What Are the Different Types of Tonneau Covers?

Pickup trucks are a blank canvas, and it’s no wonder that their owners deck them out in all kinds of truck accessories. Not only are these add-ons able to reflect your personality, but they can transform your vehicle’s functionality too. One of the most common and practical accessories happens to be a tonneau cover.  

At the most basic level, a tonneau cover is a panel that spans your truck bed. They could be made of light-duty, flexible materials or hard plastic, metal, or fiberglass. It can be configured in a bunch of different ways and can lift, roll, or fold to get you access to that precious cargo space underneath. And speaking of precious, it’s a great way to keep prying eyes and hands off your valuables. Whether intended or not, tonneau covers also streamline your truck which might even benefit you with slightly improved driving dynamics and fuel economy.

If you’re trying to choose a new tonneau cover or replace a tattered one on your vehicle now, there are a bunch to choose from. Check out the different styles available before you make your selection. 

Over-rail or Flush Mount: Which Tonneau Cover is Better?

Among all the different types of tonneau covers, there are two broad categories they’ll fall under: over-rail or flush mount. Over-rail tonneau covers fasten on top of the bed rail while flush mount covers fit between the bed rails. Naturally, that means flush mount tonneau covers are narrower than over-rail covers, but there are a few benefits to each type to consider.

Over-rail tonneau covers tend to:

  • Give a little more cargo room in the truck bed, simply due to a few inches more height underneath. 
  • Seal out moisture better since it wraps over the edge of the bed.
  • Install a little easier.
  • Come off more easily if you need to remove it.

Flush mount tonneau covers:

  • Are more streamlined and appear less bulky.
  • Tend to be more secure since they can’t be opened without dropping the tailgate.
  • Can often open fully for bed access without completely removing the cover.

In the end, there are great options in both styles, so you’ll need to make that decision based on your needs.

Which tonneau cover style offers better security?

Black Tonneau Cover

Whether you’re a contractor, camper, or someone just transporting valuable items from time to time, getting your gear ripped off is hugely inconvenient. Tonneau covers inherently help to avoid theft by helping eliminate the temptation for a five-finger discount. No cover is 100% perfect at stopping a thief, but certain styles are better than others.

Hard covers are obviously better than soft covers since they’re not so easily slashed or broken to get access into the box. Over-rail tonneau covers can be pried away from the bed rail if someone were so inclined, although a keyed lock at the tailgate helps to deter thieves. Hard-cover flush mount or roll-top tonneau covers are a great solution for security since they combine latches, locks, and solid panels to protect your stuff. Again, it’s a choice you’ll have to make.

Types of Tonneau Covers

Let’s review the types of tonneau covers and the benefits they provide. From there, you can make an informed decision on which is best for you.

Soft Roll-Up Tonneau Cover

Usually, the least expensive option to keep your tools or what-have-you out of the elements is a soft roll-up tonneau cover. Rails are mounted on top of the bed rails to secure a fabric panel, whether it’s vinyl or canvas-like material. When they’re rolled, straps behind the cab hold it in place. Some options like Leer Soft Roll-Up Tonneau Cover simply use tension to keep them taut, held in place by premium hook-and-loop closures. Others have crossbars to prevent something like a snow load from making it collapse.

LEER Soft Roll-Up Tonneau Cover

Retractable Roll-Up Tonneau Cover

One of the more expensive options is a retractable roll-up cover. This is a flush mount-style tonneau cover that usually incorporates a lock at the tailgate. When it’s released, tension springs pull it to the front of the box into a box where it’s coiled. The panel is quite solid when in use, formed by metal slats across the bed. One of the most popular options is a LEER Roll-Up Retractable Tonneau Cover with sizes to fit most makes and models.

LEER Roll-Up Retractable Tonneau Cover

Hard Folding Tonneau Covers

Arguably the most popular tonneau covers on the market today are hard folding covers. Some styles are over-rail but most are flush-mounted. Depending on the manufacturer, they could be foam-core aluminum panels or hard plastic. Since they’re mounted flush, they tend to be more secure if your tailgate locks. If it doesn’t lock, side locks on the cover can help prevent unwanted opening. When you need access to the box, the panels flip and fold forward. Some even flip up and secure at the back of the cab, giving unintended back window protection. You’ll find tri-fold and quad-fold styles from a variety of manufacturers like the extremely popular BAKFlip MX4 Hard Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover.

BAK BAKFlip MX4 Hard Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover

Soft Folding Covers

Want a folding cover without the high cost? The style is also available with soft panels. It’s essentially a hybrid of the soft roll-up cover and a hard folding cover. It’s typically an over-rail design and vinyl or canvas material, but it can be opened more easily by folding it like the hard cover style. A tri-fold option like the Extang Trifecta 2.0 Soft Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover comes highly rated, and quad-fold options are available too.

Extang Trifecta 2.0 Soft Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover

Solid Fiberglass Tonneau Cover

When style trumps function, a solid fiberglass cover could be right for you. These covers are over-rail designs but are more dust-resistant and watertight than others since they can be sealed with weatherstripping. They’re a solid panel that hinges up from behind the back window and they’re quite cumbersome to remove. Where they’re an attractive option is when a color-matched cover is your desire since they are painted to match. Expect a solid folding fiberglass cover to cost three to four times as much since it’s a one-piece molded part and requires paint, plus likely you’ll want professional installation.

Are you in the market for truck accessories like tonneau covers, running boards, or aftermarket bumpers? At AutoZone, you’ll find dress-up and functional accessories as well as repair and maintenance parts for any vehicle you own. If you need help choosing the right style or fitment, an associate can help with Trustworthy Advice.

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