How to choose a tonneau cover

There are many different styles of tonneau cover (or bakkie bin covers) on the market today and sometimes it can be hard to know which one is right for you. Choosing a tonneau cover isn't as easy as picking out a pair of side steps or installing a bug shield. Bakkie-bin covers are the best way to dress up your bakkie while also protecting your cargo. However, it's important to decide which one would work best for you?

Conventional wisdom used to say: “Drive your bakkie with the tailgate down and you’ll reduce drag and save gas. Better yet, just take it off and you’ll be lighter, too!” However, a study published through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) seemed to prove that old conventional wisdom wrong.

 The study found that driving with the gate down did not improve fuel efficiency at all—in fact, it actually made mileage worse. It turns out that a raised gate helps trap a “bubble” of air in the bin, allowing wind to flow over the vehicle. Further, the study found that a tonneau cover—even a partial cover over the rear end of the bin—can increase aerodynamics, reduce drag, and improve gas mileage by over a mile per gallon. Depending on which cover you choose, tonneau covers can accentuate a bakkie’s style, shield cargo against the elements, protect valuable items against damage, and even provide security against theft.

There are far too many choices and factors involved to make an uninformed decision. When picking a tonneau cover you should consider your budget, how you use your bakkie and the type of look you want. The first thing you should decide is whether you want a hard or soft tonneau cover.

Soft Tonneau Covers

Soft bakkie bin covers offer affordability and convenience.
They are generally less expensive, and essentially consist
of an aluminium frame and vinyl cover.

Click here to view more information on the soft cover

Hard Tonneau Covers

Hard bakkie bin covers, or rigid bin covers, are generally
made of moulded ABS plastic, aluminium, galvanised steel, or fiberglass.  If you were to take your bakkie to a tailgate
party or on a hunting trip, the entire party could use your
hard cover as seating.

Click here to view more information on the hard covers

Popular Styles of Tonneau Covers in South Africa

Traditional Basic Soft Tonneau Covers

Soft roll-up/string tonneau covers consist of a soft vinyl cover material that sometimes lays over a set of aluminium/steel bows and secures to the J hooks on the outside of bin. When detached from the frame, the cover rolls or folds up and usually secures close to the cab in the form of a slide-in strip which makes it slightly difficult to install and/or remove the cover. Issues that do occur are the strings breaking or that it wears out. The material normally used is an inexpensive type vinyl which can easily tear and fade. It scuffs & eventually allows water through. Replacements on this inexpensive type vinyl’s are at regular intervals.  Above all does it offer no security at all.

Fold & Snap Clip-on Frame tonneau Covers

A variation of typically fold and snap clip-on frame tonneau covers are among the average priced tonneau covers currently available. They come in both roll-up and foldable designs and generally consists of a soft vinyl cover material that lays over a set of aluminium/steel bows and secures to an aluminium frame using snaps, Velcro, or a belt rail. These type covers might have a sleek look and feel to it, but it bulges due to the steel bows and decreases your fuel efficiency. A common issue is that you can have a constant hard time putting it in place, especially during cold weather. In addition, the material (vinyl) is subject to tearing, fading & scuffing which eventually allows water into your bin. While this option may be the best choice for you financially, remember you get what you pay for. Replacements on this inexpensive type vinyl’s are at regular intervals. Loading & offloading may be deterred by the aluminium frame that needs to be removed at the tailgate side. No security for your valuables in the bin can be offered.

Hinged Hard Tonneau Covers

Hard hinged tonneau covers are amongst the more expensive cover options as it features a rigid fiberglass or composite cover material, which clamps to the frame rail.  Hinged tonneau covers use a set of hinges, which allow the entire cover to open like a car trunk, this can limit the height of the cargo you can haul plus removing this cover after fitment is not an option, full use of the bakkie bin space is lost.

They also typically utilize shocks or a set of gas struts that assist in the opening of the cover due to the excessive weight, giving you quick, access to cargo.  Like traditional hard covers, hard hinged covers offer the necessary security but are not removable after installations. The gas strut eventually loses its ability to keep the cover in the upright position.

Roller Shutter Tonneau Covers

Roller Shutter tonneau covers are typically the most expensive of the tonneau cover styles. Normally made from aluminium or ABS, retractable tonneau covers slide open and closes by rolling into their included housing at the back of your bin.  The cover can withdraw or retract into a canister that will house the tonneau when not in use.  The only thing to consider is that sometimes they can freeze up if you live in a cold weather climate & struggle to retract due to mostly dust and dirt.  

The housing reduces your bin space, especially on a double cab type bakkie.  These type roller shutter covers offer good security for valuables locked in your bin, it also offers good fuel efficiency due to its somewhat sleek design.  Overall does it offer more than most other hard covers on the market, however it can become a nuisance, especially when it battles to open & close.  Some Companies do offer a service contract to service & clean these type roller shutter tonneau covers at a fee.

Hard & Soft Tri-Fold Tonneau Covers

These bakkie bin covers fold up into multiple sections, allowing you to easily switch between keeping your bakkie entirely covered, partially covered, or completely open. They're available in both hard and soft styles, with soft options utilizing a top grade vinyl covering (Marine Grade Vinyl) over an aluminium frame, while the hard folding tonneau covers come in powder coated galvanised steel and aluminium. Both the hard and soft tri-fold tonneau covers are lockable with the tailgate lock. This makes these type tri-fold tonneau covers the perfect choice when security is the primary concern. 

If you’re looking for a combination of cargo protection and security, full cargo access, and sleek styling, a folding tonneau cover may be the best option for you. When completely closed, they provide the low profile styling you appreciate and will decrease your fuel-usage (up to 10% per tank) at the same time.

The folding tonneau cover has recently become very popular in South Africa, with the tri-fold cover option now the fastest growing segments of bakkie bin covers. These tonneau covers typically arrive at your door fully assembled, making installation & removal a breeze.

There are numerous advantages to this style of tonneau, including the ability to adjust it in seconds to fit over-sized cargo.  While both fold up, allowing for easy bakkie-bin access, the tri fold style offers faster removal or installation, requiring no tools.