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What is a Tonneau Cover?

Close up photo of truck bed cover over the sun.

Most pickup truck owners love their vehicles. However, every person that owns a pickup truck uses it for a different reason. For example, many owners do not use the bed of their truck, or if they use it, they do not use it that often. 

When not being used, the bed of the truck can collect dirt and debris. For those that do use the bed of their truck to carry items and tools, having them out in the open leaves them open to the risk of being stolen. For this reason, many pickup owners opt to put a cover on their trucks. Continue reading to find out more about these covers. 

What is a Tonneau Cover?

A tonneau cover is a fancy name for a cover for the bed of a pickup truck. These covers help to cover and protect the bed. There are many different types of tonneau covers on the market.

While each one is a little different, they all provide the same basic functions, which are to protect the bed, secure cargo, and give the truck a clean look. 

Related: Tonneau Cover vs. Canopy: Which One is Better?

Why is it Called a Tonneau Cover?

Close up photo of 1957 Ford Thunderbird with tonneau cover.

Tonneau is a French word that means cask or barrel. In the early days of car manufacturing, they had an open compartment in the back which also had seats for passengers. 

This area was round and resembled a barrel or a tonneau. There was a soft tonneau cover that drivers could use to protect the passenger seats when they were not using them. 

There have been major advancements in car manufacturing since those early days. As a result, most vehicles no longer require this type of cover. Sport cars and pickup trucks are the exceptions. Today, a tonneau cover is used to cover an area, like the bed of a truck, that requires protection when not in use. 

What are the Benefits to Having a Tonneau Cover?

No matter if you use the bed of your pickup truck to carry cargo or not, you may still benefit from having a tonneau cover. 


A cropped photo of red chevy truck using tonneau cover.

A tonneau cover provides protection to the bed of your truck, as well as the items that you store there. It protects them from extreme elements, like snow, rain, and UV rays. It also keeps dirt and debris out of the bed of your truck. If you have a pickup truck without a cover, there has been a point when someone has thrown trash in it. When you have a tonneau cover, it stops passersby from using it as a trash can. 

Theft Prevention

If you leave items in an uncovered truck bed, you are risking the potential for those items to be stolen. You may have even experienced theft from the bed of your truck. If you plan to keep or haul anything valuable in the bed of your truck, you should consider a tonneau cover to protect your items. 

Streamlined Look

A rear exterior of a red 1964 Thunderbird convertible with Tonneau cover.

No matter how you use the bed of your pickup truck, a tonneau cover gives it a streamlined and sleek appearance. There are many types of covers available to give you the look you want. You can even find one that perfectly matches the paint on your truck. 

Improved Gas Mileage

While this has not been completely proven, there is some thought that a tonneau cover makes your vehicle more aerodynamic, reduces drag, and can improve gas mileage. Many people have found a small improvement of gas mileage when using a tonneau cover. 

Different Types of Tonneau Cover

There are many different types of tonneau covers on the market. While they all provide coverage for the bed of your pickup truck, they have some differences between them. 

Hard Tonneau Cover

Side view photo of a car parked near trees.

These are heavier and hard covers. They are among the most expensive options available. These covers are made from various materials, including hard plastic, aluminum, or fiberglass. These covers give the maximum amount of security for your truck. 

Soft Tonneau Cover

Soft covers are the less expensive of the types of covers. They are lighter and flexible. However, these do not provide the most secure of all the tonneau covers. 

Foldable Tonneau Cover 

BAK BAKFlip MX4 Hard Folding Truck Bed Tonneau Cover | 448330 | Fits 2017 - 2022 Ford F-250/350 Super Duty 6' 10" Bed (81.9")

A foldable cover is one of the most popular types of tonneau covers. They can fold in various places. You can find them in a tri-fold or quad-fold version. Most of these covers have three panels that fold back to the cab. 

These covers can cover the entire truck bed at once or just a portion of it. These covers can be hard and soft tonneaus; however, more often than not are composed of a hard plastic with metal hinges.

These are among the most durable covers you can use for your pickup truck. This is a great option if you haul oddly sized items that sit above the truck bed. 

Retractable Tonneau Cover

RetraxONE MX Retractable Truck Bed Tonneau Cover | 60383 | Fits 2017 - 2022 Ford F-250/350 Super Duty 6' 10" Bed (81.9")

A retractable cover offers complete coverage. It is easy to use, and when not in use, it can completely disappear. When not being used, these covers roll into themself. You can control how much of the bed is exposed. 

These covers can easily open and close by pushing a button. There are some models that can be opened or closed by hand. However, these covers may easily suffer water damage, rips, and tears. 

Many of the retraceable covers are constructed from a hard composite making them more durable. You can also find these covers with locks. 

Hinged Tonneau Cover 

UnderCover Elite One-Piece Truck Bed Tonneau Cover | UC2158 | Fits 2015 - 2020 Ford F-150 5' 7" Bed (67.1")

A hinged tonneau cover falls into the hard-top cover options. These covers give you the most amount of security. However, this type of cover typically is not able to accommodate large cargo that pokes out above the truck bed rails.

A hinged tonneau cover has hinges that prop up the cover and hold it in place with struts. These covers expose the entire bed at one time. Unfortunately, you cannot control how much is uncovered. 

With this type of cover, you must be careful not to leave it open and drive off. It will catch air and most likely rip out the struts. You can find these covers that are painted to match the color of your truck. 

Roll-up Tonneau Cover

TruXedo TruXport Soft Roll Up Truck Bed Tonneau Cover | 273301 | Fits 2020 - 2022 Chevy/GMC Silverado/Sierra 2500/3500HD 6' 10" Bed (82.2")

A roll-up tonneau cover is one that rolls up in the direction of the cab. These covers can expose as much of the truck bed as you would like at one time. This type of cover is ideal for hauling items that are oddly shaped and pop up above the truck bed. 

These covers provide quick access to small items, like a grocery bag. These covers are constructed from fabric and are less durable than a hard shell. However, once they are rolled up, they can be secured.

Snap-on Tonneau Cover

A snap-on cover is the most affordable one of all the options. They are lightweight and can be custom ordered in a size that meets your needs. These covers are a soft material that snaps into place. 

A snap-on cover allows you to have quick access to any part of your truck bed. However, as a result of the soft material, these covers are more likely to tear than other covers. Typically these covers have an aluminum frame that secures to the top of the truck bed and uses metal crossbars for support. 

Some truck owners find the crossbar supports to be difficult or get in the way when they are hauling large items. There are snap-on covers that come with crossbeams that can be removed. This gives you the ultimate versatility. 

How Can I Use a Tonneau Cover?

A tonneau cover can help you in some additional ways that we have not yet mentioned. For example, you can place your camping gear in the bed of your truck and use a tonneau cover to protect it. In addition, you can protect it from the elements, so it stays dry for when you need it. 

You can also utilize it to transport supplies to work or other places where you may need them. This keeps your items safe, secure, and protected. You do not have to worry about something flying out of the bed of your truck while driving.