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How To Pick A Tonneau Cover

Which Tonneau Cover Will Work Best For You

The best selling vehicle in America for over 35 years is the Ford F-Series truck. Right behind it is the Chevrolet Silverado followed by the Ram. It is easy to see that Americans love their trucks and for good reasons. The modern truck is about as versatile as a vehicle as you can get. It can haul and tow large loads in total comfort while getting decent gas mileage. 

A huge part of the versatility of the modern truck is its bed. With its open design, you can put whatever you want in it. The flipside to this is that anything you put in a truck bed is exposed to the whims of Mother Nature and the sticky hands of thieves. All it takes is one rainstorm or someone with a lack of morals for anything in your truck bed to disappear or be destroyed.

With all of that in mind, it is little wonder that tonneau covers are one of the most popular truck modifications out there. They are a simple and affordable way to protect the contents of your truck bed. And, they still allow you to enjoy the functionality of the truck’s bed too. They simply make sense.

Start looking for a tonneau cover for your new truck and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. There are a ton of options out there and many different types. So, how do you make sense of it all? Don’t worry, as we are here to help. While there are lots of tonneau covers out there, they can be broken down into a few major styles. Each has different features that might make one better suited to your needs. Let’s break them down to see what will be best for you.

One of the big plusses of a one-piece tonneau cover is that they are availabe already painted to match the color of your truck. This is a more expensive option, but worth it if you want your rig looking extra snazzy.

There really isn’t much to go wrong with a one-piece tonneau cover. They tend to last a long time and seal well against the elements. However, they do limit the use of the bed more than the other styles of covers. 

One Piece

One-piece covers are the OG’s of the tonneau world. They were all that was available way back in the day. Usually one big piece of fiberglass, they are relatively simple in operation and execution. There isn’t much to go wrong with them, except for maybe the gas struts that lift them. However, even those are easy to replace and should last for years. Without any seams or sliding areas, they seal well and can hold up against foul weather. They can also be color matched to the body and are reasonably simple to install.

All of that might sound great, but there are some drawbacks to a one-piece tonneau cover. One of the biggest is that they greatly limit what you can put in the bed of your truck. Due to their design, they can only pivot slightly upward. Most can’t be driven around in this upward position either, so you really can’t put anything tall in the bed. Of course, you can remove the cover, but they are big and bulky making them more difficult to store. They can work for those who don’t need to haul taller items or have plenty of room to store one, but others should look elsewhere.

Folding panel covers are great for those that want more access to their bed. They are availabe in matte or gloss finishes and some fit above the rail while others sit flush with it. Hard versions offer more protection against theft and the elements.

Folding panel covers simply fold up and lock into place in an upright position. This allows for full access to the bed, but will block visibility out of the rear window. Most can be driven in this position, but not all so make sure to check before you buy.

Folding Panel

To allow more use of the bed, tonneau makers started to come up with different ideas and solutions. Among them are covers with panels that fold up and out of the way allowing taller items to be carried. These can be divided further into hard or soft folding panels covers. Soft covers are usually the most affordable as they are the easiest to manufacture. However, they offer the least amount of protection against theft, as a determined thief can just slice them open. To combat this, covers with panels made out of harder composite materials are also available. They are usually more expensive but offer more protection against theft and weather.

There are a couple of things to consider when looking at folding panel tonneau covers. All of them use multiple panels that fold on top of each other, but there are differences. Most fold up completely and can be propped up at the back of the cab. Some can’t be driven in this position though. This means you won’t have full access to the bed. You will have as at least one panel that will have to be against the bed rail of your truck. Others can be driven while completely folded up, but do block visibility out the rear window.

Roll-up covers are the most popular option and come in a variety of price points. More basic soft versions are the cheapest, while those using harder materials, like this Truxedo Sentry, are more expensive.

Roll-up covers do allow for access to almost all of the bed. However, the rolled-up section does take up a little space if you need to put something flush against the front of the bed. Most are easy to remove if needed though.

Roll-Ups

One of the most popular types of tonneaus is the roll up. As their name suggests, these covers simply roll out of the way towards the front of the truck. They offer full access to the bed of the truck and are available at many different price levels. Roll-ups run the gamut from more budget-friendly models made of soft materials to more expensive versions that use aluminum slats or composite material for maximum protection.

Rolls up are popular because they have few drawbacks. Some might be a bit more complicated to install, but any tonneau cover is rather simple to put into place. The very basic ones can be a bit more finicky to open and may be more prone to leaking as they sometimes only use Velcro. But step up a bit in price and you can get a solid roll-up cover that is easy to store when removed, offers plenty of protection from theft and the elements, and is easy to operate.

Retractable tonneau covers are usually the most expensive as there are no soft options. They all use metal or hardened composite materials that offer maximum protection against theft and the elements. Power options are also available for those that can’t be bothered with manual operation.

One consideration with retractable covers is that the housing where the cover retracts into does take up space at the front of the bed. It is not a huge amount, but still something to be aware of. That housing is also not as easy to remove as some of the other options.

Retractable

Another tonneau cover variant are retractable versions. These are usually the most expensive, but also offer the most protection from theft and weather. That is because there really aren’t any “soft” versions of a retractable cover. They are typically made of metal or a hardened composite material. Instead of rolling up or folding up, they retract out of the way into a small enclosure at the front of the bed. Most sit flush with the bed rail giving a clean appearance whether open or closed. Power retractable versions are also available for those that want the ultimate tonneau cover experience.

There are a couple of considerations when it comes to retractable tonneau covers. The first is price as there really aren’t any retractable budget covers available like in the other versions. Retractable covers also retract into an enclosure that runs along the front of the bed. These can get in the way of longer items, like dirt bikes, that need to fit up against the front of the bed. While these enclosures aren’t huge, they do limit full use of the bed somewhat. However, if you can live with that they do make for a slick setup that offers plenty of protection. 

Products We Used In This Article

Other Considerations

Probably the most significant determining factor in what tonneau cover you will get is going to be your budget. Tonneau covers are available costing from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars and everywhere in between. With tonneau covers you do tend to get what you pay for. As the prices go up, so do the features of tonneau. And, more importantly, so does the amount of protection they offer from both weather and thieves. If you don’t think the tonneau cover you are looking at is going to cut it, we suggest saving up. It is always better to spend a couple hundred more dollars then wind up with something that doesn’t really fit your needs. You will be happier in the long run.