True Topper RV slide toppers

Our RV slide toppers are junk and are going into the trash!

Our RV slide toppers are junk and are going into the trash. I have found the perfect replacement. True Topper has eliminated the problems with fabric awning slide toppers. Fabric slide toppers on top of our slide rooms were an ugly necessity until now. I am looking forward to fixing this problem once and forever.

Updated article originally published in March 2024.

This is unusual; I usually don’t write about things we will do to our RV. I typically repair something and then see how it works before telling the story. Then, I wait until I have a lot of history with the change to evaluate how it works. After I know it works well, I tell the story. I have always had trouble with my slide toppers and look forward to finally getting rid of them. I started researching this “project” more than a year ago and am convinced it is the right product and time to complete it.

Winnebago RV with True Toppers installed.
Winnebago RV with True Toppers installed. The installation is so clean that you can’t tell the RV has a slide-out unless you look at it carefully.

Our research

We visited True Topper during our southbound trip after our Alaska trip as we passed through Eugene, Oregon. True Topper is owned by the inventors of the seamless slide room system used on the “best” and most expensive Tiffin RVs. Some of the most expensive Tiffins even had True Toppers installed at the Tiffin Factory instead of fabric slide toppers. If I were looking at getting a newer Tiffin Bus, I would get one with the seamless slide rooms and True Toppers.

True Toppers are not a new product.

In 2019, True Toppers were installed at the Tiffin factory on new Tiffin Breeze and Zephyr models. Last year, however, was the first year that I could get them put on my 2008 Tiffin Bus. True Toppers are now available for most RVs with traditional fabric slide toppers.

Our RV slide rooms extended making our RV about 12 feet wide.
Our RV slide rooms extended, making our RV about 12 feet wide. Notice the tubes on the top of the slide rooms. These aluminum covers to hold my fabric slide toppers. When I get True Toppers, these aluminum tubes will go in the recycle bin. Compare my RV to the previous photo of the Winnebago.

I am not looking for a new RV, so we are going back to Eugene, Oregon, to get our fabric slide toppers replaced with True Toppers, and we will put our fabric slide topper contraptions in their recycling (junk) pile.

Slide rooms

If our RV didn’t have slide rooms (on both sides) that expanded the RV to about twelve feet wide, I wouldn’t be a full-time RVer. We have lived in our RV for nearly seven years, and for all seven years, we had slide rooms and slide toppers. We couldn’t live without our slide rooms, and until last summer, I thought fabric slide toppers were a necessary part of slide rooms.

Patriot Thunder with True Toppers installed.
Patriot Thunder with True Toppers installed.

History of slide rooms

The first RV with retractable side rooms (that I know about) was a Newmar. Fixed location trailers before about 1990 had side rooms that would not retract. At that time, they were called bump-outs. RVs adopted retractable slide rooms so fast that it seems that every manufacturer claims to have invented the retractable slide room all during the same year.

A classic RV with True Toppers installed.
A classic RV with True Toppers installed.

When we first saw an RV with slide rooms, we knew we wanted them. Slide rooms make our RV wide enough to be comfortable. Slide topper fabric awnings cover and “protect” the top of RV slide rooms.

Slide Toppers

Slide toppers are self-retracting fabric awnings on the top of the slide room that “protect” the top of our slide rooms. Because they are fabric awnings, they have a limited life. Since we live in the RV and never put it in storage, our fabric slide topper awnings are extended 24 hours a day, every day except when driving our RV.

Our RV slide room with fabric slide toppers.
Our RV slide room with fabric slide toppers.

Some RVs either don’t have slide toppers or have fabric slide toppers because they are built as inexpensively as possible. Fabric slide toppers are inexpensive and quick to install, and both factors lead to higher profits for RV manufacturers.

Our RV slide room when it is closed fabric slide toppers under the aluminum cover.
Our RV slide room. When closed, the fabric slide toppers are hidden under the aluminum cover.

