By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’re shopping for your first RV with a slideout, you may be scratching your head: Hydraulic or electric? Electric or hydraulic? What’s the difference – in a practical sense – between the two?
From the simple perspective, an electric slideout uses an electric motor, and probably a system of gears, and at times chains, to move the slide in and out of the RV. There’ll be at least one electric motor per slide out. Hydraulic systems use a single pump, driven by electricity, which pumps hydraulic fluid through valves and lines to drive actuators at each slide out to get the slide out or in.
Hydraulic systems are often found on heavier slide out rooms. They simply have more muscle for the job. Muscle is good, right? Yeah, provided you don’t have problems that are sometimes associated with hydraulic systems. Those individual components, be it valves, lines, or the pump can go gunnybag. Hydraulic lines can develop leaks – or worse, burst.
One of our friends with a large – pushing 40 foot – fifth wheel curses her hydraulic slideout system. When she wants to make a quick stop, she’d like the choice of which slideout to push out. On her rig, push the slideout room actuator button, the hydraulic pump fires up and slowly pumps out, first the kitchen, then the living room, and finally the bedroom. This means a “quick” setup for just getting a few hours of sleep on the road is anything but quick – the bedroom is the last accessible space in her rig.
Electric slideouts are individually operated. In our “big” rig we can slide out the living room, the bedroom, or the “entertainment center” in any order we choose. It’s up to us to put out all, a couple, or just one. But electrically driven slideout systems have their own problems. An electric motor can go haywire. A gearbox can chew itself up. Drive pins, associated with the gear mechanism, can suddenly leave you stranded by shearing. Pinch the slide room or don’t keep the system lubricated, the slide can develop a bit of resistance to movement, which in turn causes a greater demand for electrical power. Than can lead to tripping a breaker (or blowing a fuse), or worse, physical damage.
We owned several RVs without slideouts. We got along without them. But then again, they sure do make for “more space” in a tight space. It’s a matter of tradeoffs. Many RVers report years of experience on the road without ever experiencing a slideout problem. But to put yourself in their camp, it’s best to follow a preventative maintenance schedule. Drag out your rig’s owner manual and follow the instructions on how to maintain that slide, how to lubricate it, how to jolly it along.
And be sure to read up on how to retract your slideout manually when something breaks. Just in case.