A tonneau cover is an excellent addition to any pickup truck for many reasons. The most obvious benefit is the protection it provides for your truck bed and any cargo inside. A hard tri-fold tonneau adds a layer of rigid protection that soft covers cannot provide. This keeps your gear safe from dents, dings, and even theft.
Another big advantage of adding a tonneau is improved gas mileage. The cover reduces air drag on the truck bed, allowing for better fuel efficiency. This can save you money at the pump over time.
Tonneau covers also give your truck a nice upgraded, finished look. The smooth, flush surface creates a cleaner appearance compared to an open truck bed. Going with a painted or powder coated finish can allow the tonneau to match or accent your truck’s color.
Installing a hard tri-fold tonneau is a straightforward process that most truck owners can tackle themselves. As long as you have the right tools and follow the instructions, you can complete the job in an afternoon or weekend. Let’s look at the complete step-by-step process.
What Do I Need to Install a Hard Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover?
Before starting the installation, make sure you have all the necessary tools and materials:
- Tonneau cover
- Tonneau mounting brackets and rails
- Clamps for the tonneau
- Bolt seal for the tailgate
- Screws and bolts to attach rails
- Power drill and drill bits
- Socket wrench and sockets
- Ratchet wrench
- Rubber mallet
- Protective eyewear and gloves
You will also need the following supplies:
- Clean rags
- Lubricant (WD-40)
- Sealant (if recommended)
Check that you have all the parts that came with your particular tonneau cover. Follow the instructions to verify that no parts are missing before beginning.
How Should I Prepare the Truck Bed for Tonneau Installation?
Proper preparation of the truck bed is an important first step. Here is a checklist to make sure your truck is ready for the tonneau:
- Remove any existing bed liner. The tonneau rails will need to mount directly to the bed.
- Clean the bed thoroughly. Use soap and water or a degreaser to remove dirt, oil, and debris.
- Check for rust or damage. Repair any issues to ensure proper mounting.
- Lubricate the tailgate hinges and make sure the tailgate latches securely.
- Check that the bed sides are straight and level. Alignment issues can prevent a flush tonneau fit.
- Apply sealant if recommended. This helps prevent water intrusion under the tonneau.
Taking time to properly prep the truck bed will help the tonneau cover fit, function, and seal correctly when installed.
What is the Overall Process for Installing a Hard Tri-Fold Tonneau?
Here is a basic overview of the key steps involved in installing a hard folding tonneau cover:
- Attach the side rails to the truck bed. This provides the foundation for mounting the tonneau.
- Position and attach the rear header rail above the tailgate opening.
- Set the assembled tonneau cover into the truck bed, resting it on the side and header rails.
- Adjust the cover hinges and clamps to ensure a proper fit.
- Attach the support bows and prop rods for the cover panels.
- Secure and tighten all clamps, bolts, and hardware.
- Finally, test the cover operation and make any adjustments needed.
Always follow the detailed instructions from the manufacturer. Let’s look closer at each phase of the process.
How Do I Install the Side Rails for the Tonneau Cover?
The side rails mount to the top of the truck bed rails using clamps. Here are the steps:
- Position each rail in place against the bed side and center it from front to back.
- Attach a clamp at the rear of the rail first, then at the front.
- Gradually add clamps down the length of the rail, spacing them evenly.
- Tighten the clamps firmly and evenly with a wrench or drill, but do not over-tighten.
- Seal each clamp with silicone or another sealant to prevent leaks.
- Do the same process to mount the rail on the other side.
- Make sure both rails are level with each other before moving on.
Going slowly and methodically when mounting the rails ensures they align properly. Take time at each step to check the rails for levelness before tightening clamps.
What is Involved in Installing the Rear Header Rail?
The rear header rail mounts just forward of the tailgate opening. Follow these tips for proper header rail installation:
- Temporarily loosen the side rails and slide them forward several inches. This allows room to position the header rail.
- Place the header rail in the truck bed opening. Center it from side to side.
- Line up the header rail ends with the side rail ends. The rails should be parallel and evenly spaced.
- Mark the header rail hole locations on the truck bed. Drill pilot holes if needed.
- Attach the header rail to the truck bed using bolts. Tighten them down gradually in a crossing pattern.
- Slide the side rails back to meet the header rail ends. Make sure the rails align properly at the corners.
- Re-tighten the side rail clamps. Add shims if needed to take up any gaps.
- Seal the header rail attachment points to prevent water leaks.
Aligning the rails precisely is crucial for proper tonneau fit and operation. Taking it slow and double checking their positions is time well spent.
What Are the Steps for Placing the Tonneau Cover into the Truck Bed?
With the rails installed, you can now position the tonneau cover:
- Open the tailgate to provide clearance for the tonneau.
