- Automotive Aftermarket Parts & Modifications
Folding Tonneau Cover Buyer's Guide
The popular folding hard tonneau cover
As some of my readers already know, I use to sell truck accessories, so I write these hubs to offer advice and information to help you decide what to buy. For this hub I want to review an accessory that seems to be particularly popular these days. While technically not new, folding tonneau covers seem to be more popular now than ever and I can tell you why.
There was a time when folding covers were an interesting idea, but poorly designed, and poorly constructed, so one-piece, hard fiberglass, painted to match tonneau covers were the thing to have. They were always fairly hassle-free, useful, and looked awesome. But removing a hard fiberglass tonneau cover is NOT easy, I repeat, it’s a big pain, takes at least three people to do if you have a full-size truck, then you have to store it somewhere. People like the idea of something that can be easily removed, or fold up out of their way in order to haul things like large kitchen appliances and furniture. A retractable cover can roll up out of your way, but they cost a bit more than a folding cover and you ultimately lose some bed space because of the canister that the cover needs to roll up into, and it’s not removable–that’s why it rolls up. So I think, even though they aren’t the greatest looking, the folding cover is a great solution. They are not only versatile, but they offer security as well—something you won’t get with a soft vinyl cover— and they’re relatively cheap compared to retractable and hard fiberglass covers, and best of all, some are really easy to install, but be careful, not all of them are the same, and I will explain. There are A LOT of different brands, so I will review the ones I think are the most popular.
Extang Solid Fold
This is one of my favorites because it’s just so simple. It’s reasonably priced, figure about $800, well-made, and my favorite part, it installs in just a few minutes, seconds in fact. I know that sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
When you take this cover out of the box, you simply line it up to the front part of your bed behind your cab window, then lay down underneath it, slide the clamps all the way across under the bed rails(the clamps are attached in a track), and clamp it down. Each clamp is like a plastic wignut (see photos). That’s really all it takes. Yes, you have to then fold the cover back, and clamp it down in the rear, but those are simply spring-loaded handles(see photos). It’s fast and easy, probably weighs about 45 lbs, but I’ve put them on totally by myself, which is something you cannot do with any one-piece cover or retractable cover. The other benefit to this is they come off just as easy, so if you do need to totally remove it, you can and it’s a lot easier to store folded up than a one-piece hard cover. The individual panels (Solid Fold has three) are also repairable, so if you damage one, that section can be replaced. The biggest complaints on this cover is that the folded up sections block 1/3 of the bed (they don’t prop up like other covers, that’s why they are so easy to install) and a lot of people complain that it has no lock, but truth be told, you don’t need it, you only need to have a lock on your tailgate. In fact, most of the folding covers I’m reviewing don’t actually have locks. When the tailgate is locked, you cannot get into the cover–yes, that means you have to open the gate to undo those spring-loaded handles. Most people don’t realize that traditional tonneau covers only worked to lock down a bed because they fit over the tailgate, but they never actually locked that down. The good news is, most new trucks now come with tailgate locks. The fullsize GM trucks, Dodge Rams, Tundra’s, F150/250s-all come factory with a lock on the tailgate. Rangers never did, or Tacomas. For trucks that don’t have tailgate locks, you need to purchase a separate aftermarket tailgate lock, I recommend the Pop N Lock. It’s a good thing to have even if you aren’t buying a folding cover because tailgates get stolen quite easily.
Solid Fold hardware-what's underneath
Rugged Liner brand Rugged Cover
There really isn’t much to say about this that’s different than the Extang Solid Fold except maybe that it’s cheaper. It’s basically a carbon copy of the Solid Fold-the clamps are slightly different, but same concept. I have been told that it’s actually easier to use than the Solid Fold, which would be amazing given that the Solid Fold is super easy to use. This cover hasn’t been out too long so I don’t know what the company’s customer service is like. I know that Extang is pretty good–in case something brakes or it comes damaged in shipping. If you can pick up this cover online for a significant savings over the Solid Fold, go for it.
