ASK THE EXPERT: Truck Camper Slide Mechanisms
TCM asks Doug Karr, Northwood Manufacturing’s truck camper expert, about the use and maintenance of camper slide mechanisms. It's electric! Boogie woogie woogie!
Northwood Manufacturing has been installing slide-outs on truck campers since the year 2000. Today, five out of six models in Northwood Manufacturing’s Arctic Fox truck camper line are slide-out models including the 811, 990, 992, 1140, and 1150.
To show us about how truck camper mechanisms work, Doug Karr, Northwood’s truck camper expert, took us to the Arctic Fox production line. On the line was an Arctic Fox 990 that had just had a slide mechanism installed.
There are many RV slide-out mechanisms on the market, but the three most prominent in the truck camper industry are a rack and pinion slide mechanism from Power Gear, a rack and pinion slide mechanism from Lippert Components, and a drawer style slide mechanism from Lippert Components. Most campers utilize a rack and pinion mechanism from Power Gear or Lippert Components.
ABOVE: A rack and pinion Power Gear slide-out mechanism in an Arctic Fox camper
In a rack and pinion slide mechanism, an electric motor turns a gear box which turns a shaft that spans the width of the slide-out room. The shaft has hardened gears that grab one or two gear rams on the slide out room to move the room in or out. As an example, Doug explained that the slide-out on an Arctic Fox 990 slides out twenty-six inches which dramatically increases the floor space inside the camper.
ABOVE: A slide-out room control switch in an Arctic Fox camper
On a slide-out truck camper, there is a two-way switch on the camper interior to operate the slide room or rooms. This switch is normally located close to the door to allow the owner to slide the slide rooms out before entering the unit. Doug showed us the slide-out switch on an Arctic Fox 990 located close to the floor by the rear door. When you press this switch to the in or out position, the slide opens or closes. There are also wireless remote controls that operate the slide rooms from Happijac and Atwood.
Another important component of a slide-out system are the slide room seals. There are two types of slide room seals; bulb seals and wiper seals. Bulb seals look like a partially inflated bicycle tire. Wiper seals look like an automotive windshield wiper. These seals protect the slide room and the camper from sand, dirt, and water. They also help to prevent drafts inside the camper.
Operating a Slide Mechanism With a Dead Camper Battery
Doug explained three ways to operate your slide mechanism if your camper battery is dead. First, you could plug in your camper to shore power and operate the slide mechanism with the shore power. Second, you could run a generator to move your slide-out room. And third, you could start your truck and run your slide mechanism with the power from your truck.
Some truck camper slide mechanisms allow the slides to be operated manually. For example, Arctic Fox truck camper slides are designed to be manually operated through an outside compartment door. To move the slide, the campers come with a tool called a T-assist handle.
ABOVE: The T-assist handle quickly assembles to manually move a slide-out
In the Arctic Fox 811 Doug showed us, the T-assist handle was located under the step leading to the dinette. For his demonstration, Doug assembled the T-assist handle, opened the outside compartment door, and disengaged the slide mechanism motor by pulling a handle on the motor.
ABOVE: Doug demonstrates manually moving a slide with the T-assist handle
Then he connected the T-assist handle to the slide-out gear mechanism on the motor. Once connected, Doug showed us how the slide room could be moved manually by turning the T-assist handle. It worked well and could really save the day in the rare case of a slide-out mechanism failure.
Slide Room Seal Maintenance
To maintain the slide room seals, Doug recommends that you use a slide-out rubber seal conditioner at least twice a year. Before you use the seal conditioner, you need to make sure that you wash your slide room roof and slide seals. To apply the seal conditioner, shake the can of seal conditioner and spray the conditioner directly on the seals. Make sure to spray both the inside and the outside of the seals.
Doug told us that he has connected a truck camper slide mechanism to an amp meter before and after conditioning the seals. He noticed that the slide mechanism used considerably less power once the seals were properly conditioned. If the seals are dry and not conditioned, the slide mechanism motor will pull more amperage because the motor needs to work harder to operate the slides. The conditioned seals reduce the drag as the slide moves across the seals reducing the stress on the system and motor.
Don’t forget to also check the seals on the slide room just like you check the seals on your camper. Doug recommends checking these seals twice a year including around compartment doors on the slide and anywhere there are seams. Doug also recommends using Dicor on the roof and Geocel on the slide walls of the campers. For more information about maintaining the seals on your camper, read, “ASK THE EXPERT: Maintaining Camper Seals”.
Slide Mechanism Gear Ram Maintenance
The gear ram is the part of the slide mechanism that you can see from under the slide room. Doug told us to not use any lubricants or oils to maintain the gear rams because sand, dirt, and dust will accumulate on the gear rams causing friction and possibly damaging the slide-out system. Doug recommends that you regularly wash the gear rams to keep any sand or dirt off the gear rams.
Slide-Out Room Winterizing
Doug recommended that you store slide-outs closed when you winterize your camper. This keeps the sun, rain, and snow from getting to the seals of the slides.
Slide-outs are a must for many truck camper owners. Some couldn’t imagine owning a truck camper without at least one slide. If you’re one of these slide-out camper folks, you now know what to do to keep your slide-out mechanism working properly for years to come. Thank you Doug for helping us keep our slides sliding!
To read more Ask the Expert Articles, visit our Truck Camper Tech section.