Tonneau covers: Different types and how they're installed
Updated 19 Dec 2019
What is a tonneau cover?
A tonneau is a section of a vehicle that is open at its top and can be either a cargo or passenger area. Tonneau covers come in hard or soft options and in various designs, and all have the same function of covering the open area to secure and protect items.
There aren’t too many modern vehicles that require such protection for the passenger compartment but there are certainly plenty of utes that have open trays or tubs that can benefit from a tonneau cover.
Laws in Australia require ute drivers to cover and safely secure their loads. From a basic cover and hook system to auto-tilt and lock options, there is sure to be a tonneau cover to suit your vehicle and ensure you don’t get on the wrong side of the law.
Types of tonneau covers
There are certain factors that will determine which tonneau cover can be fitted to your ute. Every make and model of ute will be different due to the shape and size of the tub or tray, and factory or aftermarket accessories - including headboards, sports bars or grab rails - will need to be considered when fitting a cover.
There is a broad range of brands available in Australia, including Aeroklas, Coverworld, Tuff Tonneaus, Ute Covers Direct, Aussie Tonneaus, and Line-x.
Soft tonneau covers
Soft tonneau covers are generally made of aluminium, vinyl or plastic and are the least expensive option. The covers attach at the front of the tray or tub (behind the cab) and then drape over the rear. The edges of the cover are secured to the tray or tub sides by methods such as clips or ropes. When not in use, a soft cover can usually be removed from the vehicle. Soft covers will generally require at least one or two steel support bars that sit across the tub or tray spans to prevent it from sagging in the middle.
Types of soft covers:
Clip on: A low profile, seamless option, this cover clips into a rail along the top of the tub or tray
Bunji/bungee: These covers have stretchy loops that hook over buttons positioned on the side of the tub or tray
Rope: Stretchy cord is threaded through eyelets within the cover and is used to loop over hooks or buttons on the side of the tray or tub
Hard tonneau covers
Usually made out of fibreglass, plastic or aluminium, these covers are a more expensive install but being of solid construction they are more durable, weather resistant and secure. Some can also be colour coded to your vehicle and work in conjunction with the security and central locking system. They may appear to be a permanent option but some can be easily removed. Regular washing of the vehicle should keep the cover in good condition.
Types of hard covers:
Hinging: This cover tilts up at the rear as a single piece or comes split into sections that tilt sideways. The cover works on hinges and gas struts
Folding: The cover is segmented into three or four panels which can be folded up towards the cab. This cover utilises hinges and supports and its design allows the vehicle to be driven with the cover open and offers full access to the tray or tub.
Reasons for installing a tonneau cover
- Secure expensive equipment
- Regulations require loads to be covered
- Protect loads from rain or dust
- Equipment is hidden out of sight
- Safely secure loads
- Looks good
- Protects the tray or tub
Who can install a tonneau cover?
There are specialist independent tonneau cover suppliers and installers in most metropolitan areas. However, it would appear to be common practice for tonneau covers to be shipped for the customer to install themselves or for the customer to employ the services of another party to do the fitment. They do come with installation instructions but some of the more fancy covers will need some expert installation and it’s recommended a local supplier and fitter be found to do the job right.
Things to consider
- Soft tonneau covers may need to be sprayed with a protectant to help it stand up to the elements and increase its lifespan
- Some tonneau cover installations will require holes to be drilled into the tray or tub and rails or tracks to be installed
- Will you need to lock the cover?
- Do you need a cover that is easy to remove?
- Does the cover need to be weather resistant?
- When ordering a tonneau cover, make sure you know exactly what your vehicle make and model is and advise of any factory or aftermarket accessories on or around the tray/tub
- Does the supplier offer an installation service?
Not after a Tonneau install?
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Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars. This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.