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Tonneau Cover Buying GuideHello all! I've viewed several posts recently with members asking which cover should they buy? While it's impossible to compile every cover and comparison into a single post, I wanted to put together a general guide to assist in making a decision. I'm going to try to lay this out by style of cover, versus individual cover comparisons as much as possible, without endorsing a specific brand or style. Additionally, there are new covers added every year, and brands/styles that we don't sell, I can't speak to. Please feel free to comment below if you're looking for more in-depth comparisons, specific cover models, suggestions, etc. I'll try and update this post as new covers and styles release in the future to ensure it remains relevant.
A tonneau cover, or truck bed cover as they’re sometimes called, attaches to your truck bed and keeps your gear out of direct rain and snow. Depending on the design, they also provide outstanding security and even options for additional accessories. This buying guide should help you learn the differences between all the various tonneau cover designs so you choose the best truck bed cover for your Tacoma. The first question I would ask, is how do you intend to use the cover? Specific materials and designs are going to be best used, for certain needs and requirements.
Soft Tonneau CoversThe most obvious benefit of choosing a soft truck bed cover is affordability. Ranging from $200-$500, softcovers give your cargo ample protection from rain, snow, and other elements at an affordable price. However, not all soft covers are created equal as there are a few different designs to be aware of.
Soft Rolling coversThe most widely sold tonneau cover available today, soft rolling covers offer an affordable cover that keeps your gear out of the elements and out of sight. Most designs use hook-and-loop (velcro) fasteners to secure the tonneau cover once closed and tension from the header bar keeps the cover taut. Once opened, the cover provides full access to the bed and a fastening system will allow you to keep the cover open when driving. Installation involves clamping a pair of rails to your truck bed and attaching the cover to the rails, a simple process that can usually be done in less than an hour with basic hand tools.
Within the soft rolling category, you have two primary designs. Top mounts and inside mounts. Top mounts have a reputation for being a little more water-resistant due to the design, but have a taller profile at about 1.5" above the bed rails. Inside mount covers are going to provide a more aesthetically pleasing look and have a profile on average of .5" above the bed rails. Additionally, there are several styles of tension controls. The Truxedo Lo Pro, Pro X15, Truxport, and Gator SR1 utilize a spring-loaded tension mechanism. This design allows the user to close the cover and not have to worry about adjusting the tension. Most other soft roll-up covers will use a dial or block tension mechanism, i.e. Access Covers, Gator SRX, Gator SR2, etc... This style will manually be adjusted, typically at the header bar (front), using a dial. While this design does require manual adjustments periodically, it does allow you to "dial-in" the tautness of the cover to your preference.
Within the soft rolling category, you primarily have two fabric options. Marine-grade vinyl is the most common, used by a variety of brands. This material holds up well to the elements, but if you live in an area with heavy sun, I do recommend occasional treatments with a water-based UV protectant (303 Protectant or similar) to help protect the vinyl. The second option would be a fabric, used in the Truxedo Pro X15, Lund Genesis Elite, and Rugged Ridge Armis. The benefit of fabric is, it's a matte black finish and can be more heavy-duty. Both options will provide similar water resistance.
Choose a soft rolling tonneau cover if: you want an affordable cover that keeps your gear out of sight and out of the rain while providing full bed access when necessary.
Soft Folding CoversThis truck bed cover is made of vinyl or canvas material stretched over an aluminum frame in a one-piece design. The clamps that attach the cover to your truck bed are part of the cover as well, and they can usually be installed with no tools required. The biggest selling point for a soft folding cover is the ease of installation: simply line it up on your bed, attach the hand-tightened clamps, and you’re done. To open the cover, simply detach the rear clamps and fold it toward your bed for 2/3 bed access. If you need full bed access, the cover can be quickly removed and reinstalled.
Primary differences within the soft folding category will be the style of clamps and top material. The Gator SFX, Extang Trifecta 2.0, and Extang ALX use spring-loaded rear clamps, which allow constant tension to put against the bed rails. The majority of other soft tri-folds use tension clamps, which will hold the cover against the bed rails. Typically, the more expensive soft folding covers will have wider frames and beefier hinges, designed for increased use and durability compared to the entry-level covers.
Just as with soft roll-up covers, most use marine-grade vinyl, however, the Advantage Torza Top Premier and the Extang Trifecta Signature will use a canvas fabric.
Choose a soft-folding tonneau cover if: you want to spend minimal time on installation and protect your cargo from the elements.
