To fold or to roll, that is the question Whether/'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of a shoddy tonneau cover/Or to take arms against a sea of tonneau troubles/And by opposing, end them. To snap, to tear/No more.
These days, finding a quality tonneau cover for your rig can be a down-right tragedy. One search on the internet delivers a venerable cornucopia of choices. Hard, soft, roll, fold, snap, tri, bi, retract, hinge—there are enough choices to scare off the ghost of King Hamlet himself. The amount of styles one is presented is, of course, only overshadowed by the number of tonneau manufacturers that exist. There’s got to be a ton of money to be made by producing tonneau covers because there is no shortage of companies.
In the old days, my uncle Claude would take me on a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico to get a tonneau made for his El Camino. We’d navigate our way deep into the sticky streets of industrial TJ, looking for the little upholstery shop that my uncle did business with. I don’t know how he knew them or how he found them but he did. The place, Jalisco’s, was always abuzz with craftsmen making seat covers and tonneaus while drinking from an endless supply of Tecate beer. After a beer and some broken-English bartering, my uncle would take me to lunch in downtown TJ. After we ate, he always bought me cinnamon-soaked churro, then he’d wink and warn me not to tell my aunt Gertrude. When we got back to Jalisco’s, my uncle’s El Camino would be sporting a brand new tonneau cover.
Those simple days of Tecate beer, border crossings and chorizo burritos are gone now. Mass production, maquiladoras and homeland security have poured hemlock into the ear of hand-made tonneaus from Mexico and left us with a hodge-podge of what are now called “truck bed covers.” On some level it brings a tear to my nostalgic eye—on the other hand, I realize that my uncle’s tonneau was really a clunky tarp that actually snapped to his vehicle. And, the snaps were drilled right into the side of his car, permanently!
Today, tonneau covers are simply amazing. The higher-end gear can be installed in minutes with no drilling or cutting. They come off just as fast and leave no trace of their existence on your rig. Instead of snaps and straps, modern tarps use quality Velcro or roller tracks to stay on. This also means accessing all the stuff in your bed is easier than ever. Some covers fold open, some even have spring-loaded latches and gas struts that lift them up for you. And, with the popularity of e-commerce sites, you can have one of these cool tonneau covers delivered right to your front door.
To narrow it down a bit and keep the costs within this stratosphere, it’s a good idea to opt for a roll-up or folding tonneau. The roll-up tarps are usually held fast with Velcro and have spring-activated tension adjusters to keep your tarp taught. When you need access, you simply roll the cover like a blanket. It rolls up to your cab where you can strap it open or roll it shut again.
The folding covers are usually comprised of a tarp that’s stretched over a lightweight frame. The frame is hinged in sections that allow you to lift it like a hard cover. You can lift sections separately on the nicer covers, giving you access to the different parts of your bed. This is a great choice for those who work in the field and need to access their bed frequently.
The end of this debate is no tragedy though. Even though spending a drunken day in Mexico with your uncle is a thing of the past, getting a high-quality folding or roll-up tonneau cover is something we can all do today.