If you own a pickup truck, you’ve probably wondered whether investing in a tonneau cover will help protect any cargo you haul from pollution damage. This is an important consideration, since pollution can deteriorate and corrode materials over time. Thankfully, the answer is yes – tonneau covers can provide meaningful protection against various types of pollutants. However, the level of defense depends on the specific cover you choose.
What Types of Pollution Can Affect Cargo?
Before exploring how tonneau covers help, it’s useful to understand the main pollution threats to cargo:
Air pollution encompasses gases, particulates, and biological molecules that can harm people, animals, and materials. Key air pollutants include:
- Ozone – Formed when emissions from cars, power plants, and other sources react with sunlight. Ozone is corrosive and can degrade rubber, plastic, and fabrics.
- Soot – Microscopic carbon particles from combustion sources like factories and vehicles. Soot settles on surfaces and can be difficult to remove.
- Pollen – While natural, high pollen counts can coat cargo and trigger allergic reactions.
- Bacteria and Viruses – Airborne microbes can not only affect health, but also lead to things like mold growth.
Acid rain results when air pollution like sulfur and nitrogen oxides mix with water vapor and fall back to earth. The acidic water can corrode and oxidize materials like metal, limestone, paint, and fabric.
Salt used for de-icing roads in winter can cling to vehicles and blow into cargo beds. Salt is corrosive and can damage metal components and surfaces.
Dirt and Debris
Road dust, dirt, sand, gravel, and other coarse particles are ubiquitous on roadways. These abrasive materials can scratch and erode cargo if not protected.
How Do Tonneau Covers Create a Protective Barrier?
The main purpose of a tonneau cover is to fully seal the bed of your pickup. This provides a physical barrier between your cargo and outside pollutants floating in the air or sitting on the road. Tonneau covers are composed of durable, water-resistant materials that block particulate matter and liquids from seeping through.
Here are some key benefits tonneau covers provide against pollution:
Deflect Airborne Particulates
By encasing the whole bed, a tonneau cover prevents airborne particles like dust, soot, pollen, and road grit from settling directly on cargo. These irritants can stain, abrade, or chemically react with materials if prolonged exposure occurs. The cover acts like a shield to deflect them.
Repel Liquid Contaminants
Tonneau covers are made of non-porous fabrics or hard shells that liquids bead up and roll off of. This allows them to effectively repel moisture sources like acid rain and road salt brine, preventing direct contact with cargo. Even fabric covers coated in polyurethane or vinyl provide ample water resistance.
Add Physical Protection
Tonneau covers offer an extra layer of durable material that helps absorb impacts, scratches, and UV damage. Soft covers provide padding, while hard covers create a sturdy shell. This protects against everyday wear, debris, and some vandalism.
Limit Airflow & Humidity
By restricting air exchange between the bed and environment, tonneau covers help regulate humidity and moisture levels around cargo. This creates a more stable climate to minimize corrosion and material degradation.
Deter Theft & Tampering
The sealed enclosure of a tonneau cover prevents easy access to cargo. This can deter would-be thieves and vandals from targeting covered pickup beds. Less human interference means lower odds of cargo getting contaminated.
Key Factors That Impact Protection Levels
While all tonneau covers will provide some degree of shielding, their design and materials greatly affect pollution resistance:
Hard vs. Soft Cover
Hard covers made from aluminum, fiberglass, or vinyl sheets offer the most impenetrable seal against particles, liquids, and physical damage. However, soft covers made from reinforced vinyl or polyurethane coated fabrics can still perform well at a lower price point.
Look for covers rated for excellent water repellency. Marine-grade vinyl or polyurethane materials provide optimal water protection. Avoid cheaper canvas or non-coated fabrics that absorb moisture.
Covers with snap, buckle, or clamp fasteners make a tighter seal than models with hook/loop fasteners. Gaps around the edges can allow pollutants to creep in.
Coating & Layering
Double-layered covers or models with UV inhibitors, chemical coatings, and protective undercoating will outlast single-layer options. These enhance durability and longevity.
Covers that extend over tailgates provide better corner seals than those that end at the bulkhead. Folding or roll-up covers offer less coverage than one-piece lids when closed.
Existing scratches, pits, or rust in the bed floor allows more moisture retention and crevice deposits of pollutants than a pristine, rust-free bed.
The regular cleaning and reconditioning of covers improves their pollution resistance over time. Neglected covers degrade faster.
Are There Any Limitations With Tonneau Covers?
While tonneau covers are very effective against general pollution, they aren’t a foolproof safeguard:
- Extreme weather like hail or high winds can damage covers, creating openings for pollutants.
- Certain chemicals and solvents can eventually permeate through vinyl and polyurethane cover materials with prolonged exposure.
- Road debris impacting at high speeds can puncture or tear soft covers.
- Cargo may still be exposed when loading/unloading unless a bed cap is used.
- Condensation from humidity changes can still form inside the sealed bed and affect cargo.
For maximum cargo protection, combine a tonneau cover with other best practices:
- Use waterproof cargo bags/containers if hauling sensitive materials or electronics.
- Wrap or seal corrodible metal items with protective film.
- Separate any chemicals or solvents into isolated, sealed totes.
- Inspect and re-treat cover periodically to fix scratches or gaps.
Are Tonneau Covers Worthwhile Investments
Overall, installing a tonneau cover is one of the best ways to shield cargo from pollution. Tonneau covers provide meaningful resistance against air pollutants, acid rain, road salt, and other contaminants that can damage gear. Even basic soft covers offer big improvements over an open bed.
Beyond just cargo protection, tonneau covers deliver benefits like improved fuel economy, security, and vehicle appearance. Premium covers can last for a decade or more with proper care. Given the multi-purpose utility they provide, tonneau covers are very worthwhile additions for regular pickup truck users.
Carefully research brands and materials to choose the right tonneau cover for your needs and budget. Measure your truck bed dimensions for an exact fit. And don’t forget small details like compatible bed liners and tailgate seals for optimal coverage. With the right cover in place, you can haul cargo with much greater peace of mind.