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7 Different Types of Tonneau Covers

A softopper brand folding fabric pickup truck bed cover cap.

It seems like everyone drives a truck nowadays. All of the people I know live in the city or suburbs. They long ago gave up on cars, and it seems that even SUVs are not enough to satisfy their need for more and more space. Many of them now drive passenger trucks of various kinds.

It was not until I took a road trip with one couple that I came to understand the practicality of owning a truck rather than a car of SUV. Today’s consumer trucks have roomy interiors for passengers, and they are loaded with a range of comforts, including the latest infotainment suites.

However, it is the flatbed that is of greatest value. They are like large cargo bays that can be used to haul around everything from newly purchased furniture to camping equipment to luggage for an extended vacation.

Tonneau covers are an essential part of these flatbeds. I became especially interested in the former because it occurred to me that the latter would be useless without them. The following is a brief summary of what I learned about the different types of tonneau covers and the issues related to using them.

What is a Tonneau Cover?

Close up photo of truck bed cover.

It is a flat material installed on top of a truck bed to protect the objects inside of it from weather, theft, and other contingencies. A sound and sturdy tonneau cover will shield your stuff from rain, snow, wind, sunlight, thieves, and nosy people.

Tonneau covers are come in different designs. They can be categorized by price, compatibility with your truck, ease of use, and level of protection. It is unwise to pick just any old tonneau cover. You will want to choose one that meets your requirements and your taste.

Types of Tonneau Covers

Close up view of a truck with tonneau cover.

There are many kinds of tonneau covers. These are some of the most popular types on the market. The list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a sense of what is out there.

1. Retractable tonneau cover

This type of cover retracts on itself and toward the back of the truck. Such a cover can be hard or soft. A hard cover offers better protection than a soft one. This type of cover allows you to expose only the part of the bed that you want to. This gives you the ability to move items of different sizes.

If you are carrying something large, you will be able to leave some of it exposed until you complete the move.  

2. Folding tonneau cover

Photo of a truck with tonneau cover folded on a white background.

These covers come in various designs. They can be hard or soft. The trifold design folds in three places, while the bifold folds in two. By folding up a part or parts of the cover, you will have access to only part of the bed.

This means that you can carry big or awkwardly shaped objects without having to expose the part of the bed that contains smaller and more vulnerable cargo.

3. Roll-Up/Rolling tonneau cover

This type of flatbed cover rolls up on itself like a mat. It comes in hard and soft versions. The soft cover roll-up covers tend to cost less. However, the hard cover designs secure the flatbed much better than the soft cover.

Using a tonneau cover roll-up will provide you with more truck bed options. It makes it so that you are not limited to folds or panels, which means you can place large objects that you are comfortably exposing at the front or rear end of the truck bed.

4. Hinged tonneau cover

Side view photo of red chevrolet truck with hinged tonneau cover.

This type of cover is a lid supported on hinges. These covers do not fold or retract. You must push them up to open them. Many truck owners like hinged tonneau covers because they are visually attractive. They are visually attractive.

Their division into smooth, sleek, and well-designed pieces gives hinged covers a classy look, which enhances the overall appearance of the vehicle. It is possible to paint these covers to match the color of your truck.

5. Snap tonneau cover

This type of tonneau cover features clamps that attach to the truck bed or vehicle frame. A snap cover allows you to access any part of the truck bed by unclamping just that part. Say you need to routinely drop things off at different locations. This cover makes it easier to carry out this task.

6. Tool box tonneau cover

Top view of a car with toolbox tonneau cover.

This cover comes with an integrated toolbox. It is very popular with people who use their trucks to run their small business. The main advantage of this type of cover is that it allows you to enjoy the benefits of a truck bed cover while enjoying the advantages of hauling around your toolbox.

Related: Can You Have Both Tool Box and Tonneau Cover in Pickup Truck Bed?

7. Electric tonneau cover

This cover uses electric power to work. It contains an in-built mechanism that opens and closes the cover. You can operate the mechanism remotely with a button on a key fob.

Electric tonneau covers are convenient and easy to use. You do not need to use your hands, which means there is far less work to do. You also gain benefits that are similar to those of the folding, roll-up, and retracting covers.

Frequently Asked Questions

How hard is it to install a tonneau cover?

Most tonneau covers are designed to be installed by laypersons. Any of the covers described above can be put on your truck in less than two hours. Most covers can be installed without any tools. Large and intricate covers may require some drilling and a couple of screwdrivers.

AnchorHow do I clean my hard-top tonneau cover?

Side view look of a red chevy car with hard-top tonneau cover.

