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How to Buy Tonneau Covers

How to Buy Tonneau Covers

By PattyKay Lilley

If you’re looking to increase your truck’s functionality, a tonneau cover is an excellent and cost-effective way to do so. Tonneau covers protect the bed of your truck from weather and theft while adding style and aerodynamics as well.

When it comes time to buy a tonneau cover for your truck, there are several things that should be taken into consideration. By following these easy steps, you can make sure you get the right size and type for your vehicle.

How to Buy Tonneau Covers

Buying a tonneau cover involves more than simply choosing a model that fits your truck. It’s about understanding your specific needs, evaluating different types, and considering the installation process. This guide will walk you through these aspects to ensure you make an informed and beneficial decision.

Important Questions to Consider

When buying a tonneau cover, remember it’s an investment that will impact your truck’s usability and value. Here are some vital questions to ponder upon before making your purchase:

  1. What is your primary use for your truck? If your vehicle is mainly for personal use, a soft roll-up tonneau cover might suffice. However, for commercial use where you might be storing valuable tools or goods, a hard tonneau cover would provide better security.
  2. What’s your budget? Tonneau covers come in a broad range of prices. Determine your budget before starting your search, but remember that investing in quality now could save you money in the long run.
  3. Do you prioritize accessibility or security? If you need to access your truck bed frequently, a roll-up or folding tonneau cover would be more convenient. For superior security, consider a locking, hardcover.
  4. What’s your preferred style? Tonneau covers also enhance your truck’s aesthetic appeal. Make sure the style of the tonneau cover matches the overall look of your truck.
  5. Does the tonneau cover require professional installation or can it be a DIY project? Some covers are easier to install than others. Be sure to understand the installation requirements before making a purchase.

Determining Your Primary Purpose for a Tonneau Cover

Before you can delve into the shopping process, you need to clearly define the main purpose for adding a tonneau cover to your pickup truck. Are you seeking enhanced functionality, boosted security, aesthetic improvement, versatility, or an option that allows easy removal?

Decide Between a Hard or Soft Cover

Decide Between a Hard or Soft Cover

The choice between a hard and soft tonneau cover will largely depend on your primary needs and budget. Hard tonneau covers are typically more expensive, but they provide enhanced security, making them ideal for commercial purposes or for trucks that often carry valuable items. On the other hand, soft tonneau covers are generally less expensive and offer more versatility, being easier to remove and reinstall as needed.

Think carefully about your truck’s primary use, your security needs, and your budget before making a decision.

Assessing Your Truck Bed Accessibility Needs

The frequency and extent of your truck bed access needs can significantly impact your tonneau cover choice. It’s vital to consider whether you require daily, unrestricted access to the entire truck bed or just occasional, partial access.

Both hard and soft tonneau covers are offered in a variety of designs including folding, retracting, and hinging. Many options allow for straightforward tailgate access, with specific hard tonneau covers incorporating a locking feature for the tailgate when the cover is secured.

A hard retracting or soft roll-up tonneau cover is perfect for those needing quick, virtually unrestricted truck bed access without needing to remove the cover. If you opt for a soft or hard hinging tonneau cover, they can be lifted open, but removing them completely might require a bit of extra effort.

Soft folding tonneau covers offer an advantage; they can be easily folded forward for bed access or completely removed, providing flexibility based on your needs. Conversely, hard folding tonneau covers can also be folded forward for bed access, but fully removing them can be more challenging. All these factors play a crucial role, so consider your accessibility needs thoroughly before making a decision.

Considering Installation Requirements for Tonneau Covers

Who will install the tonneau cover is another critical factor to consider. Most soft tonneau covers are designed to be user-friendly and can be set up in about 30 minutes to 1 hour by someone with limited mechanical skills. They are also more forgiving if you make a mistake during the installation process.

