Easy RV Mod -> Slide Topper Replacement With Tough Top Toppers
It’s been a looooong while since I did one of these posts, but I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a few more of these this year 🙂 This particular mod may seem complicated, but believe me when I say it’s an easy mod that anyone can do.
The Slide Topper Problem (Why We Replaced Them)
Most slide toppers wear out, this is a general truth. The material gets saggy and develops uneven “dips” where water pools (after rain) and the UV stitching starts to fray. Bigger toppers wear faster and eventually, with enough abuse, the toppers weaken and rip. We replaced our toppers around 4 years ago, and we probably could have gone a year or so further on the ones we had if it weren’t for Paul’s wind problem.
You see our toppers were flapping around A LOT in the wind, making incessant rat-tat-tat-tat noises interspersed with scary whooosh noises whenever they billowed up (which they did often). Over time it got so bad the slide toppers were making noise even in moderate-to-low wind. I was more or less able to handle it, but it drove Paul crazy (literally nuttier than the Mad Hatter) which meant we either had to strap the toppers down (with a long rope around the slide -> a pain to do) or spend our days/nights with the slides pulled in (which is how we ended up most of the time)
The Topper Solution (What We Replaced Them With)
The solution to our problem was either a complete removal of the toppers (which Paul, knife in hand, was ready to do pretty much every second of the day) or replacement with a better slide topper material. We opted (after a bit of internal “family negotiation”) for the latter. Specifically we wanted a thicker material that would (hopefully) flap less and last longer on our slides.
Our choice was one I’ve seen mentioned many, many times on RV forums over the years -> a 15oz vinyl laminate made by Tough Top Awnings. We went with the 15oz rather than the 18oz specifically because it’s marketed as “stiffer” and better in windy conditions. This same material also happens to be endorsed by our buddies the RV Geeks who (moreover) have an excellent installation video for the product as well as a 5% discount coupon. This sealed the deal and we ordered the toppers while we were parked in Desert Hot Springs back in November.
We measured the width and depth of our 4 slides (see instructions on their website) and spoke to Tyler who added the necessary extension measurements for the rollers and shipped the order via UPS. We got it 5 days later. All 4 toppers came in a tall package and looked nicely solid.
Topper Installation Equipment
Slide topper installation is really not that difficult and doesn’t require a lot of “gear”. Most of you will already have all this in your toolbox. In our case the only thing we needed to buy was the locking filter wrench. Here’s the full list:
1/ Two people (it’s definitely a two-woman/man job)
2/ Two sturdy ladders tall enough for you to reach & work on the toppers
3/ One Locking Oil Filter Wrench
4/ Lube (either Silicone-based or we like to use Boeshield T-9)
5/ Drill with 1/4 inch drill bit
6/ Metal file
7/ Philips screwdriver
8/ Allen wrench
Topper Installation Tricks
We have the Carefree SOK III slideout covers on our rig and although they might look complicated there’s really not much to them.
These are “enclosed” covers so they have a topper cover, an internal spring-tensioned roller and two end pieces/caps that hold the roller in place. The topper material goes into the roller on one side and into a channel on the roof on the other.
Installation-wise all you need to do is remove the topper cover, remove the old material and slip in the new one, and there are 2 key “tricks” that make life easy:
1/ Retain the spring tension in the roller by either clamping it in place or pinning it before you remove the old fabric & install the new one. By not releasing the tension you save yourself a ton of headache down the line.
2/ Drill (yes, drill) into the roller channel so that you can pull out the old fabric and insert the new one without having to disassemble/remove the end pieces. You can definitely replace toppers without drilling, but this step makes life infinitely easier. This 2nd trick is the RV Geeks method and it’s the one we used for our own installation.
Time-wise it took us around 1 hour to do the first topper (learning curve, ya know) and ~30 mins each for the remaining 3 toppers. We had help from lovely Bob (our RV neighbor) for our two first toppers while Paul and his dad did the remaining two on their own. All the toppers were basically installed exactly the same way, except for our front passenger-side topper**.
Step 1 -> Remove the SOK III Topper Cover
1/ You’ll need to use an Allen wrench to unscrew the 2 screws that hold the topper cover in place, one in the bottom and one in the top. These same 2 screws need to be removed on BOTH ends of the slide.
2/ The bottom screw (screw #1) needs to be completely removed, but the top screw (screw #2) can just be loosened enough to remove the cover.
3/ Once the screws are removed from BOTH ends of the slide you can flip up the slide cover (Note/ if there is a metal locking tab in the middle of your cover (we only had one on our biggest/longest slide) you’ll need to slide that tab that to the left before you can flip up your cover).
4/ Remove the cover completely. NO other screws need to be removed on the end pieces.
Step 2 -> Unroll The Roller & Clamp The Roller Tension In Place
1/ Grasp the roller and start unrolling the fabric towards the rig. There will be some spring tension that you’ll have to work against, but not a ton.
