What is a Tonneau Cover? Truck Bed Cover Types & Benefits

Pickup trucks are any heavy hauler’s dream. There’s an endless amount of stuff you can put in a pickup truck bed, but the stuff in an open bed can get stolen or damaged from exposure to weather.

You need a way to cover your stuff, and a tonneau cover can do just that. But, what is a tonneau cover?

A tonneau cover is a flat material installed on top of your truck bed to protect the objects inside from weather, theft, and other things. There are several types of tonneau covers, each of which are made of varying materials and open in different ways.

What we’ve mentioned so far about tonneau covers hardly explains everything there is to know about them. To find out more about what tonneau covers do, what kinds there are, and why you may or may not need one, keep reading on.

What Do Tonneau Covers Do? 

Tonneau covers for truck beds have multiple purposes and benefits. The main thing they do is cover your truck bed.

There are many benefits to covering your truck bed. Let’s go over the primary ones.

#1 Protect Your Stuff!

One of the more obvious functions of a tonneau cover is the way it protects whatever you are hauling in your truck.

However, the type of protection provided takes two forms: weather and theft!

Part 1: Protection from Weather

A tonneau cover can protect your things in the truck bed from outdoor weather conditions. 

For example, if you are helping a friend move their belongings from one house to another, you normally would have to plan around weather conditions. Not with a tonneau cover!

Let’s say you have some materials for a home improvement project in the back of the truck. You will not want to get stuck in a rain or wind storm that could damage or blow your materials away.

Some tonneau covers even come with a tube that siphons water out of your truck, should any get in in the first place.

These are just a few examples of how tonneau covers protect your stuff from rain, wind, snow, etc.

Part 2: Protection from Theft

Another way that tonneau covers offer your stuff protection is by acting as a shield against greedy eyes. 

If for some reason you can’t unload the items in your pickup truck bed right away, you will want to know that the things are safe from prying eyes and hands.

Tonneau covers act as a lid on your truck bed, and some of them even lock shut. This guarantees that your stuff will not be stolen out of your truck.

#2 Add Privacy

Adding a tonneau cover to your truck also ensures privacy. 

Sure, this also is a deterrent from punks nabbing your stuff, but it’s also nice to know that you don’t have to worry about people knowing what you’re hauling in your truck. 

For example, if you’re planning to fix up or make something as a gift for someone, you can keep those supplies hidden until you’re ready for a big reveal.

#3 Clean Up Your Truck’s Look

A tonneau cover makes a truck look really sharp. 

Truck beds are notorious for being dirty on the inside. They are difficult to keep clean. Tonneau covers help keep dirt and dust out of your truck bed.

Plus, if the cover gets dirty, it’s much easier to clean than the inside of a truck bed.

There are even fiberglass tonneau covers that can be custom-made to match the color of your truck. A sleek black always looks nice, too.

#4 Traps Your Things In

Have you ever worried that your camping stuff is going to fly out of the truck bed doing 75 MPH down the highway?

Well, you’re not alone!

Tonneau covers will ease your mind in this way. There’s no way your stuff can get out of a truck bed with a tonneau cover on it.

#5 Improve Fuel Economy (sometimes)

Though it’s not scientifically proven yet, some people say that tonneau covers help the aerodynamics of your truck.

They say that the air moves around the truck in a more efficient way with a tonneau cover, therefore saving you money on fuel.

The jury is still out on this one, though. However, it’s worth mentioning that a tonneau cover is definitely more aerodynamic than a camper shell that is taller than the cab.

Why is it Called a Tonneau Cover?

Also called a truck bed cover, tonneau covers got their name from the French word for “cask” or “barrel.”

In case you don’t know how to pronounce tonneau, it’s pronounced “tuh-NO” with the stress on the second syllable. It also sounds like the words “to know,” if said quickly.

“Tonneau” refers to the back (barrel-like) area of a vehicle that is open. This word can describe truck beds or a passenger area in a racecar that is open.

Back in the day, racers would use tonneau covers to cover passenger seats when not in use and to reduce drag while racing. 

Even though our automobiles have advanced a lot since then, we can still call the open area of a truck or car a tonneau, and the thing that covers it a tonneau cover. 

Types of Tonneau Covers

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of tonneau covers, we can move on to the advanced features that different tonneau covers offer. Depending on your needs, you may choose one tonneau cover over another. 

Some have different ways of opening, are made of different materials, and have other varying functions. We will cover all the types of tonneau covers now.

#1 One-piece Tonneau Cover

One of the most basic tonneau covers is one solid piece of material. They are rigid and open up at a hinge that’s found behind the cab.

These tonneau covers can be locked to secure your things. With this kind of tonneau cover, though, you will not be able to haul things that stick out of the top of your truck bed.

In this case, you will have to remove the entire tonneau cover.

