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.