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How to Install a Tonneau Cover Right at Home

How to Install a Tonneau Cover
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updated: June 18, 2024
edited by Amber Katz

A tonneau cover protects the items in your truck bed from weather and theft, aesthetically enhances your truck, and may even help you save some gas. But when you buy a tonneau cover, you’ll need to decide whether to install it yourself or have a professional install it for you. To decide, you need to understand the basics of how to install a tonneau cover, what’s involved, and whether you’re up for the job. I’ve installed two covers myself, plus I spoke with experts to get their take on the installation process and what you need to know.

Tools you’ll need for installation

Frank Bisciotti, editor-in-chief of RealTruck, notes that while the specific tools you’ll need will vary depending on the type of tonneau cover you’re installing, you should generally be prepared with the following:

  • A socket wrench set
  • Screwdrivers, including a flathead and a Phillips
  • Clamps
  • Measuring tape
  • Utility knife or scissors to cut any protective film or adhesive strips
  • Cleaning supplies, including a mild detergent, water, and a clean cloth
  • Safety gloves

Preparing the truck bed

Preparing your truck bed can help ensure a smooth installation process. Bisciotti recommends you start by thoroughly cleaning the truck bed and the surrounding area where the cover will sit. Use a mild detergent and water to remove dirt and debris, then completely dry the truck.

Next, check the truck bed and rails for any damage or sharp edges that could interfere with installation. “Remove any obstacles, such as bed liners or toolboxes, unless they are compatible with the tonneau cover you’re installing,” Bisciotti advises.

Best retractable cover
RetraxPRO XR Retractable Truck Bed Tonneau Cover

RetraxPRO XR Retractable Truck Bed Tonneau Cover

Steps to install a tonneau cover

Bisciotti outlines the following steps to install a tonneau cover.

1. Read the instructions

The specific steps can vary depending on the type of tonneau cover you’re installing, so always start by reading the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. Assemble the frame

If your cover requires assembly, start by putting together the frame according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

3. Attach the rails

Next, secure the side rails to the truck bed, making sure they’re aligned and level. “Use clamps to hold them in place if necessary, and tighten the bolts or screws,” says Bisciotti.

4. Install the cover

Place the cover on the rails and secure it according to the instructions. If you have a roll-up or foldable cover, you may need to snap or clamp the cover onto the rails.

5. Adjust and tighten

Adjust the cover so it fits evenly before tightening all of the clamps, bolts, and screws.

6. Test the cover

“Open and close the cover several times to ensure smooth operation and proper alignment,” says Bisciotti.

Using and securing your tonneau cover

Once you’ve installed the tonneau cover, proper usage and maintenance can prolong its life. Bisciotti notes that you should regularly clean the cover with a cleaner recommended by the manufacturer to prevent dirt and debris buildup. Additionally, avoid putting heavy objects on the cover unless it’s specifically designed to support weight. It’s also essential to secure the cover when you drive to prevent it from flapping and getting damaged.

“Regularly inspect the cover and its components for signs of wear and tear, such as loose bolts or worn-out seals, and address any issues promptly,” Bisciotti recommends. When you’re not using the cover, store it according to the manufacturer’s instructions to help prevent damage.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is a tonneau cover?

A tonneau cover, also called a truck bed cover, is a piece of cloth or a hard shell that fits over your truck bed. It protects the items in your bed from theft and the elements, making your vehicle more versatile. Some drivers feel tonneau covers also make trucks look more complete and aesthetically pleasing. To learn more, read my guide, What is a tonneau cover?

What is the average installation time for a tonneau cover?

John Lin, owner of JB Motor Works in Philadelphia, says that the installation time for tonneau covers can average 30 to 60 minutes, but it also varies by brand and type. “Soft covers install more quickly than hard covers,” he says. “Roll-ups are generally easiest, followed by tri-folds and retracting covers.”

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

The decision to install a tonneau cover yourself or hire a professional is a personal choice, though the type of cover you’re installing will affect how difficult the process is. “Most handy truck owners can handle the installation themselves,” says Lin. “However, getting professional help is smart if you’re unsure about drilling into your bed or have a more complex hard cover.”

Is installing a tonneau cover hard?

According to Bisciotti, the difficulty of the installation depends on the type of tonneau cover. Generally, soft roll-up and tri-fold covers are easier to install. Installing a hinged, retractable, or custom hard cover is usually more difficult.

“Certain brands are known for their user-friendly installation processes,” says Bisciotti. “Look for brands that provide clear instructions, detailed installation videos, and customer support. Reviews and ratings from other users can also provide insights into the ease of installation.”

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