Top tips for covering the load in your ute

Solid lids are a great way to protect items from thieves but can restrict the amount you can carry in the tray.
Mark Oastler
Contributing Journalist
CarsGuide

8 Apr 2016 • 7 min read

The greatest practicality of a ute is its ability to carry a big load in the back, but there’s two potential problems with that – it’s exposed to the elements and not secure from theft. A cover is the obvious solution, but which one? Here are the most efficient ways to keep your load protected and secure.

Soft Tonneau

Although numerous alternatives are now available, the good old tonneau (pronounced ton-oh) can still holds its own as a load cover because of its convenience and versatility. It’s equally well suited to pick-ups and cab chassis.

Soft tonneaus are made from rubberised nylon or canvas-style fabrics. It can quickly be removed and when rolled or folded can be compact enough to be stowed inside the cab.

The traditional tonneau cover is secured at the front by press studs or similar, with a length of bungy cord weaving through a series of eyelets around its perimeter that can be stretched and secured over hooks or buttons on the bodywork. Slightly taller loads can be covered by using less hooks and adjusting the cover to suit.

Tonneaus can quickly deteriorate particularly from UV damage and chafing can wear away the paint around the top of a pick-up

Evolution has seen the front press studs often replaced with sail track in which the front of the cover can be slid along to provide a weatherproof seal. Some tonneaus (as with the VU-VF Holden Ute) have also eliminated external body hooks by using concealed fastenings for a cleaner more streamlined look.

Negatives? Tonneaus can quickly deteriorate particularly from UV damage and chafing can wear away the paint around the top of a pick-up’s bodywork where the tonneau sits. It also offers the least amount of theft security, as access to your load is as simple as unhooking the bungy cord or one thrust of a sharp knife.

Roll Top

This offers almost the same versatility as a tonneau with much better security. It works in the same way as a garage roll-a-door or home security window shutter mounted flat above the load area. It is best suited to pick-ups, and is the style fitted standard to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak.

Roll tops can also fit around chrome sports bars and builders’ carry racks.

The roll top consists of a segmented aluminium screen located by slides on each side and a spring-loaded canister at the front. When a flush-mounted key lock at the rear of the roll top is unlocked, it retracts forward into the canister which by design must steal a portion of the front load area.

However, a ute can be driven with the roll top open, which is convenient for carrying taller loads. When closed it offers excellent weather resistance and security. Roll tops can also fit around chrome sports bars and builders’ carry racks. Additional racks can also be mounted just above the roll top to support a variety of loads without obstructing its operation.

Solid Lids

These are hinged at the front and open from the rear like a giant boot-lid, supported by gas struts on each side. Usually made from fiberglass or other composites, they are stylish and secure but load-carrying can be compromised depending on your requirements. They are best suited to pick-ups.

Solid lids are usually available in a choice of textured or smooth external finishes and can be colour-matched to a vehicle. Security locks can often be integrated into a ute’s central locking system. Solid lids are also designed to be compatible with chrome sports bars behind the cab. Some have reinforcements and mounting points on top for external racks.

The weight of a solid lid must also be included when calculating a vehicle’s GVM.

Other versions can combine a traditional tonneau look and feel without losing the superior security of a solid lid. These consist of a light metal frame made from security mesh covered with a tonneau-type material. They are often made-to-order for cab chassis and older utes when moulded fiberglass lids are not available.

Keep in mind that load heights are restricted to the internal height of a solid lid, as it can’t be shut if there is an obstruction beneath it. However, solutions are being developed with lids that can be raised in a horizontal position to the same height as the ute’s cabin roof.

Most solid lids use quick-release hinges for easy removal, but they are generally too large and heavy to be carried by one person. Storage can also present problems if space is limited. The weight of a solid lid must also be included when calculating a vehicle’s GVM, which if weighty enough can contribute to improved ride quality in stiffly-sprung light commercials.

Canopies

Often the ideal choice for ute owners wanting the flexibility of hauling work gear during the week and camping/recreational gear on the weekends, combined with the generous headroom and secure weatherproof space not available with a tonneau or hard lid.

Canopies are designed for both pick-ups and cab chassis and there is a huge choice available, from traditional canvas or vinyl to moulded fiberglass and pressed steel designs. Steel canopies are heavier than equivalent fiberglass canopies so keep that in mind when calculating your vehicle’s GVM.

The canvas or vinyl type can offer easy side access by simply rolling up the curtains. The latest designs include a frame on sliding tracks which can be folded concertina-style against the rear of the cab for clear access to the load area. These can also make great camping accommodation with the addition of windows, flyscreens and full-zipper sides.

Hard canopies can be removed but their weight and size can make this difficult if manpower and storage space are limited

Hard canopies offer a greater level of security than canvas, with robust fiberglass or steel shells featuring hinged rear glass lids, hinged or sliding side windows and robust locks. They are becoming more stylish too, with designs that complement the unique curves and shapes of the vehicle they are designed for. They can also be colour-matched to the vehicle.

Other features can include roof racks for carrying extra luggage or supporting a small tinnie or roof-top tent, plus window tinting, air conditioning, internal lighting and integration with the vehicle’s central locking. Hard canopies can also make great camping accommodation with the addition of roof vents and flyscreens on side windows for cross-flow ventilation.

Like solid lids, hard canopies can be removed but their weight and size can make this difficult if manpower and storage space are limited.

Which is your preferred tonneau option? Tell us in the comments below.

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