- Make sure the cover panels are fully folded open and locked in position.
- Carefully place the tonneau cover into the truck bed, centered between the side rails.
- The cover end plates should rest evenly on the header rail.
- Position the cover about 1/4 inch from the cab for optimal rail clearance.
- Ensure the cover sits flat and does not rock side-to-side. Add shims if needed.
- Confirm that the cover open position does not interfere with the cab or tailgate.
- Once positioned properly, temporarily tighten the cover’s rear clamps to hold it in place.
Taking it slow and having someone assist you during this step can help prevent damaging the cover or truck bed.
How Do I Attach and Adjust the Cover Clamps?
With the cover positioned in the truck bed, you can now install and adjust the cover clamps:
- Remove any shipping brackets or blocks from the cover.
- Attach the cover’s side rail clamps to the side rails, one at a time.
- Progress down the length of the rail, adding clamps evenly on both sides.
- Snug the clamps lightly, but do not fully tighten them yet.
- Make sure the cover sits centered and level on the rails as you add clamps.
- Once all clamps are installed, begin tightening them in an alternating pattern.
- As you tighten, check that the cover remains snug to the rails. Add shims if gaps appear.
- Fully tighten each clamp evenly and securely, but take care not to over-tighten.
- Make sure the cover opens, closes, and folds smoothly without resistance. Adjust clamps as needed.
Ensuring proper alignment between the cover and rails is key. Take your time adjusting the clamps until everything fits flush and even.
What Hardware Needs to be Installed on the Cover Panels?
Each folding cover panel requires additional hardware that enables them to operate:
- Support bows – These bow-shaped bars attach to the underside of the panels. They provide structural support when the cover is open.
- Prop rods – These are adjustable length rods that support the cover panels when folded open.
- Keys and locks – Locking components keep the cover closed and secured. Keys allow owners to open and lock it.
- Gas spring lifters – These connected struts help lift the cover panels and make opening easier.
- Hinges – Low-profile hinges attach each panel together and to the cover frame.
- Foam bumpers – Bumpers mount along the cover edges to prevent panel-to-panel contact.
Carefully attach each hardware piece following the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure moving parts align and operate smoothly without binding.
How Do I Attach the Tailgate Bolt Seal?
A rubber bolt seal creates a tight seal between the cover and tailgate:
- Locate the provided bolt seal, plus the metal bolt retainer and rubber gasket.
- Open the tailgate to access the underside. Locate the factory tailgate latch bolt.
- Insert the gasket over the bolt and position the retainer around the bolt head.
- Tighten down the retainer so it securely holds the gasket in place over the bolt.
- Test that the tailgate still opens and closes properly without binding.
- Some tonneaus may use a full-length weather seal rather than a bolt seal.
Compressing the gasket around the tailgate bolt helps prevent moisture from entering between the cover and tailgate.
What is the Process for Checking and Adjusting the Installed Tonneau?
After fully installing the tonneau cover, there are a few final steps to perform:
- Check that the cover folds and unfolds smoothly without any issues. Watch for binding or rubbing.
- Open and close the tailgate with the cover closed. Make sure the two do not interfere.
- Ensure the clamps hold the cover securely and tightly to the rails when closed.
- Confirm the support bows, prop rods, and gas lifters function properly when opening the panels.
- Water test the cover by using a garden hose. Look for any water intrusion issues.
- Make alignment adjustments if the cover is uneven. Add shims to take up any gaps.
- Lubricate the hinges and clamps if they become sticky or stiff.
- Recheck and tighten all hardware after a few days driving.
Taking the time to properly test and adjust the cover helps ensure optimal function and protection for the long run.
What Maintenance and Care Does a Hard Tonneau Cover Require?
Like most truck accessories, a little regular maintenance goes a long way:
- Inspect the seals and lubricate with rubber conditioner to prevent cracking.
- Check and tighten any loose hardware or clamps if needed.
- Remove debris that accumulates on or around the cover.
- Touch up any nicks, scratches or rust spots with matching paint.
- Wash with soap and water only. Avoid harsh cleaners or abrasives.
- Check drain tubes underneath the cover and clear any clogs.
- Lubricate hinges, clamps and other moving parts periodically.
- Avoid using high pressure water or steam to clean the cover.
- In winter, take care when removing snow and ice to avoid damaging the cover.
Performing quick inspections and upkeep ensures your cover continues to function properly while looking its best.
Installing a folding hard tonneau cover upgrades your truck with extra protection and improved appearance. While the process requires careful work, it is definitely manageable for DIYers with proper tools and patience.
Taking the time to correctly attach the rails, align the cover, and install all hardware results in optimal fit and function. Your truck will benefit from this useful addition for many years down the road.