Closeup of a Solid Fold cover
Fold a Cover G4 Elite-Steffens Automotive
Just a bit of caution on this one, yes, it’s well-made, the operation of the latches and parts etc. are nice and smooth, but it’s a pain to install. It also comes with built-in locks, but as I noted before, locks on a tonneau cover mean nothing if you don’t lock the tailgate. Yes, they say that the cover locks into the tailgate, but trust me, you can force open a lot of tailgates with locks like that if you give it a good hard tug. Why is it more difficult to install compared to covers like the Soild Fold and Rugged Cover? It has to do with the design and getting front-bed access. Most folding covers are made up of several panels that fold toward the cab section to open up. This cover does that, however, the very front section closest to the cab folds back toward the tailgate, independent of the other sections so you can get access to the front of the bed which is not possible with covers like the Solid Fold. Many people see this as an advantage, but fail to realize that in order for a cover to do that, a complete inside frame must be installed, which can be complicated and often times it makes the cover NOT removable. The company will tell you that you shouldn’t need to remove it, but what they’re really saying is you’re not going to want to remove it. The locks are also an issue as they need to line up perfectly in order for them to work. You just have to do a lot of adjusting and tweaking to get it all operating smoothly. It use to take my installers several hours to install one of these covers. Like I said, the quality of it is good, it’s just a complicated design. Compare that to taking a cover out of the box and having it installed in only a few minutes. Of course this means nothing if you plan on never taking it off, but I maintain that one of the great things about folding covers is their ability to be easily removed for maxim use of your bed, just imagine if you wanted to pick up a couch and this thing was in your way. The other thing that makes this cover different is the ‘personal caddy’ accessory, which is basically a box that can fit toward the front of the bed underneath that front access panel. Neat idea, but it’s way too expensive of an option in my opinion. By the way, Extang has a new cover now that is similar to this called the Encore, and I would imagine it’s complicated as well, for the very reasons I just described.
Fold a Cover
The Bakflip has been a fairly popular cover, mostly because all the panels fold up-giving you full access, unlike the Fold a Cover, it actually comes up and out of the way–also something the Solid Fold and Rugged Cover don’t do, and you can prop it up like you do if you open the hood on your car, and you can even drive with the cover up like that-although I wouldn’t recommend doing that and I’ll tell you why. So, instead of having the front section of the cover fold the opposite way to gain front bed access, it simply folds up. Notice on the pictures I’m posting that the rod used to prop up the cover while it’s folded, fits into this adjustable slot. This just seems a little unstable to me. Truck beds flex and move a lot when they’re in motion, more so than most people realize. If you were to see your bed and cab—two independent bodies on the same frame—moving in slow motion while driving over a country road, you would be amazed at how they move. Now if all you’re doing is picking up a load of stuff from Home Depot that is only 2 miles from your house, and you want to keep that cover propped up, I wouldn’t sweat it. Of course because of that front folding section this means that this cover too has an inside frame that needs to be installed. I’ll be honest, when my shop first started selling these we really weren’t impressed with the quality of it, mostly the seals between sections, but I will say that they are easier to install than the Fold a Cover, not as easy as the Solid Fold though, and their quality has improved now.
The BAKFlip up close
Undercover brand Flex Cover
This cover is new, and the reason it interests me is because the Undercover hard plastic tonneau cover they sell is top-notch, in fact it is one of the only one-piece hard covers I recommend. I have honestly never had a bad experience with the company, and I am told by a friend who still sells this stuff, that this cover is no exception. It operates much like the BACKFlip G2-looks identical, that is to say the panels fold toward to the front of the truck to open, with all panels tilting up out of your way once completely folded in order to get full bed access. The G2 does the same thing, the main difference with the Flex is, it’s propped up with a gas charged pneumatic arm, much like a camper shell door, and the way it pops into place is much more secure than the way the G2 does-see the pictures. Again, this cover has no actual lock on it, but like I said, locking the tailgate is what secures the cover, and it’s all you need.
I hope this info helps, I know there are other brands, so always do your research. There are a lot of online forums where people talk about the products they have bought and what they do and don’t like about them. You can always post a question here or e-mail me, I always try to provide a detailed and quick response.