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Can Tonneau Covers Go Through the Car Wash?

When your truck gets dirty, your tonneau cover does too. If you’re in a hurry and looking to spend less than $10, an automatic car wash could be a good option. Before you go, you might be wondering if it’s safe to take your tonneau cover through the car wash. We know how important it is to keep your truck and tonneau in good shape, so we did the research for you. 

There are a few things to consider before taking your tonneau cover through an automatic car wash. We don’t have a firm “yes” or “no” answer since there are lots of factors to consider, but we’ll give you the information you need to decide for yourself.

Keep in mind that many manufacturers claim their tonneaus can safely go through a car wash. We still think it’s smart to consider a few different things before risking an expensive piece of equipment.

Ranger Tonneau Cover

Should you remove your tonneau?

Some manufacturers may require you to remove their tonneau. In this instance and if your tonneau is easy to remove, just take it off. That way, you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged and even your truck bed will get clean in the car wash. In most cases, you could remove the cover itself and leave the side rails attached to your truck bed rails. 

But of course, it depends on what kind of tonneau cover you have. Obviously, this is a better option for a soft tonneau than a heavy, hard cover, which may take more than one person to remove. Here is our advice on what to do with different types of tonneaus:

Hard-top hinged tonneau:

A hard-top tonneau made of fiberglass or hard plastic should be able to go through a car wash without causing any damage. If your tonneau is painted, you may want to go through a touchless car wash so as to not scrape the finish. Since there are no moving or soft parts, these tonneaus hold up well and can handle anything the rest of your truck can handle. 

Rolling, folding, or retractable tonneau:

Tonneaus with many parts, including hinges, aren’t quite as sturdy as hard-top tonneaus. If you go through a touchless car wash, these types of covers should be fine. But you should think twice before taking your rolling, folding, or retractable tonneau cover through a car wash that uses brushes. We’ll go more into more detail later about how brushes could hurt your tonneau.

Soft tonneau:

Soft tonneau covers, especially the Sawtooth tonneau, can go through a regular touch car wash with brushes. Some soft tonneau manufacturers may require the owner to remove the tonneau before going through a car wash. To avoid that, you may want to consider another soft tonneau manufacturer. 

If removing your tonneau cover isn’t an option, keep reading to learn more ways you can take care of your tonneau while still using an automatic car wash. 

If you want one that is removable and an easy to remove tonneau cover, make sure you do your research.

Ford Tonneau Cover

Choose a touchless car wash

There are pros and cons to different types of car washes. Automatic car washes can be soft-touch, and use moving brushes and cloths, or be touchless and use soap and water jets. 

The main thing that might damage your type of tonneau in a car wash is spinning brushes. Brushes clean your truck with friction, which can damage the surface of painted tonneau covers that are meant to protect your cargo from rain, but not from actual physical contact. Soft-touch car washes may also use thick cloth strips. If cars aren’t rinsed well first, those can rub dirt around, possibly scratching your truck. 

If you’re trying to keep your tonneau in good shape, but want to take advantage of an automatic car wash, touchless is a good option. Touchless car washes use pressurized water jets and soap to clean your truck. They still get the job done and as an added bonus, they are less likely to damage your paint job. 

Over time, even pressurized water can be bad for certain tonneaus. So can dryer fans, which apply a lot of pressure, especially to certain soft tonneaus. Although you won’t see harm from these after a wash or two, going through the touchless car wash once a week could build up damage to certain tonneaus over time. That’s why, if you have a tonneau by another manufacturer, we recommend removing your tonneau first if possible.

Securely close the tonneau

If you do choose to take your truck through the car wash with your tonneau still attached, we have one main piece of advice: Make sure your tonneau is securely closed. Your tonneau is great at repelling water (Are Tonneau Covers Waterproof?), but it can’t do its job if it is left open. 

If your tonneau is slightly open, water and soap can get inside and potentially interfere with the inside of the tonneau, which is not meant to repel water. For example, shooting pressurized water inside a retractable tonneau can mess with the retracting mechanism and prevent your tonneau from working properly in the future. 

Plus, any cargo you had in your truck bed just got completely soaked.

Stay away from wax

If your car wash offers any extras, be sure to not choose wax! Getting wax or silicone treatment on your tonneau can leave a filmy residue behind. If you have a rolling or retractable tonneau, wax might interfere with the parts. With certain types of soft tonneau covers, wax could cause them to become stiff and less durable. Plus, in some extreme cases, getting wax on your tonneau may also invalidate your tonneau cover warranty. If you do choose to take your tonneau through a car wash, just say “no” to a wax cycle!

If you’re curious how wax is applied at a car wash and whether it’s worth it, read more about how car washes work.

Hand washing is best

Ideally, you would be able to hand wash your truck. That way you avoid the abrasive brushes of an automatic touch car wash and still get your truck sparkling clean. If you hand wash your truck, you might not even need to remove your tonneau, if the manufacturer requires it. Hand washing is also the best way to clean your tonneau cover itself. You can wash it carefully according to certain manufacturer’s directions and get it just as clean as your truck. 

However, sometimes you just need to get things clean quickly, and the automatic car wash can be a simple 15-minute add-on to your day. We’ve all been there. In that case, just check that your tonneau is fully closed and that your car wash doesn’t include a wax cycle.

Shopping for a new tonneau cover? Learn about the Sawtooth STRETCH tonneau cover, the only expandable tonneau cover that stretches to cover all sizes of cargo. Contact one of our tonneau cover experts today at 801-692-3368!