Pickup trucks are versatile by design. They work all week, then haul the boat and the entire family to the lake on Sunday without breaking a sweat. But they do have one crucial weakness: Keeping gear and cargo in the bed secured and protected from the elements. The solution is a quality tonneau cover, aka a truck-bed cover. Any cover will keep your gear out of sight, but a hard tonneau–typically made of aluminum or composite–can keep it more physically secure than a soft vinyl cover.
Tonneau covers vary in design, quality and price, from basic roll-up or folding vinyl and canvas models to higher-end retractable units and numerous hardcover options. This review roundup covers the best hardcovers, which provide more protection and security but are usually pricier than soft tonneaus. Truck beds come in several lengths, and tonneau cover manufacturers try to fit as many applications as possible. Prices vary depending on several factors, so here, we’re showing each model’s starting price, but the specific one for your truck may be higher.
Do tonneau covers deter theft?
All tonneau covers conceal a truck bed’s cargo from onlookers, which is a good deterrent in itself. But most depend on the truck’s tailgate being locked to prevent someone physically accessing your gear. That’s because the release latches are located under the cover near the tailgate. Soft tonneau Covers are also inherently more vulnerable to theft than hard covers because they can be cut open with a sharp implement. And covers sealed with Velcro or another hook-and-loop fastener, such as roll-up covers, can often be separated enough on the sides to allow someone to look inside. Covers secured with snaps are typically the most vulnerable, which is why we don’t recommend any. Conversely, some one-piece hinged hard-shell tonneaus are the most secure because their design prevents the tailgate from being opened. But they are also expensive, heavy, and harder to use.
Do tonneau covers improve fuel economy?
This is a hotly debated topic, with advocates on both sides. And any effect on fuel economy will depend on the cover, the truck, and the speed that you’re driving. But don’t buy a tonneau if your main reason is better mpg; any real improvement will take many years to offset the price of the cover. According to Sawtooth, a tonneau cover manufacturer, a 2007 wind tunnel test by the trade group SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association) showed that tonneau covers reduced aerodynamic drag by an average of 5.7%, which resulted in a 1.8% improvement in fuel economy. In 2013, however, Consumer Reports tested a Dodge Ram V8 pickup with a tonneau while driving at a constant 65 mph, and they measured a slight drop of almost one mpg. According to the truck accessory retailers, soft roll-up and folding covers are the best choice if fuel economy is a concern because the higher weight of hard tonneaus can offset any reductions in aerodynamic drag.
Can I use the full bed when a tonneau cover is attached?
This depends on the cover. All roll-up and retractable tonneaus allow full-bed access. But most tri-fold designs cover the front third of the bed when folded up, and they need to be removed for full-bed access. An exception is our “Best Overall” recommendation, the BAKflip MX4, which has support struts that can secure it against the cab’s rear window when driving.