Do Truck Tarps Really Save Gas?

A test done in the late 1990s to determine if gas was being wasted by open pickup truck beds resulted in the conclusion that adding a tarp or tonneau cover could significantly reduce drag and increase gas mileage. That study was seized upon by cover makers who suddenly found an entire market of customers willing to buy their products. A similar study was conducted 10 years later, reaching the same conclusion. However, we wonder whether these glorified tarps for trucks really do save that much gas or not.

Let’s be honest; long haul truck drivers use flatbed truck tarps on their trailers to protect the cargo. They are not being used to reduce drag or save on gas. Even dump trucks that make use of tarps do so to prevent the cargo underneath from coming loose in the wind and striking unfortunate passenger vehicles. These are not used to save gas. Yet pickup truck drivers seem to be stuck on the idea that a tarp or tonneau cover is more fuel-efficient.

The original numbers used to justify truck tarps and tonneau covers came from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and their two tests we previously mentioned. However, other tests have been done, one most recently by Consumer Reports, which casts real doubt on the idea of improving mileage with tonneau covers and tarps for trucks.


The problem with the SEMA studies is that they only looked at drag and aerodynamics. They never actually tested any vehicles under real world conditions, including measuring how much fuel was used at different rates of speed. They simply assumed that by reducing drag, fuel mileage would increase. That makes sense, right? It turns out it’s probably not true.

Consumer Reports Testing

If you know anything about Consumer Reports magazine, you know it is published by a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide unbiased information not influenced by product manufacturers. They test all sorts of things from home electronics to vehicles to appliances. In 2013, they put the truck tarp/gas mileage theory to the test. They tested pickup trucks under four scenarios:

  • Open bed, tailgate up
  • Open bed, tailgate down
  • Covered bed, tailgate up
  • Covered bed, tailgate down.

The results of the Consumer Reports test startled many pickup truck drivers. Why? Because putting a tonneau cover or tarp on the back of a pickup truck appears to actually decrease fuel mileage pretty significantly. The magazine didn’t explain why, they just provide the raw data; data that showed covering the back of your truck actually make things worse in terms of gas mileage.

Tarps Are Still Useful

Now that we have completely ruined your day by telling you tonneau covers and truck tarps do not save gas, we don’t want you to assume that they do not have any value. They do. Tarps can be very useful for a number of things, whether you drive a pickup truck, a dump truck, or a semi.

For example, a tarp on the back of your truck is a great way to protect cargo underneath from sun, rainfall, and flying debris. Truck drivers use them all the time to protect valuable cargo until they drop a load. And of course, you might use them with your own pickup truck when you’re moving your house.

Tarps are also valuable for protecting other drivers from your cargo. At highway speeds, things can come loose a lot easier than you might think. A tarp keeps everything intact so that you are not endangering the welfare of others.

Tarps for trucks do have their place. A place that is just not gas mileage improvement.

Three Tips for Successful Truck Tarp Repair

Truck tarps are among the most important tools in the trucking industry. They can also be expensive tools if you buy the highest quality tarps available. So what do you do when one is ripped or torn? You try to repair it. Repairing a tarp can extend its life and save you a lot of money. That’s important for truck drivers working hard to make a living without a lot of room for error.

tractor trailer with cover

Whether you are a professional truck driver or a weekend warrior using tarps for your boat or camper, knowing how to repair rips, tears and holes can pay off in the long run.

We want to help by offering you these three tips for truck tarp repair:

#1 – Understand the Damage

A successful truck tarp repair starts with assessing the damage. For example, a minor tear or mouse hole can be temporarily repaired using commercial tarp tape. Damage that is more substantial will require a patch with either a strong glue or a stitched repair. Damage to seams always requires the strongest repair methods in order to prevent the damage reoccurring.

We might point out that tarp tape is really only intended as a temporary repair to get you where you’re going. Tarp tape will not last forever against sun, moisture, and temperature fluctuations. You will need to get some patching fabric if you want a repair that is more long lasting.

