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Even in this day and age of ever rising gas prices, pickup trucks remain immensely popular with the American public. That’s because pickup trucks are practical and versatile vehicles that get the job done. They are also cool. If pickup trucks have one problem, it’s that they leave their cargo unsecured and exposed for all to see. That’s not a big issue most of the time, but there are situations where it’d come in handy to have some protection and have things hidden away from prying eyes. That’s why about a fifth of all pickup trucks in the US and Canada have some sort of a lid over the bed, and a good number use retractable tonneau covers.

Where does the term “tonneau” or “tonno” come from? In French a tonneaux is a vehicle with square body and a rear entrance. The term was then more generally adopted to describe the after part of a vehicle’s body that has an entrance at the rear. And somehow, we came to call the cover for such an opening a tonneau. Go figure. But call them truck caps or truck bed covers, tonneaus make a lot of sense. Did you know they also come in many different types and styles?

As far as I am concerned, retractable tonneau covers are the most practical. With a retractable tonneau, there is no cover to put on or take off. The whole thing slides along rails attached to the sides of the bed and then simply retracts and rolls up into a canister mounted low behind the truck’s rear window. The canister is very compact (less than 10 x 10 inches) and hardly cuts into the cargo space. This way, you have protection when you need it and a full, open bed when it doesn’t matter or when you have bulky cargo.

What many truck owners don’t know is that a truck tonneau cover can come in several different types. The most economical models are manually operated roll tops. The cover consists of interlocking aluminum slats that are either powder-coated or laminated with vinyl. The vinyl-coated slates make for a softer automotive look whereas extruded full-metal slates provide extra strength.

For easier operation, systems like Pace Edwards’ JackRabbit Tonneau Cover have a continuous tension spring so that the roll top retracts all by itself. It can be locked into various positions and to close it again there’s a strap. For ultimate ease of use, get an electric model that can be operated with a switch inside the cabin or with a remote control that looks like a standard keyring fob. They cost a bit more, but it just doesn’t get any more convenient.

There are other things to look out for in a retractable tonneau cover. For example, you may not want to drill holes that later rust. Some covers use special clamps for drill-free installation. If looks matter, go for a product with a neat flush top design that integrates into the design of your truck. If you want to hide valuable items under a tonneau but also carry large equipment, look for a removable rigging system. Some tonneaus have special grooves for the rigging to slide in. If security is a primary issue, there are systems like the popular Pace Edwards BedLocker that come with remote controlled electric tailgate locks.

As if you’d need yet another reason to add a retractable tonneau cover to your truck, driving with a closed tonne can actually improve gas mileage from three to ten percent. With today’s fuel prices, that can add up.

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