Hard tonneau covers, on the other hand, require more time and precision. They can typically be installed in 30 minutes to 2 hours by someone with limited mechanical skills. However, they demand correct alignment and seal placement for optimal performance. For instance, a misaligned rail on a roll-up tonneau might make it more difficult to close, and misplaced seals on a hard tonneau may compromise its water-tightness.

It’s essential to bear in mind that all tonneau covers will function best when correctly installed. Therefore, if you’re not confident in your installation skills, consider hiring a professional to avoid potential issues down the line. Always remember that the effectiveness of your tonneau cover’s performance is heavily reliant on its proper installation.

Weighing the Permanence of the Tonneau Cover on Your Truck

Another important aspect to consider when buying a tonneau cover is the permanence of the installation on your truck. Think about whether you want to have the tonneau on your truck all the time or just occasionally.

Most tonneau covers are of the clamp-on style installation, which generally requires a hand tool or two for the process. This type might be more suitable for those who plan to keep the cover installed on their truck most of the time.

Alternatively, if you foresee the need to frequently remove and reinstall the tonneau cover, a soft tri-fold tonneau cover could be a pragmatic choice. This style of tonneau cover installs with hand clamps, making the process significantly simpler and quicker.

The convenience of this design allows the tonneau to be installed or completely removed in just a matter of seconds. Hence, this is an excellent option for those needing the flexibility of occasional cover use.

The Impact of Truck Height on Tonneau Cover Usage

The height of your truck is another critical factor to consider when deciding on a tonneau cover. If you have a lifted pickup truck, it’s worth noting that the usage of a roll-up, snap, folding, or hinging cover can be more challenging due to the elevated height of your truck. A hard tonneau cover, given its heavier nature, can further compound this situation.

The tall stature of a lifted truck might necessitate climbing onto the tailgate to operate the cover effectively. Consequently, this could limit the convenience and ease of use, particularly when you need to access the truck bed frequently. Therefore, if you own a lifted truck, it’s crucial to evaluate these potential challenges and consider alternatives that may offer more practicality without sacrificing security and style.

Evaluating Your Truck Bed Liner Type for Tonneau Cover Installation

It’s crucial to determine the type of bed liner your truck has prior to purchasing a tonneau cover, as this can significantly impact the installation process. There are essentially two designs of bed liners – under the rail and over the rail.

A pickup truck equipped with an under the rail bed liner usually doesn’t pose installation issues for a tonneau cover. This design leaves the top edge of the truck bed exposed, allowing for a seamless fit of the tonneau cover.

On the other hand, a pickup truck with an over the rail bed liner, which wraps over the bed rails on each side of the truck bed for protection, can complicate the installation process. The width of the bed rails is, in essence, reduced by this liner design, especially for tonneau covers that are mounted inside the bed.

If your truck has an over the rail bed liner, most over the rail mounted tonneau covers should work, however, the installation process may be more complex. It’s recommended that you check with the manufacturer or retailer of the tonneau cover you wish to purchase to ensure compatibility with an over the rail bed liner. Taking this step can help avoid any potential installation challenges and ensure a proper fit for your tonneau cover.

Evaluating the Effects of Bed Rails and Caps on Your Tonneau Cover Choice

An essential factor to consider is whether you plan to use the top of the bed rails. Depending on whether you have factory or aftermarket bed rail caps, this can significantly impact your choice of tonneau covers. Some covers are designed to be mounted inside the bed, while others are fitted on top of the bed rail.

Most roll-up covers are installed on the inside of the truck bed, providing access to the top of the truck bed rail. This design is beneficial if you wish to add tie-downs or bed rails, however, this is possible only if your truck is equipped with stake pockets.

Other tonneau covers are designed to mount on the top of the truck bed rails, and they may cover your stake covers if your truck has them. Regarding bed caps, all tonneau covers are compatible with factory bed caps, and most work well with aftermarket bed caps.

