What Features Matter Most When Looking for the Best Budget Tonneau Covers (+ Our Top Picks)

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Access Roll up tonneau cover

You bought a truck so you could use it, not let the bed sit empty, right? We thought so. And we’re also guessing that getting expensive tools stolen out of your bed isn’t on your to-do list today.

Thank goodness for tonneau covers.

Now, you could always splurge for the absolute best fiberglass tonneau cover. You know, those high-tech electric styles and those fancy one-piece hydraulic designs. But that would cost as much as your mortgage payment and the four streaming services your home can’t live without.

We have another suggestion.

Some surprisingly cheap tonneau covers will more than withstand the test of time while keeping threats — both foreign and domestic — out of your cargo.

Before we get to our recommendations, let’s talk about the ideal best tonneau cover, which features are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves, as well as how to ensure the perfect fit for your truck.

How Do You Know a Tonneau Cover Will Fit?

ProZ SoftFold folding tonneau coverThe key to a solid and secure tonneau cover is making sure it provides complete coverage for your truck bed. While a universal fit is fine for accessories like car seat covers and floor mats, you definitely want a custom fit for your tonneau cover. Any gaps in the corners — or a sliver of space between the cover and the side of your truck — and the whole purpose is defeated.

To ensure a perfect fit for your tonneau cover, be sure to enter your precise vehicle information. Any reputable source will ask for your truck’s year, make, and model. Once your vendor knows which truck you have, they can tailor the search results to your needs.

Your tonneau cover will arrive in the exact dimensions you need, and a beautiful love affair of security and convenience will begin. 

What is the Difference Between Soft and Hard Bed Covers?

The first choice you make when narrowing your tonneau cover options is soft or hard cover. This decision often comes down to your personalized needs and desired price point. In other words, hard covers aren’t always better even though they often cost more. Soft covers can also serve most – if not all – of your needs. 

Here is a brief breakdown of each type of tonneau cover and when you might want them.

Soft Tonneau Covers:

When getting the absolute best price on tonneau covers is your top priority, you may lean toward a soft cover.

These covers are great for keeping rain and snow out of the truck bed while boasting a smaller price tag. Sometimes they even lock at the tailgate to make it more difficult to break in. Their most unique benefit is the ability to roll up neatly behind your truck cab, allowing for complete access to cargo — and the ability to haul big items — without having to remove the tonneau cover from your truck.

Hard Tonneau Covers:

TonnoPro UltraFold open F-150If you’re dealing with more serious inclement weather or more dedicated thieves, a hard cover is often the best option. And, despite their additional benefits, you can find hard top tonneau covers with cheap price tags (even if they’re not as affordable as a soft top).

Hard covers can be made from steel, fiberglass, and other super tough materials that are just about impossible to penetrate. Like a soft tonneau cover, most hard covers can also be locked. Tri-fold, retractable, and lift up covers are just some of the styles available to fit your needs.

Which Features are Really Worth Investing In?

You’ll find a slew of feature options on any soft or hard cover tonneau cover. If you aren’t looking to spend an arm, leg, and fuel injector’s worth of money, you need to know which features are worth spending money on.

Take our advice. After all, after decades in the business, we’ve learned a thing or two.

When every dime counts, you want to put them all toward the features that actually keep your truck bed safe and dry. That’s the bare minimum of what a tonneau cover is for, right? Here are some common features of affordable tonneau covers that are worth your investment.

  • A solid frame. If you can’t afford a fiberglass cover, don’t worry. A strong frame is more important than having the strongest top. A steel or aluminum frame with a lot of structural integrity will never slide, sag, or cause other fundamental problems like buzzing and shaking. And with a tough frame you can often haul additional cargo on the top of the tonneau without causing a single bend or break.
  • Undercover hinged tonneau cover weather sealedWeather resistance. You’ll be hard pressed to find a tonneau cover that doesn’t promise this, but not all covers are created equal. You want a tight seal running along all edges and a way for the cover to drain water away from the bed. While no tonneau cover can’t promise you’ll stay dry in a hurricane, some have features that really do go the extra mile toward keeping moisture away from your valuables.
  • A locking system. Many tonneau covers have a lock and key system — sometimes at the top, bottom, or even sides. It’s worth spending a few extra bucks on a lock and key because it adds so much extra security in the form of deterrence. If it stops a thief from stealing a $500 piece of equipment one day, this feature will more than pay for itself.
  • A quick-release option. When you need access to your stuff, you need it fast. Fumbling with a clumsy opener is a non-starter. Look for a tonneau cover that can be opened one-handed, in just a few seconds. That ensures you can always access your cargo to pull out an important tool or quickly get some equipment in the rain.

Which Features are Nice but Not Necessary?

As with any purchase, some things are “must-haves” and some are “wants.” Sure, you might want a bullet-proof tonneau with two locks and an alarm system — but it may not be in the budget. You can splurge for one or two wishlist features if the spirit moves you, but you can still get an excellent tonneau cover without any of them at all.

Here are some of our favorite wishlist tonneau cover amenities that are nice to have but not dealbreakers. In other words, if you’re on the hunt for a cheap tonneau cover, don’t let the absence of these items stop you from pulling the trigger.

