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Pickup-truck drivers are a proud group. They can be fiercely brand loyal and extremely fastidious about the upkeep of their rigs, and they bolster a thriving aftermarket for options like lift kits, wheels, and bed accessories. One such accessory is a truck-bed cover, also known as a tonneau cover.
Despite popular belief, tonneau covers have their origin in open-top roadsters, as the word tonneau refers to the open area in either a car or truck. In pickup-truck applications, tonneau covers serve as a cover for your bed, protecting your valuables as well as the bed itself from the elements and debris. They've also been shown to increase fuel efficiency by reducing the vehicle's overall aerodynamic drag (although the jury's still out on this, as there's plenty of evidence out there to the contrary).
There are tons of tonneau covers out there and, depending on the model of your truck, there can be numerous distinct types of covers, brands, styles, and sizes to choose from. How you use your truck will be the biggest factor in choosing the appropriate cover to suit your needs. There are tons of other uses for tonneau covers, from rough and tough overlanding to simply showing off your nicely polished ride.
What To Consider When Buying A Tonneau Cover
Tonneau covers are not cheap, nor should they be. They're not just for looks; they're intended to be another line of protection for your truck bed and cargo, so choose wisely. Here are some thoughts to consider when shopping for a tonneau cover.
How will you be using your truck?
Is your truck primarily used for work? Commuting? Hauling the family? Off-roading? Knowing how you plan to use your truck is the first step in choosing the type of cover that best suits your needs.
What types of tonneau covers are there?
There are several different styles of tonneau covers, and within each style, you can often choose between a soft-style vinyl or leather tarp or a hard-style cover made of something like aluminum or plastic. Some of the different types are roll-up, folding, retractable, snap-on, hinged, and there's even a style with a built-in toolbox.
How much does a tonneau cover cost?
The price of tonneau covers varies widely from a couple hundred bucks up to several thousand. For this reason, it's important to keep in mind your specific needs. There's no need to spend more than is necessary to get the cover that will get the job done.
We've compiled a list of some of the best tonneau covers on the market, including several different types, in a range of price points. It's important to remember that tonneau covers are generally made for specific models. We've simply selected examples below, but if you're shopping online for a cover for your truck, be sure to enter your year, make, and model so that you get one that fits your truck as intended.
Here are the most popular types of tonneau covers and their benefits—and drawbacks.
Folding Tonneau Covers
Folding covers are perhaps the most common type of tonneau cover, whether they feature two, three, or even four panels. They are more expensive than their soft counterparts but not as expensive as retractable or paint-matched hard-shell coverings. The good ones are typically composed of hard-composite plastic with a metal frame and hinges, but they come in less expensive fabric or vinyl versions too.
SFX Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover
Gator's SFX is a simple no-nonsense folding cover. It's one of the most affordable options on our list and made from a tear-resistant vinyl with weather seals, a Speed Klamp system for easy operation, and bows that help support weight in inclement weather.
EFX Hard Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover
A step up from Gator's SFX, the EFX offers an added layer of security with its black powder-coated scratch- and UV- resistant rigid aluminum panels. Its panel arrangement allows you to carry your payload with the cover two-thirds of the way open, making it more flexible for tricky loads.
Stance Hard Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover
What sets Lomax's folding cover apart from the competition is how flush it sits with the bed. The cover, which sits about half an inch over the height of the bed, is made from aluminum and coated in black urethane. It uses a cord system for releasing the latches, making it that much easier to fold away.
Roll-up Tonneau Covers
Roll-up tonneau covers allow you to choose how much of the truck bed is exposed. They're excellent for carting objects of unusual shapes, and for providing quick access to only a portion of the bed for modest loads, such as bags of groceries. When you need the entire bed to pick up your annual Christmas tree or assist a friend with a move, look for roll-ups with removable crossbeam supports.
Lo Pro Soft Roll Up Tonneau Cover
Truxedo's roll-up tonneau cover is made from tear-resistant, leather-grained vinyl and can be installed with no tools pretty easily. The LoPro model sits a bit lower than some of its competitors for a more seamless look, and it features a quick-release system that can give you access to the bed in just seconds.