For aftermarket bed caps, if they are constructed from smooth stainless steel or molded ABS, there should be minimal installation issues. However, if you have diamond plate bed caps, installing any style of tonneau, whether it’s an over or inside the rail mount, can become more challenging. These types of bed caps are generally thicker and can affect the tonneau seals and the overall fit of the tonneau cover.

If you have bed rails, bed caps, or tie-downs installed in your truck bed, it is highly recommended to check the compatibility of the tonneau cover you are considering. This precaution can help ensure that your chosen tonneau cover will work for your specific needs and setup.

See more: Who Makes Ford Tonneau Covers?


In this section, we address some of the most common queries that customers have when purchasing a tonneau cover. These frequently asked questions cover various aspects of tonneau cover selection, installation, and maintenance.

What’s the difference between clamp-on and drill-in installation methods?

Clamp-on and drill-in installations represent two distinct ways to secure a tonneau cover to your truck bed. The clamp-on method, as the name suggests, employs clamps to fasten the cover to the truck bed. It does not require any modification to the truck bed, and the tonneau cover can be removed easily if needed. This method is generally simpler and quicker, making it suitable for most non-professional installations.

In contrast, a drill-in installation involves securing the tonneau cover using screws drilled directly into the truck bed. This method provides a more permanent and secure fit but requires modification to the truck bed. It is typically more complex and time-consuming and may be better suited to professional installations or situations where the cover will not need to be frequently removed.

How does a tonneau cover impact fuel efficiency?

The impact of a tonneau cover on fuel efficiency is a topic of much debate. Some believe that a tonneau cover, by making the truck bed more aerodynamic, can improve fuel efficiency. Others argue that the weight of the cover negates any aerodynamic benefits.

While it’s difficult to provide a definitive answer, studies suggest that a tonneau cover can improve fuel efficiency, but the extent of this improvement varies. Factors such as the type and weight of the cover, the driving conditions, and the specific make and model of the truck can all influence the potential fuel savings.

Regardless of the impact on fuel efficiency, a tonneau cover offers other benefits, such as protecting cargo from the elements and increasing the security of items stored in the truck bed. Therefore, fuel efficiency should be just one of several factors to consider when choosing a tonneau cover.

Does the material of the tonneau cover matter?

Yes, the material of the tonneau cover plays a significant role in its performance and longevity. The most common materials used in tonneau covers are vinyl, aluminum, and fiberglass.

Vinyl covers are typically lighter and more affordable. They offer good weather resistance but may not be as durable or secure as other materials. Aluminum covers are stronger and more resilient, providing excellent security and durability. However, they are heavier and usually more expensive than vinyl covers.

Fiberglass covers are the most robust and secure. They are resistant to weather and damage, and they can be painted to match the truck’s color. However, fiberglass covers are the heaviest and most expensive option.

The right material for your tonneau cover depends on your specific needs, budget, and preferences. Consider the trade-offs between cost, durability, security, and ease of use when choosing the material for your tonneau cover.

Final Thoughts

Buying a tonneau cover for your truck is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires careful consideration of various factors, including your specific needs, the features of your truck bed, and your budget. It’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons of each type of tonneau cover material and installation method, keeping in mind your usage patterns and the physical characteristics of your truck.

Whether you prioritize durability, security, cost-effectiveness, or ease of installation, there is a tonneau cover out there that will meet your requirements. Remember, the most expensive option is not necessarily the best one for you. The best tonneau cover is the one that fits your truck, suits your needs, and falls within your budget.

Additionally, don’t overlook the importance of compatibility. Check with the tonneau cover manufacturer or retailer to ensure that the tonneau cover you’re considering is compatible with your truck’s bed liner, bed rails, and caps. This step can save you from potential installation headaches down the line.

Lastly, keep in mind that while a tonneau cover can potentially improve fuel efficiency, this should not be the sole deciding factor. The primary purpose of a tonneau cover is to protect your cargo and increase your truck bed’s security and versatility. Fuel efficiency is a bonus, but it should be considered just one aspect of your overall decision-making process.

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