How to Choose the Right Bed Cover for Your Truck

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Cars.com photos by Thom Cannell; manufacturer images

By Thom Cannell

So, you've decided your truck needs a cap, top, doghouse or some sort of cover. How can you decide among all the types and styles, options and features that are available? We spoke to Matt Blais, vice president of sales and marketing for LTA Manufacturing, to help you make informed decisions about accessorizing your truck.

Related: Quick Install: Bed Covers Improve MPGs

LTA is the halo company that owns Ranch, ATC and Jason truck tops, and LoadMaster cargo management systems. We spoke to Blais at Ranch's facility in Elkhart, Ind., to create a decision tree for you.

"The first thing," Blais said, "is to decide on your use and lifestyle. Are you a hunter, a tradesman or simply concerned about the weather? All these are factors."

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We scrutinized those lifestyles — and work styles — for guidance. For instance, do you pull a trailer (work, horse, race)? If so, fuel economy isn't your first concern. Yet, a sloping, high-top cap will redirect airflow for improved fuel economy while offering increased storage capacity. That's a win-win.

Outdoors Family

A truck owner or family devoted to the outdoors — hunting and fishing or camping — might opt for a tall, regular cap. Adding side access doors makes it easier to grab a rod and reel or shotgun. If you share these activities with dogs, remember that the American Humane Association recommends all pets ride in the truck cab.

Image Conscious

Another owner might be focused on having a great looking truck with closed storage for golf clubs or other sports equipment. "That's a job for Ranch's Icon cap, a very OEM-looking add-on that can be equipped with OEM-style keyless entry," Blais said.

Security Conscious

Someone looking only for security and weatherproof storage might select a simple tonneau cover to keep groceries and personal items out of view. 

The Working Owner

Finally, tradesmen typically want safe storage, side access to toolboxes and parts, and may use LoadMaster sliding access to roll out their compressors, toolboxes, and other heavy and heavy-duty equipment. LoadMaster's sliding "beds" are duty-rated in several options, from 600 pounds up.

"With a LoadMaster, you'd never have to scramble into the bed on hands and knees, which is painful and time-consuming," Blais told us.

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An option across the board is roof racks; they allow customers to precisely anchor kayaks, bikes and storage containers. LTA uses Yakima and other rack suppliers. Ladder racks holding up to 600 pounds are available by ordering built-in reinforcement for any cap. That's seldom necessary, except in the trades, as the standard caps are rated to hold several hundred pounds. If you're in a hurry to add a cap to a popular color, a few dealers stock inventory. However, most caps and tonneaus are built to order, so plan ahead.

We take you through the building process of a Ranch top in the photos below.

Editor's note: This post was updated May 3, 2019, to remove mention of BOLT locks, which are no longer available through LTA, and on May 2, 2019, to correct the spelling of the Ranch brand name.

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Every pickup cap or tonneau to starts with a mold. The molds are expensive to build and require maintenance after making a few dozen caps.

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Cap production begins by spraying a release compound into the mold, followed by a gel coat — there's a right way and a wrong way to spray the three-layer 20-millimeter thickness. The primer gel coat is the layer that is color sprayed later.

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Next, the mold gets a spray of chopped fiberglass, resin and catalyst. The spray is delivered by a special "chopper" gun, which is fed both liquid and a yarn of fiberglass. The first lamination (layer) must be rolled out to eliminate any air bubbles and compact the layer.

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Following the first layer, a cardboard honeycomb is dropped into the upside-down mold. As the second layer is sprayed, it will fill the mat with catalyzed resin and become "hard as a rock," according to Blais. By permeating the honeycomb, catalyzed resin becomes solid and prevents sags in the roof.

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Following this second layer, the base rail is added, followed by a cut and trim to final dimensions.

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Some tops and tonneaus may have an optional sound-deadening headliner rolled in. Ranch uses polyethylene terephthalate carpeting made from recycled water bottles and applied with water-based adhesive. The next step is to trim and finish the base rail where it wraps over the bed rails. This is a critical step for a premium look; the eye easily detects minor variations.

Once paint preparation is complete, the top or tonneau goes into a paint booth for base-coat spray. Then it rolls into the second spray booth for clear-coat application. Paint and clear coat are followed by about 30 minutes in a 140-to-150-degree bake oven. At this point the cap or tonneau is cured, but Blais says you can't power wash (or likely a brush-type car wash as well) for a month.

The final assembly point is adding any doors or windows to get finished products like you see below.

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