If you’ve noticed bubbles forming on your truck bed tonneau cover, you’re not alone. Bubbling is a common problem that tonneau cover owners face. But what causes the dreaded bubbles that can ruin the sleek look of your truck bed cover?
What Are Some Common Causes of Bubbling in Tonneau Covers?
There are several potential culprits that can lead to bubbling of tonneau covers:
One of the most common causes of tonneau cover bubbling is excessive heat. When tonneau covers sit for extended periods in direct sunlight, the adhesive can soften and expand. As the glue expands, it pushes up on the vinyl cover, creating bubbles. This is especially common with soft vinyl covers.
Parking your truck in the shade can help prevent heat damage. But for most truck owners, that’s not always possible. Using a tonneau cover designed for maximum heat resistance can help. Opt for a cover made with heavy-duty marine grade vinyl that is UV treated.
Bubbling is often a sign that the tonneau cover was not installed correctly. If the cover is not pulled taut and secured correctly, it can develop slack areas. These loose spots allow the vinyl to billow up while driving.
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely when installing a tonneau cover. It is crucial to get the right amount of tension to prevent any bubbling or rippling issues down the road.
Damage from Use
Tonneau covers see a lot of wear and tear. They endure sunlight, rain, snow, dirt, and more. It’s not surprising that over time, breakdown of materials can occur.
Vinyl covers can develop small cracks or holes, allowing air to get trapped between the cover and bed. As you drive, the wind causes the trapped air to expand, forming bubbles beneath the cover.
Inspect your cover regularly for any signs of wear, damage, or cracking. Address any issues right away to prevent bigger problems.
Moisture getting trapped between the truck bed and tonneau cover is another potential cause of bubbling. Sources of moisture can include rain, snow, and condensation.
Trapped water has no where to go, so it pools and pushes up on the vinyl cover. This causes the surface of the cover to bubble up.
Making sure your cover is properly sealed can help prevent moisture from sneaking in. Periodically remove the cover and allow the truck bed to completely dry out to evaporate any trapped moisture.
Loose Side Rails or Clamps
For tonneau covers that mount to the side rails of the truck bed, loose rails or clamps can lead to bubbling issues. If the rails are not securely attached to the truck bed, the cover will not be held tightly in place.
As you drive, any looseness allows the cover to flap and ripple. This movement puts stress on the vinyl, causing it to bubble up.
Go over all of the rails and clamps to ensure they are tight and properly secured. It may also be necessary to adjust the tension of the cover periodically to take up any slack.
Are Vinyl Tonneau Covers More Prone to Bubbling?
Vinyl is the most popular material for tonneau covers, prized for its affordability and durability. However, the properties of vinyl do make it more susceptible to bubbling issues compared to other cover materials.
The polymers in vinyl make it flexible and stretchable. While this is beneficial in some ways, it also means vinyl can expand and contract easily. Temperature fluctuations and physical stresses can lead to distortion in vinyl over time.
Additionally, vinyl covers are prone to trapping heat beneath them. This retained heat can then cause the vinyl and adhesives to soften and expand. Hence, the bubbles.
Other tonneau cover materials like aluminum and hard polymer are better at resisting bubbling:
- Aluminum covers won’t expand in heat or bubble under pressure. The rigid sheets keep their form. However, aluminum covers are easily dented and expensive.
- Hard polymer covers combine the rigidity of aluminum with the affordability of vinyl. The polymer material resists distortion while still being somewhat flexible. This makes hard covers less prone to bubbling.
So in short – yes, the very properties that make vinyl covers popular also increase susceptibility to bubbling. Proper care and installation helps minimize, but not eliminate, their tendency to bubble over time.
At What Speeds Do Bubbling Issues Worsen?
Driving speed can impact the likelihood and severity of tonneau cover bubbling. At faster speeds, the turbulent wind flowing over the truck bed exerts more force on the cover. This increases the stress on cover seams and adhesives.
Generally, bubbling worsens over 50-60 mph in cases where a pre-existing issue exists. Covers that are loosely installed, have trapped moisture, or are damaged are most likely to start bubbling around highway speeds.
The violent whipping at high speeds rips at imperfections, allowing air to infiltrate and bubble up the vinyl. Even securely installed covers can eventually weaken and bubble from exposure to prolonged fast driving.
That said, bubbling can occur at any speed. Lower speeds under 35 mph may allow small bubbles to appear if conditions are right. But the most drastic worsening often happens above 50 mph as wind forces multiply.
Keeping an eye on the cover at various speeds helps detect the initial stages of bubbling before major issues arise. Addressing any small bubbles early is key to prevent escalation.
Can Parking in the Sun Worsen Bubbling?
Yes, parking your truck in direct sunlight can certainly exacerbate any bubbling issues with the tonneau cover. As mentioned earlier, heat is a primary cause of vinyl cover bubbling.
The hot sun beams down on the truck bed, rapidly heating up the cover. The absorbed thermal energy causes the vinyl cover and adhesive layers to expand. As expansion occurs, bubbles form.
This is especially true on hot, summer days. Interior truck bed temperatures can soar over 150°F in the sun. These extreme heat levels wreak havoc on vinyl and glues.
Even on milder days, the greenhouse effect trapped beneath the cover spikes temperatures beyond ambient levels. Over time, repeated sun exposure takes its toll through thermal wear and tear.
Seeking shade whenever possible is wise to extend the life of your cover. Park in the garage, under trees, or invest in a high-quality cover that is guaranteed to withstand sun damage.
Can Humidity and Moisture Worsen Bubbling?
