Are Tonneau Covers Universal for All Trucks?

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From giving your truck a more aesthetic look to protecting your truck bed and its contents from the elements of weather and even improved aerodynamics, there are several reasons why you should install a tonneau cover on your truck bed.

However, if you want to dodge the costs of installing a custom tonneau cover, you might consider installing a tonneau cover from a different truck model. So, this naturally raises the question: are tonneau covers universal?

In today’s article, we’ll walk you through a brief guide to whether or not tonneau covers work across any truck model, along with everything you need to know about getting the right cover for your needs. Let’s jump right in!

Are Tonneau Covers Universal?

Truck tonneau covers are not universal. You must purchase a truck bed cover that specifically is made to fit your brand of truck, or else it is unlikely that the tonneau cover will fit.

For an item to be universal, it needs to be interchangeable with just about any type of brand, which doesn’t apply in terms of tonneau covers. So, the simple answer here is no. 

The reason behind that is that every tonneau cover out there is designed according to the dimensions and measurements of the truck it’s going to be installed on, and since truck beds come in all shapes and sizes, one cover can’t work with all of them.

Despite that, you shouldn’t be worried about finding the right tonneau cover for your truck, as several manufacturers and brands design covers for a huge range of truck models and brands with a level of customization up to the exact year and make of the same model!

A hard truck bed cover for a Ford 150 is going to be entirely differently sized than a hard tonneau cover for the Toyota Tacoma or one for the Dodge Ram 1500.

In fact, truck bed covers are not universal even if you’re talking about the same brand and model. A tonneau cover that is designed for a 2019 Chevy Silverado may not work on a 2020 or a 2021 Chevy Silverado, so you have to be careful about that and make sure you’re choosing the best Chevy Silverado truck bed cover.

In other words, tonneau covers may not be universal, but you’ll always be able to find custom tonneau covers that are designed for your vehicle model and year.

Sizing the Right Tonneau Cover

A Ford Thunderbird covered with tonneau cover
(photo: Jwportraits / Shutterstock)

As previously mentioned, the size and measurement of each tonneau cover are specific to each truck model. However, compatibility isn’t the only reason why you need to choose the right cover for your tonneau.

In fact, there are several benefits that come with getting the right tonneau cover for your truck. Let’s have a quick look at them.

Dimensions Are Everything

Tonneau comes from a French word that translates to “cask”, “container”, or “barrel”. So, the whole point of using the cover is to keep your cargo in a closed container rather than keeping them out in the open.

In other words, the covers need to cover the entire surface of the truck bed without being too large or too small.

If you get a tonneau cover with a specific dimension that is even a few inches less than its corresponding dimension on the truck bed rail, it will leave a gap that defeats the purpose of using a tonneau cover in the first place.

Similarly, if the tonneau cover features dimensions that are larger than the truck bed rails, it won’t be stabilized over the truck and will put the cover at risk of being unstable.

Enhanced Protection and Organization of Your Truck Bed

The most popular benefit of having a tonneau cover is that it can cover your entire truck bed, which naturally comes with extra advantages. 

For example, it can protect your cargo from the elements of weather, such as rain and moisture, wind, high humidity, as well as dust and debris.

Additionally, hard tonneau covers can be used as a platform to add more stuff to the back of your truck, making it an excellent way to organize your truck bed and create several compartments inside. Moreover, it can protect whatever you keep in the truck from theft.

Naturally, if you want to enjoy all these perks, you have to make sure that you get the right tonneau cover.

Improved Aerodynamics and Gas Mileage

One of the most talked about aspects of buying a tonneau cover is improving aerodynamics. Although it is controversial, many people say that tonneau covers save on gas mileage.

According to a 2007 wind tunnel study to test the effects of tonneau covers on reducing the coefficient of drag in trucks, it was found that the covers actually reduce the drag by an average of 5.73%.

This means that you’ll save more gas by driving a truck with a tonneau cover. In the long run, this will save you more money than you’ve actually paid, making it an excellent investment.

