Should You Buy a Tricked-Out Tonneau Cover or One That’s Basic?
It’s all a matter of what you’re going to do.
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Fancy or basic? Expensive or affordable? We ask ourselves these questions whenever we’re presented with a choice between two products at different price points. They do the same thing, but it’s so hard to actually pick whether you drop the cash or find a good deal. It’s the starting point for so many head-to-head product reviews available at your fingertips. But is that question warranted when you consider something like a tonneau cover?
Now, when I set off on this hands-on test, I had originally thought this would be a strict comparison between the reasonably priced Gator SRX roll-up tonneau cover and the far more expensive RetraxPro MXPro MX tonneau cover. It’d be good consumer information. And my preconceived notion was that I’d likely find the RetraxPro MX better in every metric because of all the features it came with compared to the very basic roll-up Gator SRX. But that’s not what happened.
Over the course of the last two months, I used both tonneau covers extensively, testing them in rain and through car washes, a trip to Los Angeles from Utah through the scorching hot Death Valley sun, and up and down our mountain with all manner of things stored in the bed. I even threw two motorcycles and a new refrigerator into it. I also put them together myself. A full ownership experience for both tonneau covers. But what I found at the end of the test, and while writing this story, was that comparing the two is like comparing a Ford Ranger to a Ford Mustang. Both are Ford products, both are good, but they’re designed for two very different buyers. And so are these tonneau covers.
I started the test with the lower-priced Gator SRX—$289 at the time of writing—as I figured it’d be the easiest to install. And I was correct. The Gator SRX went in without a hitch, though I found that the directions weren’t as clear in the orientation of the rear roll-up and how it connected to the sidebars. I figured it out, but it took me a few extra minutes.
As far as construction, the Gator SRX feels well-built. The leather tonneau cover itself is strong enough to throw a medium-sized bag on top of it, and the cross bars seem stout. I will say that the design could be improved in terms of weather resistance, but only in the corners near the cab. There’s just enough of a gap between the seals that a small amount of water ingress can occur.
But what I like the most about the Gator SRX is that it doesn’t take up any room, nor reduces the capability of my Ridgeline’s bed. When not in use, it just rolls up and out of the way, letting me throw whatever large items into the bed as Honda intended. During my test, I threw in a new refrigerator as ours died, a couple of motorcycles, and five sheets of drywall. It didn’t interfere with the truck’s bed capacity at all and fit my needs perfectly. That wasn’t exactly the case with the RetraxPro MX.
Now, the RetraxPro MXPro MX—$2,149 at the time of writing—is a burly thing. It’s a hard-topped, roll-up tonneau cover. It has a lock to ensure all your valuables are safe and protected. And its weather resistance is choice, not letting a single ounce of water in whenever we took it through a car wash or through a rain storm. It fully encapsulates your bed and makes it incredibly safe. But because of that, it takes up a lot of bed room.
Installing the RetraxPro MX is a more intricate affair, as it’s heavy and cumbersome. Two people are absolutely needed for this install. The tonneau cover comes in two large boxes; one for the side rails, the other with the entire tonneau cover roller assembly. For the most part, the instructions are pretty clear, though pay attention to the arrows in the diagrams, as they’ll help you identify exactly how the roll-top needs to be manipulated in order to get the side rails to line up.
Once in, operating the tonneau cover is as easy as pushing and pulling the cover back and forth. And damn is this thing strong. It can support up to 500 pounds of static weight, which I immediately tested by hopping up onto it. There was slight flex, but nothing that would indicate it would collapse under anything outside a hippopotamus’ heft. That’s perfect for those on a jobsite and need to organize all their gear or have another shelf to put things on. It also survived Death Valley’s heat, our mountains gravel and dirt roads, and my children without issue.
What I didn’t like was how much it reduced the capacity of my bed, as well as needing two of my integrated tie-downs into the assembly of the cover. But having the ability to properly lock your bed and store your gear is incredibly handy, and I get why folks would want it. In fact, two neighbors who work as contractors stopped by and after showing off the RetraxPro MX, said it was a far better solution than their current roll-up soft tonneau covers. They both really liked the hard exterior and the lock, which would keep all their tools safe wherever they parked. And that gets us back to the real question folks should ask themselves.
Personally, I love the Gator SRX tonneau cover, but that’s because it fits my lifestyle. I haul a lot of things and don’t want to lose bed capacity. The Gator SRX is perfect for that, as it just rolls up to the back of the cab and doesn’t remove the factory tie-downs. But the RetraxPro MX is perfect for those folks who need a lockable storage solution for their truck, such as contractors or work crews who throw all their very expensive tools into their bed. Seriously, if I had a bed full of DeWalt or Milwaukee tools that I parked somewhere each day, I’d get the RetraxPro MX.
So yes, there is a pretty vast price difference between the two. And the RetraxPro MX has more features and is more durable than the Gator SRX. But the question of which is better isn’t really apt. The question of what you do with your truck, however, is. Do you need the full capability of your truck’s bed or do you need a lockable, durable solution to keep your gear safe? Ask yourself that, then pick the right tonneau cover for you.