Even some people who may consider themselves familiar with the automotive world may have never heard the term “tonneau cover”. It is pronounced TON-oh, as in a half-TON pickup truck, and “oh my, look at that beautiful cover over the cargo bed!” For pickup truck drivers in particular, these are a popular aftermarket accessory. They are covers that attach to the top of the truck bed to keep the cargo in the truck bed safe from the elements. And, like door locks, they also serve to keep honest people honest.
While many different types of tonneau covers are available for various body styles, they are far more popular and widespread for pickup trucks. There are several different types of tonneau covers for pickup trucks that can range from a simple tarp-like wrap that can attach to the truck bed via hooks and tie downs to full hardcovers and sectioned hardcovers that can be split into multiple folding pieces. These covers can range in price from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. Take a look below at a few of the more common types of tonneau covers for pickup trucks.
Soft folding tonneau covers are exactly what they sound like. They are typically made of vinyl and can stretch out over the cargo bed. They are efficient and easy to install. However, at high speeds, they can be a little noisy, as the fabric can ripple when the wind rolls over it. Even behind the cab, there is substantial wind rolling through the bed of a truck. This wind is forced down onto the tonneau cover. Being a soft, pliable material that is stretched taught over a truck bed, the soft tonneau cover is prone to a noisy reaction, like a drum. Still, that may be a small price to pay. These covers can generally be installed in minutes with simple hand tools.
Additionally, they afford a little bit of room if your cargo exceeds the height of the truck bed, though not much. Vinyl material is meant to give a little so that if you do have a slightly taller load, you will see a bulge under the tonneau cover. They do not afford much give, however, as their purpose is to remain taut over the cargo area. If you do use a soft tonneau cover, do not abuse the very slight wiggle room it offers.
Sort folding tonneau covers are typically the least expensive. They can run as little as $100 and can also be customized with emblems, decals and custom paint jobs if you are into that sort of thing.
Hard folding tonneau covers are covers that are usually made with aluminum or fiberglass. These are much more durable and provide even more protection from the weather. What is really cool about these is that they are often made into two, three and four sections. This means that you can open up sections at a time to gain as much access to the bed of the truck as you need. If you only need a small section, you can open up the rear-most panel. If you want to get into the whole bed of the truck, you can fold back all the sections you need.
These are more difficult to install and may require the services of a professional. However, YouTube tutorials may make for an easy installation process for the DIY enthusiast.
On top of being more protection against the weather, the hard tonneau cover can be used for additional cargo room. When using a soft tonneau cover, your cargo area is restricted to what is in the bed and under the cover. That will typically be enough for hauling purposes. If it isn’t, hard tonneau covers allow for extra space above the cover. They can typically support several hundred pounds of weight on top of them. They also weigh around 50 pounds, depending on the material and the manufacturer. This weight ratio makes a sturdy extra bed if the cargo bed under the hard tonneau bed is full. All you need to do is make sure that your cargo above the tonneau cover is securely tied down, doesn’t exceed any weight limits, and you should be good to go.
Some tonneau covers, rather than being one solid soft vinyl piece or a series of panels, consist of a series of smaller panels that retract onto themselves. Like an accordion or rolltop desk, these tonneau covers roll back toward a holding chamber near the bed of the truck. This allows you access to as much of the truck bed as you need, while not restricting you to one, two or three pre-set panels.
These tonneau covers can be made of several different materials, such as aluminum, vinyl, plastic, or polymers, and are fairly easy to install, if you know your way around a basic tool kit. There is no drilling required and usually just takes a Phillips head screwdriver. They sit flush to the top of the truck bed, usually no more than a half an inch above. These are quickly becoming the most popular types of tonneau covers because of their ease of use. Plus, they look pretty cool.
Many retractable folding covers now come equipped with a remote control. Where once there was a strap connected to the tailgate end of the cover, you can now just click a button to open or close your retractable tonneau cover. This means you can get access to the entire length of your pickup truck’s bed and all you have to do, literally, is lift a single finger.
All in all, tonneau covers are extremely useful for protecting what you are hauling. Whether it be rain, snow or prying eyes, a tonneau cover will keep your cargo hidden from whatever may be waiting outside. They do not interfere with the truck’s tailgate, so you can open the tailgate without removing the tonneau cover at all. So, if you have just a simple soft vinyl tonneau cover on your pickup truck, you can drop the tailgate, toss in a few boxes or small lawn equipment, close the tailgate, and your gear is protected.
Tonneau covers of all shapes and sizes can be found online, there are dozens of companies around the world that sell them, and even more that can customize them if you feel the need. You can even get them painted to the exact hue of your pickup truck, for a little extra style. You can also check out a local custom body shop or even your dealership’s accessories section.
As far as aftermarket accessories go, many of them are superfluous and just for adding a touch of personal customization. Things like decals and obscene trailer hitch ornamentations add absolutely nothing of utile value to your pickup truck but help add character. While there is nothing wrong with that at all, tonneau covers can offer some personal customization and serve a sense of protective purpose. They are secure, generally waterproof, easy to install and extremely functional.
If you are looking for simple protection, a soft tonneau cover can be had for as little as $100. If you are looking for a high-end retractable tonneau cover, you could be looking at shelling out up to $3,000. And all that is before any personal customization but it all comes down to what you want and how you want your tuck to shine.