Snap Tonneau CoversThe oldest tonneau cover design, snap covers consist of a tarp and rails with, you guessed it, snaps built-in. Installation is similar to a soft rolling cover, but snap covers usually include tailgate and bulkhead rails, which results in a slightly longer installation process. To open it, simply unfasten the snaps and roll the cover toward your bulkhead. Keep in mind that most snap covers use bows that aren’t attached to the tarp, so if you need to haul large items, the bows will have to be removed and stored. That being said, they are water-resistant and relatively simple to operate. They’re also among the most affordable covers available with prices starting at a little over 200 dollars.
Choose a snap tonneau cover if: you need the most affordable cover you can find, or you are looking for a classic style.
Hard Tonneau Covers While soft covers do a great job of keeping the bed dry with gear out of sight, they do lack the security hard tonneau covers provide. Hardcovers are water-resistant, made out of materials such as aluminum, fiberglass-reinforced polymer, and thermoplastics. Similar to soft covers, depending on how intend to use your bed will determine which style of hardcover to choose, folding or rolling.
Hard FoldingHard folding covers are versatile, relatively easy to install, and easy to operate. There are two common designs, top mounts and inside mounts. Just like with soft rolling covers, top mounts are going to traditionally be more water-resistant due to their design, and inside mounts, which are flush with the bed rails. Top mount hard folding covers install like a soft folding cover. The cover sits on top of the bed rails and mounts to the lip of the bed, installing in only a few minutes. These covers will fold on top of themselves to provide 2/3 bed access but do require removal to gain full access. Common models include the Extang Solid Fold 2.0, Rugged Liner Hard Folds, and the Advantage Hard Hat. Inside mount covers provide a sleek appearance, sitting flush with the bed rails. Common models such as the Undercover Flex line and BakFlip covers will fold up to the cab to give full bed access, without removing. The Access Lomax line will provide 2/3 access without removal. These covers require rails to be installed on each side of the bed, using clamps, and the cover will sit and fold between the rails.
Within the hard folding cover line, you also have a variety of materials to choose from:
Aluminum - Recommended for high UV locations, as aluminum is a more fade-resistant material. Available in satin or matte black finishes in top-mount or inside mount covers. Found on the Bak MX4, G2, Undercover Flex, ArmorFlex, Extang Xceed, Rugged Liner HC3, etc.
Fiberglass Reinforced Polymer - Recommend for areas where hail is common, as FRP is more dent and impact resistant. However, this material is more susceptible to fading. Available in satin finishes, only found on the Bak Fibermax and F1.
TPO - EnduraSheild polymer, which is a thermoplastic material that does well-resisting fading and impact. Found on the Extang Solid 2.0 and Gator Tailback.
Vinyl - On hard folding covers, vinyl is typically adhered directly to an ABS panel to provide a seamless, one-piece look. Found on the Advantage Hard Hat, American Hard Folding, etc.
Choose a hard-folding tonneau cover if you need security, water resistance, and the ability to haul large items when necessary.
Hard RollingWhile not as well-represented as some other categories, hard rolling tonneau covers have become a popular alternative to folding designs over the last several years. The tonneau itself is made of interlocking aluminum slats, which are covered by a heavy-duty vinyl or canvas material. This results in a truck bed cover with no visible hinges that provide ample shielding for items in the bed. Like a soft rolling tonneau cover, opening one of these is as easy as pulling a latch and rolling it toward the bulkhead.
Primary comparisons within this category are between the rail designs and the vinyl type. Bak Revolver series rotational locking rails, in which the cover slats recess into the rail, and a metal latch rotates to cover the slats when locked. This prevents you from being able to lift the cover along the rails at any point. The Truxedo Sentry and Gator HR1 use velcro rails to keep the cover secure, with a latch located in the middle of the rail to prevent unwanted access.
Vinyl options include a traditional satin marine-grade vinyl, found on the X2, HR1, and Sentry, or a matte black, canvas fabric, found on the X4s, Sentry CT and Armis.
Choose a hard-rolling tonneau cover if you like soft cover looks but need hardcover security
RetractableNot to be confused with rolling or roll-up covers, a retractable tonneau consists of a hardcover made of aluminum or composite material, which retracts into a canister mounted at the bulkhead when bed access is needed. Depending on which retractable truck bed cover you choose, you may be able to lock it in position anywhere between open and closed. Other designs use set intermittent locking points. You can even get an electric retractable tonneau cover that opens via a push-button key fob. Just keep in mind that you’ll lose approximately 10 to 12 inches of overall bed length due to the canister. As mentioned, there are a few differences between models, including locking positions, rails, blanket material, and locking mechanism.
