Pickup trucks are popular vehicles for both work and personal use. Their open cargo beds provide versatility for hauling a variety of items. However, an open bed can also create aerodynamic drag that reduces fuel efficiency. This leads many truck owners to wonder: Will adding a tonneau cover improve a truck’s gas mileage?
How Does a Tonneau Cover Reduce Aerodynamic Drag?
Aerodynamic drag is a force that resists motion when a vehicle moves through the air. The more aerodynamic a vehicle is, the less drag it experiences, which improves fuel efficiency.
An open truck bed causes air turbulence as air flows into the cavity behind the cab. This turbulence creates pressure changes that result in drag. A tonneau cover (also called a truck bed cover) seals the bed, smoothing airflow. This reduces drag and improves gas mileage.
How Does the Shape of a Tonneau Cover Affect Drag?
Not all tonneau covers are created equal when it comes to aerodynamics. The shape and style of the cover impact how well it seals the bed and reduces turbulence.
Hard vs Soft Covers: Hard covers like retractable and folding types provide a sleek, flush surface that smoothly seals the bed. Soft covers have folds and gaps that allow more air intrusion.
Roll-up vs Hinged: Retractable, roll-up covers fully enclose the bed when closed. Hinged covers have seams that can leak air.
Low Profile vs High: The lower the profile, the less disruption to airflow. A cover that sits close to the bed is ideal.
So in terms of drag reduction, low-profile, hard, retractable tonneau covers perform the best.
Does a Tonneau Cover Really Improve Gas Mileage?
With the science behind tonneau covers reducing drag, the question becomes: How much can they actually improve gas mileage?
Published data on real-world MPG testing with tonneau covers shows they can improve fuel efficiency, but results vary.
Gas Mileage Improvement Range
Testing by reputable sources found tonneau covers can improve gas mileage by:
- 5% to 10%: Minnesota Department of Transportation study
- 7%: Consumer Reports test
- 6% to 11%: Testing by fleet vehicle manufacturer ARI
- 10% to 15%: Industry expert estimations
So in general, you can expect a tonneau cover to increase gas mileage by around 5-15%, or 1-3 MPG, in ideal conditions. Real-world results depend on your specific truck, tonneau cover, and driving habits.
Factors That Affect Tonneau Cover Fuel Savings
While tonneau covers improve aerodynamics, several variables impact how much extra mileage you’ll get:
- Larger trucks see more improvement than smaller ones
- Trucks with wider beds benefit more than narrower ones
Tonneau Cover Style
- Hard covers provide better sealing than soft covers
- Low-profile covers cause less airflow disruption
- High-speed driving sees more impact than city driving
- Windy conditions improve savings more than calm weather
- Aggressive acceleration lowers fuel economy improvements
Under ideal circumstances, you may see gas mileage gains of 10-15%. But real-world conditions bring the average closer to a 5-10% boost. Still a meaningful benefit!
Tonneau Cover Fuel Savings Examples
To make the potential gas savings more concrete, here are some examples based on average national fuel costs and MPG improvements:
- 15 MPG city/20 MPG highway
- $4 per gallon average gas price
- 10,000 miles per year, 60% highway, 40% city
- Tonneau cover improves MPG by 10%
Yearly Fuel Costs
- Without tonneau: $2,000
- With tonneau: $1,800
- Yearly savings: $200
Large Truck, Ideal Conditions
- 10 MPG city/15 MPG highway
- $5 per gallon average gas price
- 20,000 miles per year, 80% highway, 20% city
- High-profile hard tonneau improves MPG 15%
Yearly Fuel Costs
- Without tonneau: $6,666
- With tonneau: $5,600
- Yearly savings: $1,066
While cost savings vary based on the data inputs, you can see how tonneau covers provide meaningful fuel efficiency improvements over time that outweigh their cost.
Do the Gas Savings Outweigh the Cost of a Tonneau Cover?
A tonneau cover is an investment that can pay off through fuel savings. But does the money you save on gas outweigh the upfront cost of the cover?
Tonneau Cover Cost
- Soft covers: $200-$500
- Hard covers: $500-$1,500+
With installation, plan on spending $500-$1,000+ for a high-quality hard cover.
Time to Recoup Cost
Based on average tonneau cover costs and fuel savings:
- Soft cover: 1-2 years
- Hard cover: 2-4 years
Industry experts say most tonneau owners recoup the cost in 2-3 years through fuel savings. And covers can last 5-10+ years, providing continued savings.
While not an overnight return, tonneau covers can pay for themselves in gas savings fairly quickly, especially with today’s high fuel prices. Any additional years of use provide essentially “free” savings.
Additional Benefits Beyond Improved Gas Mileage
Beyond fuel economy, tonneau covers provide other helpful benefits:
1. Cargo Protection
Tonneau covers protect cargo from weather and theft compared to an open truck bed. This security gives truck owners more options for transporting items.
2. Improved Resale Value
Trucks with tonneau covers typically have higher resale values than trucks without them. This benefit reduces depreciation when it’s time to sell your truck.
3. Enhanced Styling
Tonneau covers provide a finished, integrated look that customizes and modernizes the truck’s appearance.
While fuel savings are the primary motivation for most buyers, these extra perks add more value to tonneau cover ownership.
What’s the Best Tonneau Cover for Gas Mileage?
If you want maximum fuel economy, look for a hard, retractable, low-profile tonneau cover. The roll-up design fully encloses the bed when closed. And the smooth, flush mounting minimizes aerodynamic disruption.
Retractable covers by brands like BakFlip, GatorTrax, and Extang are excellent options to improve gas mileage. Other features like durable construction, easy installation, and weatherproofing are also useful.
With many quality covers available, do some research to find the best one to suit your truck, budget, and needs.
Add a Tonneau Cover to Boost Your Truck’s MPG
In summary, adding a tonneau cover is an effective way to improve your truck’s gas mileage and save money on fuel costs over time. You can expect a typical increase of 5-10% MPG based on real-world testing and industry expert estimates. Under ideal circumstances, you may see even better efficiency gains.
While your specific fuel savings will depend on several factors, a high-quality tonneau cover is a smart investment for the majority of truck owners. Just make sure to choose the right cover for your particular truck to maximize aerodynamic improvements.