If you have a pickup, you have cargo. Or, you have friends and family that have cargo. Either way, you are going to find yourself hauling stuff at some point, and you are going to want to protect that all important aspect of your truck, so you’ll want to protect it with a pickup truck bed liner.
Why Get a Bed Liner
The bed of a truck gets used- a lot. We haul everything from camping gear to gravel to Mom’s dining room table to the neighbor’s goats- yes, I saw this once. As such, this part of a pickup usually gets pretty beat up over the years.
Also, when a bed is bare with nothing but a coat of paint, things tend to slide around and scratch it up to the point you’ll start seeing rust in the back and then dollars flying out the window. You could just cap it off with a tonneau cover (look here for more info on them), but that doesn’t solve all of your hauling problems.
Plastic Bed Liners
One of the easiest options for protecting the cargo area of a pickup is a plastic insert bed liner. A quick internet search shows that you can purchase one of these for $100-$200. They’re easy to install, and have great protection from heavy impacts.
They will slightly reduce the amount of cargo volume you have (I had one that left a couple of inches of space between the liner and the bed walls). Also, they block access to the bottom of the bed, where the hard points for installing a trailer hitch or ball are located. Finally, the tight ridge pattern that gives it the impact protection also makes it difficult to clean out unless you have a pressure washer.
- Fairly inexpensive
- Easy to install
- Great impact protection
- Slightly reduce cargo volume
- Block access to hard points for hitches and ball installation
- Dirt and debris can get between the bed and bed liner, causing damage over time
- Difficult to clean dirt out of the tight ridge pattern
Carpet Bed Liner
This type of liner typically comes with a plastic back and a durable indoor/outdoor carpet. You can find them in a variety of colors. These are great for moving items that you don’t want damaged, but they will collect dirt and can stain easily. Installation isn’t difficult, as it utilizes hook-and-loop (Velcro) tape that adheres to the bed. These can run from $250-$450.
- Fairly simple installation
- Can be installed over a spray in or roll on liner (with additional adhesive kit)
- Easy on your hands and knees
- Won’t damage cargo
- Can trap dirt
- Hook and Loop tape collects debris when liner is not installed
Spray In Bed Liners
This is the most expensive option, but they are very durable and long-lasting.
They look great, and have a great surface that grips cargo preventing it from sliding around. Your installer can tint the color to match your truck.
Rhino liner is the most popular product out there. It is a great spray in liner, with a somewhat smooth texture in comparison to other products. It has good sound deadening properties due to a thick coating. However, if the installer uses a heat/pressure spray system, the resulting texture will be similar to Line X.
Line X is more coarse when cured as compared to Rhino when applied with a standard application system. It is a harder cure, and typically more durable, but harder on your knees.
Both systems use the same chemical make up, so your end result will be very similar no matter which one you try. My local installer uses a product called BedMax. I’ve only had it installed for a couple of weeks, but so far I can say it has excellent traction properties, has a nice thick coat, and looks fantastic.
- Professional Installation
- Best durability over time
- Can match your truck color
- Most expensive
- Not a DIY job
- Can fade over time
In my personal experience, this is the best way to go, especially if you leave the back of your truck open to the elements. I had a spray in liner installed on my previous pickup, a 2002 F150, and is still going strong after 15 years. This one was not heat-applied, however, and you can see on the bolt heads and a couple of high places where the liner has torn or rubbed off, leaving some minor rusty spots.
Do It Yourself Bed Liners
If you’re inclined to do the work yourself, you do have options.
There are two primary methods of installation. These are roll on and spray on.
Roll on can be more time-consuming, as you will likely want to add several coats, with drying time between coats. If these aren’t applied evenly, you can end up with sharp ridges that will damage cargo, not to mention your hands and knees. Roll on liners can be as durable and long-lasting as spray in liners if the surfaces are prepped correctly and applied uniformly.
Spray on liners for home installation typically come with a pack of aerosol cans. While these are easy to use, this type of liner typically doesn’t last as long.
Depending on the size of the job, you can expect to spend anywhere from $20-$200. Herculiner, Rust-Oleum, U-Pol are just a few examples of products available.
- Several products to choose from
- Less durable than a professionally installed liner
- Installation can be messy
- Uneven application will leave ridges that can damage cargo or hands
These are the easiest and least expensive forms of protection for your cargo area.
You can find these around $80-$220, and they are custom-sized to your truck. Some are just a rectangle, while others are cut to fit around the wheel wells. They can be made from rubber, plastic or carpet.
- Installation is a snap
- Doesn’t protect the wheel wells, bed walls or tailgate
- Less durable
- Dirt and debris can get underneath it
Plywood Sheet… Yes, Really
A sheet of plywood only costs a few bucks, and if you have a long bed you won’t have to do any trimming to get it to fit. Just drop it in between the wheel wells and you’re done. Give it a coat of paint first for a better look.
The downfall of plywood is that especially if it’s unprotected, it will weather over a couple of years and start to come apart. Also, it will soak up everything- oil, fluids, you name it. And like the bed mat, dirt and debris can get under it, requiring you to pull it out now and then to clean up.
Bed Liner- It’s Almost Always Better to Have One
So, should you invest in a bed liner for your truck? Yes. It will keep your truck looking great for years to come, and it will keep cargo from sliding around. Which one you choose depends on several factors, such as how long you plan on owning the truck, what you expect to be hauling, how important the look is to you, and how often you wan to replace it.
Have fun customizing your truck!