damaged, make sure to get the RV slide out seals replaced.

How to fix a sagging RV slide out

Addressing a sagging RV slide-out is essential for proper functionality. To tackle this issue, start by parking your RV on a level surface and engaging the parking brake for safety. Determine the cause of the sag, whether it's damaged support components or misalignment. Inspect rollers and tracks for wear, damage, or misalignment, and repair or replace them as necessary.

For hydraulic systems, check for leaks, loose connections, or damage, and fix any issues. Many slide-outs have adjustable support legs, so use these legs and a bubble level to level the slide-out. If sagging persists, consider reinforcing the floor with wooden blocks or metal braces to lift and level the slide-out. Regularly lubricate slide-out components for smooth operation and reduced wear. After adjustments, extend and retract the slide-out to ensure smooth, level movement.

How do I reset my RV slide out

Resetting your RV slide-out is a straightforward process. First, prioritize safety by ensuring your RV is on level ground, the parking brake is engaged, and there are no obstructions around the slide-out area. Locate the slide-out's control panel, typically found inside the RV. Turn off all power sources, including disconnecting from shore power and disabling the RV's battery.

Most slide-outs have a manual override option, which is usually a hexagonal shaft near the control panel. Insert a compatible tool or wrench, and manually retract the slide-out. After this, reset the control panel by restoring power, turn on the slide-out system, and test it to ensure it functions correctly. Remember to inspect for any obstructions or issues and perform regular maintenance to prevent future problems. If you encounter persistent issues, it's advisable to seek professional RV technician assistance.

Are RV Slide-outs Worth it?

The idea of more living space in your RV without having to get a longer rig is pretty tempting. However, RV slideouts are not without their fair share of challenges. For one, they have thinner walls and less structural integrity than the rest of your rig. This means more maintenance and care are required to keep the slide outs working smoothly. They have more moving parts that can break and they are prone to leaks. Plus, once the slide out is retracted it can actually cramp up the space in your RV.

Regardless of all these challenges, RV slideouts are still the most effective and efficient way to add more space to your rig. Just make sure you know everything there is to know about RV slide-out maintenance before you invest in installing one on your rig and follow proper slide out etiquette.


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