We arrived at our campsite in Sequoia National Forest just as the sun was setting. While I set up camp, my wife started cooking. Suddenly, a storm approached, and when I tried to extend the camper’s slide-out, the power went out. With the storm getting worse, the slide-out got stuck, and I realized we didn’t know how to manually open it.
Understanding the importance of being prepared, I decided to learn how to manually operate the slide-out. This experience taught us that all camper owners should have backup skills for unexpected power issues. Since that night, I’ve put together a simple guide on slide-out mechanisms, common problems, and step-by-step instructions for manually opening it.
Basically, to manually open your camper’s slide-out, locate and remove access covers, disengage the brake, insert the crank handle, and turn it steadily to extend the slide evenly. Once fully open, re-engage the brake, and replace the access covers to complete the process. Now, read the entire post for the details.
Camper Slide-Out Designs and Mechanisms
Modern campers employ slide-out rooms of varying sizes and designs to create more livable spaces. But how do these large sections of the camper extend out and retract back in?
There are a few main types of slide-out mechanisms to understand –
Above Floor Slide-Out: The most common type found on towable RVs and pop-up campers. The floor of the slide-out sits on top of and outside the main floor when retracted. As the name suggests, the slide-out floor rides above the camper’s floor. A rubber seal or weather stripping runs along the entire perimeter of the room to prevent water intrusion when closed. This creates essentially a pocket that the room retracts into. When extending out, the slide-out floor slides over the top of the main floor.
Below Floor Slide-Out: More commonly found in large Class A and Class C motorhomes. As the name denotes, the floor of the slide-out sits even with and underneath the main living area floor when retracted. This creates a very flat floor design once extended. The room disappears underneath the camper, with the sidewalls telescoping or retracting as it slides in and out. When extending, the slide-out floor rises even with the main floor.
Rack and Pinion Slide-Out: Uses a gear and pinion drive mechanism, similar to a rack and pinion steering system on vehicles. This style can handle larger and heavier slide-out rooms and is often used for full-wall or multiple slide-outs. A gear track or rack mounted to the room meshes with a rotating pinion gear driven by a motor. The gear engagement pushes the room in and out.
In normal operation, high-torque electric motors mounted near the slide-out rails or gears drive the system to smoothly move the room in and out with the press of a button. The motors, synchronization between multiple gears, and full travel extension are controlled via a centralized wall-mounted control panel wired to the motors.
Step-by-Step Guide to Manually Opening the Slide-Out
Once you’ve located the override access and gathered the proper tools, follow these steps to safely open that slide-out manually –
Step 1. Clear Inside and Outside Areas
Make sure the path of the slide-out room is free of obstructions before starting. Look under and around the areas inside and outside. Ensure chairs, equipment, or debris won’t impede extension. Check for overhead clearance if opening an above-floor slide.
Step 2. Secure Proper Footing and Stance
The process will require some physical exertion, so plant your feet wide and brace yourself in an athletic stance. Be sure you have a sturdy grip with boots or shoes. Enlist a helper if needed for larger slide-outs.
Step 3. Remove Access Covers
Use your owner’s manual to locate any panels or plastic inserts protecting the override access point. Remove them using a wrench or screwdriver to gain access to the mechanism.
Step 4. Disengage the Motor Brake (If Equipped)
Some models have a motor brake that keeps the room locked in place when not powered. Locate the brake release (often a lever) and disengage it so the room can move freely.
Step 5. Insert Crank Tool or Wrench
Fit your crank handle or socket wrench onto the override nut or socket head and ensure it’s fully engaged. An adjustable wrench on the nut can also work in a pinch.
Step 6. Begin Cranking
Start cranking the handle to manually extend the slide-out. Turn slowly and steadily. Sudden or jerky movements may damage the gears. Apply firm pressure but avoid overexerting yourself.
Step 7. Monitor Progress
Carefully watch that the room extends evenly on both sides. If one side starts advancing more than the other, stop and realign before continuing. Keep an eye on the clearance around the edges.
Step 8. Fully Extend Slide-Out
Continue turning the handle at a steady pace until the room is fully extended. It should look flush with the side of the camper. Resist the temptation to muscle it past stopping points.
Step 9. Re-engage Motor Brake
If you disengaged a motor brake earlier, now re-engage it to lock the room into the extended position. This keeps it secure until you can get the electrical issue fixed.
Step 10. Replace Access Covers
Replace any panels, inserts, or caps that were removed to access the override. This protects the mechanism from dirt, debris, and external damage.
Step 11. Fix Electrical Issue
Now that the slide-out is operational, focus on diagnosing and repairing the electrical problem, whether it’s blown fuses, low batteries, failed motors, or wiring issues. Address this before retracting the room.
NOTE: For cable-operated slides, use a portable drill, a 12-inch flexible extension, and a #3 square torque bit. Locate the motor, fit the bit, connect the extension to your drill, and drive counterclockwise to retract. Schwintek slides require a standard pen to bypass the electronic control box. Locate the box, follow the instructions, push the reset button, and test the slide-out switch.
