Do Tonneau Covers Save Gas? (The Controversial Answer)

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Driving with a tonneau cover on the truck bed often gives a feeling that the vehicle is going more smoothly. That’s why many pickup owners theorized that tonneau covers decrease fuel consumption. But, is it true? Do tonneau covers save gas?

This seems like a rational assumption since most sports cars come with a streamlined profile. It’s not surprising then that the question of whether tonneau covers save gas pops up a lot. 

In this article, we explore all the studies and tests related to the matter. So read on to get the whole scoop.

Do Tonneau Covers Save Gas? 

The question of whether or not tonneau covers save gas is totally legit one. And the debates that support and contradict have been ongoing for years! That’s because there is still no clear-cut answer that everyone can agree on regarding the question: do tonneau covers save gas?

The primary evidence that tonneau covers save gas comes from SEMA’s wind tunnel experiments, which conclude that a tonneau cover can increase fuel efficiency by around 1.8%. But MythBusters conducted another test around the same time, and their results found that a tonneau cover had no effect at all on fuel consumption.

A third, and more recent, test had a negative opinion about the matter. Consumer Reports test deduced that using a soft tonneau cover actually worsened fuel consumption, but not by much.      

It’s worth mentioning that the MythBusters and Consumer Reports tests weren’t as comprehensive or in depth as SEMA’s test. Also, they all didn’t add the variation in speed or type of tonneau cover as variables in their experiments. 

The bottom line is that it’s quite possible that a hard tonneau cover would save up on gas. Especially while driving on highways at a constant speed. The fuel economy might not be huge, but it could add up over a year’s worth of gas consumption.  

Are Truck Aerodynamics Better With a Tonneau Cover?

A pick-up truck on a muddy trail

To simplify the concept of aerodynamics, it’s the way air pushes back against an object. Whenever you run against the wind, you’d experience that powerful force pushing you back, and you have to put in a lot of effort to overcome that ‘drag’

A neat analogy is often done using water. This is an accurate characterization since air and water are both fluids, and they often behave in a similar manner. The difference is, that you can see and feel what happens with water more than air.  

When you row a boat in a river, you can tell when the current is with you or against you. You can also feel the different effects it has when it’s hitting the side of the boat rather than the front. 

If you’re going against a strong current, it’s best to have a slim streamlined boat, like a racing canoe. It’s much easier to row and steer than a fishing boat with a wide round body. The same applies to vehicles. And it’s a recognized fact that Ferraris and Porches suffer least the drag force of air currents. 

In the case of the truck and the tonneau cover theory, the assumption is that the truck bed interferes with the smooth flow of air, and amplifies the drag forces on the vehicle. Thus, many people believe that adding a tonneau cover will improve the airflow profile, and hence save on gas.  

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) tested various trucks with different types of covers in a wind tunnel. This is the test that gave favorable results regarding fuel consumption. 

The MythBusters little study focused more on the tailgate alternatives. And their best results came with using a mesh tailgate. No tailgate, an open tailgate, or using a cover didn’t show any improvements at all.

You also have to consider how much your tonneau cover weighs when calculating fuel economy. Some tonneau covers, particularly hard truck bed covers, can add a lot of weight to your payload – which, of course, consumes additional gas.

The bottom line is that the evidence is inconclusive as to whether or not truck bed covers save gas. But that’s doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one! Let’s explain why:

Benefits of a Tonneau Cover Besides Fuel Economy

Besides the prospected fuel economy after installing a tonneau cover for the truck bed, there are some good solid reasons to buy a truck tonneau cover that you should know about.

Protection From Harsh Weather

The ruthless sun on a midsummer day can seriously heat up the exposed metal bed of a truck. This can easily damage any heat-sensitive items you might be carrying. Some people use ad-hoc covers to decrease that effect. But that solution doesn’t even come close to the protection that a tonneau cover provides. 

A similar situation happens when it rains or snows. A recurring situation happens when campers carry an open frame generator. Since that machine comes without a solid covering, it can’t be left to the mercy of the elements. A covered truck bed certainly solves the problem.

The bottom line is that tonneau covers, regardless of how much gas they save (if any), are a great way to keep your cargo safe and dry. A tonneau cover is the easiest way to keep your luggage dry in your truck bed.

Theft Protection

Prowlers would put their sticky fingers on any shiny object that gets their attention.  Generators, toolboxes, tailgating materials, and any personal effects you might have in the back of your truck are all fair game to these bad actors. 

