Last Updated on June 6, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine
Wondering about RV slideout mechanism types and what you should know? I’m here to help.
Slideouts have become a very common feature in modern RVs with the vast majority of new models having at least one slideout and many units have 2 – 4 slideouts.
When you first use a slideout you’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily a section of your RV can move out to provide a greatly expanded interior space. You’ll also wonder, “How does it work?”, “What kind of maintenance will this need?”, “What happens if it breaks?” and “What issues can I expect to have with it?”
Those questions can all be answered if you know what specific slideout mechanism your RV has. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy to figure out with a simple inspection. Here we’ll take a look at the different slide mechanisms your RV can have, and how you identify them and we’ll try to answer those important questions for each type of system.
When it comes to RV slide mechanisms there are 5 commonly used systems in most modern RVs. These systems can be broken down into two camps: electric and hydraulic. Within those two categories, there are 4 different electric options and one hydraulic.
What’s the difference between an electric and hydraulic system?
While both systems technically run on electricity—usually 12V DC power, electric and hydraulic slideout systems differ in the mechanism that moves the slideout. In an electrical system, one or more electric drive motors will rotate to move the slide. As you’ll see, the different slide mechanisms have different ways of translating the rotation of the motor to linear movement on the slide. In a hydraulic system, there is also an electric motor, but it operates a hydraulic pump that moves hydraulic fluid through the slideout system. That fluid extends and retracts hydraulic rams which are attached to an extendable slideout support frame that moves the slide in and out.
Which is better electric or hydraulic?
Each system has its pros and cons.
Hydraulic systems operate quickly and tend to be cheaper in multi-slide applications because you only need a single electric motor and pump to operate several slides. Because hydraulic systems rely on the flow of fluid, they can experience performance problems in extremely cold temperatures.
Many hydraulic systems don’t allow you to operate your slides independently. The fluid will flow through the path of least resistance so the lightest slide will open first and so on until all the slides are out. There are some models that incorporate manual valves which will allow you to control slides independently.
Finally, because the entire system operates on a single motor/pump combination, none of the slides will work if you have a failure in either of those two key components. A blown hose or substantial leak anywhere in the system can also render the entire system inoperable. For this reason, it is very important in a hydraulic system to keep up with your maintenance.
Electric systems will have a completely independent system for each slide. So, each slide will have its own motors and drive mechanism independent of the other slides. While this can be more expensive than a hydraulic system it does allow completely independent slide control. This can be useful in situations where you may not want to open all of your slides—like when you’re boondocking for a night in a public parking lot.
If you can just open your bedroom slide and keep the rest closed then your set-up will be that much less intrusive to your surroundings. Also, a failure in one slide will not affect the others. In which case, you’ll only have to manually operate one slide each time you set up and break down camp.
Finally, there is no hydraulic fluid or high-pressure components involved. Working on an oil-based system can be very messy, especially if you have to do it in camp. With a strictly electric system, you don’t have to worry about those issues.
The Different Mechanism Types
1. Rack and Pinion
Rack and pinion slides are the most common slideout mechanism used in RVs today. The system can be easily identified by looking under the slide when it is out. The vertical sides of the slide that are exposed when it’s out will not have any toothed rails or visible cables. Under the slide, you’ll see two rails with teeth along the bottom. Near the frame of the RV, you’ll see a bar that runs parallel to the length of the RV with a toothed cog that engages the teeth on the bottom of the rail. The electric motor rotates that bar/cog to move the slide in and out along the rails.
Rack and pinion systems are capable of having flush floors when fully extended, although not all systems will include this feature.
Maintenance: Rack and pinion systems are fairly maintenance-free. All you really need to do is routinely lubricate the rails under the slideout with a quality dry lubricant. Don’t use grease or regular oil as that will collect road grime as you travel and gum the system up. Also, check your adjustment bolts and the bolts securing the slideout to the rails for tightness frequently. If these loosen the slideout can shift on the rails as you travel which will require you to realign it. You can usually tell the slideout has shifted by uneven gaps between the slideout and the RV wall seals. If the gaps are significantly greater on one side of the slide than the other then your slideout may have shifted and may need to be realigned.
Manual Override: The most common failure on these systems is the motor itself which is usually located under the slide between the frame rails. The location of the motor can make it difficult to access the motor for repair or replacement, especially if your RV has a sealed underbelly. Until the motor can be replaced you can operate the slide with the bypass drive. This usually looks like square hole socket sticking out of the frame on the opposite side of the rig from the slide you want to override. If your RV is not equipped with a bypass drive bar you’ll need to gain access to the motor directly. The back of the motor will have an override attachment point which is usually a hex bar that a standard sized socket or wrench will fit over. The gear ratios on these are high so you’ll have to turn them many times to move the slide a short distance. If you can, always carry powerful cordless drill with an appropriate adapter for this. Having one will make life much more pleasant should you need to manually operate your slideout.