  • Great UV resistance. Having UV resistance on your tonneau means it’s less likely to crack under the sun, keeping your cover looking better for longer. While this is a great feature to have, don’t sweat it if your tonneau doesn’t mention it by name. Most budget tonneau covers can still protect your stuff just fine even if they don’t bounce sun rays quite as well — there are spray-on UV protectants that can pick up the slack.
  • Access truck bed lightsLED lighting. Some fold-up tonneau covers have integrated LED lighting underneath to help you find stuff when it’s dark out. Again, this is a nifty (do people still say nifty?) feature to have on a cover, but it’s not totally necessary. You can still spot your stuff after sunset using a good ol’ fashioned flashlight or headlamp.
  • Hydraulic or electric action. When it comes to opening a tonneau cover, gas struts make the transition smooth and quiet — and electric opening takes it to another level. But they’re not necessary to create a functional, easy opening and closing experience. Plenty of the best cheap tonneau covers roll up or retract just fine without any modern technology to assist them.
  • Color-matched finish. When your tonneau cover matches your truck, it looks like your new addition is right at home. It’s fancy, but a sleek black or silver tonneau cover can look pretty sharp on the back of your ride even if your truck is red, blue, or green. Always opt for better security over color matching when your budget is tight. You can’t go wrong with a swanky black tonneau cover, after all.

How Do You Choose an Opening Style?

Ford F-150 with soft roll-up tonneau cover

So, you’re leaning toward either soft or hard tonneau covers. Before you make the final call, consider how you want the cover to open. Do you prefer dual hinges on either side or do you have something else in mind? Perhaps something… electrified?

You have a lot of options. Some fold up at both ends, others have a single hinge at the top of the truck bed. Still others are made of fabric and can be rolled up and tucked away in just a few seconds. 

Here are some ways to choose which type is right for you, especially when you’re keeping an eye on your wallet. 

  • Roll Up Tonneau Covers. These covers all have soft tops (since rolling up steel isn’t so easy, as it turns out). They’re a great budget-friendly option if you need total access to your bed on a regular basis and you don’t want to have to remove the whole shebang just to haul large items. Similarly, roll-up covers are a great option for people who want to ride with the cover open, because they won’t block your third brake light or rear window when rolled up.
  • Fold Up Tonneau Covers. Folding bed covers can either have a hard top or a soft top with a hard frame. They often have a tri-fold design, opening either from both ends or starting from the tailgate. Fold-up covers are good for drivers who often want to haul some taller stuff on one end of the truck bed while keeping the rest of the cargo area covered and secure. Some folding tonneaus secure neatly behind the cab without obstructing the view, while others will block the window and add a bit of protection from cargo in the truckbed. That’s up to you.
  • Retracting Tonneau Covers. A retractable tonneau cover will wrap itself back into a container, or box, that sits against the cab. The most appealing feature is that these covers can be locked at various points along the truck bed. You can either lock the cover over the entire truck bed or at the half-way point, or wherever you want, really. They’re a good middle ground between lightweight fabric covers and hardcore hard top covers, especially if you haul loads of all shapes and sizes. Some bed covers even retract automatically through the miracle of electricity. What a time to be alive.

AutoAnything: Our 3 Best Budget Tonneau Cover Recommendations

On the hunt for a cheap tri-fold tonneau cover but don’t know where to start? Need a new retractable option that doesn’t cost more than your mortgage?

Let us put our decades of experience to good use to help narrow it down for you. These bed covers are all custom-fit to your specific year, make, and model from some of the top names in the tonneau cover world.

Here are our top picks for the best affordable tonneau covers available today.

1. TruXedo TruXport Roll-Up Tonneau Cover

TruXedo TruxportA quality roll-up cover for half the price of a hard cover, this vinyl tonneau cover keeps your truck bed dry in almost any conditions and can quickly be stored out of the way for total access to your cargo bed.

It installs with no-drill clamps in just a few minutes, and this budget tonneau cover has a dual latch system — meaning you can open the cover from either side of the truck bed. Now that’s nifty.

2. TonnoPro Hard Tri Fold Tonneau Cover

TonnoPro Hard Tri Fold Tonneau CoverThis cover combines a strong vinyl top with a durable aluminum frame. It folds, and then folds, and then folds a third time until it lays neatly behind your truck cab without blocking your visibility. As long as you have a locking tailgate, the cover will remain secure when the gate is closed. It’s a fine budget option for keeping rain, sleet, and your nosy neighbor Dave the heck out of your cargo. You’ve been called out, Dave.

3. AutoAnything SELECT Retractable Tonneau Cover

AutoAnything Select Retractable bed coverIt might not fit everyone’s definition of “cheap,” but you’ll be equipped for anything with this heavy-duty hard cover.

From aluminum slats to a hard-sided roll-in canister, this weather-resistant design looks sleek and is built to last. Retractable tonneau covers are a little on the spendier side because of the materials used, but you also get an intermittent locking system and a tethered hand release for easy opening and closing.

The best part? The aerodynamic design could even improve your MPGs.

So, are you ready to add a new affordable tonneau cover to your truck bed? Be sure to check out all the other options on AutoAnything for your specific truck. And remember, each of our tonneau covers is covered by our Lowest Price Guarantee. If you find a better deal on the same tonneau cover within the first year, we will refund you the difference plus $1. Because we like you. And we’re committed to not letting a few dollars stand between friends.

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