Pickup truck owners have many options when it comes to tonneau covers today. From soft roll-up covers to hard folding and retractable versions, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing which type is right for your needs.
Two of the most popular categories are roll-up and retractable tonneau covers. But what exactly is the difference between these two styles? Here’s an in-depth look at how roll-up and retractable truck bed covers compare.
Roll-Up Tonneau Covers: The Basics
A roll-up tonneau cover is usually made from vinyl, aluminum, or a combination of both materials. As the name suggests, this style of tonneau cover literally rolls up toward the cab, similar to a carpet or projector screen. The rolling action is made possible by a framework of aluminum rails that attach to the side walls of the truck bed.
Advantages of Roll-Up Covers
- Cost – Roll-up covers tend to be the most affordable tonneau option. Their simple design requires less material and labor compared to retractable or folding covers. This makes them ideal for truck owners on a budget.
- Ease of Use – Rolling up a soft vinyl cover takes just seconds. Roll-up covers allow quick and easy access to the entire truck bed whenever needed.
- Adjustability – Roll-up covers can be rolled up partway, allowing access to just part of the bed while keeping the rest covered and secure. This configurable access is handy for hauling items of various sizes.
- Lightweight – The soft vinyl and thin aluminum rails make roll-up covers much lighter than their retractable counterparts. Less weight means better fuel economy.
- Low Profile – With a roll-up cover sitting flush to the truck bed, overall vehicle height is reduced for better aerodynamics and improved mpg. The flexible vinyl material also molds to cargo below for a sleek, custom appearance.
Disadvantages of Roll-Up Covers
- Durability – Vinyl covers are prone to rips, punctures, and tears over time. Sections secured with snaps or Velcro can also wear out and fail to keep the cover tight and weatherproof.
- Security – The ability to open roll-up covers along their entire length makes them less resistant to theft compared to retractable covers. Locking devices are available but may be defeated easily.
- Wind Noise – Some wind noise and flapping can occur with roll-up covers, especially at highway speeds. Proper tensioning of the bows can help minimize this issue.
- Weather Protection – Soft covers may seep a bit during heavy rainstorms. Periodic resealing and conditioning is required to maintain good waterproofing.
Retractable Tonneau Covers: The Basics
Retractable tonneau covers provide the versatility of a roll-up cover with the durability and security of a hard cover. Rather than folding or rolling up, retractable covers glide smoothly into an enclosure at the front of the bed when opened. The enclosure also houses the electric motor drive system that powers the retracting motion.
Advantages of Retractable Covers
- Security – Retractable covers can be locked in any position along the rails with the tailgate lock for maximum theft protection and peace of mind.
- Weatherproofing – Hard aluminum or polymer panels are better sealed against the elements than vinyl. The overlapping panel design also helps keep wind-driven rain out of the bed.
- Appearance – With a sleek, flush-fit appearance when closed, retractable covers maintain the truck’s factory styling lines for a custom look.
- Bed Access – Retractable covers allow access to the entire bed length while keeping sections not in use covered. This flexibility helps accommodate cargo of all sizes securely.
- Durability – Retractable covers withstand dings, punctures, tears, and wear far better than soft vinyl. The hard panels and motor drive are built to last.
Disadvantages of Retractable Covers
- Cost – The price of retractable covers is significantly higher, often 2-3 times more than soft roll-ups. The materials, motorized operation, and extensive labor contribute to the increased cost.
- Weight – Retractable covers are heavier, weighing over 100 lbs in most cases. The weight limits accessibility for some owners and negatively impacts fuel efficiency.
- Maintenance – Periodic cleaning and lubrication of the panels, seals, and motor drive is required. Motor or electronics failures can be difficult and costly to repair.
- Noise – Electric motors produce some noise when opening and closing. Wind noise while driving may also be greater compared to soft covers.
- Bed Height – Retractable covers require a minimum of 6 to 8 inches of clear space between the bed rails and interior roof. Trucks without this clearance cannot accommodate a retractable cover.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of roll-up and retractable tonneau covers, let’s compare some other key factors to consider when choosing between the two styles.
Roll-Up vs Retractable: Other Differences
Roll-up covers are generally easier and quicker to install than retractable versions. The process involves simple clamping or bolting of the rails, snapping on the bows, and adhering the vinyl cover. Complete installation can be accomplished in 30 minutes to an hour without any drilling needed in most cases.
Retractable covers require precise measurements, rail alignment, electrical wiring of the motor, and panel adjustment during installation. The installation process takes 2-3 hours or longer and may require drilling holes for a secure mount. This makes professional installation highly recommended for retractable covers.
Basic maintenance like occasional cleaning and resealing are needed for both cover types. However, roll-up covers are more prone to component wear and weather damage over 3-5 years. Retractable covers are better built to last 7-10 years or longer with proper care and maintenance.
The hard panels of retractable covers cannot be easily cut or removed like vinyl. Combined with integrated locking, this makes enclosed cargo virtually theft-proof with a retractable cover. Roll-up covers can be secured with aftermarket locks but still remain vulnerable to break-ins along their entire length.
In terms of quickly accessing the full length of the truck bed, the advantage goes to roll-up covers. Unrolling the cover takes just seconds while a retractable cover must slide open from front to rear, often taking 10-15 seconds or more. Partial bed access for smaller cargo is excellent with either style.
The tight seal and smooth, rigid panels of a retractable cover make it the top choice for noise reduction and fuel economy. Increased wind resistance, noise, and milage penalty can occur with a vinyl roll-up cover, especially at highway speeds if not secured properly.
Retractable covers are only available with an aluminum finish. Smooth, vinyl roll-ups offer many great options for color-matching your truck. Printed graphic designs are also available on some soft roll-up covers for maximum personalization.
As you can see, there are good reasons for choosing either a roll-up or retractable truck bed cover for your pickup. Keeping in mind how you’ll use your truck, along with your budget, will help determine which of these two popular tonneau options is the right style for your needs. Both deliver great cargo protection and versatility while boosting your truck’s appearance.
- Roll-up tonneaus are the most affordable option but offer less durability compared to retractable covers. Ease of installation and full bed access are key benefits.
- Retractable covers have a premium price but deliver greater security, weather sealing, and longevity. They also enhance driving performance.
- Roll-up covers are quicker to open/close and install but retractable versions provide more bed access flexibility and styling options.
- For basic cargo protection on a budget, a roll-up cover is a great choice. Retractable covers satisfy truck owners wanting maximum security and versatility.
So explore all the roll-up and retractable options for your make/model and choose the features that matter most for your pickup. Investing in the right tonneau cover will provide years of utility and enhancement to your truck ownership experience.