How Does an RV Slide Out Work?

rv slide out

Published Date: April 4, 2023

Last Updated on August 10, 2023 by Camper Front

If you drive a lot, especially on highways, you probably noticed how many RVs are on the road these days. There are different types of RVs, or recreational vehicles, which would be motorhomes, campers, or fifth wheels. They are mostly known as a combination of transportation and living quarters. 

Individuals, couples, families, and groups invest in an RV for various reasons, including financial savings while traveling. The cost of a camping spot is significantly lower than a hotel or motel, and you have the option of eating in rather than in restaurants. These RVs offer more comfort and privacy. They allow you to bring your pets with you. You have greater flexibility to stop as you want and to take side trips on your own. Many states offer tax advantages. 

rv slide out

An RV with slides offers additional advantages to allow extra interior space for everyone and the ability to have friends, relatives, or others enjoy the adventure with you. Besides, who can’t use a little extra space now and then? Everyone needs enough space to be on the computer, telephone, study, or just lounge. There are a number of different types of RV slides and this article will give you a pretty good overview.

What is an RV Slide?

What you are reading this article for is to find out about RV slide outs and how RV slide outs work. These are extensions or rooms that will expand to provide more interior space in the RV. They operate simply by flipping a switch. They are also called RVs with slides, slide rooms, tip outs, or bump outs. 

Hydraulic Slides and Electric Slides

They come in two basic systems, hydraulic slides and electric slides. The way to tell the difference is to see if there is a small motor or a hydraulic cylinder that will move the room back and forth. The cylinder will have RV slide outs lines for the hydraulic fluid to pump in order to extend the room and to push it to the end of the cylinder to retract. An electric system, obviously, has no hydraulic lines but instead a small motor. There are also manual versions. Electric are usually found on smaller or lighter slides. It is possible for a pump driven by the engine to provide a motor driven hydraulic pump to make the slide work.

It is important to know which type of RV slide, how the RV slide out works, and its system you have for RV maintenance and replacement or repairs.

RV slides are engineered to support the weight of the RV components and furnishings they were built with, including the humans occupying the living space. It may look like it is levitating on its own, but it is really quite sturdy. Most slide outs can hold up anywhere from 600 to 1,500 pounds, with larger RVs having even greater capacities.

 Types of Slide Outs for RVs

The most common type of slide outs are rack and pinion slides or “electric through-frame”. They use arms under the slide box that connect to an electric actuator motor. Usually, this motor has a worm gear in the belly pan. The motor pushes the box and spins two pinion sprockets. 

The pinion pushes the rack teeth forward so that the slide will extend. This lets the slide box be floor flush capable and the room to be flush with the RV. Having flush floors is important to avoid trips and falls. Rack and pinion slides are a heavier slide but more affordable than other choices.

rv slide out

In-Wall Slides 

In-wall slides (sometimes called Schwintek slides) use two electric motors to turn worm gears. They use a control unit to synchronize the speed. They are compact and will provide the maximum usable living space in an RV. 

Your RV can also use a power gear slide, which is the fastest slide out, which is motor driven. This is not a common slide out but they are light weight, very flush with the camper wall, and good for a heavier system, especially one that Schwintek slides is unable to support.

Hydraulic Slides

Hydraulic slides systems are more complex and are used for larger or heavier systems. These RV slide outs are made from two hydraulic rams that work in unison.

 Cable and Pulley

Finally, there are cable and pulley system slides that are made with eight cables, four to extend the room and the other four to retract it. The cables all run through pulleys connected to a chain. A cable slides system is fairly inexpensive and can handle deep slides very well.

Before we move on, you need to realize that there are different sizes of RV slides, from pretty much an entire room to a shallow slide. The shallow slide will take up less exterior space and is advantageous where RV camping sites have limited areas to expand.

How Does an RV Slide Out Work?

It is important to understand how an RV slide out works so that you can easily recognize when it is malfunctioning and how to maintain it properly. A slide out does just what it sounds like, it moves on tracks to provide additional room in the RV. Generally, they come with furnishings that will provide additional comforts or amenities while at the RV park. The tracks are designed to shift the weight evenly so that it is a smooth operation. 

For an electrically driven system for an RV slide, you simply push a button to move the slide one way or the other. For an RV slide out with a hydraulic slide system, there is a control switch. Set the switch to extend for the room to expand while the hydraulic fluid flows to the sync cylinder. The fluid is forced to the rod end of the cylinders to retract the room. Simple enough.

rv slide out

However, there are some safety issues to consider when dealing with RV slide outs. 

• Park on solid, level ground. This will ensure the structural integrity of your whole RV set up.

• Assure that there are no obstructions as the RV room extends and when it stops. 

• Keep everyone, including pets, away from the RV and slide out as it is operating and until it is fully secured.

• Keep hands, other body parts, and any other items away from the RV slide mechanisms while they are operating.

Unless your RV owner’s manual recommends it, it should not be necessary to add supports underneath the slide out room. 

Can You Drive While the Slide Out is Extended?


While it may seem convenient to leave the slide out extended, it is important that it be returned to its closed position while traveling on any road and especially the highway.

First, they are designed to be most aerodynamic, with the slide out in the retracted position. Next, if you are moving with an extended slide, the weight distribution is altered. The distribution of extra weight can damage the slide mechanisms that control their operation. You also have the potential to damage the slide frame or sidewalls.

