Pickup truck owners know that securing and protecting cargo in the truck bed is important. Cargo left exposed to the elements or unsecured can be damaged or stolen. One popular option for truck bed protection and security is a tonneau cover. But will a tonneau cover actually protect your cargo from damage caused by road salt? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is a Tonneau Cover and How Does It Protect Cargo?
A tonneau cover is an aftermarket truck bed cover that fits over the truck bed, either hard or soft style. Tonneau covers provide protection, security, and improved gas mileage by streamlining airflow over the truck bed.
Here are some of the key benefits tonneau covers offer for securing cargo:
- Physical coverage – Tonneau covers simply provide a physical barrier between your cargo and the outside environment. This protects cargo from rain, snow, road debris, and more.
- Locking security – Many tonneau covers can be locked with keyed locks, combination locks, or electronic locks. This deters thieves and provides peace of mind when leaving cargo unattended.
- Low profile, tight fit – Soft roll-up tonneau covers and hard folding covers secure tightly to the truck bed with minimal gaps. This leaves little room for cargo to shift or thieves to access cargo.
- Opaque material – Vinyl tonneau cover material is opaque, meaning thieves can’t see what cargo you are carrying through the cover. Added security and protection.
So in many ways, a tonneau cover is designed to protect whatever cargo you carry in your truck bed. But is it enough to protect against road salt damage?
What Kind of Damage Can Road Salt Cause?
Before determining if a tonneau cover is enough protection, it helps to understand what kind of damage road salt can cause to truck beds and cargo. Here are the main concerns:
- Corrosion and rust – Road salt contains chloride which can accelerate corrosion and rust, especially on metal surfaces. This can damage truck bed surfaces.
- Paint damage – Salt can damage painted metal and other surfaces through a chemical reaction, resulting in loss of paint and exposed metal.
- Damage to electronics – For sensitive electronics, salt exposure can cause shorts, corrosion, and permanent damage over time.
- Metal tool and part degradation – Unsealed metal tools, parts, and hardware are also vulnerable to salt corrosion and damage.
So road salt, either thrown up from the road or intentionally spread to melt ice, can start breaking down surfaces and materials it comes into contact with on your truck. Will a vinyl or aluminum tonneau cover stop this damage?
Can a Tonneau Cover Prevent Road Salt Damage?
Whether a tonneau cover prevents road salt damage depends on a few factors:
Type and Quality of Tonneau Cover
- Vinyl covers – Vinyl is susceptible to the same damage as paint from road salt. Less durable soft vinyl covers will degrade faster. High quality marine grade vinyl stands up better but still allows some salt through.
- Aluminum covers – Aluminum provides the best protection against corrosion. Hard folding aluminum covers or roll-up covers with aluminum panels block more salt from reaching your cargo.
- Snug fit – A loose fitting tonneau cover can still allow road salt in around the edges. Ensure your cover fits snugly to the bed for maximum protection.
- Condition and maintenance – Keeping your vinyl cover properly cleaned and conditioned will help prevent cracking, fading, and breakdown over time. This maintains its protective abilities.
The higher quality and more impermeable the cover material, the better protection it will provide against road salt.
Type of Cargo Being Transported
What you are transporting also determines if a tonneau cover provides enough protection:
- Sensitive electronics – Likely not enough protection without waterproof casing. Electronics need full enclosure.
- Metal tools and parts – Minimal protection against rust if exposed over time. Better to store metal in sealed bins.
- Outdoor equipment – More durable items like bikes, camping gear may be ok if cleaned after salt exposure.
- General cargo – Provides decent protection for most items securely loaded in the bed. Just keep an eye out for moisture accumulation.
Environmentally sensitive cargo like electronics will need more protection than a tonneau cover alone can provide. For general cargo transport, it adds a good level of protection.
Road Salt Exposure Level
Areas with higher road salt use in winter will provide more of a challenge:
- Northern climates – High salting of winter roads means more exposure. Tonneau covers help but may not eliminate damage.
- Coastal areas – Ocean salt in the air also accelerates corrosion. Tonneau cover protection may be limited.
- Southern areas – With less frequent salting, tonneau covers do a decent job keeping salt off cargo.
Where your truck spends most of its time is a factor. A tonneau cover provides better protection in areas with lower road salt use.
Other Preventative Measures
No single solution like a tonneau cover can provide full protection. A multi-layered approach works best against road salt damage:
- Frequent washing – Wash truck bed frequently to prevent salt buildup. Pay attention to hidden corners and ridges.
- Touch up paint – Spot paint any paint chips to prevent further spread of corrosion.
- Oil/wax coating – Applying truck bed liner, oil, or wax helps repel moisture and salt. Re-apply often.
