Pickup truck tonneau covers provide many benefits – protecting cargo from the elements, securing belongings, and improving gas mileage by reducing drag. But over time, the hinges on folding covers can wear out or break.
Damaged hinges not only prevent the cover from folding properly but can also lead to the cover coming loose at high speeds. Fortunately, repairing broken tonneau cover hinges is a straightforward DIY project if you follow some simple steps.
Why Do Tonneau Cover Hinges Break?
Tonneau cover hinges are under constant stress from opening and closing the cover and enduring road vibrations at highway speeds. This repeated movement puts strain on the hinge components and mountings.
Hinges can succumb to metal fatigue over time and eventually crack or break. Corrosion from exposure to the elements can also weaken the hinges. Hard impacts from objects striking the cover can damage the hinges suddenly.
Common problem areas include:
- Hinge knuckles – The joints where the hinge leaves pivot can crack from metal fatigue.
- Hinge brackets – The mounts securing the hinges to the cover and truck bed can loosen or shear off.
- Hinge pins – These can bend or shear from excessive force or corrosion.
So while hinge damage is usually gradual, hard impacts or faulty installations can also be to blame. Regular inspections and lubrication will maximize hinge life, but most will need replacing eventually.
How Can I Tell If My Tonneau Hinges Are Damaged?
It’s important to periodically inspect your tonneau cover hinges for signs of wear or damage. Here are some key things to look for:
- Looseness – Grab the cover and gently shake it. There should be minimal sloppiness if the hinges are tight.
- Incorrect folding – The cover may not fold smoothly or lock properly into place if hinges are damaged.
- Noise – Listen for squeaking or grinding sounds as you open and close the cover, which can indicate worn hinge joints.
- Visible cracks or damage – Check hinge knuckles, brackets, and pins closely for cracking, bending, or corrosion.
- Cover sag – If the cover sags and no longer sits flush with the bed, broken hinge brackets could be the culprit.
Addressing damaged hinges quickly prevents further wear and potential cover failure down the road. Don’t ignore any symptoms of hinge damage or deterioration.
What Type of Replacement Hinges Do I Need?
Once you determine damaged hinges need replacing, the next step is sourcing the right replacement parts. There are a few key factors to get right for proper hinge selection and fitment:
- Manufacturer – Replacement hinges should come from your tonneau cover’s original manufacturer if possible for the best fit.
- Cover model – Each cover model typically has hinges specific to its design. Consult your owner’s manual or manufacturer.
- Hinge type – There are different hinge designs like pintle, weld-on, clamp-on, and bracket. Get the same type as original.
- Size – Measure the original hinge length and thickness. New hinges should match up exactly.
- Mounting style – Ensure the replacement matches the original’s mounting method (bolt-on, riveted, welded, etc).
- Material – Hinge material affects durability. Quality stainless steel hinges withstand corrosion.
With the right replacements that replicate your original hinges, you can be confident the repair will go smoothly and last.
How Do I Remove the Tonneau Cover to Access the Hinges?
Before swapping damaged hinges, the first step is gaining access by removing your tonneau cover. Folding covers are secured in a few common ways:
- Snap clamps – Release the cover’s snaps along the bed rails. This allows you to fold it up.
- Hand twist clamps – Turn these 1/4 turn to disengage the cover and fold it.
- Quick-release latches – Unlatch these hardware pieces from the bed rails to open the cover.
- Bolts/rivets – Covers secured with hardware will need some disassembly using the proper tools.
With the cover released, fold it open and rest it on its hinges unless the full cover needs removal. Avoid letting it hang vertically unsupported.
Use care when opening painted covers to avoid damaging the finish. With the cover folded back or removed, you can now access the hinge hardware.
How Do I Remove Broken Tonneau Hinges for Replacement?
Once you gain access to the hinges, it’s time to remove the damaged ones in preparation for the new replacements:
Step 1: Remove Hinge Covers or Caps
- Pry off any rubber gaskets or end caps covering hinge bolts.
Step 2: Support the Cover Panel
- Have a helper hold up the cover panel or rest it safely on a raised surface. Don’t let it hang unsupported.
Step 3: Remove Mounting Hardware
- Remove any bolts, rivets, or clamps that secure hinges to the cover and bed.
Step 4: Detach Hinges from Mounts
- If welded, you’ll need to grind the welds off to detach hinges.
Step 5: Inspect Mounts
- Check hinge mounting brackets or holes for any damage. Repair if needed.
Step 6: Clean Mounting Areas
- Remove any rust, old sealant, or debris from hinge contact areas for good fitment.
Taking your time to properly remove the damaged hinges prepares for a smooth installation of the new replacements.
What’s the Best Way to Install New Replacement Hinges?
Putting in new hinges is essentially the reverse of removal. Here are some tips for properly installing replacement tonneau cover hinges:
Step 1: Check Fit and Alignment
- Test fit the new hinges first before final mounting. Ensure proper cover alignment.
Step 2: Apply Sealant to Contact Areas
- Put a bead of automotive sealant on hinge mounting surfaces to prevent moisture entry.
