Pickup truck owners love the versatility of having an open bed for hauling cargo. But leaving your truck bed exposed also leaves your gear vulnerable to weather and theft. That’s where truck bed tonneau covers come in handy. Tonneau covers protect your cargo while adding a nice finished look to your truck.
But what if you need to use the full truck bed while keeping the tonneau cover installed? Is it possible to access your truck bed without removing the entire tonneau cover? Let’s find out.
What Are The Different Types of Tonneau Covers?
There are three main types of tonneau covers to consider:
Hard Tonneau Covers
Hard covers are made from aluminum, fiberglass, or plastic. They provide the most protection and security but are the least versatile for bed access. Hard covers open by:
- Folding in sections (bi-fold or tri-fold)
- Retracting into a canister at the cab (roll-up)
- Hinging open (flip-up lids)
Soft Tonneau Covers
Soft covers use vinyl, canvas, or other fabric over a framework. They roll or fold up for partial bed access. Most attach with snaps or Velcro. Soft covers include:
- Roll-up vinyl covers
- Snap-on canvas covers
- Folding covers
Hybrid Tonneau Covers
Hybrid tonneaus combine hard and soft cover abilities. Some examples are:
- Folding hard panels with vinyl hinge covers
- Hard lids with soft roll-up sides
- Retractable vinyl cover with a hard canister box
Accessing The Bed Without Removing The Cover
The ability to access your truck bed without completely removing the tonneau cover depends on the specific cover you have installed.
Hard Folding Covers
Tri-fold and bi-fold (folding panel) tonneau covers allow you to fold the panels forward or rearward. This exposes part of the bed without detaching the cover. It’s perfect for long cargo that may stick out. Keep in mind folding hard covers have weight limits per panel. Make sure to not exceed the rated capacity.
Retractable hard canister covers roll up to reveal the entire bed. With soft roll-up tonneaus, you can roll the vinyl cover forward or backward. Roll-up covers allow full bed access without removing the rails. Make sure the rolled cover doesn’t obstruct your rearview mirror when driving.
Hybrid covers like the BAKFlip G2 provide the best of both worlds. You can flip open the hard panels to gain complete bed access. The underside vinyl surface allows you to drive securely with the cover opened. No need to detach the entire unit.
Some soft covers have spring-loaded or gas-cylinder lifts to make opening easier. You can flip these covers over the cab or tailgate when you need full bed access. The framework usually stays attached to the bed rails.
Avoid Driving With Soft Fabric Cover Open
It’s not recommended to drive with soft vinyl or canvas tonneaus completely open. The wind can catch the fabric and rip it off. Only open soft covers when parked or at very low speeds.
How To Remove a Tonneau Cover
Though some covers allow partial or complete access when opened, you’ll inevitably need to remove the tonneau completely at some point. Here are the general steps:
Hard Aluminum Covers
- Remove tailgate end clamps
- Loosen side clamp bolts
- Slide rails out and lift off cover
Hard Folding Covers
- Release all panel latches
- Remove any tailgate pins or locks
- Lift panels off mounting rails
Soft Roll-Up Covers
- Unclamp rails at tailgate end
- Unbolt side rail clamps
- Roll up vinyl and slide out rails
Snap-On Vinyl Covers
- Release all snap-on edges
- Unscrew front header panel
- Roll up vinyl cover
Once you’ve removed the tonneau cover, carefully place it somewhere safe like a stable work table or sawhorses. Never lay it directly on the ground. The underside may collect dirt and debris that scratches your truck bed when re-installing.
Cargo Compatibility With Tonneau Covers
What types of cargo can you haul with certain tonneau covers installed? Here are some examples:
- Ladders – Place step ladders inside with tri-fold or roll-up covers opened. For extension ladders, keep tailgate up and run ladder through rear opening.
- Lumber – Retractable and roll-up covers allow you to insert lumber through the front bed opening when opened.
- Furniture – Sofas, mattresses, etc. can fit by opening a hard tri-fold cover. Flip open panels or roll up soft vinyl covers.