Revolver X4s Hard Rolling Tonneau Cover
The Revolver X4s from BAK is, in essence, the best of both worlds. It provides the look of a soft leather or vinyl cover with the security of aluminum slats to keep your valuables safe. It also has rotational locking rails which allow access to the bed from any angle.
Hinged Hard Tonneau Covers
A hinged tonneau cover, which functions as a lid for your pickup truck's bed, is supported by hinges close to the cab and is secured in place by struts. They're excellent for protecting your bed finish and lowering aerodynamic drag. The quality ones are composed of hard-shell composite material. You might find them made of soft fabric with an internal frame, but from our point of view, you might as well step up to a hard-shell cover if you're going to spend for a hinged one.
Eagle SE Hard Tonneau Cover
If you're looking for an OEM look and feel from your tonneau cover, the Eagle SE from Patriot may fit the bill. This cover feels like a piece of factory equipment with its fiberglass construction, painted finish, push-button lock, and carpeted headliner. It also has lift-assist hinges, making it easy to access the bed of your truck.
SE Hard Tonneau Cover
The SE from UnderCover is durable thanks to its sturdy ABS composite structure and distinctive x-frame. It will integrate nicely with most truck models and colors, thanks to its straightforward matte-black finish.
Retractable covers are fantastic because you can expose as much or as little of the bed as you need by rolling the unused piece of the cover within itself toward the truck's cab. Retractable tonneau covers are often operated by hand, however many of today's models are electric, making them simple to use. The cover retracts with the simple push of a button, typically located on a key fob.
GatorTrax MX Electric Retractable Tonneau Cover
The GatorTrax MX from Gator is a high-end tonneau cover, with premium features at a premium cost. It's made from heavy-duty aluminum with UV protection to prevent fading. But most importantly, it's electric, which means it can be powered using a remote key fob. Release the button anywhere along the rail and the cover automatically stops and locks into place, so you can ride with your bed partially covered.
PowertraxPRO XR Retractable Tonneau Cover
Like some of its competitors, the PowertraxPRO XR from Retrax features remote-powered operation and durable aluminum construction. What separates it from the competition is Retrax's focus on accessorizing. It uses a T-slot track system that lets you fit crossbars across the top for hauling kayaks, bikes, and more.
Toolbox Tonneau Covers
One of the most popular styles of bed covers available these days is the toolbox tonneau cover. They pair a retractable bed cover with a heavy-duty toolbox, usually made from galvanized sheet metals such as aluminum. Both the toolbox and cover resist water, dust, wear, and rust, keeping your gear protected season after season. A tonneau cover/toolbox combination is a great way to upgrade your truck because it offers lockable security.
Trifecta Toolbox 2.0 Tonneau Cover
The Trifecta Toolbox 2.0 cover from Extang provides lots of bang for your buck. It features Extang's replaceable triple-fin seals, heavy-duty clamps, an updated locking system, and an L-Channel bracket that bonds the cover to your toolbox. Although it doesn't come with a toolbox, it works with most 18- to 20-inch truck-bed toolboxes.
American Work Toolbox Tonneau Cover
The American Work cover from Truck Cover USA is built to edge out its competitors. It includes a black powder-coated galvanized aluminum toolbox, chrome handles, power actuators to lock and unlock your toolbox remotely, and the smallest canister (the part the cover retracts into) of any retractable cover in the industry. Plus, it can support up to 550 pounds of evenly distributed weight and offers lots of optional extras.
Snap-On Tonneau Covers
The most affordable—and least durable—tonneau covers are snap-on style. Lightweight and easy to install, they offer quick, easy access to all or a portion of the truck bed. We can't faithfully recommend snap-ons because they don't offer any real security for your cargo or protection from the elements. That said, they are the most affordable type of truck bed cover you can buy.
