The addition of slideouts has created more room “” and possibilities “” for motorhomers.
By Lazelle Jones
It’s safe to say that the slideouts-in-motorhomes combination is here to stay. Newmar Corporation introduced slideouts to the motorhome industry in the fall of 1989, revolutionizing motor coach design and, ultimately, the accompanying lifestyle. The interior space that slideouts yield when extended, whether during a rest break on a travel day, or at the campsite, increase the livability of a motorhome exponentially. But as it is with so many things in life, motorhomers often take slideouts for granted. Fortunately, there is a host of information about slideouts that can prove helpful to the coach enthusiast or those who want to know what’s going on “inside the box.”
In the beginning, only a single slideout was offered in motorhomes. Then came motorhomes with double slideouts. Today, motorhome manufacturers routinely offer up to three slideouts in both type A and type C motorhomes. Because necessity is the mother of invention (in this case, necessity is the desire for greater interior living space and improved livability), several coach manufacturers now offer four slideouts, with more and more companies jumping on the four-slideout bandwagon. One manufacturer offers a pair of 24-foot-long slideouts (one on each side of the coach) that can house any and all types of appointments and interior features.
Slideout rooms, which can feature flush or raised floors, are used to house sofas, dinettes, galleys, queen-size or king-size beds with nightstands, wardrobes, entertainment centers, or combinations of these.
Slideout rooms typically are installed as original equipment by the motorhome manufacturer, whose engineers must decide what type of slideout system/mechanism to incorporate into the design of the company’s coaches. A limited number of specialty aftermarket companies install slideout rooms in existing solid-wall coaches. If you have a non-slideout coach but are considering a slideout retrofit, it’s important to understand how aftermarket slideouts differ from those that are OEM-installed. Coaches that come from the manufacturer equipped with slideouts have had extensive calculations run on the coach structure during the design phase to ensure that the penetration in a wall does not compromise the unit’s structural integrity. Motorhome manufacturers also take into account the additional weight of the slideout(s), and determine how to equitably balance and distribute that added weight.
The main components that make up a slideout include the box or tub (this is the room itself); a mechanism for extending and retracting the slideout; and the seals that prevent the outside environment from getting inside and the inside environment from escaping. Seals include the rubber blades that clean the exterior surfaces of the box as it retracts, removing moisture and preventing it from finding its way inside the coach. Automotive-type bulb seals create a barrier when fully open or fully closed, much as on a car door. A few coach manufacturers use inflatable (pneumatic) seals, which, in addition to creating a seal when inflated, also provide added rigidity between the box and the exterior wall of the coach in both the extended and retracted positions.
Two types of motive force are used to articulate (extend and retract) slideouts: hydraulic and electric. Hydraulic systems utilize one or more pumps; valves; hoses; and one or more hydraulic cylinders to move a slideout. Dual or single hydraulic cylinders can be housed below the interior floor. They also can be configured into the lateral or vertical arms housed in the end walls of the box, or even inside interior appointments, such as a sofa. Hydraulic chain-driven systems are also used.
Electric systems use DC-powered motors and can be configured in one of three ways. With some, the motor turns a driveshaft with gears on each end of the shaft. The gear teeth engage slots on the slideout rack(s). When the driveshaft is activated, the rack extends or retracts depending upon the direction that the motor is turning. A second type of electric-driven design includes the use of lateral arm mechanisms located at either end of the box. This operates much like the roller guides on a pull-out drawer. The third type is a cable-and-pulley-based electric slideout system that employs a motor and cables to articulate the box.
When slideouts first began to appear in motorhomes, the job of moving the large, heavy slideouts was reserved for hydraulic systems. But in today’s high-tech world, new state-of-the-art electric systems handle very large slideouts just as well. In the ongoing hydraulic-versus-electric systems debate, some have argued that hydraulic systems, by design, may incur the potential for hydraulic leaks. This has occurred only in isolated cases. Some motorhome manufacturers even feature a mix of both hydraulic and electric slideout mechanisms on the same coach. What you’ll find is that manufacturers choose the system that is most functional for their specific application, yields the least added weight, and is the most cost-effective.
Operation, Maintenance, and Safety
When extending or retracting the slideout, it’s important to follow the coach builder’s operating instructions on leveling the coach (before or after extending the rooms). It’s also important to keep the coach batteries well charged, because slideouts do not extend or retract well with weak batteries.
