A tonneau cover is an excellent accessory for any pickup truck, providing protection from the elements for cargo in the truck bed. Soft tonneau covers made from vinyl or canvas material are a popular choice for their affordability and easy installation.
However, many truck owners wonder if these soft covers can withstand the high-pressure spray and spinning brushes of an automated car wash. There are several factors to consider when determining if a soft tonneau cover is safe for the car wash.
What are the Different Types of Car Washes?
Touchless Car Washes
Touchless car washes use high-powered spray nozzles and surfactant-based soaps to clean vehicles. The high-pressure water streams remove dirt and grime without any brushes or cloth coming into direct contact with the vehicle surface. This type of car wash relies on the pressure of the water and the cleaning agents to get vehicles clean.
Touchless car washes are generally considered safer for tonneau covers than other wash types because there is no physical contact that could damage the cover. The pressurized water streams will not harm or scratch a properly secured soft tonneau cover.
Soft-Touch Car Washes
Soft-touch car washes use soft cloth strips that drape over the vehicle and rub against the surfaces to scrub off dirt. These car washes are gentler than some other systems but still involve direct physical contact between the cloths and your truck.
The spinning cloths could potentially flap up a loose tonneau cover, causing scratches or other damage. Soft-touch car washes may also use some high-pressure rinse cycles in addition to the cloth scrubbing.
Tunnel Car Washes
Tunnel car washes guide vehicles through a facility on a conveyor system, with the truck passing through different stations for washing, rinsing, and drying. These stations often include both high-pressure water sprays and spinning cloth brushes that clean all vehicle surfaces.
The combination of water sprays, soaps, spinning brushes, and air blowers means tunnel car washes present more potential risks for tonneau covers than touchless washes. The spinning brushes could hit or catch on the cover.
Do Tonneau Cover Manufacturers Recommend Car Washes?
Tonneau cover manufacturers typically provide guidance in their manuals or on their websites regarding car washes. It’s important to check your specific cover model and brand for definitive recommendations.
In general, most manufacturers say touchless car washes are acceptable for soft tonneau covers but advise removing hard covers before going through a car wash. Manual washing is often the preferred method.
Removing the tonneau before a car wash, regardless of material, is the safest option to prevent any damage over time. But soft covers specifically designed for truck bed protection can usually withstand touchless washes if properly secured.
Is the Tonneau Cover Securely Attached to the Truck Bed?
A tonneau cover that is not properly attached to the truck bed is likely to suffer damage going through a car wash. The high-pressure water sprays and spinning brushes can catch on loose corners and edges, ripping the vinyl or canvas material.
Prior to using a car wash, make sure your soft tonneau is tightly secured along all attachment points. Read your installation guide for the recommended torque specs on clamps or snaps. Tighten any loose tension adjusters on roll-up covers.
A loose cover could also allow water intrusion into the truck bed, defeating the purpose of the protective barrier. Take time to inspect all edges are tight before entering the wash.
Should You Avoid Car Washes With a Wax Cycle?
Many modern car washes offer a wax cycle as an add-on service following the wash and rinse stages. The wax spray leaves a glossy, hydrophobic coat on the vehicle surface for enhanced shining and protection.
However, most tonneau cover manufacturers recommend skipping the wax cycle when washing your truck. The liquid wax can seep into snaps, hinges, and track systems on rolling covers. Over time, wax buildup on these components can lead to malfunctions or sticking.
The wax can also leave difficult-to-remove residue on the top surface of the tonneau cover. This residue could hinder proper drainage and pooling of water off the cover. Avoiding the wax finish will help keep your soft tonneau functioning smoothly for longer.
How Does the Tonneau Cover Material Impact Safety in the Wash?
Tonneau covers come in a variety of materials, from vinyl and canvas to aluminum and fiberglass. The material used will impact its ability to withstand a car wash.
Vinyl is one of the most popular tonneau cover options. Double-coated vinyl covers have an upper vinyl layer for protection and a lower coating for water resistance. This material stands up well to a touchless wash when properly secured.
Avoid taking velour vinyl covers into car washes. The soft, velvety finish can trap soap residue and make the cover prone to mold and mildew growth.
Canvas covers treated with water-resistant coatings can also handle touchless car washes. The canvas will not degrade or stretch excessively under exposure to water. Inspect the underside coating periodically to ensure it remains intact.
Untreated canvas absorbs water readily and is not recommended for car wash use. Water intrusion could cause the fabric to sag and deform over time.
Aluminum and Fiberglass
Hard covers made of aluminum or fiberglass panels provide rigid protection for the truck bed. However, the seam connections between panels are vulnerable to high-pressure water.
Most manufacturers advise removing hard covers before using automated car washes to prevent water intruding into the vulnerable seams. Manual washing is gentler on the seam connections.
In summary, while a properly installed soft tonneau cover made of vinyl, canvas or other wash-friendly materials can likely withstand a touchless car wash, the safest option is to remove any tonneau cover prior to using an automated wash system.
Always check your owner’s manual and inspect the cover for tight, secure attachment before driving into a car wash. Avoid wax finishes. And consider manually washing your truck and cover to minimize risks of damage over your tonneau’s lifetime.
With proper care, your soft roll-up or folding tonneau can provide years of reliable cargo protection.