#2 – Clean before Patching

Truck drivers are notorious for not having a lot of time to deal with tarp damage properly. Consequently, sometimes a repair will be attempted without properly cleaning the area around the damage. This is a mistake. Regardless of the type of repair you make, proper cleaning is essential to a successful and strong repair.

Soil, dirt, and other debris can be cleaned with warm water, soap and a rag. Oil based stains will need to be attacked with some sort of solvent or rubbing alcohol. It is important that you get all of the substance off the tarp before making the repair, or the adhesive will not stick properly. Also, be sure to clean an area large enough to accommodate your entire patch. Six inches beyond the damage is generally large enough.

If you are stitching a patch in place, proper cleaning is still a good idea. Why? Because the stitching is only intended to provide extra strength. You will still be using adhesive to ensure a watertight repair.

#3 – Repair Both Sides of the Tarp

For those really big holes, you may need to apply a repair on both sides of the tarp. You can do this by patching one side first, giving the repair plenty of time to set up, and then applying the same repair to the other side. This will give you a lot of strength that should hold up over the long haul.

You can buy vinyl repair material and tarp repair kits at most places that sell commercial grade tarps for the trucking industry. It is fairly inexpensive and easy to use. Make sure however, that you follow the instructions found on the label. That includes instructions regarding air temperature at the time of the repair. If it is too cold, the adhesive will not stick properly to your tarp, causing the patch to fall off after just a couple of days. If it’s too hot, you may not get the patch applied in time before the adhesive sets up.

Truck tarp repair is not hard if you are patient and willing to do things the right way. Over the long haul, you can save a lot of money by repairing your tarps rather than replacing them.

Maintain Safety Standards with Grade 70 Chain Load Binders

Commercial trucks are very important to America’s economy. More freight, goods and industrial machinery is transported via commercial trucks than any other type of transportation in the continental U.S. According to a report from ATA  the trucking business, “deliver ten billion tons of virtually every commodity consumed—or nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S.” Virtually all goods and supplies transported in the U.S. use commercial trucks for transportation from oil and fuel to pharmaceuticals to fresh drinking water. Without cargo and flatbed trucks, our nation could not survive. Therefore maintaining safety standards with approved chains, binders and securement devices is of the utmost importance.

Any type of commercial hauler, whether it’s a full size semi-trailer or store delivery truck, needs to have contents secured. Chains are used the most on commercial trucks with chain binders for securing heavy machinery, steel, logs, portable buildings, vehicles and shipping containers. Chain binders offer the most securement when transporting heavy loads and with the proper chain grade are approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and American Trucking Association (ATA). Ratchet and lever or snap binders are two types of chain binders; however, snap binders are used less due to the risk of snapping out of position. Foldable handle binders are becoming more popular in the commercial trucking industry.

Chain grade is determined by the stress on a chain link at its breaking strength, according to the National Association of Chain Manufacturing (NACM). They have provided a breakdown of the different grades and applications of chains in the chart below.

Grade 30 Proof Coil Chain General Purpose, carbon steel chain.
Grade 43 High Test Chain A carbon steel chain widely used in industry, construction, agricultural and lumbering operations.
Grade 70 Transport Chain A high quality, high strength carbon steel chain used for load securement.
Grade 80 Alloy Chain Premium quality, high strength alloy chain, heat treated, used in a variety of sling and tie down applications. For overhead lifting applications, only Alloy Chain should be used.
Grade 100 Alloy Chain Premium quality, highest strength alloy chain, heat treated, used in a variety of sling and tie down applications. For overhead lifting applications, only Alloy Chain should be used.

Grade 70 transport chain is the recommended grade for chain binders and boomers in the commercial trucking industry. All chain binders must be secured using the attachment points on a truck. The minimum is four according to the NACS; however, the total weight of the load and the chain binder size determines how many attachment points are needed to properly secure the load. Attachment points should not exceed 45 degrees in order to secure any movement.

The best security is one which is carefully executed for the safety of the driver and other drivers on the road.

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Understand the Basic Types of Tarps for Truck or Trailers

Trailer tarps

For flatbed haulers, Tarping is perhaps the most arduous part of the job, the chief reason why Flatbed Driving Professionals command a premium over others. Flatbeds, by their very definition, are open topped. Loads being hauled on flatbeds need to be tarped frequently to protect the load from the elements. Given the significance of Tarps to the flatbed hauler, it is important to understand various Tarp types and Tarping Systems.

