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Tonneau Cover Buying Guide

Dec 20 2019

Tonneau Cover Buying Guide

What Is a Tonneau Cover?

A tonneau cover (also called a box cover, truck bed cover and pickup bed cover) is a hard or soft cover that spans the bed of a pickup truck in order to protect the contents. 

There are various types of tonneau covers available, from fiberglass to vinyl, snap-on, hinged, roll up, retractable, you name it. The reason why there are so many types is that they can adapt to the way you use your truck. Each type of tonneau cover, soft or hard, has features that allow it to be used in a different way. 

We’ve also noticed that it’s also a difficult word to spell! We’ve seen many variations but tonno cover, tunnel cover, tono cover, tonnue cover seem to be the most popular misspellings.

Tonneau is a French word that means cask or barrel and originally referred to the open passenger compartment you see on a lot of really old cars.

Hard Tonneau Covers

Advantage: These are typically painted to match the body color of the truck and they not only look good, but they also offer unbeatable cargo protection. They often have lights inside and most now clamp in and require no drilling. 

Most hard tonneau covers have a hinge system that makes them easy to open and some even open with a handheld key fob remote. If matching the color of your truck is not important that important to you, there are also hard roll-up tonneau covers available.

For the best of both worlds, there is the Double Cover from A.R.E. which is an aluminum tonneau cover that is also retractable. You might also like a hard folding tonneau cover. They are available in aluminum and fiberglass and hold up to the harshest weather and protect your possessions from being stolen.

Disadvantage: You can’t use the hinged type for loads that sit above the bed rails as they have to be propped open or must be removed. It typically takes two people to remove and it takes up a lot of space in your garage when it’s not on the truck. 

Soft Tonneau Covers

Advantage: Soft tonneau covers have the classic tonneau look that comes from covering the bed with black vinyl. Many people like the look of these tonneaus and they can come in a variety of styles. The traditional style is the roll-up tonneau cover which uses bows that straddle across the bed and are linked to a clamp-on frame. These are easy to remove if you have cargo that sits taller than the bed rails. 

Other types are the folding tonneau cover which is hinged to fold in three sections and others include hinges in the center of the tonneau to allow it to fold in half. They make loading and carrying cargo much easier. There is also the snap-on tonneau cover as well as others that are designed as tonneau covers for trucks with a toolbox.

Disadvantage: Over time, the vinyl can fade and stretch leaving a tonneau that flops in the wind. Soft tonneaus also don’t offer much theft protection as they can be easily cut and your contents removed. Some people do not like the bow system and others still condemn the button snaps as they are often cumbersome to reinstall and require lots of time to put together.

Retractable Tonneau Covers

Advantage: Just like the term implies, these tonneau covers retract into a compact roll. This allows the bed to be nearly fully open, fully closed, or set anywhere in between. Retractable tonneau covers can come in a variety of materials, including hard plastic and cast aluminum. They are made up of many pieces that are linked together to bend and fold so that it can be rolled up at the front portion of the truck’s bed. 

Some manufacturers offer a motor-operated roll-up function while others are open and closed manually. These types of retractable tonneau covers also offer unbeatable bed security and are almost impossible to break into. They also mount on a track system that clamps to the bed rails so that typically, no drilling is required.

Disadvantage: Cost is one of the factors in this type of tonneau cover. Most are more expensive than hard or soft tonneau and they take a little more time to install. Because the tonneau rolls up into one area the size of the roller can also take up some space at the front of the bed. Motorized units take up more room than manual roll-up units do. Some truck enthusiasts also don’t like the look of the roll-up tonneau and they can’t be painted to match the color of the vehicle; most come in black powder coat or with a vinyl top layer.

What to Look For In a Tonneau Cover

It's easy to determine what type of tonneau cover you should use. First, always start with what you like. For example, many people like the look of a hard tonneau but may want a different type of removal system in case they consistently haul cargo that is taller than the factory bed rails. If this is the case, look for a hard tonneau with a quick-disconnect hinge system.

If you're a custom truck enthusiast, you may be looking for a hard flush-mounted tonneau cover that looks great. If this is the case, look for a lightweight design as many flush tonneaus can eventually sag in the center if its inner structure is too heavy or doesn't include any kind of mid-section support.

You say you want convenience? Then a soft tonneau may be right for you as it is simple to roll up and use the entire bed to carry large cargo. Likewise, should you want security as your top priority, then a retractable hard tonneau would be the best choice to prevent theft of any tools or other valuables in your truck's bed.