- ATVs/Motorcycles – ATVs and dirt bikes fit nicely under a retractable or soft roll-up cover. Hard folding covers work too depending on vehicle height.
- Camping Gear – Bikes, coolers, tents, etc. fit great under any cover. Access through the tailgate or flip open panels/roll-up covers.
- Appliances – Open-lid hard covers allow loading top-load washers or refrigerators. Use ramps and ratchet straps to secure front-load appliances.
Is It OK To Drive With The Tonneau Cover Open?
Driving with an open tonneau cover is situation-dependent:
- Hard covers and retractable tonneaus are designed for driving when opened, within reason. Make sure cargo is secured.
- Soft fold-up and roll-up fabric covers should remain closed when driving. The wind force can seriously damage the fabric.
- Avoid driving faster than 45 mph with any open tonneau cover. Increased wind noise and turbulence will occur.
- Only drive short distances with an opened cover to load/unload cargo. Close the cover before highway driving.
- If properly secured, bulky cargo like ladders or lumber often protrude above open covers during local driving. Just go slow and avoid highways.
- Never rely on a tonneau cover to restrain cargo. Always use tiedowns. Loose cargo can cause accidents when driving open.
Securing Cargo With A Tonneau Cover
A tonneau cover may discourage theft but does not actually secure cargo on its own. Proper tiedowns are still needed when transporting gear. Here are some tips:
- Use rated cargo hooks attached to the bed or rail system. Don’t rely solely on tiedowns attached to the cover.
- Tarp your cargo first for optimal weather protection and tie directly to secure hooks.
- Use edge protectors on straps to avoid rubbing on the cover panels.
- Folding panels and roll-up covers have weight limits. Check your manual and do not exceed.
- Hard canister covers usually have high weight capacities. But always secure to proper bed hooks.
Other Tonneau Cover Usage Tips
To utilize your truck bed with a tonneau cover installed, keep these pointers in mind:
- For odd-shaped cargo, remove the cover for complete access and easier loading/unloading.
- Use truck bed extenders to maximize cargo capacity with the tailgate down. Works great with tonneaus.
- Install side storage boxes for gear you access frequently without opening the cover.
- For oversized cargo, a removable rack system may make more sense than a hard tonneau cover. Or find a soft cover model.
- Manage expectations. A cover reduces some capability and convenience compared to an open bed. Plan accordingly.
- Measure your max cargo dimensions. Length/width/height when cover is open. Pre-check fit.
- Use foam blocks or edge liners to prevent cargo rubbing against the cover panels and rails during transport.
Maintenance For Optimal Tonneau Performance
Like any truck accessory, proper maintenance is key. Here are some tonneau cover care tips:
- Periodically re-tighten any bolts on hard covers and clamps on soft covers. Check for loose parts.
- Lubricate hinges and rails with silicone spray if operating roughly.
- Wash vinyl/canvas soft covers with mild soap and water only. Avoid harsh cleaners.
- Seals and weatherstripping on hard covers should be replaced if leaking or damaged.
- For retractable and roll-up covers, check for alignment and adjust tension.
- Treat vinyl/canvas with protectants to prevent UV damage. Use dedicated vinyl cleaners.
- Minor vinyl repairs can be made with adhesive patch kits. Replace worn fabric.
- Replace any broken hardware like latches or snaps immediately to avoid cover failure.
Proper care makes your tonneau cover last. Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance tips to keep it working like new.
At the end of the day, remember why you wanted a tonneau cover in the first place. It provides much-needed protection and improves your truck’s look. You gain versatile cargo capacity that works for most needs. Occasional large or unusually-shaped cargo may require full bed access by removing the cover. That’s the tradeoff.
With the right tonneau cover choice and creative loading, you can utilize your truck bed without having to take off the cover every time. Retractable, folding and roll-up designs allow partial or complete access when opened. Just be sure to close them before highway driving. With good planning and preparation, a tonneau cover and usable truck bed are not mutually exclusive. Drive on!