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How to Install a Tonneau Cover

Tonneau covers are popular accessories for trucks, protecting their cargo from would-be thieves and environmental elements. They also streamline the vehicle to help achieve slightly better fuel economy. With styles including soft roll-up tonneau covers, hard or soft folding covers, and power retractable covers, you have options for appearance, protection, and operation.

Ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to more than $3,000, it’s a worthwhile investment, but once you have it, you need to get it onto your truck. If you’re wondering how to install a tonneau cover, these are the steps you’ll typically take and the tools you need to get the job done.

Tools You’ll Need for Installation

Overwhelmingly, tonneau covers are sold and delivered already assembled. All you need to do is put the cover onto your truck bed and secure it in place. That limits the tools you’ll need to do the job. You’ll need common tools and protective gear like:

  • A utility knife or scissors
  • Wrenches and/or a ratchet and socket set
  • Screwdrivers
  • A power drill and drill bits
  • Measuring tape
  • Gloves
  • Eye protection

Preparing the Truck Bed

The truck bed needs some light preparation before installing the tonneau cover. Dust, dirt, and other abrasive or stuck-on materials can cause scratches or prevent the rails from lining up properly. Also, a bed liner, particularly an over-rail or spray-in bed liner, can interfere with the mounting locations for the rails.

Make sure the bed rails have the clearance they need according to the installation manual for your new tonneau cover, and give your truck a good wash before installing it, particularly focusing on the bed rails.

If your kit includes weather seals, they need to be applied before the tonneau cover rails and hardware are set in place.

Steps to Install a Tonneau Cover

The tonneau cover itself is straightforward to install if you closely follow the instructions. The steps might vary depending on the type you’ve chosen, and we’ll detail a couple of the differences in these steps. 

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1. Lay out the parts

Organize your parts according to each step of the installation guide. Confirm that all of the required parts are present, undamaged, and correct for your vehicle.

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2. Position the rails

The tonneau cover rests on and attaches to the rails.

  • For folding covers and retractable covers, loosely position the side rails on the box rails with the clamps provided.
  • For roll-up tonneau covers, position your rails on the sides AND the tailgate where the Velcro and plastic clips will attach.

Don’t tighten your clamps quite yet.

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3. Align and tighten the clamps

According to the installation guide, positions your rails accurately, measuring where required. Tighten the clamps to the recommended spec, keeping them aligned. Once they’re tight, inspect to make sure they’re still properly positioned. Rolling covers should install any crossmembers at this stage also.

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4. Install the cover on the truck

Place the cover on your truck at the front, behind the cab. For retractable covers, have a second set of hands help you position the cover, since it’s a bulky, heavy box to install. Attach the cover to your truck bed using the clamps and hardware provided.

Close the tonneau cover and check alignment

Once it’s in place, roll or fold out the tonneau cover from the front until it’s fully extended.

  • On retractable covers, ensure it doesn’t bind and it slide smoothly in the tracks.
  • For folding covers, confirm that the latches all engage and the cover sits properly on the bed rails.
  • For roll-up covers, ensure there’s appropriate tension to prevent the top from buffeting in the wind, but not so tight that it could tear.

Adjust the cover if necessary to ensure tight but unrestricted operation.

5. Install drains

Folding and retractable covers typically come with drain tubes to get rid of water that collects in the rails. Install the drain tubes and route them through factory holes in the box. If there aren’t any holes, use your drill to make them where the instructions indicate.

Using and Securing Your Tonneau Cover

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Using and Securing a Tonneau Cover

After installing a tonneau cover, make sure it works like it should. The three different styles operate uniquely, so get familiar with yours right away.

  • For retractable covers, locate the latch. Release it, then slide the cover forward until the rolling section is fully retracted at the front of the truck bed. Pull the strap on the cover toward the tailgate to extend and latch it. Or, if you have a powered retractable cover, simply press the corresponding button on the remote.
  • For folding covers, release the rear-most section and flip it to lay flat on the second section. Repeat the same for the second and third sections as you need, and the fourth if so equipped. With all the sections folded, most covers can be propped open at the front of the bed.  Stand it vertically, then locate the prop rods and attach them. To close, release the ball sockets and simply flip the covers closed, pressing down to latch.
  • For soft rolling covers, untie or unclip the cover from the front. Roll the cover out, applying it to the Velcro on either side and the tailgate. Use the hard plastic tabs to secure it by tucking them into the slot on the outer edge.

Not sure which tonneau cover is right for you? Need assistance with installation? Ask an AutoZone associate. We’re here to help.

FAQ/People Also Ask

What are the different types of tonneau covers available?

There are four different categories of tonneau covers: soft roll-up covers, hard and soft folding covers, retractable covers, and one-piece fiberglass tonneau covers.

What tools do I need to install a tonneau cover?

Basic tools such as a set of wrenches, ratchet and sockets, a knife, a tape measure, and protective gear are usually enough to install a tonneau cover.

How do I prepare my truck bed for installation?

Make sure you don’t have any clearance issues from a bed liner, or it will need to be trimmed away. Then, clean the mounting locations well, and you’re ready to begin your installation.

What is the average installation time for a tonneau cover?

Most installations will take under an hour, but it varies depending on your skill level.

Can I install a tonneau cover myself or should I hire a professional?

A DIYer can usually install a tonneau cover without an issue. However, hire a professional if you aren’t confident in your capabilities.

How do I secure the tonneau cover in place?

Tonneau cover kits come with installation hardware including clamps to hold your tonneau cover to the bed rails.

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