2/ Once the fabric is completely unrolled, clamp your locking wrench around the roller to clamp the tension in place. You’ll want to clamp the end that’s towards the middle of the rig, since you’ll be pulling your topper material out of either the back of the rig (for back slide) or the front of the rig (for front slides**).
3/ This is how your roller will look when it’s clamped. The topper fabric should now be completely loose and the locking wrench will hold the spring tension in place while you do the rest of your work.
4/ You’re now ready for the next step.
Step 3 -> Widen The Channel On the Roller & Remove Old Topper Material
1/ Start drilling into the roller channel using 1/4 inch drill bit on the end where you’re planning to remove the fabric. If you’re doing the back slides this will be towards the back of the rig. If you’re doing the front slides this will be towards the front of the rig**.
2/ You’ll want to widen the channel along a few inches, giving yourself enough “widened” space to pull out the old fabric.
3/ File down any rough edges both on top and inside the channel itself with a metal file.
4/ Remove the two small screws holding the fabric in place on the roof channel. There should be one screw on each end of the slide.
5-6/ Remove the old topper material by pulling it out through the two topper channels and (your widened roller channel and the roof channel).
Step 4 -> Insert New Material, Unclamp (Carefully), Check & Finish
1/ Spray both the roller & roof channels with a light coat of lube spray (silicone or T-9). This will help the new material slide into the channels.
2-3/ Feed the new material slooowly into the two topper channels (roof channel on rig side and your widened roller channel on roller side). It helps to have two people here -> one person to carefully “feed” the material in on one end the other person to carefully “pull” the material from the other end. Take your time here.
4/ Once the material is completely inserted, HOLD onto the roller firmly with your hands, REMOVE the locking wrench and sloooowly let the tension in the spring roll the material onto the roller (basically you are doing STEP 2 in reverse here). The material should now be nicely taut on the topper.
5/ Check alignment & operation of the topper by bringing the slide in and out.
6/ Re-attach the slide cover (basically STEP 1 in reverse) and re-attach the two small screws holding the fabric in place by the roof channel (STEP 3,#4) . You are done!
We’ve now had 3 months experience with the new toppers and I have to say we’re pretty happy with them. The material is most definitely much thicker/studier than our old material and our “wind experiements” have (so far) delivered much better results than our old toppers. Only time will tell how they last, but we’re happy so far.
**Note/ Our Front Passenger Side Awning “Problem”
Most folks will do all their slide toppers exactly the same way. Material feeds out the back of the rig for back slides and out the front of the rig for front slides. Easy, peasy.
However, in our rig we ran into an issue because of the way our big awning is designed on the front passenger-side of our rig. In our Holiday Rambler the big awning runs from the roof and OVER the top of our slide/slide topper. This presents a problem because the big awning arms get in the way of inserting/removing topper material from the front (there’s simply no space) and there’s no way to work “underneath” the awning while it is extended.
There were only 2 good ways we could think of working around this. Either you run the front topper out the back of your rig which means you need to take the back slide topper off in order to install the front topper. OR/ you can “widen” a small portion of the roof channel in the middle of your rig (using a screw driver) and just feed the material in through there. We chose the later approach. There’s a small, visible mark where we widened the channel, but unless you’re looking for it you likely won’t notice it.
Related External Links: In addition to the SOK III topper installation video that I mentioned above, the RV Geeks have multiple other awning & slide topper videos on their website. Check them all out HERE.SPONSORED LINK:
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Eric Udell says
We used the RV geeks procedure videos as guides to replace both of our toppers about 8 months ago, after one of our toppers started to tear. We got the 18oz material and are so far happy with it, though it’s starting to look dingy and we wonder if we should have gone with a more dirt-colored fabric. Oh, well.
Nonetheless, we’re still pleased with the results.
It’s easy and doesn’t take very long, as your post shows. We didn’t drill ours out and didn’t have a particularly difficult time getting the new toppers in.
Interesting that you did it without drilling. I don’t think we could have managed on the 15oz without widening the roller channel (or removing the end caps), but that might be a reflection of the channel size on our rig, or the fact that the 15oz vinyl is pretty stiff. Glad you found it as easy as we did. The RV Geeks video was a huge help for us too.
Hi Nina & Paul! First of all, thanks so much for the mentions and the link love. So great to hear that this worked out so well for you, and sorry again that the timing worked against us being able to help in person.
As far as some toppers requiring drilling and some not, it all depends on the model. A&E toppers generally don’t need to be drilled out, and some models of Carefree don’t either. in our experience, the two types that are better drilled are the SOK III and the Omega, because removing the end caps is a hassle on those.
Looking forward to connecting with you this summer. 🙂
– Peter & John
Cheers for adding your experience. I can confirm that removing the end caps on the SOKIII is a hassle. We did that several years ago to fix something on our back slide and it was definitely work. Drilling the channel was much easier (albeit a little scary the first time).
Bob Martel says
Nice post. Glad you were finally able to get to it. Hmmm, never been called “lovely” before.
