Choosing A Truck Bed Liner
Time to talk about truck bed liners. With most people this boils down to a choice between a plastic drop in liner or a spray in liner, but there are some other alternatives out there too that we can discuss. So let's talk about protecting that truck bed. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I own some truck accessory stores so my opinion on these products come from that point of view and my experience with these products over many years. I have sold plastic liners for over 30 years and spray in liners for over 20 years. I have met many people who will only consider one or the other (like some only buy Fords and others only buy Chevys), but in truth there are advantages and disadvantages to each depending on how you use your truck. Here is what I think...
Plastic drop in bed liners. These are staples of truck bed protection. They have been around for decades and probably everyone has seen one. Good value for your dollar as far as protection you get for your truck bed versus the price you pay. The chief advantages are lower price relative to spray in liners, impact resistance due to high ribbed design, and quick easy install. The impact resistance is the biggest advantage over a spray in liner. Because the bottom of the plastic liner has raised ribs, when a heavy object is dropped into the truck bed, the ribs tend to absorb the shock and help protect against bed dents better than spray in liners which have their material bonded to the bed sheet metal, so if the metal bends, the spray liner goes with it. The other purpose of the ribs is to allow any water to drain from under the liner. Features to look for if you are shopping for a plastic bed liner are skid resistant coating to minimize items sliding around in the bed, holes for access to the bed tie down points (preferably with removable caps to keep debris out), and built in UV protection to minimize fading from sun damage. Price varies by price and market, but in general one of these should be about $150 to $200 installed (maybe a little more at a new car dealer). You can have any color you want as long as it is black! There are a couple criticisms of plastic liners I often hear. First is that water will get under a plastic liner and cause the bed to rust. In 30 years of selling these, I have not found this to be the case. The ribbed design allows for air flow underneath and water to drain, and I would add that all the new car manufacturers sell these as well thru their dealers, so apparently they don't feel this is a concern either. The second criticism I hear is plastic liners can damage the paint under them. I have seen a lot of paint wear when liners are removed from older trucks, but generally just damage to the clear coat due to the liner moving around slightly over the years and rubbing the paint. I would add that compared to a truck of the same age that has never has a liner, this amount of damage is small in comparison.
Spray in bed liners. Spray in bed liners are the high end of truck bed protection. They offer advantages over the other bed protection methods and also generally cost much more. The primary advantage over other bed protection methods, is that a spray liner provides a continuous form fitting durable coating bonded to the metal underneath it. Theoretically most brands when properly applied, provide permanent protection to the bed that won't crack or peel and locks out rust, abrasion, and chemicals. The rubbery textured surface provides a non-slip surface for your cargo. And many brands offer colors including some that offer exact paint match colors (expect to pay more for colors). Most brands require no maintenance and are repairable if damaged. Spray in liners even provide a level of insulation from road noise and vibrations. All in all, spray in liners are probably the best system of bed protection available. Again price will vary by brand and market, but expect to pay around $400 for a short bed truck and probably a little more for long bed truck or to spray on top of the bed rails. Spray in liners are also a good choice for older trucks that already have bed damage, as they seal the damaged areas and provide a new looking bed (except for existing dents). Here are a couple things to know, despite what any spray liner salesman tells you, all spray in liners can be cut of gouged by sharp or heavy objects. If this happens, is this covered or not covered by the warranty and if not, what does the repair cost. Ask before you buy, because if you use your truck for heavy work, you may run into this and different companies handle this different ways. Also by their very name... spray in liner... means a human sprays the material into your truck bed. So it is probably a good idea to see some beds they have sprayed before you commit.
Other bed protection options to consider. Bed rugs are heavy duty outdoor carpet type bed liners and are a good choice for trucks with bed covers and light work loads, since when you crawl in and out of the bed they are much easier on your knees, but don't expect them to withstand a lot of heavy cargo loading and unloading. Also there are basic rubber bed mats that are made of corded rubber like a tire. These do a good job of protecting the bottom of the bed but offer no protection for the sides of the bed but are fairly inexpensive. On last option is snap together plastic bed liners. These are OK for light duty use, but truthfully they were invented so they could be shipped via UPS or FedEx in the age of internet shopping and not to offer truly effective truck bed protection.