Pickup truck tonneau covers are a popular accessory that provide extra security and protection for the truck bed. However, like any truck component exposed to the elements, tonneau covers can get dirty over time.
Paying special attention to cleaning the tonneau cover track system is important to ensure smooth operation and prevent premature wear. Follow this comprehensive guide to learn how to properly clean a tonneau cover track system.
What is a Tonneau Cover Track System and Why Does it Need Cleaning?
A tonneau cover track system refers to the metal rails that attach the soft or hard folding tonneau cover to the sides of the truck bed. This rail system allows the cover to slide and fold, providing easy access to the bed while maintaining cargo coverage.
Over time, dirt, debris, and grime can build up inside the tonneau track system. Leaves, dust, sand, mud, and other particles can collect inside the grooved track, especially if you drive on unpaved roads or go off-roading. If not cleaned out regularly, this debris can damage the track system by:
- Causing the cover to bind, stick, or squeak when opening/closing.
- Accelerating wear and tear through abrasion.
- Allowing moisture to be trapped, promoting rust and corrosion.
Therefore, a thorough cleaning is recommended every few months to keep your tonneau in smooth working order.
When Should I Clean the Tonneau Tracks?
Aim to clean the tonneau cover tracks at least 2-3 times per year or every 5,000 miles. More frequent cleaning may be needed if:
- You drive daily on dirt or gravel roads.
- Your truck is used for work or hauling debris/soil.
- Live in an area with high dust or pollen.
- Notice squeaking, sticking, or binding when operating the cover.
The best times to clean the tracks are:
- Spring – To remove any salt, debris, or grime accumulated over winter.
- Summer – After heavy road trip use or off-roading adventures.
- Fall – To prepare for any snow, ice, salt or winter precipitation.
Make quick track cleaning part of your regular truck wash routine. Set a reminder to do a deep clean 1-2 times per year as well.
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Clean Tonneau Cover Tracks
Cleaning your tonneau cover tracks is a simple process that can be done in your driveway or garage in about 15-30 minutes. Here is an easy step-by-step guide:
- Soft-bristle brush (old toothbrush, detail brush, or soft-bristle nail brush)
- Mild soap/detergent (dish soap, Simple Green, etc.)
- Water source (hose, power washer, bucket)
- Clean cloths or microfiber towels
- Flashlight (optional, to see inside tracks)
Steps to Clean Tonneau Tracks
1. Remove Tonneau Cover
The first step is to remove the tonneau cover from the truck bed to access the track system. Consult your owner’s manual for proper removal. Folding covers can usually be unclamped and lifted off the truck.
2. Clear Out Truck Bed
Thoroughly clean out the truck bed itself by removing any items or debris. This allows you to freely access the full length of the tracks.
3. Rinse Away Loose Debris
Use a hose or pressure washer to rinse the length of the track rails, removing any loose dirt or particles on the surface. Avoid directing high-pressure water directly into the track grooves to prevent forcing debris further in.
4. Make a Mild Cleaning Solution
In a bucket or spray bottle, mix together warm water with a small amount of mild detergent or specialized tonneau cleaner. Avoid harsh soaps or chemical cleaners that could damage the track finish.
5. Scrub Entire Track System
Use your soft-bristle brush dipped in the cleaning solution to gently scrub the full length of both track rails. Get into the grooved channels to loosen any stuck-on grime. Take your time to thoroughly clean.
6. Blast Water into Track Grooves
Use a hose, sprayer, or water/air nozzle to rinse away all soap and blast water through the track channels, forcing out any freed debris.
7. Flush Away Residue
Thoroughly rinse the entire track system with clean water to remove any leftover soap residue.
8. Dry Tracks and Bed
Wipe down the tracks with a clean cloth. Once fully dry, reinstall the tonneau cover.
Repeat cleaning on all track rails until you no longer see any dirt coming out. Aim to keep both the rails and truck bed as dry as possible to prevent rusting.
Extra Cleaning Tips:
- For really dirty tracks, let the cleaning solution soak for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing.
- Use a plastic or woodenscraper to dislodge any stuck-on gunk.
- Compressed air can help fully dry out the tracks.
- Protect the tracks after cleaning with a silicone spray or protectant.
Take the time to properly clean your tonneau cover’s track system and you’ll keep it smoothly gliding for years to come. Avoid buildup now to prevent major repair headaches down the road.