Quick Tips and Precautions for Manual Operation
Here are some important tips and precautions to keep in mind –
– Work slowly and steadily to avoid pinching fingers or damaging components. Get help from another person if the slide is very heavy or binding.
– Brief helpers on the plan and have them call out any visual issues during the extension. Clear communication is key.
– Use your legs and body for leverage when cranking rather than only arm strength.
– If the room hits excessive resistance, stop and try gently rocking it back and forth while cranking to release pressure before continuing.
– Lubricate slide rails and gears regularly per manufacturer instructions to prevent rust buildup and ease manual operation when needed.
– Inspect all seals, gaskets, motors, gears, and pulleys during routine camper maintenance. Address worn parts to prevent problems down the road.
– Consider installing solar panels and carrying a portable backup generator. This gives you off-grid power options to avoid electrical issues in remote areas.
– Know your camper’s electrical system inside and out. Carry spare fuses, batteries, and basic tools to troubleshoot problems on your own if they occur away from help.
Potential Slide-Out Electrical Problems
This all works great when the electrical system is functioning properly. But there are a few common issues that can arise –
Blown Fuses: Just like your home, the slide-out motors and controls run on DC power via fuses and circuit breakers. Attempting to run a slide repeatedly or operating multiple slides at once can overload and blow fuses. Check the DC fuse box if slides become non-responsive.
Motor Failure: Slide-out motors can overheat and eventually fail after years of use. Signs include increased noise, binding, and lack of full extension. Have a technician test the motors. A failed motor will need replacement.
Control Panel Failure: The switches, buttons, and controller board on the wall panel can malfunction over time. Buttons may become unresponsive or light status indicators fail to operate properly. Touchscreens can develop dead zones. Have the control panel inspected and repaired as needed.
Low Battery Power: Operating slide-outs run down the battery. Attempting to extend them when power is very low can lead to problems. Recharge batteries before trying to activate slide-outs.
Solenoid or Relay Failure: Solenoids and relays operate off the control panel to engage the motors. Burned-out or corroded solenoids won’t effectively kick the motors on. These may need replacement if slides are inoperative but fuses and motors check out okay.
Damaged Wiring: Rodents chewing through wires is an all-too-common issue. Inspect visible wiring for any damage. Even small cuts in the insulation can lead to shorts and electrical problems.
Manual Override – Your Emergency Lifeline
Luckily, almost all slide-out systems have a way to manually operate them in the event of a power failure or electrical malfunction. This is an important emergency backup that every camper owner should know how to access and use.
The first step is locating the manual override. Check your owner’s manual for the specific location in your make and model. On many campers, you’ll find the override access towards the bottom outer edge of the slide-out. Look for a removable panel or plastic insert.
Once uncovered, you’ll see a hex head nut or socket. This connects to the gear assembly allowing you to manually turn and move the room. Other types may have a specialized crank tool that inserts into the override drive socket.
You’ll need to gather a few key tools and items before starting –
a) Crank handle tool or socket wrench/breaker bar that properly fits the override nut
b) Adjustable wrench or locking pliers to remove access covers
c) Flashlight to see under slide-out mechanisms
d) Work gloves for grip and hand protection
e) Sturdy shoes or boots for stability
I recommend keeping your crank tool in the emergency toolkit rather than leaving it stored away. You never know when an electrical issue might strike that requires manually operating the slide.
Mastering the manual operation of your camper’s slide-outs might feel challenging initially, but it’s crucial for a successful camping trip. Don’t risk getting stuck with a malfunctioning slide – understand the override system. This guide aims to eliminate uncertainties, encouraging regular practice at home and adding a crank tool to your emergency kit for added preparedness. With these steps, a slide-out issue won’t spoil your camping adventure, allowing you to enjoy off-grid experiences confidently. Cheers to smooth journeys until you slide back home!
How can I tell if my camper has a manual override for the slide-out?
The vast majority will have some type of manual override, but always check your owner’s manual to confirm. Look along the external underside of the slide box once fully extended to spot any removable panels concealing the override access. Hex socket heads or crankshafts sticking out are a sure sign. When uncertain, have an RV technician show you the override location.
What if the room seems completely stuck when trying to manually operate it?
First, ensure you’ve fully disengaged any motor brake. Try gently rocking the room back and forth while cranking to release pressure. Have someone push from the inside while you pull the exterior crank. If vertical seals are binding, try inserting a screwdriver to temporarily break the seal and walk the room out. Rotating the tires can also shift the camper frame just enough to break it free. But stop immediately if you encounter continued resistance.
Is it normal to see the slide-out move unevenly when operating manually?
It’s quite common to see one side move slightly ahead of the other when opening manually, especially with larger rooms. The gear mechanisms allow some play to self-align the room. Monitor the gap and stop periodically to realign rather than forcing it when severely out of square. Uneven motion when opening electrically could indicate a problem with the motors syncing properly.