Initially, I was glad to have fabric slide toppers on our RV. Less expensive RVs, usually trailers, even if they have slide rooms, typically don’t have slide toppers. I mentioned that slide toppers protect the top of the RV slide rooms. Perhaps you may think I am talking about protecting the top of the slide room from sun and rain. They may protect the top of the slide room from the sun. Does the top of the slide room need protection from the sun? No, they don’t. The sides of the slide rooms don’t have any protection from the sun, and no one covers them.

Protection from rain

RVs are notorious for leaking, and sealing and checking the sealant on the RV is a nearly constant battle. I initially thought the fabric slide toppers would protect the top of the slide room from water intrusion. They do not, and if they do, they don’t do a good job protecting the slide room from water intrusion.

As you can see, fabric slide toppers are complicated contraptions held together with fabric. When the fabric gives way, the spring-loaded slide topper will unwind forcefully. I am willing to bet that they self-destruct, damaging more than just the fabric ripping.

Assuming the RV was carefully assembled (it rarely was), the junction between the slide room and the RV is protected from water intrusion by a combination of rubber seals. These seals work better on the side of the slide rooms (and the bottom) than they do on the top of the slide room. The top of the slide rooms is typically flat, and water will sit on it, eventually getting past the seals.

Wiper seals

When your slides are extended, your wiper seals should also be extended. When you retract your slides, the wiper seal should fold towards the inside of the RV as you retract your slides. If the slide of your slide-out room is wet as you retract the slide, the wiper seal should wipe the side of the slide and remove the water. I see way too many RVs with wiper seals that are partially folded or not extended when the slide is in the extended position. The same action applies to wiper seals on the top of your slide, but if you have fabric wiper seals, you won’t know if they are working unless you remove the fabric slide toppers.

Rubber bulbs and wipers

The rubber seals are composed of bulbs that compress and, when compressed, seal the slide room from water intrusion. The bulb seal is helped by a rubber wiper, which acts as a mini flashing to direct water away from the bulb. The real purpose of the wiper is to wipe the sides and top of the slide room clear of water when you retract it. Wipers fail in multiple ways, and most RVers don’t even notice when they fail. Fabric RV slide toppers hide the seals, so you can’t tell if they are working correctly.

If a slide topper was properly installed, it may help minimize the water that could collect and sit against the wiper and bulb seal. The problem is that the slide topper is suspended above the slide top and open on both ends. So, even if it helps, it is not a solution to the water problem.

When water gets under the slide topper, it sits next to the bulb seal. If you are lucky, when you retract the slide room, the wiper will try to keep the water on the outside of the RV. More than once, I wiped the top of our slide room to soak up the water after I retracted a wet slide room. The wiper needs a little help. Wiping down the top of the retracted slide room with a rag is better than getting a shower when you hit the brakes. This has happened, but not to me or Tami. When people talk about being madder than a wet hen, they are not talking about chickens.

Water damage to an RV slide out room.
Water damage to an RV slide-out room caused by water intrusion.

As a caution to anyone who may think that a partially retracted slide room may be a good idea, it is not. The bulb seals only work when the slide room is fully extended or retracted. When fully extended or retracted, the bulb seals will be compressed and functioning. When the slide room is not fully extended or retracted, the bulb seals are useless. A partially extended slide will leak quickly.

Water intrusion problems

Our biggest slide (which has a slide topper and rubber seals) leaked (before we owned it) to the point that the floor of the slide room rotted and had to be replaced. The problem was a huge headache for Tiffin. Every Tiffin model using the same slide rooms (all of the highest-priced Tiffin RVs) had the same problem. Tiffin replaced these slide room floors under warranty. Did the slide toppers protect the slide rooms from water damage? Not even close. Slide toppers didn’t (and don’t) help with the water problem.

Black True Topper looks like trim installed on this diesel pusher.
Black True Topper looks like trim installed on this diesel pusher.

Slide toppers are suitable only for one thing.

Because the slide toppers are self-retracting awnings on the top of a slide room, they serve only one purpose. Slide toppers protect the top of our slide rooms from stuff falling out of trees. When something falls on top of the RV slide room, and when the slide room is retracted, the debris falls off the slide topper instead of being caught between the slide room’s upper lip and the RV wall. The slide topper thus protects the rubber slide seals from damage caused by retracting the slide room with things like branches and pine cones sitting on the top of the slide room.

