Ah, the RV slide-out…a common topic among RV owners. For some, RV slide outs are the greatest things since sliced bread. But for others, they’re a nightmare waiting to happen and something to be avoided at all costs.
Today we’re taking an in-depth look at slides on RVs. We’ll consider the pros and cons (both lists are long!), and we’ll ultimately talk about what types of travelers benefit most from camper slide-outs.
No matter how you slice it, RV slides can be a hot topic… so let’s dive right in and get started!
- 1) What Is a Slide-out On an RV?
- 2) What Is the Most Reliable Type of RV Slide-Out?
- 3) What Are the Different Types of RV Slide Outs?
- 4) Who Designed the First Power Slide-out?
- 5) Are RV Slide-outs a Problem?
- 6) What Is a Flush Floor Slide-out?
What Are the Pros and Cons of Slide-outs?
- 7.1) Advantages of an RV Slide-out
- 7.2) Disadvantages of an RV Slide-out
- 8) Are RV Slide Outs Worth It?
- 9) Free RVing Tips, Tricks, Reviews, Giveaways & More
What Is a Slide-out On an RV?
An RV slide-out (also called a slide, slide room, tip out, or bump out) increases the square footage of the living space on the inside of a motorhome or travel trailer. Almost any type of camper can have at least one slide-out (other than very small rigs like pop-up campers and teardrops), and many RVs have multiple.
Essentially, RV slide-outs are cut-out areas built into the sides or rear of the RV. The slide operation allows them to extend outward to increase the camper’s living space, and then retract to bring the rig back to its compact size for traveling.
Camper slide-outs generally extend and retract either manually, or with electric or hydraulic mechanisms. Some operate with a system of cables and pulleys, but most slides on newer RVs tend to be operated under either electric or hydraulic control.
Electric slide-outs generally use an electric motor driving a worm gear system and tend to be used more on smaller, lighter-weight slides.
Hydraulic slide-outs are somewhat more complex than electrical systems, but they’re also more powerful, making them perfect for use on larger, heavier slide rooms.
What Is the Most Reliable Type of RV Slide-Out?
The most reliable (and the most common) type of RV slide-out is the rack and pinion system. Also referred to as “electric through-frame” slides, rack and pinion RV slide-out systems use arms under the slide box that are connected to an electric actuator motor.
The motor often contains a worm gear in the belly pan. The electric motor under the slide-out pushes out the box while it spins two pinion sprockets/gears. The pinion pushes the rack teeth forward, allowing the slide to extend. This type of system can allow the slide box to be flush with the main floor of the RV (this is called a flush-floor slide).
The rack and pinion system is a heavier type of slide than others, but in addition to being a more reliable slide-out system, it’s also more affordable and can allow the box of the slide room to sit flush against the RV wall (which is a desirable feature).
Rack and pinion slide systems are the most common because there are reasonably few moving parts that require maintenance or repair to keep them working properly, and they don’t require much force to operate.
Additionally, the flush floors of the slide-out room protrude very little into the inside living space when retracted.
What Are the Different Types of RV Slide Outs?
Let’s take a brief look at the different types of RV slides, all of which function a bit differently.
Rack & Pinion Slides
As we noted above, rack & pinion slides are the most common type of RV slide and also tend to be the most reliable. The downside of rack & pinion slides is that they take up a lot of room.
In-Wall (Schwintek) Slides
Many RVs have electric slide-outs made by Lippert known as in-wall or Schwintek slides. These slides use two electric motors (one at each end of the slide-out box) that turn worm gears to extend & retract the slide room, with their speed being synchronized by a control unit on the inside. These slides are very compact and leave the most usable space in the RV.
However, in-wall/Schwintek slides have historically been prone to issues, mainly due to RV manufacturers using them in larger, heavier applications than they were designed for. This type of slide is best for small wardrobe & bed slides and the like, rather than large slides containing heavy appliances or furniture.
You can easily identify an in-wall/Schwintek slide by the worm-gear track installed on both sides of the slide. (Sometimes there are multiple tracks at the bottom and/or top of the slide.)
Hydraulic systems are generally more complex than electrical systems, but they’re used in applications that require more force/power. They use a motor/pump assembly to operate multiple slides and are typically used on larger slide systems that are heavier.