The cable slide mechanism is also very common. It can be identified by looking at your slideout when the slide is extended. If you can see a tensioned cable running perpendicular to the RV to the outside flange of the slideout parallel to the ground near the top and bottom of the slide on both sides then you have a cable system.
You may ask yourself, how a cable like that can push the slideout and bring it in. The answer is that it doesn’t. The cables on the outside only bring the slide in. There’s another set of cables hidden on the inside which go to the inside wall of the slide that are used to pull the slide out. It’s a pretty neat mechanism that relies on a single motor to operate it. That motor is usually located behind the center of the header facia on the inside face of the slide. Cable slides are also flush floor capable, although not all installations will have this feature.
Maintenance: Cable systems are relatively maintenance-free. The most important thing is to inspect your cables regularly. They should be free of any fraying or obvious wear and they should be well tensioned.
Manual Override: The motor is usually located behind a removable cover plate in the center of the header facia on the inside of the slide. To manually operate them you usually remove the cover panel and attach a cordless drill to the manual override port on the motor. That attachment may require a special flexible bit adapter that is designed to prevent motor damage, consult your owner’s manual for specific procedures.
Schwintek slides are easily identified by the toothed rails which run along the top and bottom of the exterior slide walls when the slide is extended. These systems are designed for lighter weight slides and use 2 separate slide motors, one for each side of the slide. Each motor has a gear that engages the top toothed rail and an extension rod that runs down to a gear that engages the bottom toothed rail. One nice feature of these units is that they are self-adjusting. Each time you extend and retract the slide you may hear the motors click on and off a couple extra times. This is the system going through its automatic alignment process.
Maintenance: Maintenance is very simple, just make sure you keep your tracks clean and obstruction-free. The most common failure with these systems is motor failure from operating slides too heavy for the system design. To avoid this, make sure you don’t load the slide up with extra gear before operating it. Always keep the slide as empty as possible when bringing it in and out.
Manual Override: The Schwintek system only has an electrical override, which is activated using the control box per the manufacturer’s instructions. This override allows you to run your slides electrically while bypassing any faults which were preventing the system from operating normally. Because the system requires the synchronized operation of two motors that are not physically linked to move the slide, there is no way to manually drive a failed motor to bring the slide in.
4. Power Gear
The Power Gear slide mechanism is the least common system on the market. Like the Schwintek system, there will be two rails running on the outside of the exterior slideout wall. The motors engage with those rails to make the slideout move. The benefits of the power gear system are that it offers a clean installation like a Schwintek while being able to handle heavier slides.
Maintenance: These systems are pretty much maintenance-free, just keep your rails clean and free of debris and obstructions.
Manual Override: Manually overriding a power gear system is a little harder than other systems. Consult your owner’s manual for specific details. Basically, you’ll need to detach your motors from the rail system using a box wrench and a screwdriver. Once the motors are disengaged, you can physically push the slide in. Normally, the motors are what keep the slide in a stable position. Since you disengaged the motors from the slide track, they will no longer keep the slide in a fixed position. To travel with the motors disengaged, you’ll need to wedge something solid between the top of the slide and the RV exterior wall like a block of wood. This should only be done in an emergency for a short trip to a repair center.
A hydraulic system is easy to identify. There will be a rail system under the slideout that looks much like a rack and pinion electrical system but it will have a hydraulic ram attached instead of a geared rail. There will also be a hydraulic pump, motor, reservoir, and control system located in one of your storage compartments.
Maintenance: The maintenance of a hydraulic system is a little more involved than most electrical systems. You’ll need to lubricate the slide rails with a good dry lubricant, much like you would on a rack and pinion system. You’ll also need to make sure your fluid reservoir is properly filled. Finally, you’ll need to routinely check the system for leaks and repair any leaks you find as soon as possible. For full maintenance details on your specific system always consult your owner’s manual.
Manual Override. Consult your owner’s manual for specific manual override instructions for your system. Most systems will have a manual override valve and a hand pump located on or near the system pump. To manually operate it, you open the valve to allow the handpump to move the fluid. You then attached an extension rod and pump and then manually pump to move the slides in or out.
RV Slideout Mechanism Types Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the frequently asked questions about RV slideout mechanisms that you might want to learn about.
Is a hydraulic RV slideout system easy to maintain?
No. The hydraulic RV slideout system is one of the most involved systems out of the electric systems.
Is a Power Gear RV slideout system common?
No. Power Gear RV slideout systems are the least common RV slideout system.
Are cable RV slideout systems easy to maintain?
Yes. Cable systems are relatively easy to maintain.
RV Slideout Mechanism Types – Conclusion
Now you have a good idea about the RV slideout mechanism types. If you’re thinking about buying an RV, I would recommend getting an RV that has a common slide type. This means RV mechanics will likely have worked on them before and it would be easier to get parts.
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