A Tiffin Open Road with True Toppers in the closed position seems to make the slide room disappear.
A Tiffin Open Road with True Toppers in the closed position makes the slide room disappear.

If your RV does not have slide toppers, check for debris on top of your slide rooms before you retract your slide room. Unless you have True Toppers, fabric side toppers are better than no toppers. Is that called going topless? It’s food for thought.

My slide-toppers are junk.

The problem with my slide toppers is that even though they protect the rubber seals, they fail while doing their only job. Our slide toppers have an aluminum cover that “protects” the slide topper from wind while we are driving the RV. When they are retracted, our slide toppers live under this aluminum cover. The aluminum cover causes its own problems, but it is better than no cover.

A Winnebago with a True Topper over the rear slide room.
A Winnebago with a True Topper over the rear slide room.

Debris on the top of my slide toppers, rather than damaging my rubber seals, gets pinched between the aluminum cover and the slide topper instead of falling away from the RV. This debris then damages the slide topper. So, my slide toppers fail to do their only job. They would work better if they didn’t have the cover, but this causes a different problem.

The aluminum cover has a purpose.

Our first RV didn’t have an aluminum cover, which exposed the slide topper to the wind when we were driving. Wind could (and did) get under the front edge of the cover while moving, causing the topper to unroll while driving and, in extreme cases, self-destruct as we drove down the road. If your fabric slide toppers are not covered by an aluminum cover, they are an example of a budget RV slide topper.

Unless you look closely you wouldn't know that this small Winnebago had a slide room.
Unless you look closely, you wouldn’t know that this small Winnebago had a slide room.

Our friends have had their fabric slide toppers blow off their RV while driving. Of course, the departing topper also causes damage to the side of the RV as it self-destructs. At the end of the roller on an RV without the aluminum covers, there is a small plastic lever that is supposed to prevent self-destruction. The small lever doesn’t do a good job. When the lever breaks, you get the picture. This little lever is called a billow stop. We have seen other RVs driving with a billowing slide topper, which isn’t pretty.

A Tiffin Bus with a black True Topper on the big slide room.
A Tiffin Bus with a black True Topper on the big slide room.

Since the cover has a purpose, I have not removed it. Sticks causing damage to the slide topper under the cover are way better than a slide topper that self-destructs.

Other slide-topper problems

Rain collection

On our big slides, our slide toppers collect rain. The aluminum roller tube bends slightly and isn’t strong enough to tension the fabric. The roller tube is the problem because the same thing doesn’t happen on our small slides. The small slides don’t collect rain because they are smaller. Rain started collecting on this slide topper as soon as it was installed. It never worked correctly. Here is a video of my slide topper after a light rain. Right now, it works but will fail soon. Fabric slide toppers were never designed to hold gallons of rainwater. The next video is my RV.

I have been worried that the puddle (multiple gallons of water) would eventually destroy my slide topper or pull the slide topper fabric out of the channel. So far, this hasn’t happened, but it will happen someday. When a topper failure happened to a friend, he removed his topper with a razor knife in a campground and discarded it. He was going topless. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

If my fabric slide toppers fail before I install my True Toppers, I will remove them with the razor technique. Then, I will be going topless. No one wants that.

When we retract our big slides, even after a light rain, we get a significant waterfall from the water stored on the top of the slide toppers. The waterfall, however, is better than if the water freezes on the top of the slide topper. One time, we retracted our sides, not knowing that we had ice on the top of the slide topper, and as we did, we heard the ice crash to the ground. It was a big surprise; we thought we had a window that had fallen off our RV.

Top of the line Winnebago with True Toppers painted to match the coach.
This is a top-of-the-line Winnebago with True Toppers painted to match the coach. I assure you this RV has huge slide-out rooms.