What Products Should I Use to Clean a Tonneau Cover Track System?
Having the right cleaning products on hand is key to properly cleaning tonneau cover tracks. Here are the best options recommended by manufacturers:
Mild Soap and Water
An all-purpose mild liquid soap diluted in warm water is a safe go-to for tonneau cleaning. Opt for a product labelled as “gentle”, “sensitive”, or “simple” – dish soaps like Dawn work well. Avoid detergents with strong solvents or chemicals that could damage the track finish.
Specialized Tonneau Cleaners
Look for tonneau cover cleaning products from reputable brands like Lucas Oil, Protect All, ValuGard, or Griot’s Garage. These are formulated to safely dissolve grease and road grime from tonneau covers and tracks.
Mild degreasing agents can tackle oily grime on tracks. Good options include Simple Green or SuperClean diluted 10:1 with water. Avoid harsh orange degreasers, which may damage tracks.
Detail Brushes and Microfiber Cloths
Use dedicated brushes and cloths for tonneau cleaning rather than kitchen or household items. Soft-bristle detail brushes with ergonomic handles provide good grip and reach. Microfiber cloths trap particles without scratching.
Water Hose, Power Washer, or Wet/Dry Vacuum
These make rinsing away dirt and drying tracks faster compared to buckets of water. Adjust pressure washers to a wide-angle low setting. Shop vacs can suck out rinsed debris.
Avoid abrasive tools or materials like steel wool or scouring pads. Also steer clear of silicone, armor-all, tire shine, or wax products as they leave oily residues which attract more dirt. Stick to mild, tonneau-safe cleaners.
Step-By-Step: How to Clean a Retractable Tonneau Cover Track System
Retractable or roll-up tonneau covers have a different track system than folding covers. But cleaning the tracks follows a similar process. Here are the steps to clean a retractable tonneau cover track system:
- Soft-bristle brush
- Mild soap/tonneau cleaner
- Bucket of water
- Clean cloths
Steps to Clean Retractable Tonneau Tracks
1. Roll Up the Tonneau Cover
Use the pull strap to fully retract and roll up the tonneau cover, exposing the entire aluminum track rails.
2. Rinse Away Loose Debris
Spray down the tracks with a hose or pressure washer on low setting to rinse away surface dirt.
3. Make a Mild Cleaning Solution
Mix warm water and a mild soap or specialized tonneau cleaner in a bucket. Use a tonneau-safe product.
4. Scrub the Tracks
Use a soft-bristle brush dipped in the solution to scrub along the track grooves, removing built-up grime.
5. Rinse Away Residue
Thoroughly rinse all soap residue off the tracks using clean water.
6. Dry the Tracks
Wipe down the tracks using a microfiber cloth to dry them completely before retracting the cover.
Repeat cleaning until all debris is removed from the tracks. Avoid soaking any rubber roller components. Regular cleaning keeps retractable covers rolling smoothly.
Common Tonneau Cover Track Cleaning Questions
Cleaning your tonneau cover tracks doesn’t need to be complicated, but some key questions often come up:
Can I use a pressure washer to clean tonneau tracks?
Yes, you can use a pressure washer to clean tonneau tracks but use caution. Keep the nozzle at least 8 inches away and spray on a wide fan setting. Avoid directing high-pressure water into the track grooves. This can force debris in deeper rather than blasting it out.
How do I lubricate sticking tonneau tracks?
Sticking tracks usually just need a thorough cleaning rather than lubrication. But if binding persists, use a small amount of silicone spray lube on the contact points only, wiping away any excess drips or residue that could attract dirt. Never use WD-40 or petroleum greases that could damage the cover.
What if my tonneau tracks show rust spots?
Surface rust on the tracks can be removed with naval jelly rust remover. Use a small brush to scrub it on before rinsing clean. Prevent further rust by keeping the track area clean and dry.
Can I take my truck through an automatic car wash with a tonneau cover?
No, most truck washes can damage a tonneau cover and track system. The brushes are too harsh. Use a touchless wash only. For best results, always hand wash your truck and tonneau cover.
Keeping your tonneau cover tracks debris-free takes some regular effort but prevents so many headaches down the road. Follow these tips to keep your cover smoothly gliding for miles to come! Let me know if you have any other tonneau cleaning questions.