A covered truck bed minimizes the possibility that these things would be noticed and stolen. There’s also the option to use latched covers or ones with lock and key.  

Providing an Extra Loading Layer

Some types of tonneau covers – specifically sturdy hard bed covers – are designed to accept an extra layer of loading. You can keep the materials that need to be stowed away below the cover. Then, you can pack up less sensitive boxes on top.

This should keep your things well protected and nicely organized.  

Getting Better Aesthetics 

A truck bed with a gazillion boxes, tools, bags, tools, and random other things isn’t a pretty sight. Pulling a neat cover on top of that little mess instantly transforms the truck from an ogre to a prince! 

There are some covers that can be custom-made to match the color of the truck. This takes the aesthetics a few more steps ahead. Total glam!

If you’re looking to buy a tonneau cover – whether for fuel economy or any of the other benefits mentioned above – be sure to check out our guide to how to pick the best tonneau cover for your particular truck model.

And if you’re on the fence because of the fairly high cost of tonneau covers, you might check out our post on the best budget tonneau covers for some more affordable truck bed covers. Typically a soft tri fold truck bed cover like the Tyger Auto T3 is going to be the cheapest way to protect your truck bed.

Other Ways to Save on Gas for Your Truck

Gas pump nozzle on a pick-up truck

The savings you’d get from using a Tonneau cover on your truck’s bed are certainly one reason to consider a tonneau cover. However, they might easily be offset by driving style, ignored maintenance, or other avoidable causes. 

Here are some of our best tried and true tips to lower your gas bill:  

  1. Starting and stopping all day long in heavy traffic gobbles up gas like a hungry crocodile! As much as possible, try to choose the times when the streets are a little less packed to hit the roads. 
  2. Clogged air filters and aging oil filters affect gas usage in a nasty way. Many drivers can’t see the link between these mechanical parts and gas usage. 

Simply put, a suffocated air filter decreases the efficiency of burning gas. Bad oil filters make it harder for the moving parts of the motor to do their thing. These two factors alone can improve gas usage significantly. 

  1. Use the right size of tires for the truck, and make sure they’re not expired, or their marks erased. Also, keep them inflated to the proper pressure. This depends on the kind of road you use and the time of year. Tires affect gas usage, so keep them in good shape. 
  2. Visit the service station routinely to make sure that the truck suspension is in mint condition and all the tires are properly aligned. This check takes around a quarter of an hour, and if adjustments are needed that takes half an hour tops. 

It’s also not terribly costly. And the benefits in terms of gas savings and comfortable driving are totally worth it.   

  1. Cruise control is a lovely option, but occasionally, it can use up more gas than you’d normally use. 
  2. Take the better roads, if that option actually exists. Off road tracks and bumpy roads force the truck to work more, and this extra effort translates into higher gas bills. 
  3. Drive nicely! Burning up your wheels, and flooring the gas pedal, is energizing. The buzz pumps tons of adrenaline, but it also guzzles tons of extra gas. A smooth drive, with easy acceleration and deceleration, goes a long way in gas economy.     

Where Does the Name ‘Tonneau’ Come From? 

The name tonneau cover actually comes from France. And it means barrel!

So how did that foreign name end up describing truck bed covers in the US? 

Interestingly, many car parts come with a French name. The tonneau has some history in the automobile industry, which made it a common word among commuters, even outside of France, and the whole European continent.  

Among the earliest mentions of the word tonneau was the description of the 1910 Buick’s passenger seats

These seats were rounded like a barrel, and they could be accessed from the side. Other car models had the entrance to the passenger seats at the back, like the 1903 Sunbeam. Since the automobiles were open-framed, these seats often needed a covering of some type. 

The first tonneau covers were made from leather or canvas. And this convention soon caught on with convertible cars, race cars, and many other sports cars that made use of the debonair look of an open frame, along with the protection of a movable cover. 

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👉 Read MoreCan Tonneau Covers Go Through a Car Wash?

The direct answer to the question”do tonneau covers save gas” is … maybe a little. The best estimate is that applying such a cover could increase fuel consumption efficiency slightly. This means that any financial gains would appear after a significant amount of time. 

There are some worthwhile benefits to having a tonneau cover though. The most important is protecting your cargo from theft, heat, rain, and snow. It also adds a neat look to your pickup. Just be sure to pick the right tonneau cover, because truck bed covers are not universal

As for gas consumption, luckily, there are several practices that can lower your fuel bills. At the same time, they’re mostly good practices that keep your car in great shape. A total win-win!