Step 3: Install Mounting Hardware
- Use the manufacturer’s torque specs when tightening any bolts or rivets. Don’t overtighten.
Step 4: Align Hinge Barrels
- Make sure barrels are oriented correctly for smooth pin insertion.
Step 5: Insert Hinge Pins
- Lubricate pins with white lithium grease before inserting into barrels.
Step 6: Replace Any Hinge Caps or Covers
- Snap caps back into place and reinstall any rubber gaskets.
Step 7: Confirm Proper Operation
- Open and close the cover fully to ensure smooth operation. Adjust if needed.
Taking the time to properly realign and mount the new hinges will get your cover folding and sealing just like new again.
How Can I Get The New Hinges to Seal Like the Original Ones Did?
For your tonneau cover to keep the elements out of your truck bed, the hinges must create a watertight seal just like the originals. Here are some tips for optimal sealing with new hinges:
- Clean mounting surfaces thoroughly before installing new hinges to remove old sealant, dirt, or corrosion. This gives fresh sealant the best adhesion.
- Apply a quality automotive sealant like silicone, butyl rubber, or urethane to hinge contact patches when installing. This fills any small voids.
- Tighten mounting hardware to specification so hinge brackets compress against sealant, but don’t overtighten.
- Consider applying sealant around the backside of hinge brackets for extra protection.
- Use foam strips or rubber gaskets between the cover panels and hinges to prevent moisture entry.
- Lubricate hinge pins regularly to prevent drying out and compromised sealing.
- Keep the cover, hinges, and mounting areas clean to maximize sealing performance.
Taking extra care to seal the new hinges like the factory ones ensures no rain or snow gets into the truck bed. Your cargo stays dry.
What Precautions Should I Take When Using the Cover After Repairs?
Replacing damaged tonneau cover hinges restores proper operation, but you need to take a few precautions, especially early on:
- Avoid heavy weight – Don’t place extremely heavy items on the cover that could overstress the new hinges.
- Open carefully – For the first few weeks, don’t flip the cover open or closed with force. Gentle operation allows the hinges and hardware to settle in.
- Check alignment often – Frequently ensure the cover still aligns flush with the bed and seals properly. Adjust if needed.
- Inspect hinges – Closely check hinges for loosening or damage after the first few drives. Tighten or correct anything you find.
- Lubricate hinges – Use white lithium grease to prevent new hinges from binding or squeaking as they break-in.
- Don’t treat roughly – Avoid letting heavy objects slam down onto the open cover. Treat it gently overall.
Exercising a little extra care as the repaired cover and hinges settle in will ensure your handiwork holds up for the long run.
Are There any Preventative Maintenance Tips to Maximize Hinge Life?
While tonneau cover hinges are wear items, you can maximize their lifespan by using some simple maintenance practices:
- Lubricate routinely – Apply white lithium grease to hinge knuckles and pins at least 2-3 times per year. This prevents binding and wear.
- Clean periodically – Use a degreaser and bristle brush to clean grime off hinges to minimize abrasion and wear.
- Inspect often – Check for hinge looseness, damage, or corrosion every few months. Address issues early before they worsen.
- Protect the finish – Keep hinge surfaces clean and use protectants to preserve the finish against corrosion.
- Avoid pooling water – Park with the cover tilted if possible so water doesn’t pool on hinges when open.
- Check alignment – Improper cover alignment stresses the hinges over time.
- Close gently – Don’t slam the cover closed. Allow it to close gently with the assist of the gas springs.
Making hinge care and maintenance part of your regular tonneau cover service ritual maximizes their durability and lifespan.
When Should I Call in a Professional for Tonneau Cover Hinge Repair?
While DIY hinge replacement is feasible for many truck owners, some tonneau cover hinge repairs are best left to the professionals:
- If both hinges are severely damaged or broken, supporting the cover may be difficult during DIY replacement.
- Covers with heavy-duty welded aluminum hinges require welding skills and equipment to detach and reattach.
- Severe corrosion around hinge mounting areas may require cleaning, sealing, or bed replacement beyond typical DIY capabilities.
- If new replacement hinges don’t fit right or keep failing, a pro can source hard-to-find OEM hinges.
- For very large or heavy folding covers, having an extra set of experienced hands can be invaluable for working safely.
- If the cover or bed is damaged around hinge mounting locations, a pro can properly repair these areas.
- Specialized tools and lift equipment may be required for some tonneau cover repairs.
Seeking professional service for tonneau hinge work that’s beyond your skill, tools, or comfort level can pay dividends in getting a lasting, factory-quality repair.
Damaged, broken, or faulty tonneau cover hinges can compromise the protection and utility you expect from your truck bed cover. But armed with the right replacement hinges, tools, and repair techniques, you can often restore proper hinge function yourself in a weekend.
Carefully removing the damaged hinges, sealing and mounting the new ones, and taking precautions during initial operation can get your cover folding and sealing like normal again.
But for more complex hinge repairs, a professional shop has the expertise and resources to make it “like new” once more. With some diligent preventative care and maintenance, your restored hinges should provide years more smooth, reliable opening and closing.