Installing a folding tonneau cover on your truck bed can seem intimidating at first. But with the right preparation and tools, it can actually be a pretty straightforward DIY project. The key is taking the time to understand the different types of folding covers, gather the necessary materials, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. With a methodical approach, you can have a versatile, stylish tonneau cover installed in no time!
Why Should You Install A Tonneau Cover?
Before jumping into the installation process, it helps to understand the benefits that a tonneau cover provides:
- Protection – Tonneau covers seal off the truck bed, shielding your cargo and gear from rain, snow, dust, and UV rays. Hard covers offer the most impenetrable barrier.
- Security – A locked tonneau cover prevents prying eyes and hands, deterring theft. Folks will not be able to tell what you are hauling.
- Improved Gas Mileage – Tonneau covers streamline airflow over the bed, reducing aerodynamic drag and boosting MPG. Expect up to 10% better fuel economy.
- Versatility – Folding and rolling covers allow you full bed access when needed. You can haul larger items while still enjoying the other benefits when folded closed.
- Style – Tonneau covers provide a finished, integrated look. They make your truck look more sleek and refined.
Installing a cover is a great upgrade for any pickup. But how do you choose the right one and get it properly mounted? Let’s dig in…
What Are The Different Types of Folding Tonneau Covers?
Folding tonneau covers come in a variety of styles,materials, and price points. Here are some of the most common types:
Vinyl Folding Covers
- Made of double-sided vinyl laminated around foam core panels
- Lightweight, inexpensive option
- Manual or powered remote operation
- Not fully watertight but offer good weather protection
Aluminum Folding Covers
- Constructed from aluminum panels
- Durable metal framework with vinyl exterior
- Manual or electric versions available
- Very secure and weather-resistant
- Hard or soft folding panels divided into thirds
- Fold accordion-style for full bed access
- Quick and easy opening/closing
- Offer good security and coverage
- Soft vinyl cover rolls up toward cab
- Can be automatic or manual
- Allows partial or full access to bed
- More affordable but not as secure
- Heavy-duty aluminum slats roll into canister case
- Low-profile automatic system
- Allows full bed access when retracted
- Most expensive but very versatile
Consider how you plan to use your truck when selecting a folding tonneau cover. Hard aluminum or tri-fold covers provide the best protection and security for frequent hauling. Vinyl roll-up covers offer a balance of function and affordability for light-duty use.
What Do You Need To Install A Folding Tonneau Cover?
Once you have selected the right folding cover for your truck, make sure you have the essential installation supplies on hand:
- Tonneau Cover – Your specific folding cover model
- Bed Liner – Recommended to prevent cover damage
- Hand Tools – Socket sets, ratchet, wrenches for the clamps
- Power Drill – For bolt installation if required
- Silicone Lubricant – Helps position vinyl covers
- Clean Cloths – For wiping down components
- Gloves – Protect your hands during install
- Foam Tape – Seals any gaps if needed
- Bed Rail Caps – Finish rails after install
Also be sure to have your truck owner’s manual along with the instructions from your tonneau cover manufacturer. Review all guidance before starting.
How Do You Prepare The Truck Bed For Installation?
Proper preparation of the truck bed will make installing your folding tonneau cover much smoother:
Clean the Bed
Give the entire bed area a thorough cleaning to remove any dirt, debris, or grease before placing the cover:
- Clear out any items stored in truck bed
- Use all-purpose cleaner and rinse with water
- Allow to dry fully
Check for Damage
Inspect bed rails and surrounding surfaces for damage or irregularities:
- Look for dents, rust, or sharp edges
- Repair any flaws that could interfere with good fit
- Sand down paint runs if needed
Install Bed Liner
Adding a rubber bed liner helps prevent cover damage:
- Pick liner that fits your truck bed style
- Professional spray-on liner offers best durability
- Follow included directions for correct installation
Lubricate the Rails
Wipe a thin layer of silicone lubricant onto the top of the bed rails:
- Helps the vinyl cover slide into place smoothly
- Avoid grease which could degrade the material
Once prepped, you are ready to safely handle the components and position the tonneau cover.
What Are The Steps For Installing A Hard Folding Cover?
