A tonneau cover provides three main benefits:
- Reduced drag for better fuel economy.
- Lockable space to secure your belongings in the truck bed.
- Protecting your belongings from the weather.
But if you’re thinking about getting a tonneau cover, you may be aware of the disadvantages as well:
- Difficult to haul large payloads.
- Difficult to get access to even small items in your truck bed.
- Expensive to buy and install.
If you’re like most pickup truck owners, you really don’t use the full capacity of your truck anyway. Closing off the bed might not be any sacrifice for you at all. And most covers give you fairly quick access to your truck bed for small items, and most can be removed fairly easily for those times when you do need to carry large items.
But does it really save you gas?
There is some debate about the question, because most of the testing done to measure their effects on gas mileage is a little bit suspect. Most of these tests were sponsored by the automotive accessory industry, who has a vested interest in seeing positive results. Also, few of these tests measured actual improvement in gas mileage in real-world conditions, focusing on wind-tunnel measurements of the effect of the cover on aerodynamic drag.
One thing we can safely conclude from these tests is that you will see more improvement in your gas mileage at highway speeds than in city driving. Aerodynamic drag is one factor affecting your pickup truck’s fuel economy, but it is related to your driving speed. At slow speeds, the aerodynamic improvement offered by a cover is just not that important.
But if you do a good deal of highway driving, as most pickup truck owners do, a good cover might be just the thing to keep your gas guzzler satisfied without draining your wallet.
How long will it take for a tonneau cover to pay for itself?
That depends on a lot of factors. How much does gas cost, or how much will it cost, on average, over the next few months? How much gas do you buy every month? How much gas is the cover saving you? And how much did the cover cost?
Let’s try a few typical figures. Within the past year (2008), gas prices ranged anywhere from $2.00 to $4.00 per gallon. Let’s use $3.00. And let’s suppose you purchase about sixty gallons of gas per month before you install the cover. Some proponents claim that a good cover saves them as much as 20%. Let’s be more cautious and suppose that it improves your fuel economy by 10%. Tonneau covers, depending on the type and manufacturer, range from $230 to over $1200. Let’s pick a middle value of about $600 for a typical hardcover.
Have you done the math? Here’s what I get
Using the assumptions stated above, a tonneau cover would save you about $18.00 per month. At that rate, a $600 tonneau would pay for itself in just over 33 months.
Is it worth it?
You can decide that based on several factors. Remember that if the price of gas goes up, the savings increase and the payback time is shorter. Who would bet that the price of gas is not going to go up? Also bear in mind that there are other advantages to having a cover, such as better security and better protection against the weather for the things you always leave in the back of the truck.
All things considered, a tonneau cover might be just what you need.