The RV Doctor – By Gary Bunzer
One of the more prominent external features on any RV, slide rooms are designed to be more “high tech” than “high maintenance.”
From an RV owner’s perspective, it’s the one advanced feature that requires the least amount of attention, comparatively. However, slideouts can become problematic, especially when totally neglected. But proactive preventive maintenance can usually minimize, if not eliminate, most of those problems.
Basic Types of Slide Mechanics
Modern slideout mechanisms, those devices that actually move the room in and out, usually fall into one of two categories:• 12-volt DC electrically driven mechanics; rack & pinion, screw drive, chain, cable, track, scissor arms, etc.• Hydraulic cylinder driven; independently or in conjunction with a leveling system, with single or multiple cylinders per room, etc.
You have either a 12-volt battery powered or a hydraulic slide system, with multiple variations of both at the disposal of the coachbuilder. With either type, a healthy 12-volt battery bank is required. During a visit to Lippert Components, LCI, I asked about the top three causes of slideout complaints. The answers were; voltage, voltage and voltage, as in not enough! Low battery voltage is the number one (and evidently the number two and three) cause of slide room malfunctions.
All slideout mechanisms require periodic lubrication. It is recommended to always use a dry lube, though some coachbuilders recommend a light grease such as lithium grease be applied. I’ve never been a fan of using grease on the mechanicals of slideouts because of its propensity to gather dust and debris. During the initial RV warranty period, I do, however, recommend following OEM recommendations. Afterward, I’d still opt for a dry lube on all moving parts of the slide mechanism, such as Protect All Slide-out Dry Lube Protectant, available at Camping World.
Virtually none of the motor and gearbox assemblies associated with slideout rooms require lubrication. They take advantage of modern sealed gears and bearings. Just keep them clean. Hydraulic rams and cylinders only require wiping down with a soft, clean cloth and lightly oiling, with all remnants of the lube removed completely afterwards. For obvious reasons, never power wash hydraulic cylinders.
The “Seal” of Approval
All slide rooms are equipped with rubber seals that prevent water, air and contaminants from entering the RV. They have an abundance of names; sweeper seal, wiper seal, blade seal, bulb seal, flapper seal, etc. Always replace a seal with one that matches the profile of the original.
Inspect all seals carefully. Once a seal has been damaged, it will likely allow air or moisture into the RV. Obviously the top and side seals are crucial, but do not underestimate the importance of the bottom seal as well. The crucial junction point is where the top seal meets with the side seals.
Some seals are stapled in place, others cemented or bonded to the mating surface, while others are clipped in with small metallic clips. These metal clips can rust and break loose, thereby compromising the integrity of that seal. All seals should remain pliable. Constant exposure to the elements can cause the rubber to become weathered, brittle or less flexible. There are a number of seal protectants on the market, but I’ve always had great success with Protect All Slide-out Rubber Seal Treatment, also available at Camping World.
Don’t forget there are two sets of seals; one for when the room is fully extended and one for when the room is fully retracted. During the inspection process, stop the movement of the room part way through its travel and carefully inspect all visible seals, inside and outside the RV. A good time to do this is at night. In a darkened RV, using a flashlight, have someone positioned outside as you move the flashlight around all applicable seals. Any indication of light seeping through results in the very real possibility air or water can also pass.
Look for even compression on bulb seals. If some portions appear to be compressed more than others, especially at the top or bottom corners, it’s possible the room is mis-positioned in its opening and adjustments are necessary. The roof seal should lay flat and even all the way across.
Since battery power is so crucial to slideout operation, what happens when the battery bank fails and the room will not fully retract? All slideout mechanisms have some form of manual override, depending on the brand and type of slide system used on that RV. Some mechanisms on 12-volt DC electrical slide systems have a motor brake that needs to be disengaged. Other electrical slide mechanisms require the motor be physically repositioned to disengage it from the drive track.
Some slideout motors are outfitted with an extended hex drive so you can simply crank the room in or out with a ratchet wrench or hand crank. Still other applications require two people; one to disengage the drive gear and one to manually push the room in.