I have considered using a leaf blower to clear the puddle on top of my slide topper before retracting the slide, but that would only allow me to direct the waterfall. Instead of eliminating the problem, it would just be another task to do before we retracted the slides.

Wind under the toppers

For us, wind under the toppers when driving isn’t an issue because of the aluminum cover. Wind under the toppers when we are camping is a big issue. As the wind gets under the topper, first, it extends slightly and then retracts with a pop. When it is windy, we would like to park with our RV pointed into the wind to prevent rolling from side to slide all night, but this would put the wind under the slide toppers and make them pop all night. The only way for us to prevent the popping (when it is windy) is to pull our slide rooms in and live without the slide rooms. We call this turtle mode.

View, White Sands Missile Range after the storm
The view out our front window at White Sands Missile Range after the two-day hurricane-force windstorm.

Yes, we have gone turtle mode and pulled in all our slides because we were certain our slide toppers would not have survived the night. The ordeal has now turned into a fun story. Here is a link to the story. Be sure to look through the comments. Hurricane winds at White Sands

Snow is a huge problem.

If you have a fabric slide topper, I encourage you to bring it in your slides before snow accumulates on top of your slide toppers. We didn’t know it then, but if the snow melts partially and then freezes, you may be unable to bring it into your slide rooms. The frozen toppers won’t retract correctly. On our RV, if you bring in your slide rooms with ice on the fabric slide toppers, we will probably destroy the aluminum caps over the slide toppers. This is one place where we got away without damage only because we weren’t going anywhere. Here is a link to the story. Heavy Wet Snow in Fort Huachuca

Campsite Sierra Vista Arizona snowing
There is snow on our RV in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The weight of the snow fully compresses our fabric slide toppers.

Fabric slide toppers wear out quickly.

The fabric on slide toppers wears out quickly. The only way to make your fabric slide toppers last long is to keep them stored and not let them sit in the sun. Our fabric slide toppers are fully exposed daily, all day long, because we use our RV. We expected to replace them every few years. With True Toppers, the problem will be fixed once.

Campground fixes to slide topper problems don’t work.

I have tried “fixing” my slide topper problems using pool noodles and ropes, but nothing worked. One person suggested putting partially inflated beach balls under his slide toppers to stop the fabric from sagging. Before retracting the slides, he didn’t mention how he would get the beach balls out from under his topper. The only thing that works to fix my slide-topper problems is going to turtle mode and pulling the slides in.

The real solution to RV slide topper problems

The only real solution to RV slide topper problems is eliminating them and replacing them with a True Topper system. They will never bother me again… if I remove them and replace them with something much better. True Topper’s solution is practical and straightforward but not a do-it-yourself job. To correctly install True Toppers, you will need scaffolding. Scaffolding isn’t something I carry in the RV. Besides, RV slide topper rollers are spring-loaded traps and can hurt you even if you are only removing them.

The True Topper’s solution involves cutting off the top edge of your slide room and replacing it with a carefully created aluminum ramp.

After removing the slide topper, the flange on the top of the slide room is removed and replaced with an aluminum ramp.
After removing the old slide topper, the flange on the top of the slide room is replaced with an aluminum ramp.
Slide room top with the True Topper system installed.
The slide room top has the True Topper system installed. I took this picture at the True Topper installation facility during my research.

The flange on the top of the slide room attempted to create a tight seal when it closed (It didn’t work). The idea was that closing the slide room would compress the bulb seal against the RV wall, sealing against any water intrusion. Unfortunately, even though a top flange is nearly universal on slide rooms, the top edge of a closed slide room is not sealed tight against the RV wall. The top flange doesn’t work to keep water out.

True topper with aluminum end cap.
True topper with aluminum end cap.

The same bulb seal on the bottom edge of the slide room works fine. The flange doesn’t work on the top of the slide room because water runs downhill. Water does not sit on the bottom edge of the slide room, waiting for an opportunity to enter past the seal. What you need on the top edge of a slide room is a flashing that directs water away from the top of the slide out. A flashing ensures that water doesn’t collect on the top edge of the slide room seals. With a flashing, water is directed away from the seals. Water cannot sit next to the seals and eventually enters the RV.

