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The pain at the gas pump these days is palpable - particularly if you own a light truck. What used to be a $40 fill up can now run you more than $100. Ouch! Any steps you can take to improve fuel efficiency will help alleviate that pain, and will have the added benefit of reducing your greenhouse gas emissions and your carbon footprint.

Tonne: Often Overlooked

One of the most overlooked methods of increasing fuel efficiency for light trucks are retractable tonneau covers. A truck tonneau - also referred to as tonno or tonne - covers the bed of the pickup. A retractable tonneau cover protects the items you're carrying in the truck bed when closed, but then pulls back into a canister to give you access to the items.

Fuel Savings Supported by Research

The best news? Tonneau covers save fuel. The Specialty Equipment Market Association conducted a study in which they tested light pickups in a wind tunnel. The researchers first tested for a baseline coefficient of drag without a tonneau. They then put a truck tonneau on each of the test pickups (two Ford F-150s with varying bed lengths, a Dodge Ram 1500, and a GMC Sierra) and re-tested the drag. The researchers found that any tonneau cover will reduce drag by 5.73 percent, and that retractable tonneau covers performed best, with a drag reduction of as much as 7.5 percent. Less drag means greater aerodynamic performance, which in turns mean increased fuel efficiency.

What to Look For

You have many options when it comes to buying a retractable tonneau cover, including (in increasing cost) the Roll-Top, the JackRabbit, the Full-Metal, and the Bedlocker. The Roll-Top is considered the original retractable truck cover, while the JackRabbit combines aluminum panels with vinyl to combine strength and style. As its name implies, the Full-Metal is one step above, featuring tough, powder coated interlocking aluminum panels. The Bedlocker adds the option of a remote, which allow you to remotely open and close the cover.

Where to Buy

There are many sources for retractable tonneau covers, but you can often find the best deals online. Be aware, though, that some online dealers only sell part of the cover. Instead, look for a reputable online source that will deliver the cover, the rails, and all of the hardware you need in order to install your cover. They should also have readily available, downloadable installation instructions for virtually every kind of pickup, and the experience to answer any questions you might have. In other words, installing a tonno should be easy; in fact, you should be able to do it in as little as 15 minutes.

The bottom line is that a retractable tonneau cover should improve your mileage between seven percent and ten percent on the highway. An addition of one or two miles per gallon may not seem like much, but it starts to add up when you start getting between 70 and 100 miles "free" for every 1,000 miles you drive. That will certainly lessen the sting at the pump.

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