The Shell Game: Choosing the Right Bed Cover for Your Truck

Tim LentonFeb 22, 2008
You just purchased your new (or at least, new to you) truck. You've probably already shod it with a nice set of rims. The next step to take on the pathway to customizing your ride is selecting a truck cap or tonneau cover.
Photo 2/7
A simple matter, you think? Not so fast. While the number of tops for trucks can't approach the variety of wheel offerings, a casual approach to selecting a tonneau cover or truck cap can quickly harpoon all the street cred you've previously generated with your other customization choices.
To arm you with valuable knowledge on what to look for when cruising the truck accessory lots, two general managers of successful stores reveal some inside tips to help you maximize your dollars and still end up with a quality top that complements your truck and elicits a "thumbs up" from admirers.
Fit and Finish
Just as you did when selecting your truck, one of the first things to carefully scrutinize is how the product is put together. Pride of workmanship is easily observable. Unfortunately, so is sloppy workmanship, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Photo 3/7
"Remember the ball bearing test that one upscale auto manufacturer used to show on its commercials, where they demonstrate the exacting fit of the body panels? Well, you can apply the same testing principals to a truck cap or tonneau cover," says Mark Gibbs, general manager and partner at American Camper Shells, Inc. With three Southern California Locations, including Mother Truckers near the city of Westminster, American Camper Shells is one of the largest truck top distributors and installers in Southern California.
"The fit and finish of the end product is something that the customer can see on the lot," continues Gibbs. "How the windows are installed, as far as being crooked or having gaps. The cuts of the doorjambs. The edge of the shelves. All the lines should be clean and even."
"Just because a truck cap manufacturer makes a model to fit your truck doesn't mean that their moldmakers put the same amount of passion and attention to detail into that mold; and without good fit, it just doesn't look as nice," agrees Casey Meints, manager of Campway's Truck Accessories World. Headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, Campway's operates eight retail stores in the California Bay Area, and is one of the nation's largest retailers of truck caps, lids and accessories.
"The better quality products, such as Snugtop, will fit better because they take more time in the moldmaking process," notes Meints. With roots dating back to 1959, it is one of the country's leading manufacturers of fiberglass truck caps and snuglid tonneau covers.