For the most part, you can wash your hard-top tonneau cover the same way you wash your car. However, you should always follow manufacturer’s instructions. The type of cover you purchase may need to be washed in a certain way in order to preserve its appearance and material integrity.

AnchorHow long will my soft-top tonneau tarp last?

The longevity of your cover will depend largely on how well it is cared for. You must remember that it is designed to protect your stuff from rain, wind, snow, ice, and sun. It will bear the brunt of these forces and elements. Manufacturers give advice on how to care for the tops in the instruction manual.

You should follow these recommendations.

What is the best way to treat and shine my tonneau cover?

Back photo of a white truck with cover and a woman standing behind it.

You have to be careful here. You may not be able to treat and shine your tonneau cover with the same products you use on your tires, trim, or dash. The latter may look like the former, but the materials are quite different. Again, read the manufacturer’s instructions. It will tell you which products to avoid.

Will the tonneau cover scratch my paint?

Installing a tonneau cover should not scratch your paint or otherwise damage the surface of your vehicle. Clamp-on tonneau covers may seem as though they present this hazard, but most of them employ padded parts for attaching the cover to your bed rails.

The instructions that come with the cover will usually offer advice on how to install it with the proper amount of care and safety.

AnchorHow secure will my valuables be in my truck bed after installing a tonneau cover?

Back view of a white car truck bed daylight.

All tonneau covers increase the security of your truck bed. Non-locking soft cover covers provide basic security by concealing the contents of the latter. Most hard cover tonneaus come with locking devices that provide more advanced security.

If you regularly haul around high-value items, then you should probably opt for a hard cover.

How well will a tonneau cover keep my truck bed dry?

Soft tonneau covers are designed to channel water away from the truck bed, which will keep your items dry. Some covers come with a sealing strip by the tailgate that will keep moisture out and loose loads such as sand and gravel in.

Hard tonneau covers are equipped with weather-sealing layers underneath that can withstand a deluge of rain. This is the best option if you live and travel in an exceptionally rainy or snowy area.

AnchorCan I add accessories to my cover?

Close up photo of accessories of tonneau cover.

Yes, this is possible. However, if you outfit your tonneau cover with extras, it will likely void your warranty. Most people who add accessories do so with hard covers. It usually requires a great deal of drilling in order to cut through the surface.

This type of work is not as simple and straightforward as it sounds. You should only undertake it if you know what you are doing and you have the proper tools. Otherwise, you should have a professional do the work.

What if I need to use my entire truck bed for a large load?

Tonneau covers are designed and constructed to accommodate large loads. Soft covers can be removed, retracted, or rolled-up. They also have quick release support bars that will allow you to put such objects in your truck bed. Hard top tonneau covers can be removed for the full use of your bed.

What if my new tonneau cover doesn’t fit my truck?

Close up photo of tonneau cover daylight.

You should purchase a tonneau cover that is made to fit your truck. The retailer that you purchase the cover from should carry out the basic task of measuring your flatbed and ensuring that the cover you purchase will fit within its dimensions.

If you order such a cover online, it is still possible to get one that will fit your truck bed. In most cases, you need only give the year, make, and model of the truck in order to get the right size. If you do not know this information off the top of your head, refer to your owner’s manual.

If for some reason, you still received the wrong size cover, you should have a warranty that will allow you to return it in exchange for another cover. 

A Brief History of Tonneau Covers

Tonneau covers go all the way back to the days of horses and buggies. In those times, it was customary to throw a tarp over a wagon carriage—in both passenger and cargo carriers. When automobiles, and eventually trucks, began to replace horses and buggies, such covers still had their uses.

The first such automobile tonneau was made of vinyl. As the 20th century progressed, vehicle manufacturers offered different options and configurations for successive models. Indeed, the term tonneau came into usage in the early part of the last century.

It was used to designate an open, rear passenger compartment that was covered by a soft leather cover.

Tonneaus were later adopted by racers. They were used to cover up open areas of vehicles to reduce wind drag. These early racer tonneaus were made of bedsheets, canvas, and leather. The record-setting drivers of the day credited tonneau covers for their success.

The making of sleeker and more aerodynamically sophisticated made the tonneau obsolete for this purpose. It found greater usage in passenger vehicles—trucks especially. As the diversity and availability of consumer trucks increased, and the range of things people used them for multiplied, the need for better protection became urgent.

Soon tonneau covers were being made of fiberglass and other advanced materials. And as the demand for them kept growing, manufacturers started adding new options for better security and more customization. Today’s tonneau cover has more options and looks better than ever before.