Tarp itself is a commonly used term for plastic coated fabric. We can broadly divide Tarps into four categories: Mesh Tarps, Poly Tarps, Vinyl Tarps and Canvas Tarps. Of these four categories, only Poly and Vinyl Tarps are supposed to be totally waterproof. The Mesh Tarp is designed to let water and air pass through but hold back debris. Of the two waterproof tarps, those with polyethylene coating (Poly Tarps) are what one generally finds at Home Depot or Wal-Mart. These are cheaper tarps with reduced durability. Poly Tarps have various uses but are not suitable for Trucking applications. Vinyl Tarps are the most commonly used material for Trucking applications. Vinyl is the best material for Heavy Duty Truck Tarps. They tend to be more expensive but have the necessary strength to handle the strain from exposure to winds on the highway and also the tension from bungees exerted on the D-Rings of the Tarp.

Tarping can be done manually by the driver. Different sizes of finished tarps such as the Heavy Duty Lumber Tarp, Steel Tarp, Coil Tarp, Machine Tarp or a Three Piece Tarp can be kept rolled up above the Headache Rack or in the Toolbox. Once the Steel Coil or other load is placed on the trailer bed, secured with Tie-Downs or 3/8 x 20 G 70 Transport Chains and Ratchet Chain Binder, a Moving Blanket can be thrown on top of the load, the necessary Plastic Tarp Protectors Placed and then the Coil Tarp or Heavy Duty Lumber Tarp can be laid above the load. The tarp is then secured in place with 21 Inch Rubber Bungee Straps pulling down on the D-Rings. This is the most common yet manual method of Tarping a load. It is required for loads of unpredictable sizes, loads such as Machines.

For consistent loads, load of predictable dimensions, Mechanical Tarping systems are also available in the Market:

  1. Front to Back Tarp Systems
    The most common examples of such systems are Asphalt Tarp  and Dump Truck Tarping systems. The Tarp has two long pockets along the Trailer length. The system has two metal arms that are inserted through the side pockets of the Tarp. The tarp is rolled up into a cylindrical roll at the front of the trailer. At the time of deployment, the tarp is unfurled from its rolled position and extended out to cover the open area of the trailer. Asphalt Tarps are made of Vinyl while Dump Truck Tarps are made of PVC Coated Mesh. There are other sliding Tarp systems as well available which fall under the category of Front-to-Back systems.
  2. Side to Side Tarp Systems
    Side to Side systems are generally synonymous with Roll Tarp systems. The tarp is fixed on one end and free on the other. The open area of the trailer is covered with bows that act like a system of ribs on which the tarp can roll back and forth. The mechanism drives the free end to roll and simultaneously curl toward the fixed end. Such systems are common on Gran Trailers. For flatbed trailers, a Side-Kit system is used. It is similar to the Roll-Tarp system but the drop height is provided by a combination of Stakes inserted in the Trailer side pockets and 4 foot high panels inserted through the sides of stakes along specially grooved channels.

Automatic Versus Manual Drive

All mechanical Tarping systems can be driven by a manual crank or an electrically automated motorized drive. The automated systems, while more convenient, can be more expensive and complex. Manual systems can be effort intensive, especially during the winter months, but tend to be simpler and robust.

Flatbed Lumber Tarps – A Great Protector of Goods

Firstly let us check the meanings of what a lumber is and what a tarp is. A lumber in the simplest language is a load of raw wood material. Have you ever seen trucks carrying wood? Have you noticed the wood covered with a waterproof polythene or nylon tarpaulin sheet? That is exactly what we will discuss about in this article. A tarpaulin sheet in short is what you call a Tarp. So that’s how we get the two words conjoined as Lumber Tarp.

How are Lumber tarps manufactured?