Hydraulic slides are generally faster (except when it’s very cold out) and are capable of handling heavier weights.
There are often two hydraulic rams (one at the front and one at the back) that need to operate together because the slide-out can get jammed if the rams aren’t working in sync.
Cable RV slides operate using eight cables that are attached to the inner and outer corners of a slide. Four of those cables pull the slide-out, and the other four pull it in. All eight of the cables run through a series of pulleys that are connected to a chain.
A cable slide-out is a pretty streamlined and inexpensive system that works well for deep slides.
Who Designed the First Power Slide-out?
The first power RV slide-out was created in 1990 by Mahlon Miller, the founder of Newmar. Interestingly, Miller designed and installed the power slide-out against the advice of his engineers. (He’s now known as the “father of power slide outs”.)
He installed his prototype on a Newmar fifth wheel and towed it with a truck along the roughest terrain he could find in the area. Upon his return to the Newmar facility, he showed Newmar staff and engineers that even after all that driving on rough roads, the power slide-out on the fifth wheel still extended and retracted perfectly.
Newmar engineers got right to work on the goal of installing a power slide-out in a motorhome. We’re glad they did, because we’ve got four slide-outs on our 2005 Newmar Mountain Aire, and we’re big fans.
We live and work in our motorhome full-time, so we appreciate all the living space we can get. An RV slide-out really opens up our living area.
These days, all camper slide-outs are stronger and lighter than they were in the 90s, but they’re also more expensive. There are a few other drawbacks which we’ll get into thoroughly in our section on the pros and cons of RV slides.
Incidentally, although power slide-outs eventually became standard features on many RVs, it took three years for the rest of the RV industry to catch up with Mahlon Miller’s ingenuity in figuring out how to add power RV slide rooms to their rigs.
Miller’s place in the 1998 Class of the RV Hall of Fame is a well-earned achievement for this reason, among others.
Are RV Slide-outs a Problem?
Like anything else with moving parts, RV slide-outs can be a problem. Slide-outs require maintenance. As any type of RV barrels down roads and over potholes, etc., everything gets jostled and shaken, slide-outs included.
There can also be things like plumbing built into your slides. You’ve got to know where that plumbing is and how to gain access to it if necessary. We learned this when we had a leak in a drain pipe from our kitchen sinks.
Issues related to aging slide mechanisms or exposure to the elements when slides are out can also be problematic or require additional maintenance.
Camper slide-outs can get stuck in the extended position, making it impossible to move the RV. (No, never drive a rig with an open slide down the road!) The ability to switch to manual operation can be especially helpful in situations like these.
RV slide-out mechanisms need to be level to operate well. They can be extremely heavy, weighing up to a ton, depending on the rig. The outer frame of a slide-out needs to remain stable as it’s moving, otherwise the floor can be damaged and the slide may not properly seal. If that happens, your rig is left vulnerable to leaks.
And finally, rubber seals can lose their flexibility, getting stiff as they age and are exposed to UV rays, heat, and other elements. If a watertight seal isn’t maintained, especially when the slide is extended, not only can water damage occur but you could have an entry point for bugs or even rodents.
This is why maintaining RV slide-out seals is so important.
We invite you to watch parts 1 and 2 of our detailed YouTube videos showing you exactly how to maintain your slide-out seals to avoid these types of issues from developing.
What Is a Flush Floor Slide-out?
A flush-mount RV slide is built right into the floor and is usually mounted directly into the frame of the RV so that the floor of the slide-out room can be flush with the inside floor of the RV when in its fully extended position.
When extending a flush-floor slide-out, the room will extend outward first, and then drop down until the slide’s interior floor is level with the RV’s main floor. In some cases, this is accomplished using a ramp built into the structure. In others, the slide room is hydraulically lowered into place and then raised again when the slide is retracted.
Flush-floor slides are generally more complicated than standard slide rooms, making them more expensive for the manufacturer to install and requiring more maintenance to keep them working.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Slide-outs?
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to having slides in a motorhome or travel trailer. The trick is to figure out which way the pendulum swings furthest where your particular RV, camping style, and priorities are concerned.