- Secure electronics – Transport electronics in waterproof cases regardless of tonneau cover use.
- Store metal securely – Even with a tonneau cover, keep metal tools and parts locked in tool boxes when possible.
- Durable cargo containers – Use truck bed boxes, heavy tarpaulins, and other rugged cargo containers for added protection.
Taking additional steps beyond just having a tonneau cover improves the odds of avoiding road salt cargo damage.
Are Soft or Hard Covers Better Against Salt?
Truck owners often wonder if soft roll-up tonneau covers or hard folding covers provide better road salt protection. Here’s the comparison:
- Pro: Less expensive option. More cost effective to replace than hard covers.
- Pro: Easier to remove and re-install when full bed access needed.
- Con: Generally less durable vinyl material. More prone to salt damage over time.
- Con: Potential for gaps allowing salt intrusion around snaps, zippers, etc.
- Pro: Sturdier aluminum or polymer panels block more salt. Withstand exposure better.
- Pro: Lock completely tight to bed for maximum coverage. No snaps or openings.
- Con: Difficult to remove. Limited bed access when installed.
- Con: Much more expensive to purchase and replace if damaged.
For most truck owners, a high quality soft vinyl tonneau cover provides a good balance of protection, affordability, and versatility. But for maximum salt resistance, hard aluminum covers are the best bet.
Are Add-On Tonneau Accessories Helpful?
You can add a few handy tonneau cover accessories to further improve salt protection:
- Tonneau cover sealant – Special sprays or rubber seals fill in cover gaps to prevent moisture intrusion.
- Rail caps – Plastic caps seal the tonneau rails tightly against the truck bed for minimal salt entry.
- Under-rail seal – Adhesive foam strips adhere under cover rails to seal out moisture drips.
- Perimeter rope caulk – Rope caulk compressed around the cover edges blocks salt spray.
- Tonneau cover conditioner – Conditioner protects vinyl covers from salt damage, retains water resistance.
While aftermarket accessories involve a little extra cost, they can boost the protective strength of your cover. Often a good investment for harsh conditions.
Maintaining Your Tonneau Cover’s Effectiveness
Proper care and maintenance will ensure your tonneau cover lasts and provides maximum protection, including from road salt damage:
- Regular washing – Wash the cover and clean any salt, dirt and debris off it, just like the truck body.
- Monthly conditioner – Keep vinyl covers flexible and water/salt resistant by applying conditioner.
- Prompt damage repair – Fix any cracks, tears or gaps right away to prevent moisture intrusion.
- Re-seal annually – Check and re-apply tonneau sealants before winter to block salt.
- Check drainage – Make sure water drains properly off the cover without pooling near rails.
- Secure clamps/snaps – Check that all cover fasteners are tight against the bed with no openings for salt exposure.
Taking good care of your cover will keep it doing its job of protecting your truck bed and cargo for years to come.
Options for Extra Cargo Protection
If you need added protection on top of a tonneau cover, consider options like:
- Bed liners – Durable bedliner coatings protect the bed itself from salt damage. An excellent combination with a cover.
- Bed boxes – Lockable truck boxes keep cargo fully enclosed and isolated from the elements.
- Toolbox – Same benefit as a bed box for safe dry storage of tools.
- Cargo nets – Nets securely contain loose cargo loads.
- Tarp/canvas – Heavy tarps or canvas create an additional barrier to block salt reaching cargo below Tonneaus.
- Waterproof cargo bags – Enclose sensitive items like electronics in waterproof casing inside the truck bed.
- Under-bed storage – Some tonneaus allow access to under-bed storage compartments fully protected from above.
With your tonneau as the first line of defense, you can add other cargo protection layers as needed for your specific situation and comfort level.
The Bottom Line on Tonneau Covers and Road Salt
Here are the key takeaways on whether a tonneau cover provides adequate protection from road salt damage:
- Tonneau covers provide very useful cargo protection from weather, dust, and theft. But their ability to protect against road salt depends on cover quality and cargo needs.
- Higher grade hard covers offer more salt protection, but still may not eliminate corrosion or electronic damage over time.
- For cargo like tools and equipment, tonneaus can help reduce salt exposure. But sensitive items need further enclosed protection.
- Maintaining and sealing your cover maximizes its salt resistance and cargo protection abilities.
- Additional truck bed protection measures like bed liners and enclosed storage provide extra salt protection insurance.
While not an absolute guarantee against road salt damage, a properly installed and maintained tonneau cover is a smart first line of defense that offers worthwhile truck bed and cargo protection. But take extra precautions transporting cargo vulnerable to salt air and spray. That may require going beyond just a tonneau cover for peace of mind.