Driving with an open soft roll-up tonneau cover on your pickup truck can seem convenient when you need to quickly access items in the truck bed. However, doing so also comes with safety considerations, legal requirements, manufacturer recommendations, and other factors to bear in mind. This comprehensive guide examines if and how you can legally and safely operate your truck with the soft tonneau cover rolled up and open.
Is It Legal to Drive With the Tonneau Cover Open?
What Are the Laws Regarding Open Tonneau Covers and Truck Beds?
Most areas allow operating a pickup with an open tonneau cover, within certain regulations. The key legal issue is properly securing any items extending past the truck bed’s sides or tailgate.
For example, U.S. federal law requires a red flag or cloth by day or red light by night on items protruding more than 4 feet from the rear. Some states also restrict items extending over 3 feet from the sides. Fines for violating these laws can be $200-$500+.
Can police ticket trucks with open tonneau covers? Yes, if the truck is carrying items not properly marked when protruding over the legal limits. The cover being open itself is not illegal.
Do Local and State Laws Differ on Tonneau Covers?
Most U.S. state laws follow the federal regulations. However, some states have additional rules for securing protruding loads. For example, New York requires all loose materials like dirt, sand, or gravel be covered when transported in open vehicles.
Some cities also restrict loose debris that could blow out from open vehicles. So check your local laws before running with an open tonneau cover and unsecured cargo.
How Can I Follow the Laws With an Open Tonneau Cover?
To legally drive with the soft roll-up cover open:
- Avoid large items protruding more than 4 feet from the tailgate. Or mark them properly.
- Prevent loose materials from blowing out over the truck bed sides.
- If you must haul longer items or loose debris, consider alternative cover options better for securing loads, like a hard tonneau cover.
Proper load securing is the key to remaining compliant with an open cover.
Is Driving With an Open Tonneau Dangerous?
How Does an Open Tonneau Impact Safety?
Driving with the soft tonneau rolled up can create several hazards:
- Reduced rear visibility – With the cover open, it can be difficult to see vehicles and objects behind you through the small rear windshield of most trucks.
- Unsecured cargo – Loose objects in the bed can blow out, potentially damaging other vehicles. Even covered loads are less secure.
- Headache rack function – Many trucks use a rack behind the cab to protect the rear window from shifting loads. But with an open cover, objects could still hit the glass.
- Debris on the road – Materials blowing from the truck bed can create dangerous road debris for other vehicles.
- Impaired truck handling – Open covers create aerodynamic drag that can reduce stability, fuel economy, and performance.
So driving with an open tonneau requires extra caution compared to keeping it fully closed and secured.
What Precautions Should I Take With an Open Cover?
To drive safely with the soft roll-up tonneau open:
- Avoid hauling loose materials that could blow away. Or use a cargo net to secure the load.
- Cinch loads as far forward in the bed as possible.
- Only open the cover partially if needed for quick access.
- Adjust side mirrors to improve rear visibility.
- Activate emergency flashers to alert other drivers.
- Drive slowly and increase following distance behind other vehicles.
- Close the cover fully when practical or before higher speed driving.
Proper loading and extra care can help compensate for the increased hazards of an open tonneau cover.
Do Tonneau Manufacturers Allow Driving With Open Covers?
Why Might Brands Recommend Keeping Tonneau Covers Closed?
Most soft roll-up tonneau cover manufacturers advise against running them open, for several reasons:
- Protecting truck components like the rear window from shifting loads.
- Avoiding unsecured cargo hazards.
- Limiting aerodynamic losses that reduce fuel efficiency.
- Preventing fabric damage like tears or UV fading.
- Validating product testing done in closed conditions.
However, brands realize customers will open covers at times. So they offer general guidelines.
What Do Tonneau Maker Guidelines Say About Open Covers?
Popular soft roll-up brands like Extang, BakFlip, and Truxedo acknowledge possible driving with open covers but recommend:
- Maintaining slower speeds, usually under 45 mph.
- Partially opening covers only when necessary.
- Adding a tailgate support strap for greater stability.
- Using special care with loose loads to prevent loss and damage.
So consult your owner’s manual for any usage directions against open driving and ways to manage added risk.
Could Opening My Tonneau Void the Warranty?
The limited warranties of most soft cover brands will not exclude damage solely from opening the tonneau while driving.
However, issues resulting from unsecured cargo may void claims, since proper load restraint is the owner’s responsibility. Damage from speeds exceeding recommendations could also invalidate warranty repairs.
Overall, read your tonneau warranty carefully to understand what coverage applies when opening it on the road based on usage guidelines.
Tips for Driving With an Open Soft Roll-Up Tonneau
When Might I Need to Drive With the Cover Open?
Despite the drawbacks, situations may require rolling up your soft tonneau cover for access to the truck bed while driving, such as:
- Transporting oversized cargo protruding from the truck bed.
- Quickly grabbing items from the bed at stops.
- Improving ventilation on hot days.
- Allowing precipitation to enter the bed.
- Drying out a wet truck bed.
Assess your particular needs to determine if open operation is unavoidable.
How Can I Improve Safety With an Open Cover?
If you must drive with the soft tonneau rolled up, some good practices include:
- Closing it fully when possible, and opening only partially as needed.
- Adding ratchet straps over the load or a cargo net to contain loose items.
- Placing lighter objects toward the cab and heavier cargo at the rear.
- Reducing speed, following more closely, and taking corners slower.
- Avoiding highways and fast acceleration.
- Using extra side mirrors to improve rear visibility around the open cover.
- Adding reflective safety tape to mark protruding items at night.
What Maintenance Is Needed After Open Driving?
Check your soft roll-up tonneau over thoroughly after extended operation while open for:
- Damage like cracks, holes, or tears in the vinyl fabric.
- Fading or deterioration from added wind and sunlight.
- Debris that could interfere with closing and sealing.
- Loose mounting hardware that needs to be tightened.
- Any load-related dents or damage to the truck bed sides, tailgate, or rear window.
Early repair of tonneau cover issues will help keep your cargo dry and secure.
The Bottom Line – Is Open Driving OK?
Driving with your soft roll-up tonneau cover open is generally legal, if done safely. But manufacturer usage recommendations, added driving hazards, and warranty terms favor keeping tonneau covers closed whenever possible.
Open operation requires strict cargo restraint, slower speeds, special precautions, increased maintenance, and accepting higher risk of damage. For day-to-day use, closed tonneau covers are safest and most efficient.
As with any vehicle modification, proper installation and operation within designed parameters will provide the best utility and peace of mind. So consult both the tonneau maker and your state laws to determine if open driving suits your particular needs and if any restrictions apply.