Heavy Duty Snap-On Tonneau Cover
R&L Racing's simple snap-on cover is perfect for those looking for the most basic tonneau cover. It's made from commercial-grade vinyl that has been coated on both sides to offer (at least some) weather resistance. The pre-assembled design makes it easy to install, and the price is unbeatable too.
What To Look For in a Tonneau Cover
When shopping for tonneau covers, your main priorities should be quality and security. A good tonneau cover should provide peace of mind when leaving valuables like tools and camping gear unattended in the bed of your truck. The level of security you need will certainly vary, but check into what type of locking system your potential tonneau cover offers. You should also remember that hard-shell covers will always be more secure than soft covers.
All truck beds are different, so different trucks will require different shapes and sizes of covers. When shopping, it's important to check the fitment for the specific year, make, model, and even trim level of your truck. Most companies offer tonneau covers for specific models and in varying lengths, so before you click that order button, be sure you're getting exactly what you need for your vehicle.
Ease of Use
If you need access to your truck bed frequently, choose a cover with easy opening, closing, and latching mechanisms. This becomes less important if you won't be going into the back of your truck very often—but no one wants to add something to their vehicle that's a pain to operate.
Consider this another form of security. Tonneau covers serve to keep the elements out of the bed of your truck, so it's key to choose one that does it well. Depending on the climate you live in, the type of weather resistance you need may vary. In hot and sunny climates, you may want something with superior UV protection so as not to have your cover disintegrate in the sun. If you live in a place that sees lots of snow, you'll want a tonneau cover that can support the weight of snow buildup. If you're in a rainy climate, a weatherproof—not weather resistant—tonneau cover with quality seals will be the one for you.
Pickup trucks are generally function-first vehicles, but some owners may want a cover that simply enhances the look of their truck. For those folks, consider things such as the height of the cover from the bed, as low-profile covers maintain a streamlined OEM-like look. Hard-shell covers that can be color-matched to your truck are a great-looking tonneau cover option.
There are lots of accessories out there for your truck bed cover. If you want to carry bikes, boats, or even mount a roof tent, it's important to make sure the cover you choose has the appropriate mechanism to receive cross bars or whatever other system you need to carry your most important gear.
Do tonneau covers improve gas mileage?
At speed, air flows over a truck's cab and down into the bed, creating drag when the wind hits the tailgate. Topping your truck's bed with a tonneau cover will force that wind to flow across the top of your truck bed rather than down into it, thereby eliminating the "sail" effect. That should improve your gas mileage, right?
Not so fast. There are plenty of studies both supporting and disproving this theory; our friends at Real Truck have a fine explainer on the issue. But one thing is certain: Adding a tonneau cover to your truck will add a certain amount of weight to the vehicle, potentially negating any fuel savings that tonneau cover might offer you. Until we see verifiable proof, we'll say this: Don't buy a tonneau cover thinking you're going to save a ton of money on gas. There are plenty of other reasons to buy one.
Should I get a hard-shell or soft-fabric tonneau cover?
Pony up the extra cash for a hard-shell tonneau cover if you want long-term, waterproof security and a locking mechanism. But be aware that a hard-shell cover will significantly increase your truck's weight (and possibly offset any improved fuel efficiency you may see). It'll also be more complicated to install and remove. A soft cover will be cheaper, lighter in weight, and easier to install. But it will also be far less durable—and far, far less secure.
How hard is it to install a tonneau cover?
Any relatively skilled do-it-yourselfer with the right tools—and the courage to experiment on their own vehicle—can install the majority of contemporary tonneau covers. In light of this, we strongly advise professional installation if you're hesitant.
Will a tonneau cover protect my valuables?
All tonneau covers provide some protection. And simply covering your bed will conceal your valuables from the eyes of passers-by. Still, a determined criminal only needs a knife to cut through the cloth or vinyl of a soft tonneau cover to gain entrance. Hard tonneau covers don't have this issue, but again, that same determined criminal could probably get a locking tonneau cover open with a modicum of effort. Invest in a retractable tonneau cover with an electromagnetic lock for the highest level of security.
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