Definitely. Humidity and moisture are other environmental enemies of tonneau covers. Rain, snow, and condenensation can all contribute to bubbling if allowed to be trapped under the cover.
Humidity refers to the level of water vapor suspended in warm air. As humid air contacts the cooler tonneau cover, the vapor condenses into liquid water droplets on the underside of the vinyl.
These droplets pool and get stuck between cover and truck bed. As you drive, the water pushes up and deforms the vinyl, resulting in hideous bubbles.
Similarly, if rain or melting snow seeps into the truck bed, bubbling can occur as the water gets trapped and has no where to drain properly.
Ensuring proper sealing and periodically removing the cover to allow the truck bed to fully dry helps minimize the impact of humidity and moisture.
Do Aftermarket Tonneau Covers Bubble More Easily Than OEM Covers?
Truck owners face the choice between buying an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) tonneau cover or choosing an aftermarket brand. Is one more prone to bubbling issues?
The short answer is: it depends. The likelihood of bubbling has more to do with the specific cover construction than it does with OEM vs aftermarket origin.
Many OEM covers are made with heavy-duty marine vinyl but secured with basic snaps or bows. These can bubble. Meanwhile, some premium aftermarket brands use the latest polymers, rail mounts, and sealing methods to outperform OEM covers.
That said, OEM covers do often follow more rigorous factory testing. And they are designed specifically for your truck make and model. An imperfect fit can cause aftermarket cover issues down the road.
When choosing any tonneau cover, look for thick, durable materials, secure mounting, and weatherproof sealing regardless of OEM or aftermarket origin. And follow installation instructions precisely. With proper care, any quality cover should resist bubbling for years.
What Problems Can Bubbling Cause With Tonneau Covers?
Those unsightly bubbles don’t just detract from the look of your truck. They can lead to bigger issues if left unaddressed.
1. Reduced Performance
The smooth, flat profile of a tonneau cover helps air flow over the truck bed. Bubbles and ripples disrupt airflow, reducing performance. Fuel economy can suffer as bubbled areas create drag.
2. Material Degradation
Once bubbling starts, further breakdown of the vinyl occurs. The bouncing effect strains cover seams, causing tears and cracks. Water ingress accelerates deterioration, warp ring, and mold growth.
3. Safety Hazards
Severely bubbled covers become prone to detaching from the truck at highway speeds. Partial detachment results in flapping sections that could blow off and become dangerous road hazards for other vehicles.
4. Cargo Damage
Flapping bubbled areas can damage cargo in the truck bed. Sensitive loads can be ruined by contact with stressed cover sections. Even durable cargo gets abraded over time by the cover moving against it.
Clearly, it pays to address any bubbling right away before it cascades into further issues!
What Steps Can Prevent Tonneau Cover Bubbling?
While it may be impossible to prevent bubbling forever, there are ways to maximize the bubble-free life of your cover:
Choose Quality Construction
Invest in the best quality cover you can afford. Seek thick, marine grade vinyl stabilized for UV resistance. Forgo the snaps for secure rail or clamp installation. Pay for quality over price.
Carefully follow manufacturer directions during installation. Adhere to torque specs on clamps or rails. Make sure you achieve proper tension – not too loose but not overly tight.
Inspect cover seals and connection points regularly. Look for cracks or damage. Keep the cover and truck bed clean to prevent dirt and debris leading to wear.
Manage Environmental Factors
Park in shade when possible. Remove cover to allow drying if moisture builds up. Avoid exposing to unnecessary loads. Use tire covers to reduce gravel damage.
What Steps Can Fix an Already Bubbled Tonneau Cover?
First, determine the cause of the bubbling through careful inspection. Look for heat or environmental damage, installation flaws, trauma sites, or material degradation.
Address the underlying issue first. For example, tighten loose clamps, seal moisture entry points, or replace damaged sections.
For purely cosmetic bubbles, try gently massaging the cover while applying heat from a hair dryer or heat gun. The combination of warmth and light pressure can sometimes smooth small bubbles.
Use adhesive glue like 3M 8000 to carefully inject additional glue into bubbled areas and re-adhere the cover. Clamp tightly while the glue sets.
For severe cases of extensive bubbling, the only true fix may be to replace the cover completely. Seek professional advice to assess if your cover can be repaired or needs replacement.
When Should a Tonneau Cover Be Replaced Due to Bubbling?
It’s a judgment call as to when bubbling and related damage makes tonneau cover replacement necessary. Consider the following factors:
- Size and quantity of bubbles – Are they large and widespread or localized and minor?
- Cause of bubbling – Does the root issue indicate material failure?
- Presence of additional damage – Are there rips, mold, or missing sections?
- Age of cover – Has it reached or exceeded expected lifespan?
- Effect on truck function – Is cargo or mpg impacted?
- Aesthetic value – Are the bubbles an eyesore you can’t live with?
- Safety factor – Could detachment make the cover a hazard?
- Cost of professional repair vs replacement – Will repair expenses exceed replacement cost?
Evaluate all these aspects before deciding if it’s time to say goodbye to that bubbled cover for a fresh new replacement. Your truck will look and function better with a smooth new cover properly installed.
Bubbling tonneau covers are an annoying reality for many truck owners. But understanding what causes the bubbles is the first step toward prevention. With proper care and maintenance, your cover can look pristine and bubble-free for years before needing replacement.
Address small issues early and choose quality to avoid untimely bubbling. Keep your cover securely installed to maximize trouble-free performance. Your truck will maintain its stylish profile while benefiting from the protection and improved function a tonneau cover provides.