True Topper cross section showing hinge and wiper.
True Topper cross section showing hinge and wiper.

The most important part of the True Topper solution is to create a flashing to prevent water intrusion when the slide is open and retracted. This flashing must be flexible enough to allow the slide room to open and close and rigid enough to act as a scraper to remove the debris from the top of the slide room. In the True Topper solution, when you retract the awning, the aluminum flashing works as a scraper and a squeegee to push water and debris off the top of the slide room.

While retracting the slide the scraper removes any debris from the top of the slide room.
While retracting the slide, the scraper removes the debris from the top of the slide room.
Slide toppers removed and True Toppers installed.
On this RV, the slide toppers were removed, and True Toppers were installed. In this photo, the True Topper is sitting on the extended slide, protecting the slide room seals and ready to push any debris off the top of the slide room.

The next photo (taken during my research) explains why I am so sold on the True Topper system. When I took the photo, the installer didn’t know how much this section of scrap aluminum would affect my decision.

The three main parts of the True Topper slide room system.
The three main parts of the True Topper slide room system. On the top is the CNC-machined aluminum end cap. The part on the left is attached to the RV and holds the Aluminum Flashing to the RV. Under the flashing is a rubber wiper to remove water off the top of the slide room when the slide is retracted.

The reason I find the True Topper system so amazing is in this photo. The obvious thing is how thick the aluminum extrusions are made, but this wasn’t the most impressive thing (to me). I think the real genius is how the scrapper/flashing section perfectly mates with the section attached to the side of the RV. This creates a hinge so the two work together, creating a movable water dam. The wall section has a built-in gutter to prevent most of the water from sitting against the hinge, and the hinge also creates a gutter to allow water to run off without getting behind the scraper.

True Topper reverse side with wiper seal and lock.
True Topper side with wiper seal and lock.

The technician asked if I wanted to take the scrap aluminum home with me, and I declined because we don’t collect anything we don’t use. Now, I wish I had it with me to examine it repeatedly (perhaps I am easily entertained).

When the slide is closed the scraper becomes the weather flashing sealing the top of the slide room from water intrusion.
When the slide is closed, the scraper becomes the weather flashing, sealing the top of the slide room from water intrusion.

After retracting the slide room, the aluminum scraper becomes a flashing on top of the slide room to prevent water from entering while the slide room is closed.

Finished True Topper slide room replacement.
A finished True Topper slide room replacement with the slide room closed, ready to hit the road. This RV is a Tiffin Zephyr, and I took this photo during my visit to Eugene, Oregon, to research True Toppers for my RV.

The real story is how well the True Topper does its job.

The True Topper’s first job is to protect the slide rooms from water intrusion. When the slide room is out, unless you have a slide topper, the only thing keeping water from leaking into the RV is the slide seal. If you have a fabric slide topper, most of the water will be on top of the fabric and not sit next to the seal. With a True Topper, you have the flashing and an additional rubber wiper seal under the flashing to prevent water from getting to your slide seals and wipe the water off the top of the slide room when you retract it.

A Winnebago in the rain torture booth.
A Winnebago in the hurricane storm torture booth. True Toppers, installed on RVs, have undergone this testing at Winnebago and Tiffin. First, the water is turned on and comes from every direction. The test was performed with the RV slides extended and retracted…. while transitioning from extended to retracted. True Toppers passed this test before they were sold to new customers on Tiffin Zephyrs models. The comment that I heard was that the True Toppers passed the test better than fabric slide toppers.

The True Topper’s second job is to protect the slide seals from sitting and rotting in the sun. Sun damage eventually destroys the rubber slide seals when they are exposed. I apply a liquid product (303 Aerospace Protectant UV Protection) to the slide seals on the sides of my RV slide rooms to protect them from sun exposure. The same seal is under my fabric topper, but I have never treated it with 303 because I can’t reach them. Fabric slide toppers prevent both inspection and maintenance. With a True Topper, you can extend the slide about six inches and then fold the True Topper up to allow you to maintain your slide seals.