Mounting
Nowadays, installing a lid or cap on a truck bed is usually a no-drill situation. Still, shortcuts here can quickly yield enough squeaks and rattles to compete with your tweeters and sub-base.
Photo 4/7
"Some tonneau and truck cap manufacturers use foam tape to seal the top to the bed because it cuts costs, and some use just one double-bulb seal for the same reason," points out Gibbs. "Water doesn't get in in either case. However, look for a cap that has a two, two-bolt seals, so essentially you get four weather-stripping seals across the bottom of the truck cap. The second one gives it a much better seal and prevents the cap from rubbing against the bed of the pickup. Plus, it adds more paint protection."
The mounting mechanism should also appear unobtrusive.
"Ideally, you want a nice clamp mechanism that is hidden," continues Gibbs. "You should just see the top of the bolt with a washer on it; not a big bulky clamp. For example, Snuglid tonneau covers have a nice powder-coated, heavy gage aluminum bracket which clamps to the truck with little allen bolts showing, rather than hex-head bolts."
Photo 5/7
Durability
"Any fiberglass product is usually reinforced in the lid or the roof of the cap, so compare the differences there," begins Meints. "You can detect the thickness at the point where it drops down to the sides. At a minimum you want to see a double-layer. Some form of honeycomb reinforcement is best because it creates a double pocket and adds rigidity."
Harder to see, but revealed upon questioning, is the content of the reinforcement.
"Some manufacturers use cardboard or something even thinner but a cloth/fiberglass or resin-coated honeycomb reinforcement throughout the complete roof and truck cap results in a sturdier top," adds Gibbs.
Photo 6/7
It makes no sense to buy a truck cap or tonneau cover that won't last as long as your truck. If the top you are considering isn't backed by some kind of structural warrantybe it three-year, 36,000 mile, or lifetimethen you may want to pass.
Hardware
"One of the things that I point out to a customer is the hardware, and how it is integrated into the unit," says Meints. "In some units, hardware might just be screwed or riveted into the fiberglass or onto a piece of wood that's laminated into the fiberglass. On the better quality stuff, though, they laminate their hardware into the unit. The hardware is actually inside of the fiberglass, and just the part that you are connecting to shows."
One area that reveals clues is the hinges. Look for something that exhibits the same quality and attention to detail as your truck's hardware. Also note if the hinges are contained under the lid so that this hardware is not exposed to the elements.
"Open and close the door or top a few times," urges Meints. "Note how the hinges work; how solid they feel."
Palm handles sit on top of a surface of a lid or protrude out on a cap door. This might be preferred in some markets. Take one good look at an all-glass tailgate door or a low profile fiberglass lid and it's easy to understand why a consumer might choose no handle over a palm handle. Less is more in this case as there are many consumers who would rather have a more refined and elegant appearance.
Locking Mechanism
The locking mechanism of a truck cap door or tonneau cover warrants separate consideration.
Photo 7/7
"Locking mechanisms are a big factor, without a doubt," says Meints. "Some manufacturers have gone to really nice rotary latches. But check to see if they utilize galvanized cables. They're not horrible, but they can come loose at the crimps. Instead, stainless-steel rods are a more secure way of connecting the latch to the lock. These are like the locking rods in the door of your truck."
"We explain the quality of the materials that are used in the locking mechanisms," comments Gibbs. "Snugtop, for one, uses more "automotive-type" mechanisms. We call them the rotary catch. That's what locks the door to the truck cap. People can see the difference with their own eyes."
Other locking features such as pop-out locks that fit flush with the cover, keyless remote options, and "slam latches" can add an extra measure of convenience and style.
163 0802 08s+truck Shells+2007 Chevy Sliverado
  |   Photo by Melissa Spiering
Quality
While quality is a little harder to define compared to some of the other things to check on, it is still very much visible to the discerning eye. We sense it on an intuitive level. Subtle features such as all glass tailgate doors vs. aluminum framed tailgate doors make a difference in overall appeal of a product. In addition, a smooth automotive finished edge that blends into the truck is pleasing to the naked eye, compared to some products that have painted aluminum trim on the outside of their caps or tonneaus.
"Just like the old Mercedes salesman who urges a potential customer to, 'Close that door. You'll never hear a door close like that on a lesser car,' you can use the same test on a tonneau cover or truck cap door," Meints points out.
Meints pointed out other ways of attempting to quantify quality. "On some truck cap doors, the glass is thicker, heavier duty. You'd never know with a casual glance because the glass is often tinted. But if you look closer, you can see that some glass is thicker or has more of a curve to it; and a curve adds a lot of strength versus flat glass. When you close that door, it's good and solid."
Quality also shows in the execution of design. Look for features that complement the natural lines of your truck. Among unique cap design features include curved frame-less side windows, side pop-out windows, an integrated sculptured third brake light, removable screens that slide, or a raised center section that blends into a subtle rear spoiler on a tonneau cover. Such features usually add to the cost, but many truck owners feel it is worth it.
"Some of the people who come into our showroom are price conscious, but that is usually not the main concern," says Meints. "Americans are into their cars and trucks. We want to look good and feel good about what we drive. For example, you'd never hear somebody say, 'Hey! I'm really excited, I went to Pep Boys and for $300 I got my wheels, tires, the whole works.' But if a guy spends $2,000 and he names off a brand that's really hot, then people will say, 'Those are nice.' For some, a truck shell or tonneau is no different."
"It's for the guy who wants the peace of mind that comes with doing your research and asking the proper questions, and from buying the absolute best brand that money can buy," finishes Gibbs.

MOST POPULAR

POPULAR TRUCKS

Subscribe Today and Save up to 83%!

Subscribe Truck Trend Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truck Trend
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Diesel Power Magazine

Subscribe to:

Diesel Power
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Truckin Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truckin
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
SUBSCRIBE TO A MAGAZINE
TO TOP