While you may see others moving their entire RV rig, possibly even only a few feet, on steady, level ground, and fully loaded, consider whether you want to risk the expense of costly repairs as well as having your RV out of commission for an extended period of time while you wait for replacement parts and the labor to get your entire rig back into operating condition.

Can You Manually Push In a Slide Out?

Short answer…Yes.

Many camping sites offer shore power facilities which are helpful for extending your RV slide out or moving it to the retracted position. If this is not working, check to see that you are fully plugged into the power and that the site’s batteries are fully charged.

If you are using a motor to move your RV slide in or out but feel there is too much resistance, this could be a symptom of overloaded motors. This can lead to expensive damage. You can switch to a manual operation and/or find a dealership that can help.

While it should not be necessary, we all know that unexpected things happen frequently at the worst possible time. If your slide is in the fully extended position or somewhere between the fully extended and completely retracted position, you will need to take action. 

Note that an RV with full-wall slide out will need electric motors to operate the slide out because it weighs several thousand pounds, significantly more than humans should attempt to move.

The best option is to have a professional, expert in RV slide outs, take over. However, that may not be possible, so first and foremost, check your owner’s manual. This is the bible for all operations.

• Remove any interior or exterior items that could be in the way of the slide.

• There should be a manual tool, or appropriate attachment for a portable drill, that is designed specifically to manually move the RV slide out. Each RV manufacturer may have different tools depending on how the RV was made. Avoid improvising.

• If your vehicle is still under warranty, be sure to follow the regulations carefully to prevent voiding the warranty coverage.

rv slide out

Retracting RV Slide Outs

• Generally you can get to the motor inside the RV. Look on top of the slide out in the center. It will have cables and pulleys. You may need to remove the cover first.

• Connect the square number 3 bit to the end of the motor. Using the flexible extension, secure it into the portable drill. If you did not remove the cover, the extension will need to go up and over the cover.

• Run the bit counterclockwise to retract the slide out seal until it is flush with the exterior camper wall.

If your RV uses a worm gear slide, the process is a bit different. However, this can only be used to retract the slide out not to extend it.

• Locate the electronic control box, which could be in a storage compartment or inside the coach portion of the RV. (This is the device that keeps both ends of the slide out moving at the same rate, so they extend equally and evenly.)

• Read the instructions on the control box or in the owner’s manual and follow them exactly. Using an ordinary pen, push the reset buttons six (yes, six) times and then hold on the seventh push. You should see red and green lights flashing.

• Press the normal slide out switch as a test.

This should buy you enough time to get to a dealership or professional RV repair station.

If your system is rack and pinion, you have two options.

• Option 1 If your slide out has an extension rod from the motor through to the I-beam:

◦ Locate the extension rod, which is attached to the electric actuator motor.

◦ Disconnect the battery to prevent damage from any backfeed.

◦ Connect the manual override crank tool to the extension rod.

◦ Turn the crank clockwise to retract the slide out.

◦ Stop when you feel resistance or the slide is flush with the exterior. Overcranking will damage the slide out.

• Option 2 If the slide out has a hex nut attached to the electric actuator motor:

◦ Locate the electric actuator motor, which is on the underside of the RV.

◦ Find the hex nut and use the ratchet with the proper fitting for the hex nut.

◦ Turn clockwise and the slide will retract.

rv slide out

How Do RV Slide Out Seals Work?

Your RV slide out has seals on both the inside and outside. These are designed to keep the elements out and prevent any kind of leaks, especially water damage. Check regularly, particularly before retraction, to be sure they are free of any debris like leaves or paper, etc. Avoid using the slide out during extreme weather conditions since heavy rains, snow, and excessive wind can put a strain on the seals. 

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation about cleaning and the products to use. There are some very good commercial products on the market to help lubricate these seals but you can just as easily use baby powder, which does not attract dust and dirt as readily as a liquid product will. Just be sure the substance will not damage seals; a non-petroleum-based product is often suggested for rubber seals. 

Apply a small amount of the product on the seals and then wipe off the excess. The frequency for lubrication will depend on how often you use the slide out.

rv slide out

Additional RV Slide Out Tips

RV slide outs were developed to enhance the camping experience. Like your home, regular and preventive RV maintenance is essential to proper operation and enjoyment. 

• Before setting out, check the RV and slides, or take the vehicle to a dealership or appropriate service provider to be sure everything is in good working order. Keeping everything functioning properly is a good step toward a pleasant trip.

• Extend the slide out and inspect the tracks.

• Check the seals in both the extended and retracted positions to be sure they are in good condition.

• While the slide outs are opening and closing, listen carefully to be sure there are no unusual sounds. Lubricate if necessary.

• While inside, see if there are any gaps around the slide while it is in full extension. Be sure there are no obstacles or obstructions that would block the smooth operation of the slide out.

• Seriously consider adding outer corners. These are guards for the exterior corners to prevent children from getting hurt or other damage to the RV slide.

Considering RV Slide Outs: Consult with a Representative from an RV Store

So, we have provided a lot of information about RV slide outs and how RV slide outs work and troubleshooting. If this is sounding pretty good, speak with a representative of your RV store and find out more details.

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