Judging by your decision to search for and click on this article, it’s safe to assume that you’re looking for something to cover up that exposed truck bed of yours. I can’t blame you; it will be a great decision in the long run.
It’s also safe to assume you’ll need some guidance on how to choose a truck bed tonneau cover.
Now, you’re probably aware that, before you buy a tonneau cover, you need to measure the dimensions of the bed of your truck. Unfortunately, the prerequisites end there for most people; they believe there’s no need to think about anything else.
Today, we’ll look at other things – on top of compatibility – necessary for buying a tonneau cover. That includes your budget, user experience, bed accessibility – and many more that people usually overlook in the process.
Think Carefully Before Choosing A Tonneau Cover!
We can all agree that owning a truck with an open bed is, by far, more convenient and versatile than having a closed truck bed. It’s difficult to argue otherwise:
Hauling bulkier cargo – think furniture, for example – in a closed truck bed is undeniably more challenging, if not impossible. In those scenarios, you’ll be glad you went with an open truck bed.
But when ugly weather rolls around, and you have to clean out leaves, bird droppings – or even snow – from your truck bed’s interior, it’s going to make you regret your choice.
Unless you get a tonneau cover in time, that is.
Before you choose to purchase a tonneau cover, you need to consider a couple of things. Here’s my advice!
It isn’t very sensible to consider buying a tonneau cover before measuring the bed of your truck, is it? Think about it:
If you end up buying a tonneau cover that isn’t compatible with your vehicle, you’ll waste both time and money.
Measure the length and width of the truck’s bed and the rails – and determine which unit will be the most suitable fit for your vehicle based on those numbers.
Don’t rush this part. Measure twice, cut once, as they say.
Types & Styles Of Tonneau Covers
When discussing types and styles of tonneau covers, it’s important to note that they’re primarily categorized based on design and construction – they are either hard or soft.
After that, we can differentiate covers further based on their opening mechanism – but more on that later.
Hard Vs. Soft Tonneau Covers
So, as I pointed out already, tonneau covers are generally separated into two groups – the hard ones and the soft ones. These terms mainly refer to folding and roll-up tonneau covers but can be used to describe specific retractable tonneau covers, too.
The main difference between these two should be pretty obvious:
The general resistance characteristics of hard tonneau covers are better than those of their softer counterparts.
When it comes to defending your cargo from a range of weather conditions, a hard tonneau cover is a far superior choice.
So, if there are hard tonneau covers, why would someone even consider buying a soft tonneau cover?
Well, depending on your location, budget, and general needs, buying a hard tonneau cover might not make much sense.
For one, hard units are – unsurprisingly – more expensive than their soft counterparts. Plus, if you live in a place that offers nothing but sunshine and occasional gentle winds, then soft tonneau covers will be more than enough for you.
Your overall needs need to be taken into account, too.
I’ll talk about this later, but for now, keep in mind that any form of heavy-duty use will call for a heavy-duty cover – and that usually means a hard one.
Now, let’s dig a bit deeper into tonneau cover classifications:
Folding Tonneau Covers
The most popular tonneau covers are, hands down, the ones that use a folding mechanism. Those are the tri-fold and quad-fold tonneau covers.
Depending on how familiar you are with this folding mechanism, you might even overlook the differences between these two. However, a keen eye will notice that quad-fold tonneau covers offer more truck bed accessibility than their counterparts.
Still, both types of tonneau covers are phenomenal, offering an excellent level of protection and security – especially if you opt for a hard-folding one.
But there’s a catch:
What these types of covers bring to the table in terms of durability and protection against the elements and theft, they lack in truck bed accessibility. You typically won’t have access to the entire truck bed – only about 2/3 of it.
Roll-Up Tonneau Covers
Your second option is purchasing a roll-up tonneau cover. They are a popular option due to their simplicity – and available at a range of price points, too.
When it comes to the general ease of use and the ability to protect your cargo, tonneau covers with this type of opening mechanism offer a healthy balance of both.
Granted, they aren’t exceptionally durable – but hey, at least you’re getting full truck bed access. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.
Retractable And One-Piece Solid Tonneau Covers
Lastly, you have retractable tonneau covers. As the name implies, they don’t roll or fold; they retract into their dedicated enclosure, allowing you to decide how much bed access you need – and they will guarantee the best possible level of protection against foul weather and theft, too.
But as you can imagine, retractable covers don’t come cheap – although the price is more than justified.
Also, I feel like one-piece covers deserve mention here as the OG’s of the tonneau world. They’re as simple as tonneau covers can possibly get – but they were all the rage back in the day.
Unfortunately, they limit the functionality of your truck bed more than any other type of tonneau cover.
Materials & Durability
When you get a tonneau cover, you want it to last, right?
As you can imagine, hard-folding tonneau covers are made from rigid, heavy-duty materials – most commonly aluminum, although ABS plastic and fiberglass deserve mention, too. In any case, ensuring scratch and dent resistance is the number one criteria.
Soft tonneau covers are – well, soft. The exterior is usually made of plastic or vinyl, making them less resistant to scratches and less durable in general. Plus, they don’t provide adequate security to the truck’s bed.
You’ll notice that many covers feature a UV-resistant coating and a matte finish. If your budget allows it, go with added protection to minimize sun damage, dents, and scratches.
You get what you paid for here. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
With that said, you should go with a cover that fits your budget; I would never suggest otherwise. Then again, I wouldn’t recommend that you just go with the cheapest one, either.
Aim for the middle ground price-wise.
Let’s get one thing straight:
Even the low-end tonneau covers will be an upgrade if you currently don’t have one.
But when you consider that a tonneau cover should last a couple of years, paying a bit more for a higher-quality unit makes a lot more sense than getting a cheap one every few months.
User Experience & Ease Of Use
A tonneau cover should be helping you, not the other way around!
Regardless of what looks appealing to you – soft or hard, rolling or folding – the general rule of thumb is:
Buy a tonneau cover that’s every bit user-friendly as it is reliable. And when I say “user-friendly,” I mean the whole nine yards – from the installation process to everyday use and cleaning and maintenance.
For one, the assembly of your tonneau cover shouldn’t be something that will force you into despair. The good news is that most covers come pre-assembled out of the box, complete with detailed instructions.
Maintenance-wise, they don’t ask for much commitment. Careful handling and once-a-month cleaning – and you’re good. But it doesn’t hurt to check.
Also, while you’re at it, see if the tonneau cover features any kind of locking mechanism.
You might not need it right now, but you never know when you might find yourself in a remote parking lot, with valuable cargo in your truck’s bed – and you’ll be glad to have it then.
To Wrap Things Up
Okay, we’re nearing the end of this guide on how to choose a truck bed tonneau cover, so I figured this might be a good time for a quick recap.
Here’s what I’d like you to remember:
Choose a cover that works for you – your truck and your needs. Make sure that it’s durable enough to protect your cargo from the elements and, if it ever comes to it, thieves. And most importantly, ensure that it will be easy to use day in and day out – otherwise, you’ll regret ever getting one.
A tonneau cover should serve you, not the other way around!