Hydraulic systems employ a bypass valve located usually on the hydraulic pump or an associated manifold block. Opening the bypass valve for that room depletes the hydraulic pressure enough for the room to be manually closed. After manually retracting the room, always tighten the bypass valve to prevent the room from further movement. Read the specific overriding procedures ahead of time and practice at least one emergency slide room retraction prior to actually having to deploy one in the heat of the moment.
Slide Room Adjustments
Each slideout should be centered, side-to-side within the opening. Every slide room has lateral, horizontal and vertical adjustment points and just about every one of them will vary in type and form.
It’s generally not recommended for RV owners to adjust slide rooms on their own, but users can certainly take measurements from time to time to see if the room has shifted north, south, east or west during the course of its lifetime. Rooms do get “out of adjustment” periodically. Racking of the vehicle during travel can cause shifts in the fitment of the room, or cause hardware to loosen, which will have a direct affect on the trustworthiness of the seals. Rely on certified RV technicians, experienced with that brand, to make all appropriate physical adjustments.
All slideouts are designed for minimal maintenance. Oftentimes mechanisms are hidden or protected from the elements, all to the benefit of the user. But consider following these additional precepts:
• Maintain the 12-volt DC battery bank. Virtually every maker of slideout mechanisms states the importance of a healthy battery system. Low voltage, inadequate current capability, faulty contacts, etc., can all lead to improper slide room operation. According to Lippert, over 90% of slide motor anomalies occur on the negative side of the circuit. If the slideout does not move when first energized, check the 12-volt DC system first. Look for low battery power, blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.
• Some slideouts contain galley components such as appliances and plumbing fixtures. Propane lines, hot and cold fresh water tubing, flexible drain piping and electrical cables are also included in these applications and require periodic inspection. Some makers include a reticulated raceway for hoses and wires to be routed in, while others simply allow them to hang and move with the room. Ensure all are supported and protected properly.
• If the slideout contains an absorption refrigerator, it will include a lower exterior vent as well as an upper exterior side vent, which eliminates the common roof jack. In such installations the rear chimney connecting the lower vent to the upper vent must remain clear of obstructions.
• Keep all moving components clean and free of dirt build-up. Lubricate appropriately.
• If the slideout system is hydraulic, check the fluid level in the reservoir regularly. The hydraulic system is a sealed system, so leaks should never be evident and it’s usually not necessary to add fluid. Refer to the owner’s manual for the correct type of fluid to use.
• Inspect for abnormal wear patterns on metallic components of the mechanism as well as on the interior floor section, just in front of the slide room. Abnormal wear patterns on the interior floor may indicate the need for a vertical adjustment.
• If the slideout is equipped with an awning, keep it clean and lubricate its moving components.
• Be aware of new noises. Some slideout motors may groan or moan a bit during operation, but if new noises appear, it could be an indication of a maladjusted room.
Let’s cover some basic safety precautions involving all slideout rooms. This presupposes that you have read all of the literature that came with the RV pertaining to the operation of the slideout.
• Level the RV before extending the slideouts.
• Ensure the battery bank is adequately charged.
• Disengage transit bars, locks, brackets or other travel lockouts.
• Check for adequate clearance outside the RV for full slideout room extension.
• Keep pets and people away from any moving slideout, inside and out.
• Check inside the RV for anything that might block or prevent slideout extension.
• Inspect and clean the roof of the slideout. If the seal fails, debris on the roof might soon be inside the RV. If the room is equipped with an awning that protects the roof, be sure it is free from debris.
• Never store cargo on the roof section of a retracted room.
• If a slideout includes exterior storage compartments, be sure they are closed and secured.
• Be careful not to exceed the weight restrictions in slide rooms equipped with exterior storage compartments.
• Never force a room to open or close. Unpredictable circumstances can develop when slideout movement is restricted. Further attempts to move the room may result in damage or injury.
• During long stays in one location, periodically retract and extend all the slide rooms to keep applicable components lubricated.
• Fully retract all rooms for lengthy periods of non-use or winterizing.
With a little preventive maintenance, periodic inspections and proper use, slideout rooms can add to our RVing enjoyment for many years. Remember, RVing is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle!
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