There are numerous reasons why people purchase a truck, from needing extra cargo space for lifestyle interests such as sports or outdoor recreation to job requirements, like carrying tools to the job site or delivering products to customers. Whatever the reason, having an 8-foot bed in the back that can carry almost anything unlocks unlimited possibilities. The downsides are that the bed is open to the elements, you’ll have to tie everything down and lock it up, or it might get stolen if left unattended.
The solution to all of these problems is installing a bed cover. The term “tonneau” now refers to any kind of soft or hard covering that protects the bed of a truck. It was first used to describe the rear compartment of a car that contained a seat, usually open to the air. You might know it as a rumble seat. Over time, tonneau began to refer to the canvas cover that protected those seats when they weren’t in use. Now, it is exclusively a truck term.
Tons of Reasons
Having an open bed ready to receive anything you might want to transport is a wonderful benefit of owning a truck. That’s an additional 100 cubic feet of hauling capabilities over a typical car. It’s why you bought it! But by installing a bed cover, you will increase your truck’s value, fuel savings, security and capabilities exponentially.
The main purpose of a bed cover is security. If you have gear that you transport daily, you’ll want to keep it safe. Although all covers offer some semblance of security (aka “out of sight, out of mind” is the first line of defense), some covers offer a higher degree of safekeeping over the others. For example, a canvas roll-up cover keeps your valuables out of the elements and out of sight, but it can be more vulnerable to thieves than a hinged, hard-top, fiberglass model that includes a locking mechanism.
Depending on your lifestyle or intended use, many covers can be configured to still retain the original hauling functionality of your truck. Tri-fold, retractable and roll-up covers can be opened and folded (or rolled) up easily and quickly if a large (or tall) item needs to be transported. However, most hinged covers and many of the heavy-duty units are difficult to remove quickly and cannot be configured in a way to allow tall objects while staying closed.
In the end, not only can you keep things safe, but bed covers are also a boon for sensitive items that unexpected weather could easily ruin if it weren’t for a weather-resistant cover.
Types of Tonneau Covers
When faced with the prospect of buying a tonneau cover for your truck, take into consideration that there are several styles to choose from, all of which may or may not address your immediate concerns or needs.
- Roll-Up: Inexpensive and easy to remove, the roll-up variety offers only a small modicum of security. However, it is mostly beneficial as a way to keep your gear from flying out of your truck on the highway. Roll-up covers take up the least amount of space and are easy to install on the top of the bed rails.
- Tri-Fold: They are available in soft- or hard-top formats. A tri-fold cover typically latches down from the insides and relies on your tailgate’s lock to deny anyone access to your bed. These are lightweight (especially soft-top versions), quick to install and easily foldable if oversized equipment needs a ride.
- Retractable: Mounting usually to the undersides of your bed rails (or coming with its own pair of rails that attaches to your truck), the retractable cover works like an accordion and folds up (some roll) onto itself as you slide it open on the track. They usually come with locks but sometimes rely on your tailgate. They are easy to install and offer quick access to the bed.
- Hinged: One of the more popular (and traditional) types of bed covers, the hinged cover is just that: a single-piece bed cap, usually made of fiberglass to save weight, that hinges up when opened. They offer individual locks—sometimes one on each side—and can be color-matched to your truck. They are the most expensive and difficult to install.
- Heavy Duty: For rough use, some companies are now offering heavy-duty bed covers made from steel and aluminum. They can carry a load on top of them when closed and offer a high degree of security. They are configurable similarly to the hinged variety. Sometimes, however, they are offered with a choice of openings (rear, sides, etc.).
What To Look For
The largest factor to consider when shopping for a new bed cover for your truck is personal preference and potential needs. Take a look at what you normally haul in the back of your truck. Do you own a furniture shop and sometimes need to transport a tall dresser or a bulky table but most times you carry expensive veneers and woodworking tools? You may wish to buy a cover that you can retract or roll up quickly to accommodate the variety of loads.
However, if you are an avid hunter and will be transporting camping gear, rifles and ammunition, you may wish to find something with more security and less configurability, such as a hinged model or a heavy-duty unit on which you can tie down your ATV.
Think about whether you want the cover to be on your truck all the time or just when you need it. A hard retracting or soft roll-up cover can quickly be opened for virtually full truck bed access without needing to remove the cover. Soft and hard hinging tonneau covers can be lifted open but require some extra effort if you need to fully remove them. Soft folding tonneau covers can easily be totally removed or folded forward for bed access, whereas hard folding tonneau covers can be folded forward for bed access but are more difficult to fully remove.
Most tonneau covers require less than an hour of installation with common tools and do not require drilling. Some tonneau covers may require slight modifications such as a retractable cover with a plastic bed liner. If you are installing it yourself, you may consider one that is slightly easier than another.
Some covers interfere with certain over-the-rail-mounted bed liners, which is a small percentage of liners installed on trucks these days. Either way, you’ll need to consider this as some covers are not compatible with some bed liners. It’s smart to ask before you order. Also, many covers restrict the use of the bed rails after they are installed. Though some are mounted inside the bed and under the rails (specifically the retractable variety), many use the top of the rails to clamp to and sit on when in use.
Keep in mind your budget as well. Most of the soft covers go for less than $500, but many of the hard-topped covers can brush near $2,000.
After The Installation
Most tonneau covers require little to no maintenance. They’re all washable with nothing more than soap and water and a vinyl cleaner if appropriate for your type of cover. The fiberglass color-matched covers need a waxing along with your truck from time to time. Also, keep the track system of the retractable covers clear of debris. The lock mechanisms and arms/hinges of the hinged tonneaus, as well as the hinges of the tri-fold models, could stand a spray of lubricant from time to time. Other than that, you’re good to go.
This article is from the spring 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. To subscribe, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.