You must have heard the name of nylon or polyester. The material used for manufacturing lumber tarps is polyester which is PVC coated. 6oz nylon fabric is used to make the lumber tarpaulin. This assures that the tarps are light weight. The weight of tarps depends on how much ‘oz’ they are made up of. While tarps made of 6oz fabric are light weight, 10oz and 14oz fabric tarps are heavier.

What is the name of the stitch and what is the name of the thread?

Though heavy duty tarps are welded, but mostly tarpaulin is stitched. The edges are double locked that means each stitch is twice locked by the next stitch. The hem stitch pattern is used to stitch tarps. #207 bonded threads are used to stitch tarpaulins. At the underside edge of the tarpaulin brass grommets are fixed.

Two additional rows of D rings are adjusted by hem stitch on the inner edge of the tarp border at a gap of 30 inch and 60 inch.

What are Light weight tarps and heavy duty tarps?

Broadly tarps can be categorised into two types— the light weight tarps and the heavy duty tarps. Light weight tarps are made of 6oz nylon fabric. Heavy duty tarps mean the tarpaulin covers made of 10oz, 12oz or 14oz vinyl fabric that is heavier.

If we go to the bottom of the discussion, there are many subtypes of the tarpaulin. Both light weight and heavy duty tarps have their respective subcategories. For example, the light weight tarps are also available in super light type which in texture feels nothing heavier than the parachute material. On the other hand, the heavy duty tarps are available in different subtypes depending on whether they are three pieces or two pieces. Light weight tarps usually don’t weigh beyond 90 lbs. The super light one weighs approximately 65 lbs. The heavy weight tarps weight over 100 lbs and the very heavy ones that are two pieces or three pieces weight up to 215 lbs.

For flatbed lumber tarps the flap on the rear side edge is a mandatory part. The flap is necessary to overlap the edges so that the tarps wraps around the lumber underneath.

What are the uses of lumber tarps?

From the name you can well understand that tarpaulin sheets are used to cover lumber that is load. It can be any kind of load, but mostly it is wood that is transported. The main purpose of the lumber tarps is to protect the wood being carried in the truck. The tarpaulin sheets protect the goods from rain water and sunlight. They are acid resistant so there are fewer chances that they will be affected badly. Also the tarps are fungus free so even in moisture or humidity or after rainfall, they don’t allow mushroom or fungi to grow on the wood and spoil its quality. The tarps are manufactured by double layered polyester so that they attain a certain thickness. Tarps are not fully waterproof but they don’t usually allow water to seep through the material.

Are all tarps waterproof?

Tarps are made waterproof as much as possible during the time of manufacture. But tarps cannot be made fully water resistant because in case of very heavy rainfall, sometimes rain water seeps through the tarps into the wood underneath. But usually tarps are made with a bi-layer of polyester which disallows water to seep through the two parallel sheets.

What to do if tarps get torn? Can they be repaired?

Tarps usually last longer if you can take adequate care of them. Do not leave tarps in water or dirt like in a go-down kind of area for a long time unused. If you keep using tarps, they last longer. Tarps always last a long life if you keep them clean and they don’t usually get torn easily. But in case tarps get torn, they can be re-stitched if they are of the light weight type. The heavy weight 10oz vinyl fabric is difficult to stitch so these tarps get welded in case they tear off.

Tarps are repairable but re-stitching repeatedly may harm their quality and hey would anyways wither off after a certain period of time. The light weight tarps are more durable.

What are D rings and what is the utilization?

D rings or Dee rings as they are called are the brass grommet like things that are hem stitched on the edge of the tarps so that the ropes to tie the sheet over the wood can be entangled through. The D rings are stitched in rows and sometimes in fact in double rows to ensure safety.

So what do you have to keep in mind before buying tarp?

When we talk about tarpaulins we are reminded of its versatile use. Sometimes not only to cover goods on flatbed trucks, but the material is also used even to cover construction sites in days of monsoon. From here we understand that this is a very useful material. So the next time you need a tarpaulin sheet, you know what it is made up of, how to take care of it, what are D rings, which type to buy according to your requirement, which is light weight and which is heavy duty and how to select your choice.

Do not compromise on quality and always make it a point to buy a branded tarp. Branded material lasts longer and can be relied upon for its durability.