Best Retractable Tonneau Covers: Secure Your Truck Bed
Secure your truck bed with these top retractable tonneau covers
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PUBLISHED ON June 3, 2019
The truck bed is perhaps the most vulnerable spot in any pickup truck, especially for loose items sitting around the bottom. This is why many truck owners take extra lengths to secure the bed as much as possible. While typical soft tonneau covers do a good job of protecting the bed from the elements, only a true hardcover will offer a greater level of theft resistance and prevention. If you want a good deal of protection and a way to access the bed, the only real solution is a retractable tonneau cover. To learn why a truck bed cover may be the right solution for you, check out the rest of our handy guide below.
- Best OverallRoll-N-Lock M-SeriesSummarySummaryThe best overall tonneau cover that balances good protection and weather and impact resistance with an affordable price.ProsProsSmooth operation. The cover rolls in and out of the housing quickly. The housing itself doesn't take up too much space within the bed of the truck.ConsConsInstallation is straightforward, but the included instructions are confusing. Users may need to refer to video tutorials instead.
- Best ValuePace Edwards SwitchbladeSummarySummaryOne tonneau cover that offers more design features than other common retractable options.ProsProsFeatures a low-profile design that blends with many truck styles and helps keep wind noise down at highway speeds. Easy to open and use.ConsConsInstallation requires extra time to align the guide rails correctly.
- Honorable MentionRetraxPRO XRSummarySummaryA unique retractable tonneau cover with integrated accessory rails to mount weekend toys like bikes and cargo racks.ProsProsUses two rack tracks along the sides to hold crossbars for roof-mounted accessories. Cover remains accessible and easy to use even with racks mounted above.ConsConsInstallation can require extra people to mount the heavy sidebars correctly. Expect some troublesome alignment before everything runs smoothly.
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Why Buy a Retractable Truck Bed Tonneau Cover
- Protect the truck bed. An open truck bed is exposed to the elements and would-be thieves. Without a solid, rigid barrier to put over the top, there isn't much else you can do to protect the opening. Retractable tonneau covers offer some rigid protection to prevent or at least slow down thieves. Many hard tonneau covers also keep out most of the weather elements like rain and snow.
- Access the truck bed quickly. Retractable covers tend to offer a good balance between protection and bed access. You don't have to take them completely off, and you can retract them fully if you want to leave the bed open for larger items. Best of all, many have a simple locking mechanism so you can access the truck bed whenever you want, even without opening the tailgate in some cases.
- Improve fuel efficiency. The gains on the depend on the cover and the make and model of the truck, but in general, most tonneau cover owners notice a slight increase in fuel efficiency because of improved aerodynamics. An open truck bed creates a lot of wind resistance that can eat away at the fuel economy. The tonneau cover smoothes out the lines for air to pass over the bed.
Top Brands of Retractable Tonneau Covers
With a background in sailing parts, Pace Edwards landed in the automotive truck industry in 1988 as one of the first companies to offer a retractable cover. Since that time, the company has expanded its line to include many manual and motorized options for different trucks. A good look at the Pace Edwards Switchblade will give you a great idea of the quality Pace Edwards upholds in its product line.
Founded in 1996, Retrax has been a well-known automotive accessories manufacturer due to its high standards of quality and versatility. Its bed covers, ranging from panels to retractable options, all offer a tight fit and some extra usefulness hidden in the design. The company's high-end cover, the RetraxPRO XR doubles as a bed rack for accessories. The RetraxOne MX is also a good contender.
Retractable Tonneau Cover Pricing
- $1000 and under: This is the budget range of tonneau covers with a retractable mechanism. Since these covers are more expensive than other types, this is a good area to consider if you want something basic for your truck without spending too much on extra features and accessories you may not use. For the most part, retractable covers in this range will be simple in design and installation but will lack additional security and convenience features.
- $1000 and above: Above the $1000 mark, cover options tend to offer more in terms of accessories and capabilities. Enhanced locking mechanisms and more durable covers are common. You may also find some covers with extra accessories like motorized covers and built-in rack systems.
When it comes to the utility of a tonneau cover, the cover itself determines how much protection it will offer. This is where the differences between many types of tonneau covers come into play. For example, soft covers do well with weather resistance but often fail to provide a decent amount of theft protection. For retractable bed covers, the materials are what matter most. Strong metals like steel and aluminum are the best, especially when combined with padding like vinyl for extra weather protection.
To keep people out when you don't want them in your truck bed, you will need a lock. Some covers come with a heavy-duty lock you can access from the top of the retractable section. Here, these tend to be the most convenient for accessing the bed quickly and still keeping it protected when needed. A few retractable designs lack a lock and, instead, opt for a latch that is concealed by the tailgate. This way, if you have a locking tailgate, you can keep the cover closed and locked without the extra hardware.
The one area many retractable truck bed covers suffer in is weather resistance. Most are resistant to the elements themselves, but they can have a difficult time keeping moisture out of the truck beds in bad weather conditions. Good weather sealing around the edges and corners is a must. In general, a cover that manages to keep most moisture out, except for out of the corners, is best.