According to the same test, a truck with a more adequately sized cover will achieve a better aerodynamic score and a lower coefficient of drag.

What to Keep in Mind While Buying a Good Tonneau Cover

Now that you know more about tonneau covers and why you should get the right cover for your truck, let’s have a quick look at the aspects that you should keep in mind while buying one:

Type of Tonneau Cover

Tonneau covers aren’t created equal, as they’re made from different materials, and therefore, come in different types of truck bed covers. The best way to categorize tonneau covers is by classifying them into soft and hard covers.

Hard Covers

These are made from solid materials, such as fiberglass or plastic polymers. Thanks to their durable construction, these covers are ideal if you want to keep your truck bed secure and organized rather than just protecting them from the elements.

Soft Covers

These covers are made from elements-resistant fabric to protect from the weather and keep your cargo clean.

Soft covers are installed on trucks by fixing them to the rails of the truck bed using straps, screws, or velcro.

Soft covers are usually the most budget-friendly truck bed covers – such as our top soft tonneau cover pick, the Tyer Auto T3.

Style of the Cover

In addition to the material of your cover, there are various styles that they come into. These designs have different installation mechanisms and can operate differently, including:

  • Folding Cover: They’re made of hard panels that fold on themselves towards the bulkhead of the truck, so they’re usually used in hard covers.
  • Hinged Cover: Another popular type of tonneau cover, which is almost exclusive among hard covers. This design is considered one of the most durable types because it uses a one-piece style that you can lift up when the car is not moving.
  • Retractable Covers: They’re highly convenient because they’re fairly secure while staying easy to access and install. These covers are available as both electric and manual options
  • Rollup Covers: A very popular design due to its ease of installation and affordable price. As the name suggests, this one uses a simple design where interlocking solid panels are rolled on themselves to reveal the content of your truck bed. Another advantage of this style is that, unlike some other styles, it can be opened even while driving.

One thing you should keep in mind is that these types aren’t all available for all kinds of trucks out there, as some of them might be inconvenient or inapplicable in some designs, especially if you’re driving a relatively old model of the truck.

How to Find, Fit, and Install the Right Tonneau Cover

A car parked with tonneau covers in it
(photo: Joseph M. Arseneau / Shutterstock)

One you’ve decided on your ideal type, style, features for your truck, all that’s left is getting and installing your tonneau cover.

First, you’ll need to find the right dimension for your tonneau cover. Ideally, most truck manufacturers will provide dimensions of the truck bed in the user manual.

However, if you don’t have access to this information, there are two options to get the right dimensions for your truck.

The first method is to visit your tonneau cover seller and check if they offer covers based on truck models and years. 

For example, if you have a 2011 Ford F-150, you can check if they offer a tonneau cover that is directly compatible with the model.

The other method is to measure the tuck bed dimensions yourself. To do that, you’ll need to measure from the insides of the rear tailgate to the inside of the bulkhead lying behind the passengers’ cabin. Repeat the same step for the sides of the truck bed rail.

Ideally, the tonneau cover you’re going to buy should fit within a margin of 2 inches of your measured dimensions.

Once you buy the cover, you can let a professional install it or do it yourself. In most cases, the process is fairly straightforward as long as you follow the instructions, which involves installing brackets or guide rails to fit the tonneau over them, although some invasive options require drilling some holes into the rails.

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👉 Read MoreHow to Keep Luggage Dry in Your Truck Bed | 7 Reasons You Should Have a Bed Cover for Your Truck | How Much Does a Tonneau Cover Weigh?

With that said, you now have a complete answer to the common question “are tonneau covers universal?”.

As you can see, tonneau covers are usually meant to cover the exact space of the truck bed, so it’s heavily reliant on the dimensions of the truck bed and its rails. 

For that reason, it’s quite difficult for a tonneau cover of a specific model to fit on a truck bed of a different model.

Lucky for you, a lot of manufacturers design a specific tonneau cover for every single brand and model out there for an unmatched level of precision, so you don’t have to worry about that.

Cover Image: JasonRenfrow / Shutterstock