True Topper on an extended slide covering the slide seals.
True Topper on an extended slide covering the slide seals protects the seals from sun exposure and water.

The extra rubber wiper seal that sits against the slideout room can’t be seen in the above photo. Also notable is that the leading edge of the True Topper has a small section of plastic (similar to nylon) that rides on the slide-out top to prevent scratches.

True topper slide room flashing riding up the ramp after removing all debris from the slide top.
In this photo, the slide-out room is being retracted. The true-topper slide room flashes riding up the ramp after all debris is removed from the slide top.
True topper slide room flashing as the slide room is about one half an inch open.
The slide room is about one-half an inch open. The True Topper lock is starting to be engaged by pressing against the closing slide-out room. This lock forces the True Topper to lock against the slide-out room against the side of the RV when it is fully closed. The lock keeps the True Topper flashing tight against the RV when the slides are not extended.
True Topper slide room almost all the way closed.
The slide room is almost closed, and the True Topper is starting to press against the top edge of the slide out and the outside of the RV. The aluminum at the end of the True Topper is padded to create a good seal and prevent scratches from the True Topper as it seals against the RV side.
Finished True Topper slide room replacement.
A finished True Topper slide room replacement ready to travel.

Price

I know by now most of you are thinking that this is a huge investment I will make. The price of an installed True Topper system is about the same as that of a high-quality fabric slide topper system. The price is higher than a fabric replacement for an already installed fabric slide topper system. The good thing about replacing faulty fabric toppers with the True Topper system is that you only have to do it once and then it is done forever. And the True Topper works, unlike a fabric slide topper.

Videos of a True Topper retracting

A True Topper is so well designed that it removes snow from the top of the slide room when it closes.

A quick 25-second video of a True Topper being tested after installation.

RV Geeks video review of their new True Topper installation.

This space is reserved after my installation.

I will update this story with all the details when I get my True Toppers installed. I know that I said this isn’t a do-it-yourself job, but I intend to do as much as I can to prepare for my installation.

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Links

True Topper USA

RV Life article about True Topper

Not a paid endorsement

True Topper didn’t pay for this article. Perhaps if they like it they will give me a discount on my installation. Perhaps, I might be able to talk True Topper into extending a discount to my readers. No promises.

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11 thoughts on “Our RV slide toppers are junk and are going into the trash!”

  1. I had my True Toppers installed in October 2023 on my Tiffin Zephyr and I love them! I no longer have to worry about rainwater puddling in the center of my slide topper nor do I have to worry about extreme winds tearing or reverse-rolling my slide topper.

    From scheduling my installation appointment with the Oregon facility, to installation and operation instructions, I could not be more happy with the True Topper product. Everywhere I travel, I have fellow RV’ers notice and ask questions about my Toppers. I always strongly suggest they give the True Topper product serious consideration when they are considering maintenance and/or replacement of their existing slide topper fabric.

    Great looking product that is even more functional. No maintenance is needed, gained access to my slide-top seal, and will never need replacing. I can’t suggest this product enough.

  2. I am so glad there is an alternative to the fabric slide toppers but because of occasional snow, I can’t live without them. If the snow gets behind the lip on the slide-out retracting your slide-out will be impossible. Now I can get rid of that stupid lip, and the popping noises and still have a functioning slide-out.

    I hope they get lots of new installers soon.

  3. It is very hard for me to understand how RVs could have been sold with slide-out toppers. Now I see the fix is so easy. When will the industry catch up and put these on every RV that leaves the factory?

  4. I hate our slide toppers with a passion because whenever it is windy, I can’t sleep due to their squeaking noise!

    Are you aware of any Newmars doing these? I am on board but dh isn’t.

  5. Our True Toppers were installed just before we spent the winter in Yuma. We had several days with very high winds and were very pleased to have our True Toppers instead of the noisy flapping regular slide toppers like our neighbors. We are very satisfied customers!

  6. I interviewed these guys at the Quartzsite 2024 RV show on my channel and it is definitely impressive. If I ever get a rig with slides I would want this.

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