- Truck Bed Size: For any tonneau cover to really work—retractable, roll-up, or otherwise—it needs to actually fit the top of the bed. This is why many manufacturers create different varieties of their cover models to fit different makes and models of trucks like Ford F-150s and Chevy Silverados. Make sure you know the exact size of your truck bed, including the width, before looking at major cover options. A bed liner can also interfere with the fit.
- Other Accessories: Many tonneau covers tend to not play well with other accessories like ladder racks in the bed of a truck. Anything that uses the stake pockets, in particular, may have compatibility issues that sit above the bed rails. Some, however, have a narrow profile to allow room. Others get around this issue by incorporating additional accessories or mounting parts, like roof rack rails, instead.
Best Retractable Tonneau Covers Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Roll-N-Lock M-Series
The Roll-N-Lock M-Series tonneau cover is one of the best truck cover options when you want to maximize the space leftover in the bed. The vinyl and aluminum construction of the rolling cover fits into a compact housing that takes up a smaller footprint than some other competitor models. The materials also provide a good amount of weather and impact resistance.
Functionality is where this cover really shines. The torsion spring inside the housing does a good job of getting the cover to roll in and out smoothly. The lock is easy to use to secure the bed from the outside. Installation is also fairly straightforward as long as you can get past the confusing instructions.
Said instructions are the main drawback of this cover option. The text in the instructions is difficult to follow, especially if you have never installed a retractable tonneau cover before. To circumnavigate the issue, it's better to refer to video installation tutorials. Otherwise, the installation just takes a little bit of time to get done.
Best Value: Pace Edwards Switchblade
It can be difficult to find a high-quality retractable tonneau cover in the bottom budget range of covers, but the Pace Edwards Switchblade cover is a strong competitor. It offers a lot of design features that are common with higher-priced models at the fraction of the cost. It also has a low-profile design perfect for preserving the truck's looks.
Using aluminum panels with a polymer finish, Pace Edward's ArmorTek deck does a good job of keeping the basic weather elements out of the truck bed. The sleek design blends well into the bed as well, preserving the bed rails for other accessories on some truck models (others may have the stake pockets blocked).
Unfortunately, this isn't the easiest cover to install. Like many retractable truck covers, precise alignment is necessary to get everything running smoothly. The guide rails on the sides, for example, take some time to get properly aligned so the cover cand slide in and out of the housing without getting hung up anywhere.
Honorable Mention: RetraxPRO XR
The RetraxPRO XR is one of a few tonneau covers that solves a common problem with anyone wanting to fit racks and accessories onto the bed rails: space issues. Many tonneau covers take up space on the bed rails, blocking access to the stake pockets ladder racks need to mount onto the truck. With the XR, however, the cover offers another solution.
Two long rack tracks, similar to the tracks installed on a vehicle's roof to hold crossbars, run parallel between the cover. These tracks can accept a number of popular roof racks from Yakima, Thule, and others. This makes it easy to carry things like bikes and cargo racks above the cover.
The cover itself is high in quality and does a good job of keeping moisture out, save for the corners of the truck bed and around the edges of the cover. Installation requires some extra effort given the heavier side rails. In most cases, two or more people make the installation process much easier.
- Make sure you read the installation instructions before you begin to mount a tonneau cover to your truck bed. The installation process can go more quickly if you know what to expect and what tools you will need before.
- All retractable tonneau covers take up some room in the truck bed. When you are trying to determine how much space you'll have left in the bed when the cover is in the open position, measure the depth of the housing of the cover. The housing tends to take up the most space.
- To get a retractable cover aligned on the first try requires some correct measurements. The guide rails on the sides have to be perfectly perpendicular for smooth operation. So, take a few different measurements, have a second eye check it out, and take your time before fastening everything down.
Q. Are retractable covers better than other tonneau options?
A. If you value quick access to the bed and a good amount of protection from the weather and theft, this type of cover is your best bed. Single-lid and paneled tonneau covers offer the same, if not more, protection from thieves but are harder to access quickly. Soft covers are great for weather resistant but don't offer too much resistance against break-in attempts.
Q. What will I need to install a retractable cover?
A. This depends on the model and your vehicle. Most use a three-piece setup that includes the housing, cover, and two support rails. To install these, most kits simply require basic tools like a socket wrench for the fasteners. Few may require pre-drilling holes into the truck bed itself, but most use simple clamps that work with the bed without any modifications.
Q. Which is safer: a tonneau cover with a lock or one that works with the tailgate?
A. The amount of protection both offers depends on the materials used for the cover itself. Any cover made of metal will offer the most amount of protection with the right locking mechanism. An integrated lock is best for non-locking tailgates to offer some level of protection and can be convenient to access the bed without putting the gate down. If the tailgate does lock, you can choose one that can only be opened when the tailgate is down.
A true high-quality tonneau cover, the Roll-N-Lock M-Series delivers where it counts the most: protection and more protection.
The best tonneau cover for value is the Pace Edwards Switchblade, which actually has a lot to offer with a price tag that is almost half of what some competitors charge.