Sometimes in motorhomes with pass-through storage areas, the slideout arms are located in the top of the basement storage bay. Do not store items in this bay that will interfere with operation of the arms/rams. On motorhomes with hydraulic systems, it is sometimes recommended that the user keep the wall switch engaged for an extra second or two after extension or retraction to allow the pump to build adequate pressure to hold the room in or out.
Refer to the slideout system owners manual for instructions on how to manually extend or retract (override) the slideout. Some systems have a built-in override that requires special tools to operate, while others can be manually moved with standard over-the-counter tools. Some come with a belt and hand-crank-type device.
Slideout systems typically require little, if any, maintenance but there are several things the coach owner can do to help ensure smooth and trouble-free operation during the life of the motorhome. I talked with several coach manufacturers and slideout system designers/builders in the preparation of this article and came up with a list of suggested preventive measures. Of course, motorhomers should refer to the owners manual in their specific vehicle to determine which suggestions apply.
For example, rubber components need to be routinely inspected, and some manufacturers recommend that they be treated with a protectant. A number of products are available for use on the rubber seals, but you should read the labels of these protectants carefully before applying any to your coach’s slideout seals. Most slideout seals are made of EPDM rubber, the same material used for rubber roofs. EPDM rubber is durable and long-lasting but does not stand up well to products that are formulated with petroleum distillates. In fact, using a cleaner or protectant with petroleum distillates can cause irreparable damage to the slideout seals.
Be aware of any debris that might get trapped in or on the seals that can potentially damage the rubber or cause a leak. Ensure that the attachment of all seals is intact. Should a sweep/squeegee or bulb seal come loose or be torn, repair it immediately.
When the room is extended, visually inspect the inner slide rail assemblies. Check for excess buildup of dirt or other foreign material and remove any debris that may be present. If the system squeaks or makes any noises, it may be permissible to apply a coat of Teflon-based lubricant or lightweight oil to the driveshaft and roller areas (again, check the owners manual to see whether a particular lubricant is recommended). Wipe away any excess lubricant so dirt and debris will not build up.
With regard to slideout or topper awnings, owners should be aware of any debris that collects on top of the awning. Debris, such as leaves or sticks, should be swept off before retracting the slideout. The coach owner should refer to the slideout topper/awning owners manual for acceptable cleaning methods and cleaning agents.
Check all silicone seals to ensure adhesion and the absence of cracks or breaks in the sealing material. Renew or replace the sealant as necessary before operating.
Ensure that nothing inside the coach (the driver or passenger seats, movable furniture, personal items, etc.) will interfere with room travel or will get caught under or between the slideout. Walk around the outside of the coach prior to extending or retracting any slideout and check for obstacles near the coach that could be in the path of the room. If your coach has storage compartments that extend with the slideout, or if your motorhome has air suspension and you have dumped the pressure prior to leveling, look for low-lying objects that may be in the slideout’s path. Items can include trees, electrical/water stand pipes, picnic tables, concrete markers, retaining walls, hookups, cars, and tow dollies.
CAUTION: Make sure the coach batteries are disconnected prior to working on the system. Check the owners manual to find out which systems must be turned off prior to working on the slideout.
Some of today’s slideout systems include electronic diagnostics that identify the cause of operational problems. However, in all cases, you need to read and understand the owners manual to discover the corrective actions that are required to solve the problem. Call the motorhome manufacturer if you have any questions. Seeking skilled technical assistance is often the best action to take first.
If a slideout will not operate, check the circuit breakers to make sure they have not been tripped. Check the fuses and electrical connections. Also, check the ignition switch, because some coaches have an ignition lockout relay on the electric system. If the box will not stay in or out (on hydraulic systems), check the brake switch on the motor.
Slideouts have changed the face of motorhome travel forever. With a little care and attention, these room enhancers should provide worry-free use today and down the road.
Slideout System Manufacturers
53236 C.R. 13
Elkhart, IN 46514
Barker Manufacturing Company, C427
730 E. Michigan Ave.
P.O. Box 460
Battle Creek, MI 49016-0460
Equalizer Systems, C7040
P.O. Box 668
55169 C.R. 3 N.
Elkhart, IN 46514
HWH Corporation, C731
2096 Moscow Road
Moscow, IA 52760
24076 Reedy Drive
Elkhart, IN 46514
Lippert Components, C9801
2766 College Ave.
Goshen, IN 46528
1217 E. Seventh St.
Mishawaka, IN 46544
RBW Industries Inc.
5740 Schaefer Ave.
Chino, CA 91710
Valid Manufacturing Ltd., C9651
5320-B 48th Ave. S.E.
Salmon Arm, BC
Canada V1E 1X2