Will a Car Wash Damage a Tonneau Cover?

Tonneau covers are popular accessories that can protect cargo and improve a vehicle’s aerodynamics. Truck bed covers can be soft or hard-top and offer various features, such as locking mechanisms. They’re available in several materials and styles, such as folding, retractable, or tilting.

Many tonneau cover manufacturers say it’s safe to take them through an automatic car wash. But should you? Much depends on your truck bed cover and situation.

Types of automatic car washes

A man lifts a tonneau cover on a Chevy pickup truck in 2005 in Orem, Utah
Tonneau covers, or truck bed covers, come in several styles | George Frey/Getty Images

There are different types of automatic car washes to consider. There are soft-touch car washes that use moving cloths and brushes, along with touchless systems that use soap and water jets. 

Spinning brushes and thick cloth strips can damage certain types of tonneau covers. Because these brushes use friction to remove dirt and grit, they can harm the surface of painted truck bed covers, per the manufacturer Sawtooth

Can a car wash damage your truck bed cover?

Want to keep your truck’s tonneau cover in top condition? If you must use an automatic car wash, a touchless system is your best option. These car washes use pressurized water jets with soap for a thorough cleaning. They are also less likely to harm your vehicle’s exterior paint.

Remember that even using a touchless system poses risks for certain types of tonneau covers. Softer truck bed covers can sustain damage from water pressure and dryer fans. 

Some soft tonneau covers can go through a standard car wash that uses brushes. But if the manufacturer states you should remove it first, heed that advice. 

Doing your research before buying a tonneau cover is also a good idea. You might want to find a cover you don’t need to remove for an automatic car wash or one that’s easy to remove. 

Which type of car wash is best?

Hand-washing your vehicle is always the best option, but touchless automated systems are the next best thing.

If you go through a car wash with the tonneau cover still on your truck, ensure it’s securely closed. Most are excellent at repelling water, but they can’t do that if they aren’t latched properly. 

Leaving them open allows soap and water inside your truck bed and potentially cause problems, especially if you’re hauling cargo. The interior of the cover isn’t designed to repel water, and any retracting mechanism could be damaged.

Another point to remember: Many automatic car washes have a wax arch. According to How Stuff Works, the wax feature forms a water-repelling coating that’s not similar to applying wax by hand. The wax used at a car wash is designed to work on chrome, glass, rubber, and painted plastic and metal.

The fine film it leaves doesn’t have to be polished first, but it doesn’t offer the same level of protection as hand-applied wax. Wax applied in an automatic car wash also doesn’t remove or conceal scratches, which is another benefit of using wax.

It’s best not to choose a wax application with your automatic car wash. Silicone and wax treatments leave a residue behind that might diminish the appearance of your truck. If your tonneau cover retracts or rolls, the wax application might even interfere with its process. And the wax can make some soft tonneau covers feel stiff and reduce their durability. 

Last, read the tonneau cover’s warranty. Wax applications can sometimes invalidate the warranty to protect the manufacturer from liability.

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