There’s always a first time for everything 🙂
I’m trading up for a new trailer for my upcoming year on the road and have a question: I love going offroad, and boondocking in remote areas. My instinct has told me to steer clear of slides because of the dust. But I saw a new model just delivered that had me in a drool and it has a slide for the best living area configuration I’ve seen (new forest river off-road tt) complete with robust off road outrigger like wheels. Are slides more problematic if your in the dust all the time? Are they worth it?
Honestly I think slides are fine. Sure they might let a bit more dust in, or be more bothersome in the wind but the extra living space they provide is huge. We love our slides, despite the issues we’ve had with them and wouldn’t hesitate to buy another rig with slides.
Jil mohr says
We opted not to have slide toppers when we first got our 5th wheel and have never regretted that decission. Tom does look at the slide before we take iff each time and sweeps it if necessary…
We were VERY close to going “topperless”, but I convinced Paul to give these ones a try. Lots of 5th wheels come without toppers so I definitely don’t consider them a “must have”. A sweep of the slides before you pull them in will do the job just as well.
Classic timing, as this is on our preventative maintenance replacement schedule for 2016…
Good shots, and good narrative. So, if I hold off util your seeming annual holidays in San Diego area – how many bottles of special brews will it take for Paul to come supervise our install!!!!
We have a Carefree combo topper and window awing for our two slides. The large living room slide topper/awning spring broke on us about two years ago. To get the slide in, we had to remove the fabric. While it was out, we took it to a local Shelter Island Sailmaker, and had the seams oversewn with UV sailmaker thread. We also washed it well, and then treaded it well with tent canvas waterproofing. This also afforded us the opportunity to reinstall the material. (I did sub the spring replacement out to local mobile awing repair gent, who made it look easy.)
This experience, made me realize that I when we do replace our material, we’ll ‘pay up’ for the highest quality topper/awning materials we can find. Ours are now 10 years old, admittedly with very little usage by the previous owner for the first 5 or so years. Hoping we can get 7 or so years out of the new toppers.
Salute to you both, and thanks for sharing this with your clan:)!
The above repair process
10 years on toppers is pretty darn amazing! Our previous toppers had UV stitching, but still failed after only 4 years. I’m really hoping these toppers are more durable. I like the look/feel of the material and Tough Tops definitely gets a lot of positive recommendations on the RV forums, but only time will tell.
Lynne (WinnieViews) says
Great timing for me too, Nina! I’m getting my RV painted in May and will need to replace the white slide topper with something darker to match the new paint job. This stronger, more durable topper sounds just like what I’ll need. Thanks!
Excellent! I think you’ll like the quality of these toppers. They definitely feel much better than our old ones. We went with black this time (we had a tan color before) and we’re liking the darker color. You really don’t notice the toppers unless you’re looking for them.
When I replaced 2 of mine a couple of years ago, I used a material called Sumbrella at a Upholstery shop in Yuma Arizona. I took the old ones in and they used the splines out of the old vinyl ones and put in the new ones. They were very colorful and made of a heavy canvas material. I don’t recall the weight of the material,but it was heavy and did not show the dirt like the original vinyl did.
Our previous toppers were heavy canvas, but I can’t recall the brandname. They seemed OK when we started, but started to sag after only a few years. Hopefully yours will be sturdy and last a long time.
Jeff Phinney says
I did this last year on two of my 3 slides. The 3rd one is the same problem as yours. I have my main awning structure blocking the channels. However, I don’t have enough room to open up a section to pass it through. Looks like I will have to unmount the top section. Not brave enough yet.
Bummer! We were able to open up a section of the roof channel in the middle of the RV (between the awning arm and the middle-facing end of the slide), but if you don’t have the space to do it taking the whole top section off may be the only way to go.
Mostly I’m glad to hear that the sound of flapping toppers drives someone else nutters! With our full-side slide, the noise sounds like a hurricane even in 25 mph winds. Will be interested to hear how much difference these make when it’s gusting. Great pics and tutorial!!
Paul really does go CRAZY with that sound LOL. We had a big storm in San Diego a week before we left and the toppers did very well, but the REAL test will be our next windy day in the desert. We’ll see….
It seems like most of us have new slide toppers this year!
This is a very helpful tutorial for those who have thoughts and plans of replacing slide toppers.
Mike & Karen Stidham says
Hey Nina and Paul,
I have been rereading your post on slide topper replacement. I will be replacing my toppers this fall and plan on using Tough Top and their 15oz material. I was wondering how your replacement tops have help up?
GREAT so far. No complaints at all. I don’t think we tightened our top drivers side enough, but that’s really just our fault. Other than that they still look great.
Paul Duggan says
Hi Nina, I know this is an old blog post, but I wanted to thank you for it. I just did my toppers on my 2008 Dynasty following your instructions. I did all four toppers by myself and found it an easy job. I was reluctant to do this project but after reading your amazingly complete and thorough directions, it was easy. I merely pulled my toppers off, switched the poly cords, and had them professionally resown. I then reinstalled with the fabric that had been on the roller and not exposed to the elements, now exposed. My fabric was still in good shape, but the thread had deteriorated. Thank you!
Excellent! So happy the post was helpful!