Tonneau-Cover Buyer's Guide
Author: EB Pilgrim
The open road has a tendency to make its way into pickup beds, especially when driving along dirt roads or through storms. That's all fine and dandy if you're not hauling anything, but what if you are?
Many of us have hastily covered our bed with a tarp and fastened it with bungee cords, duct tape or rope because, quite frankly, it's quick and cheap – for maybe a few miles. Eventually, though, quick and cheap give way to time consuming and costly when tarp rings rip or bungee cords snap and start slamming against the side of your pickup as the contents of your bed decorate the landscape behind you. And wind resistance created by the tarp can cause your fuel gauge to rush headlong toward "E."
Others of us have covered our bed with a topper. Though highly effective at protecting what you're transporting, toppers are typically expensive and a huge hassle to install and remove, especially when you need to haul taller items. You'll need some buddies and bribes at the ready. Another topper nightmare is visibility, especially when pulling a trailer or even backing up. There must be a better way —
There is: tonneau covers.
Reasonably priced and guaranteed to keep the open road out while keeping cargo in, the advantages of tonneau covers become evident rather quickly. First, they provide a low profile compared to toppers so they don't impede your vision. Second, they stay put, even in gale-force winds, so you don't have to worry about losing cargo. Third, they save on fuel costs compared with open beds and tarps, often as much as 10%.
There are two basic categories of covers to choose from: soft and hard. From them come several styles, each with its own range of benefits to suit your needs.
Definitely the most popular of the categories, soft covers deliver both style and function at a reasonable price – easily half of what you would pay for hard covers. However, they don't offer the level of security and protection that hard covers can provide. Usually the least expensive, the snap
cover can also be the most difficult to fasten. Tension needed to secure the cover sometimes makes lining up and fastening the snaps anything but a snap. However, the price makes these covers sought after by many. If you need to carry items taller than your bed, simply unsnap and expose those areas you need. The snapless roll-up
, on the other hand, is quick and easy to install and remove with the use of heavy-duty Velcro®. Just roll it up when you don't need it; roll it out when you do. Like roll-ups, the tri-fold
cover is quick and easy to install but with the added strength of a frame. This frame prevents rainwater buildup in the middle of the cover, which can weigh down the soft frameless models, causing them to stretch out of shape. These covers also provide better security. And if you need open access to the bed, the panels can be folded and secured at the front of the bed.
Hard to Beat
Hard covers provide much more protection and security than their softer counterparts. Still reasonable in price, although more expensive than soft covers, they add a higher level of style, durability and security as you drive around – the "Wow!" factor. One of the more popular because of functionality is the retractable
cover. It provides a great middle ground in price and value by combining a soft cover's ease of use and full-bed access with the level of security you can get from a hard cover. Benefits from hard folding
covers include impact resistance and strength as well as the capability to easily access items from the front or back of the bed without having to remove the cover. Not all models, however, will offer this feature. Like the softer version, this also allows you to carry tall cargo while keeping smaller cargo protected at the same time. The king, though, is the hinged
cover. Although sometimes challenging to install and remove, this style is usually bought by folks who have no intention of ever removing it. It opens like a door from either one entrance at the back, much like a hood, or with multiple "doors" that open from the sides, front, back or a combination. It is considered the most secure, usually with a locking mechanism on each door, and can often be painted to match your truck. However, what it provides in style and good looks it lacks in versatility.
Whether you prefer soft or hard covers, snaps or snapless, roll-ups or tri-folds, retractable or hinged, all these covers are guaranteed to reduce fuel costs, protect your cargo and provide full visibility as you drive around.
If you want to ensure no part of the open road makes its way into your bed, consider adding a waterproof weather seal that plugs the gaps in the bottom and sides of your tailgate. It is thin and flexible enough so you can easily close the tailgate without interference.
Lastly, finding cargo with the cover on can often be difficult, especially if you need a few items and can't remember where you stored them. Consider bedrail lighting. It's easy to install, illuminates the entire bed and stays protected under the bedrail when cargo shifts.
With so many affordable covers and accessories to choose from, now's the time to check out what Cabela's has in store for your pickup bed.