Let’s take a good look at the pros and cons of RV slides.
Advantages of an RV Slide-out
There are plenty of benefits to having a slide-out (or several) on your RV.
Increases Living Space
Having a slide on an RV creates extra floor space, making any room that has a slide-out more spacious.
A slide-out adds extra windows for more light and ventilation. (Many slides have windows on the sidewalls that are exposed once the slide is extended.)
Gives Smaller RVs a Larger Living Area
Slides make shorter RVs more livable, enabling you to buy a shorter, smaller, less expensive RV and still have plenty of room.
This saves money not only on the purchase price but also on fuel for the smaller, lighter RV. It can even save money on campground fees because the rig will fit in smaller, less expensive sites.
Disadvantages of an RV Slide-out
There are arguably a fairly significant number of challenges to RV slides. Let’s take an honest look at them.
An Added Complexity
A slide-out is another aspect of an RV that can break. And if it fails when it’s out/extended, it could conceivably wreak havoc on your trip.
It’s important to note here, however, that most modern slides have manual retraction methods that can be used in the event of a failure or emergency, so this was a more common issue when they first became available.
Current slide mechanisms have proven to be fairly reliable when used correctly and when properly maintained.
Slide-outs are another aspect of an RV that requires additional maintenance and repair. The type of maintenance required depends on the type, make, and model of the slide mechanism. But alignment may require attention, lubrication may be necessary, and slide seals require treatment.
Potential for Leaks
Cutting a hole in the side of an RV and putting a slide-out in its place means there are extra openings for water to get inside. In addition, without proper maintenance, the slide-out may not seal properly when fully extended and retracted.
The extra walls and flooring of slide rooms are sometimes less thick than the other RV walls, meaning there’s less room for insulation.
In addition, when extended, the room is surrounded by air on five sides (outside wall, top, bottom, left, and right).
Slide rooms make any RV heavier. The additional mechanisms, supports, and walls all add weight and reduce the cargo-carrying capacity of the rig.
So, if you’re looking at two identical make & model RVs of the same length, one with a slide-out room and one without, the rig with the slide-out is going to be heavier from the factory.
That said, if you try to match the floor space of a slide RV with a longer non-slide RV, the weight issue is probably pretty much a wash.
Although slide toppers aren’t required, not having them means that leaves, branches, and other debris can collect on top of the slide-out when it’s extended.
RV manufacturers advise owners to get up on the roof and clear the debris before retracting their slide(s) in an effort to ensure that the debris doesn’t get caught in or damage the slide seals.
Slide toppers cover that area and prevent the issue, but they’re also an additional expense, extra weight, and something else to maintain. Check out the Slide Topper & Awnings category of our blog for more information.
Floorplan/Access When Retracted
In many RVs, when the slides are retracted there are major portions of the interior that are inaccessible. This can range from not being able to open the fridge or access the sink, to having the bathroom door blocked!
RV Setup/Tear Down
Having slides means extra work when setting your RV up in a new site or when breaking camp to move on to the next spot.
That extra work goes beyond the extension/retraction of the slides and can include things like moving furniture (ottomans, coffee tables, etc.) that were set up in the extra floor space, rolling up rugs that might block slide movement, etc.
Extra Space Requirement When Camped
Having slide-outs means you need a wider site to ensure that you have the space to extend the slides. In forested campgrounds, you could run into issues with trees blocking a slide/slides.
Again, if your floorplan works even with a slide or two retracted, it’s not necessarily a big deal. But it’s still something to consider.
Are RV Slide Outs Worth It?
After reading through the pros and cons, what do you think about RV slides. Are they worth the trouble to you?
For us, even though there are more cons listed above than there are pros, having slides is worth it to us. But (knock on wood!) we’ve also been lucky and had virtually no issues with our slides in the 18 years we’ve owned our rig (thanks Newmar!).
But again, it also depends on your style of travel.
Are you a quick mover, staying for short times in any one spot and then moving on? Then the added work & complexity may not be worth it for you.
Are you a seasonal RVer or snowbird spending extended periods in your RV, often in one place? Then the extra space sure is nice!
So, the way you travel and live in your RV may make slide-outs worth the effort… or not!
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