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A Tonneau Cover for Every Need

For pickup truck owners, a tonneau cover offers plenty of benefits and potential issues, plus cost considerations so let’s review some popular styles.

Keeping Your Truck Bed Covered

2021 Ford F-150 - ford.com
2021 Ford F-150 - ford.com

Owners of pickup trucks are faced with a dilemma – to cover or not to cover the cargo bed? Leaving it uncovered allows for max utility but also means anything inside the bed is exposed to the elements and prying eyes. Though protection – in the form of a tonneau cover – for those contents limits this exposure, it simultaneously reduces the functionality. To tonneau cover, or not, is something of double-edged sword.

Fortunately, there are a number of options in the tonneau cover world that, uh, cover nearly all considerations from how the bed is used to preferred features, ease of bed access, and of course, cost. A soft roll-up version offers the simplest solution at the lowest price point. From there, cost and features increase with hard roll-up tonneaus, soft folding, hard folding, retractable, and even the color-matched, full shell tonneau covers. Whether you’re driving a 2001 Mazda B-Series or 2021 Ford F-150, there’s a tonneau cover for your pickup truck. Let’s have a look at some options.

Soft Roll-Up Tonneau Cover

Gator SRX - gatorcovers.com
Gator SRX - gatorcovers.com

The soft rolling style tonneau cover is the most basic approach to adding pickup cargo protection. A Gator SRX from Gator Covers will fit your 2021 Toyota Tundra for just $239. Made of vinyl, it features a cross bar at the tailgate end that you use to roll it up towards the rear window and cinch it in place. Connected to the bed rails via industrial Velcro strips – that are themselves connected with a simple clamping system – this type of cover is easy to use, low profile and protects your cargo from UV exposure. Though it’s inexpensive and doesn’t take up much space, it will not support any weight – including a heavy load of snow – and vinyl is relatively easy to accidentally tear, or for thieves to cut open.

Hard Roll-Up Tonneau Cover

Truxedo Sentry - truxedo.com
Truxedo Sentry - truxedo.com

A hard roll-up cover operates similarly to the soft variety but comes with full-width, aluminum slats affixed to the vinyl top. So when it’s covering the bed, it offers more loading capacity and theft-resistance. However, when it’s rolled up, it takes up more space behind the rear glass due to those slats. And it’s quite a bit more expensive, the Sentry from TruXedo that fits a 2021 Jeep Gladiator will run you about $900. Due to its use of Velcro for connection the truck bed, it’s not 100% watertight but does have reduced flapping at highway speeds versus its soft roll-up cousin. Another benefit of roll-up style tonneau covers is that they offer nearly 100% bed access when rolled up and secured against the rear glass.

Soft Folding Tonneau Cover

Tri-Fold Cover - tonnopro.com
Tri-Fold Cover - tonnopro.com

Soft folding tonneaus use a vinyl material stretched over an aluminum frame broken into sections that fold, typically into three parts. Spring loaded clamps keep the frame secured against the bed rails, when in use, and generally offer better protection from water creeping in. Thanks to the frame construction, additional loading is possible, but keep in mind the surface is vinyl so it can be prone to rips. A downside to this type of tonneau cover is that when you fold it for cargo access, the final third section remains in place across the cargo bed limiting the overall utility. Fortunately, they’re budget friendly with the Tri-Fold from Tonno Pro coming in at just $249 and ready to fit your 2021 Ford Ranger.

Hard Folding Tonneau Cover

BAKFlip MX4 - bakindustries.com
BAKFlip MX4 - bakindustries.com

With aluminum panels instead of the vinyl found on soft folding tonneaus, the hard fold variety offers significantly more protection from a loading, damage, and security perspective. Using a frame that allows the panels to fold over onto themselves in multiple sections, the BAKFlip MX4 from BAK is made up of four individual panels. The fourth one can be flipped up and secured against the vehicle’s rear glass allowing for 100% cargo bed access. While visibility is zero, the design does allow the high-mount, third brake light to be seen from behind. At nearly $1000 for a 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 application, it is pricey, but when closed, it finishes flush with bed rails and can handle up to 400 pounds of distributed weight. There is also solid weather resistance with the gasketing system forming a tight seal.

Retractable Tonneau Cover

For folks who appreciate slick engineering, the Peragon retractable tonneau cover fits the bill. The cover, broken into multiple panels, rides in channels on ball bearings and collapses in on itself when not in use. Forming a 6” layer of panels that hang from the bed rails down to the bed floor when not in use, this style of tonneau takes up very little space, does not impact rearward visibility, and allows nearly 100% access. The aluminum panels are also lockable for added security and it works with more uncommon pickup trucks like a 1996 Mazda B-Series or 2006 Mitsubishi Raider. At $949, it is on the high end of tonneau cover cost, but it will handle up to 300 pounds of distributed weight and comes in a black or white finish.

Full Shell Tonneau Cover

UnderCover's LUX - undercoverinfo.com
UnderCover's LUX - undercoverinfo.com

If you want a color-matched, factory-look tonneau cover and have the budget, UnderCover’s LUX composite construction, flip-up cover is an option. For a 2021 Ram 1500, it will run you nearly $1500 and comes painted to match the factory paint job. Because it locks and overlaps the tailgate, it offers a high level of security. Due to the single-piece, seamless construction and full perimeter seal, it also offers excellent weather protection. However, it hinges at the rear glass and pops up at an angle with support struts so bed access is limited. As well, it’s cumbersome and requires two people to install or remove for storage, but for those that prefer a factory-look, the full shell style is a good option.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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