If you have a pickup truck or you’re interested in buying one, then one of the first and most important decisions you should make regarding accessories is the liner. A truck bed liner is something that goes down on the bed of your pickup truck to protect it from damage. If you load up a bunch of lumber, bricks, or furniture without a liner in your truck bed, then you will quickly see scratches and damage to the paint and steel frame of the bed.
While most pickup owners know they need a truck bed liner, choosing the right one is not necessarily quite so easy. The good news, however, is that with a little information, you can pretty easily decide which one you should choose. Ultimately it comes down to three factors: price, protectiveness, and permanence. So let’s take a look at the four major types of truck bed liners on the market and how they compare in each of these three categories.
These are the simplest type of truck bed liner you will find on the market. They are basically just what they sound like: a mat made from rubber or similar materials that can be rolled out and flattened onto the back of your truck. There are different manufacturers out there that use different materials, most use some kind of recycled rubber, but they are all pretty similar.
Price: This is the least expensive type of truck bed liner on the market. While prices can vary somewhat, in general, you will find them for about $100, sometimes less.
Protectiveness: They protect pretty well, but are very situational. They can keep things from sliding, due to their rubber surface, and absorb impacts from items being placed in the bed of a pickup. Spilled liquids will easily get under them and they can potentially shift during use.
Permanence: These are the least permanent of all liner options. You can easily roll one down to put it in your truck, or roll it back up to remove it. If you’re looking for simple, fast installation and no long-term commitment, then a mat is a great choice.
These are pretty similar to bed mats in concept but have some important differences. A bed rug is usually made from plastic and polyester materials and is more rugged than a mat. There are different designs of bed rugs available—all of them cover the surface of a pickup bed, but some can be stretched up the sides of the bed and onto the tailgate for more complete coverage.
Price: This is a more expensive truck bed liner than a simple mat since it is made from more durable materials. A good bed rug can cost around $400 to $500, sometimes a bit more if you choose a larger model that provides protection to the sides of the bed.
Protectiveness: A truck bed rug is right in the middle of overall protectiveness. They provide just as much protection as a mat, but since it is molded to fit into place, it is less likely to shift and will keep the bed of your truck protected. A bed rug can also be power-washed clean after use, while a mat usually needs to be removed and cleaned, then replaced.
Permanence: Bed rugs semi-permanent. While they take more work to get properly fit into place than a mat, they are not physically installed with screws or other attachments. So you can remove a bed rug relatively easily and get a new one if you need to replace it.
Drop-in liners for pickup truck beds have become increasingly popular over the years and are typically provided or offered by a dealership. A drop-in liner is made from durable plastic and molded to the shape and dimensions of the inside of a truck bed. Holes are drilled into the bed of the truck so the drop-in liner can be secured in place and fastened with bolts.
Price: Part of the appeal of this kind of truck bed liner is that a drop-in liner is actually quite inexpensive. They usually cost less than $200, sometimes with additional discounts from a dealership if it is purchased with the truck. Installation can increase the cost of the liner, but that varies from location to location.
Protectiveness: Drop-in liners are also extremely effective for protecting the bed of a truck. Since they are bolted into place, they do not shift or move during use and can absorb a lot of damage. Spilled liquids can still potentially get under them, however, so anyone working with harsh or toxic chemicals transported in the back of their truck should keep that in mind.
Permanence: Part of the appeal of a drop-in liner is that it is more permanent than rugs and mats, since it is bolted into place, but it is still removable. Many people who lease trucks like to choose drop-in liners because they can replace them cheaply at the end of the lease, which improves the condition of the vehicle when it is returned.
As the name suggests, a spray-on liner is a type of truck bed liner that is actually sprayed onto the surface of the truck bed as a liquid and then dries to a hard, protective layer. A lot of people like this option since they can choose different colors for the spray. Although some do-it-yourself products are available on the market, it is best to have a professional spray-on these liners.
Price: This is the most expensive type of truck bed liner and often takes the longest for proper installation—up to five or six hours. Proper installation is very important however, to ensure the liner is done correctly and looks good. A spray-on liner usually costs around $500 but that can go up to $800 in some situations.
Protectiveness: In general, these are the most protective liners possible since they go directly onto the bed. Anyone who works with paint, pool chemicals, or other potentially toxic liquids should strongly consider a spray-on liner. In case of a spill, there is no physical liner for the liquid to get under, so clean up is easier without the risk of damage to the truck itself.
Permanence: These are also the most permanent type of truck bed liner available. Once the liner is sprayed on, it basically cannot be removed. If you plan on having your truck for many years, then this is a great choice—but not ideal if you are just leasing.
The Last Word
Overall, your particular needs are going to guide the kind of truck bed liner you should choose. For most people, a drop-in liner or bed rug is typically the best option. Drop-in liners tend to offer the best combination of protection, permanence, and price. But if you have some particular needs, like you’re a painter, then a spray-on liner can be a better choice.
At the end of the day, any liner is better than no liner at all—since they protect the paint and durability of your truck bed. Now you just have to choose the one that is best for your needs.