Truck Bed Cover Pros and Cons

Should You Cover the Bed of Your Pickup?

Pickup truck with bed cover in the sunshine

CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Should you leave your truck's bed open, cover it securely with a tonneau, or add a shell? The best solution for your needs depends on how you use your pickup truck.

Open Truck Beds

An open truck bed allows easy access to all areas of the bed, along with the ability to haul tall cargo without removing a cover or pushing it out of the way, which blocks a portion of the bed. Three downsides of an open truck bed are the lack of weather protection, no security for hauled items, and an increased chance of losing items from the bed as you drive.

Tonneau Type Covers

Tonneau truck bed covers are available in many styles and are made from a wide variety of materials. Go shopping, and you'll find hard one-piece fiberglass bed covers, canvas tonneau covers, as well as roll-up and flip-up covers. Rigid, one-piece truck bed covers look good and are durable, but they limit the size and shape of cargo that can be hauled without completely removing the cover. They lock securely, allowing you to safely store items in the truck bed.

Canvas bed covers can be easily removed and stored, providing full bed access, but they cannot be locked. Roll-up and fold-up bed covers have benefits and drawbacks, but most do lock. They can be a good compromise for truck owners who need to cover their truck bed only part of the time. 

One benefit to tonneau covers is improved fuel mileage. Owners may notice as much as a mile per gallon improvement when compared to a truck with an open bed, whether the tailgate is up or down. The numbers are controversial. Not everyone agrees the studies are accurate.

Truck Bed Shells

Truck bed shells, usually called camper shells, come in all shapes and sizes and are usually made from aluminum or fiberglass. These shells are generally secure and offer excellent weather protection for your cargo. Most have windows, and some are designed with a rear door or gate that opens upward and closes against the tailgate. Others shells have a standard door that extends down to the floor.

Shell roof heights can vary greatly, depending on your needs, and they can even extend over the truck's cab. If you hunt or go camping, a shell provides a dry, covered sleeping area, and there are many types of bed accessories to make your sleep more comfortable.

The primary drawback to a camper shell is that the entire shell must be removed if you need to carry something that won't fit through the door, or is too tall for the shell's height. It takes a few people to lift the shell off of the truck and place it into a storage area where it won't be damaged, and more help to get it back on the truck later. Another drawback: If the shell is higher than the cab, it will create wind resistance that can lower fuel mileage.