#2 Roll-up Tonneau Cover

These are the most popular types of tonneau covers. They are usually made up of pliable vinyl material. After installation, these covers can be easily rolled open or shut with the help of strong velcro along the sides of the truck bed.

Roll-up tonneau covers are secure because you are unable to roll them back without first opening the tailgate, making your things inside locked and secure.

These types of tonneau covers are preferable if you need to haul things that will stick out of your truck bed often. You are able to do this simply by rolling the tonneau cover back and securing it.

#3 Hard Folding Tonneau Cover

Also called tri-folding, a hard-folding tonneau cover is made up of three parts that fold up and down. Some models even flip up when folded up towards the truck bed, allowing you to store just about anything in your truck bed.

These hard-top tonneau covers are strong and durable, and they lock securely.

They do not come at a cheap price, though, and they may be difficult to uninstall if you need the full space of the truck bed.

#4 Soft Folding Tonneau Cover

Soft folding tonneau covers operate in the same way that a hard folding cover does, but the material is soft.

This kind of tonneau cover locks from the inside and seals around all the edges, keeping the elements out. 

The pros of this kind of cover are that they are inexpensive compared to the other models, and they usually can easily be lifted off when you need them out of your way.

#5 Retractable Tonneau Cover

Retractable tonneau covers offer you the benefits of a hard-top tonneau cover without the hassle of manually opening and closing it yourself. 

The way you open a retractable tonneau cover is by simply pushing the cover back or with a press of a button. 

These kinds of covers, especially the ones that open electronically, are among the most expensive tonneau covers you can buy.

#6 Toolbox Tonneau Cover

Some pickup trucks come with a toolbox installed in the truck bed. Luckily, there’s a tonneau cover designed for these kinds of trucks, too. 

The only difference between these tonneau covers and normal ones is that they are optimized for 

#7 Snap Tonneau Cover

One of the more affordable options for tonneau covers, snap tonneau covers are very straightforward in design. All you need to do is manually snap the soft cover off and on after installation. 

The snaps on this cover go over the truck bed, making sure your truck bed stays dry.

Handling the snaps may be time-consuming, but they offer the most versatility in opening the cover whichever way you want. This kind of cover may be best for someone not so concerned about security. 

Tonneau Cover: Hard vs Soft

With all these tonneau covers made of different materials, it may be difficult to know whether you need a hard or a soft top.

Here’s a quick pros and cons list to help you make the decision that’s right for you.

Hard Tonneau Cover Pros

  • Most secure option
  • Durable material
  • More streamlined look—the material of a hard cover is usually flush with the inside of the truck
  • Can choose from different finishes like glossy, matte, aluminum, etc.

Hard Tonneau Cover Cons

  • Difficult to uninstall if you need the whole space of the truck bed
  • More expensive
  • Hard, one-piece tonneau covers don’t allow you to haul long cargo

Soft Tonneau Cover Pros

  • More affordable
  • Easy to manually handle
  • Easier to install yourself

Soft Tonneau Cover Cons

  • Least secure option. If someone really wants your stuff, they can cut into a soft cover’s material easily.
  • Sometimes the material is not as durable over time as hard covers
  • Usually only in matte finish

Are Tonneau Covers Universal? 

You may be wondering if the tonneau cover you are keeping your eye on is the right size for your truck and if all tonneau covers are universal. The answer is no, unfortunately as every truck bed is different.

That’s why, when you are shopping around for a tonneau cover, you need to make sure the cover matches your vehicle’s make and model. It would be really annoying to find out the tonneau cover does not fit your truck after you already purchased it.

Rest assured, there is a variety of covers available to you because manufacturers have made specific covers for all makes and models out there. 

Try entering your make and model into the search bar of a tonneau cover online vendor, and you may find covers that are made for your vehicle.

Is a Truck Bed Cover Necessary?

You’ve seen plenty of pickup trucks without any sort of covers on them, which may make you think twice about getting one. Even though a truck bed cover is not a necessity, it is if you care about the stuff you are hauling.

One reason why a truck bed cover may not be necessary is if you never have anything in the truck bed. If this is true, why do you have a pickup in the first place?

Of course, you will be hauling things in your truck, which is why a truck bed cover is almost a necessary item.

The reasons you may see it as a necessity are: your stuff is protected from weather and thieves, from flying out of the truck when driving down the road, and to potentially improve fuel economy.

These savings can encourage you to invest in a truck bed cover in the first place.

Conclusion

Tonneau covers make so much sense when it comes to protecting your precious cargo.

Now that you have much more information about tonneau covers, what kinds there are, and how to pick the right one for you, you can buy one with confidence!

Before you go, make sure to take a look at some of my other tonneau cover articles linked below.

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Hi, I'm the founder of VehicleAnswers.com! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!