Retrax and GatorTrax covers utilize sealed ball bearings and a springless canister with the intention of being maintenance-free. You don't need to wax the rails, ever replace springs, etc. Most other brands such as Pace Edwards and Truck Covers USA, utilize a spring in the canister to assist with retracting the cover. Where on the Retrax, you have to "walk the cover back" to the canister, you can simply stand at the tailgate and the cover will self retract. Great if you're on a lifted truck and walking down the length of the bed is vertically challenging. Additionally, these covers tend to have smaller canisters than the Retrax/GatorTrax line.
Another key difference will be the blanket material, the actual cover itself. GatorTrax and Retrax both offer a lighter-duty polycarbonate blanket and a heavy-duty double walled aluminum. Similarly, Pace Edwards offers lighter-duty aluminum with ArmorTek vinyl and heavy-duty double-walled aluminum. You'll find across all three brands, the lighter duty weight capacities are lower 200-250 pounds distributed on top, whereas the heavy-duty is 500 pounds. Truck Covers USA only offers double-walled aluminum, they do not make an entry-level version.
The final, most notable difference is how they lock. While all retractable covers for modern trucks rely on a closed and locked tailgate, certain brands add an exterior lock. Retrax, GatorTrax, Truck Covers USA, and Pace Edwards (Excluding the Bedlocker and UltraGroove series) have an exterior lock, allowing you to operate the tailgate and cover independently from each other. The Gator Recoil, Pace Edwards UltraGroove, and Switchblade series do not have an exterior lock, so to open, you will have to open the tailgate first.
Choose a retractable tonneau cover if you don’t mind sacrificing a little bed space for convenient operation, particularly on highly lifted trucks.
PaintedSo far, we’ve categorized tonneau covers according to what they’re made of and how they’re operated. So why do painted covers get their own mention? Well, the vast majority of painted tonneau covers also use a one-piece hinged design, which we haven’t discussed yet. Rather than folding or rolling open, this design lifts open, often with the assistance of lift supports or scissor hinges. Available with composite or fiberglass construction, the painted tonneau cover is prized for its unparalleled security and weather resistance, a direct result of its overlapping design. Of course, having the cover painted to match your truck’s OEM paint code also results in an unbeatable look. The one drawback to this design is bed access. To haul large items, you’ll probably have to remove the tonneau cover first. This often requires two people due to the weight and size of the cover.
Ranch and Patriot painted covers, will be made of fiberglass. While this material is very heavy duty, it's rather heavy, typically weighing over 100 pounds. The Undercover Elite LX and Lux are made out of a composite, which is about half the weight, yet a little more expensive. Keep in mind, all painted covers typically ship freight. So their build and ship times can be longer than other tops.
Choose a painted tonneau cover if: you need maximum rain and theft resistance, a color-matching finish, and you don’t plan on hauling large items on a regular basis.
Heavy Duty Trucks primarily used for daily driving will greatly benefit from any of the previously mentioned tonneau covers. However, some trucks just work harder or play harder than others. Whether it’s construction work or extended off-road trips, a heavy-duty tonneau cover is the best choice when utility is everything. These bed covers run the gamut of design and operation, with some folding open and others using a one-piece hinged design similar to painted covers. What they share is high weight ratings and the ability to be accessorized with tie-downs, cargo bars, headache racks, and other must-have items for the most demanding truck owners. All of these covers are made of a hard material, so you’ll get hardcover security in addition to tons of customization options.
Choose a heavy-duty tonneau cover if: your truck serves as a mobile workstation or an Overlanding vehicle.
Tool Box First off, let’s clear up some potential confusion. Toolbox tonneau covers do not come with a toolbox (with the exception of certain retractable covers from Truck Covers USA). Rather, the cover is cut short so it can fit on a truck bed equipped with a standard profile, 20-inch toolbox. They can run the whole gamut of tonneau cover designs including soft, hard, folding, and rolling. Do keep in mind, these will not fit low profile toolboxes, as the cover bulkhead rail interferes with the latches.
Choose a toolbox tonneau cover if your truck is equipped with a standard 20-inch toolbox.
Hopefully, this content is helpful! If there is an audience, I would be happy to go into further detail on specific models, comparison between styles/covers, rack and cover fitment, etc. Just let me know what information would be helpful to y'all! I've reserved the next post for future content if requested as well.