Hard folding tonneau covers made of aluminum and fiberglass panels require careful mounting. But following a systematic approach will ensure proper installation:
Position the Cover
- Check manufacturer guidelines for optimal placement
- Center cover side-to-side on the truck bed
- Rotate panels to closed position to test fit
Clamp the Cover
- Use provided clamps to secure side edges to the bed rails
- Position clamps evenly spaced along the sides
- Hand tighten to hold cover in place
Drill the Mounting Holes
- Consult instructions to drill holes for mounting bolts
- Start holes with a pilot drill bit before using full-sized bit
- Try to avoid drilling through the bed liner
Insert the Bolts
- Put washers on bolts before inserting through drilled holes
- Add washers and loosely tighten nuts underneath to secure
- Do not fully tighten until aligned
Align and Tighten
- Check that cover is centered and panels fold correctly
- Make any necessary adjustments
- Tighten all clamps and bolts to complete installation
Take it slow and double-check each step – a methodical approach prevents mistakes.
How Do You Install A Vinyl Roll-Up Cover?
Vinyl roll-up tonneau covers involve slightly different installation steps. The process focuses on getting an evenly tensioned, wrinkle-free fit:
Position the Canister
- Place canister at cab end of truck bed
- May require drilling to mount in place
- Check for desired position of vinyl cover
- Unroll vinyl cover from canister toward tailgate
- Have a partner help manage the material
Mount Side Rails
- Attach provided rails to the truck bed sides
- Rails may clamp on or require drilling
- Ensure rails align properly
Insert Slats into Rails
- Most covers have slats that slide into the rails
- Start at tailgate end and work up to canister
- Use silicone lubricant to ease insertion
Tension the Cover
- Roll up cover slightly to provide tension for stretching
- Pull fabric to minimize wrinkles and sagging areas
- Engage locking mechanism once taut
Secure Tailgate End
- Seal end by snapping or sliding part of rail
- Test that the tailgate can open/close freely
Regularly check and adjust tension on vinyl covers to maintain the snug fit over time.
What Are Some Tips For Properly Installing A Tonneau Cover?
Here are some additional pointers to ensure your folding tonneau cover gets mounted correctly:
- Carefully study the manufacturer’s installation instructions – don’t skip any steps!
- Have a buddy help with the job – some steps require four hands.
- Work on a dry day – moisture complicates the process.
- Go slowly – rushing leads to mistakes and potential damage.
- Periodically fold and unfold the cover during installation to check the fit.
- Make sure all clamps and bolts are tightened properly for maximum security.
- Seal any minor gaps with weatherstripping foam tape.
- Avoid over-tightening components – go easy with power tools.
- Check that tailgate and doors still open and close when done.
- Top dress the rails with matching color caps for a finished look.
Taking it slow and following each direction carefully will get your folding tonneau cover installed correctly on the first try!
What Should You Do After Installing Your Tonneau Cover?
Once your new folding cover is mounted, a few final steps will ensure it performs as intended:
- Caulk around edges with waterproof silicone
- Adds extra protection from the elements
- Use powdered graphite on hinges
- Helps panels fold smoothly
Clean and Condition
- Remove any grease or dirt from cover
- Treat vinyl surface with protectant
- Fold cover up and down several times
- Make sure clamps, latches and seals function properly
- Tighten components or reposition if needed
- Watch for rubbing, gaps, or alignment issues
Read User Manual
- Review guidance for operation and care
- Outline periodic maintenance needed
Taking time to properly finish the job will get your tonneau cover functioning flawlessly for years to come!
Common Questions About Installing Tonneau Covers
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about getting folding tonneau covers set up on your truck:
Do I need any special tools to install a tonneau cover?
Most folding covers can be installed with basic hand tools – sockets, wrenches, ratchet, power drill, etc. Make sure you have any special bits required. Carefully read the manual to understand the full tool requirements.
How long does it take to install a tonneau cover?
Plan on the installation taking 2-3 hours on average. Hard covers tend to be more involved than soft vinyl covers. Having an extra set of hands helps speed up the process.
Do I need to drill holes to mount my tonneau cover?
Some covers use a clamp system and do not require drilling. Hard covers almost always require drilling holes to bolt them securely in place. Go slowly and use sharp drill bits to avoid bed liner damage.
Should I do anything to maintain my cover after installation?
Keep the vinyl surface clean and conditioned per manufacturer recommendations. Lubricate any hinges and ensure latches work smoothly. Adjust tension on soft covers periodically.
How difficult is it to remove a tonneau cover?
Folding covers can be removed fairly easily by reversing the installation steps to detach clamps and hardware. This allows for truck bed access when needed. Go slow and be cautious during removal to avoid damage.
Taking the time to properly install your folding tonneau cover results in years of enjoyment from this great truck upgrade. Have patience, follow the directions, and inspect as you go, and you can mount a cover on your truck bed easily. Soon you’ll be able to reap the many benefits that tonneau covers provide!