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How to install a tonneau cover

Congratulations on your new tonneau cover! You’re on your way to leveling up your truck and protecting your cargo and truck bed. No matter which material and style of tonneau you chose, you’re about to get more out of your truck.

Now let’s go over how to install your new tonneau cover.

Check out our Sawtooth support and installation page!

gladiator tonneau cover

But first, do you need a tonneau cover?

If you’re not sure about purchasing a tonneau cover yet, here are some reasons you might want one. A tonneau cover can:

  • Protect your gear from dirt, snow and rain.
  • Stop harmful UV rays from damaging your cargo on sunny days.
  • Keep your stuff from being stolen.
  • Prevent water or snow from pooling in your truck bed.

They are a great option for anyone trying to get the most out of their pickup truck.

If you know you want a tonneau cover, but don’t know which type is right for you, read this: “How to choose the best tonneau cover for your pickup truck.”

What to do before you install your tonneau cover

Be sure to consider what other accessories you have on your truck, like a bed liner or built-in toolbox. Some covers can go well with those accessories—just be sure to check first. You’ll also want to measure your truck bed carefully- check out our guide on how to measure for tonneau cover. Then, read up on the type of tonneau cover you choose to make sure it will be a perfect fit.

As soon as you install your tonneau you’ll feel more secure about hauling your gear. All that’s left to do is get it installed.

Prepare to install your tonneau cover

Take a few steps to prepare to install your new tonneau:

Make time and space to install your tonneau cover

Installation times differ based on the type of tonneau you purchased. But it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes at the maximum. Give yourself enough time that you don’t have to hurry and risk making mistakes. Remember, your tonneau cover can last for years so there’s no need to rush the installation. 

Now you’ve made sure you have enough time to go slowly. Next, don’t get rained on! Choose a day with nice weather unless you have enough covered garage space to install your tonneau cover inside.

Prepare your supplies

No matter what type of tonneau you have, you’ll need these things before you start:

Your manufacturer’s instructions

  • If you are installing another tonneau other than a Sawtooth Tonneau, you will need a friend to help with lifting and holding parts in place (or two friends if your cover is especially heavy). Sawtooth Tonneaus only require one person for installation.
  • If you are installing another tonneau other than a Sawtooth Tonneau, you will need the tools required for your specific type of tonneau cover. Sawtooth Tonneaus require no tools for installation. 

Have the right tools on hand

What tools do you need? This depends on the type of tonneau cover you bought. Check your manufacturer’s instructions to see what tools you’ll need. Some don’t require any tools at all, such as Sawtooth’s Tonneaus. Others may ask for:

  • spring clamps
  • wrench
  • drill
  • scissors
  • tape measure
  • protective goggles

Lay out all your needed tools on a clean surface before you move on to the next step.

How to install different types of tonneau covers

Each tonneau cover needs to be installed in a unique way, and choosing the best tonneau cover for your pickup truck is crucial. Your manufacturer’s instructions will have all the details you need. If you’re a visual learner, you can usually find a YouTube video of your tonneau being installed, too. 

We’ll go over the basics of installing hard and soft tonneau covers. You should use this article to get the idea of what steps you’ll need to take. But again, be sure to follow your specific manufacturer’s instructions.

If you’re installing a Sawtooth STRETCH Tonneau Cover, visit our detailed installation page including a video here.

How to install hard and soft tonneau covers

There are a few key differences between installing hard vs. soft tonneau covers.

Installing a soft tonneau cover

Most soft tonneau covers are attached by temporary or semi-permanent hand tightened clamps. They usually don’t require other tools. You probably won’t need as much time when installing a soft tonneau cover. Most of these should take less than a half hour. 

(Want to know the difference between soft and hard tonneau covers? Check out our post: “Hard tonneau covers vs. Soft tonneau covers.”

Installing a hard tonneau cover

It is recommended that hard tonneau covers including hinged models and folding models should be installed by a professional. You can get tri or quad folding options depending on what you need. Or go for a hinged model if you want a hard-top cover that offers the most security.

Don’t forget! Hard tonneau covers are heavier, so be sure you have a friend (or two) nearby to assist with lifting. You’ll want to hold the tonneau cover in exactly the right position before lowering it to avoid damaging the pickup or tonneau. Typically, you’ll install a hinged tonneau cover using special rail tape and secure it with C-clamps. You can attach the included shocks while you hold up the cover with your legs or with a friend’s help.

How to install a clamping tonneau cover:

Since many tonneau covers are installed with clamps, we’ll go over the basic steps of installing one.

Step 1. Attach the provided rails.
Align the rails that came with your tonneau cover. Lightly attach them with the provided hand clamps and make sure everything is evenly in place and centered over the bed opening. With other tonneaus, you may need to use shims to make everything fit perfectly. Then tighten the clamps to secure the rails to your bed. You may need to cut notches for the clamps in your bed liner if it is in the way.

Step 2. Install any seals that were provided.

If you purchased a Sawtooth Tonneau, you can bypass this step. Sawtooth Tonneaus come with all the seals already attached to the tonneau components. If you purchased a tonneau other than a Sawtooth Tonneau, seals should go on the tailgate and along the bulkhead of your truck. Be sure to wipe down all surfaces with alcohol and let them dry to make sure the seal will stick. Peel off the backing and lay down and press the seal. Be careful to keep it straight. Cut off any excess seal with scissors. This will make sure water can’t get through your new tonneau cover.

Step 3. Place the tonneau top on the rails.
This step will change based on your specific model. Attach it according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Some require bolts and others just snap into place.  Sawtooth tonneaus simply hand clamp into place. Check that it lays flush and is aligned around all sides. Adjust if necessary. If you have a retractable tonneau cover, you will need to feed the cover’s canister into the rails instead of attaching it on top. Retractable tonneau covers can typically require three people to install.

Step 4. Install any extra components.

If you purchased a Sawtooth Tonneau, you can bypass this step. Sawtooth Tonneaus do not require any extra component installation. Some tonneau covers come with drainage tubes or bump stops. Attach these extras according to the directions. 

You’re all set! Want to see illustrations as you go? Check out this WikiHow page on adding truck bed covers.

How to install a Sawtooth STRETCH Tonneau Cover

The Sawtooth STRETCH Tonneau Cover is easy and fast to install. It can go on in under 6 minutes with just one person. If you’re installing the Sawtooth STRETCH, visit our detailed installation page here with all the information you need. 

You are ready to go!

Now get out there and install your new tonneau cover! Be sure to follow your specific directions and take your time so you don’t make mistakes. Your tonneau distributor or retailer should be able to answer questions if you have issues during installation.

Once it’s installed, you’ll be ready to haul your cargo more securely. Enjoy your new tonneau cover! 

Are you still shopping for tonneau covers? Check out the Sawtooth STRETCH, the only adjustable tonneau cover that expands to protect large and tall cargo.