Pros and Cons of Tarped Loads for Drivers

Driving down the interstate you will notice trucks of all shapes and sizes carrying cargo. You’ll see dump trucks carrying stone or gravel, semi-tractors hauling fully enclosed trailers, and flatbeds carrying loads covered with tarps. Tarped loads are diverse as well.

So what determines what type of load a driver will accept? Company drivers do not have much say in the matter, but independent drivers get to choose what they haul. Loads requiring tarps also require special consideration before drivers will accept them. The nature of truck tarps means there are pros and cons drivers have to consider.

Pros of Tarped Loads

Using truck tarps requires different knowledge and skill than loads contained in dry-van trailers. They require more time to secure. The driver has to make sure the tarp is secured with bungees in a way that protects the load, the tarp itself and generally meets all safety requirements. As such, tarped loads often pay more, making them more attractive to drivers who do not shy from the exertion.


Commodities like Steel coils, lumber and shingles cannot be loaded on to Dry-Van trucks, not easily anyway. Oversize loads cannot go in Dry-Van trailers either. If one requires such loads to be hauled, Flatbed is the only Industry accepted option. Once such a load is accepted, the driver is responsible from the moment of pick up to the moment of drop off. If a tarp can be deployed to prevent water, stone-chip and other damage to a load, it may be well worth it.

Cons of Tarped Loads

There are plenty of reasons why a driver might prefer to avoid tarped loads, beginning with the cost. The truth is that truck tarps are expensive. However, a high-quality tarp will pay for itself after just a couple of loads. Drivers who take care of their tarps know they can last for years.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of using truck tarps is the fact that they are heavy and difficult to deploy correctly. A tarp must be secured in such a way as to protect both the cargo and the tarp itself. There must be no flapping in the wind either, as that can damage the tarp to the point of making it unusable. And of course, deploying a tarp can be injurious to one’s health. It only takes one fall to cause major problems.

Advances in technology have made it possible to deploy truck tarps using motorized winch systems with automatic spreader bars. This allows the truck driver to deploy the tarp from the safety of the ground, all but eliminating the risk of injury by way of falls. An added benefit of these systems is the ability to deploy a tarp evenly across the entire surface of the load. However, it still takes time that could be put to better use on the road. Automated systems are limited to pre-set load types and sizes. They can also be expensive.

Company Liability

Thus far, we have talked about tarped loads as they relate to independent drivers. However, what about companies that operate their own fleets? There is a certain amount of liability that comes with using truck tarps – liability that involves both drivers and cargo. Companies go to great lengths to protect themselves through proper training, fall restraint systems, and other safety accessories.

It is true that tarping is a necessary part of the trucking industry. It is also true that drivers can make more money when accepting tarped loads. Nevertheless, like anything else, both the pros and cons need to be weighed before deciding whether to accept loads of a given type or not. That’s just part of the business.

Surprise: Truck Tarps and Bears Don’t Get Along

Truck tarps are good for many different things beyond protecting cargo on a flatbed trailer, but apparently catching black bears falling out of trees is not one of them. The Panama City, Florida fire department recently found that out, as did one particularly unlucky bear.

A plethora of news reports say that residents of a local neighborhood spotted a 350-pound black bear up in a neighborhood tree. They called local officials who, in turn, contacted the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and asked them to send an officer to tranquilize and move the bear. It is pretty standard procedure in Southwest Florida.

At some point in the rather exciting proceedings, someone from the local fire department decided to rig a safety system for the bear that included a couple of truck tarps. They devised the system in hopes that it would catch the bear as it fell from the tree, dazed by the tranquilizer dart that would eventually be coming to greet him. What happened next needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The fire department was right in guessing the bear would fall. They were wrong in expecting the truck tarps to provide a suitable safety net. Instead of catching the tranquilized bear, the huge animal crashed through the tarps as though they were nothing more than tissue paper. It turns out that 350 pounds of bear falling 30 feet through the air is no match for your run-of-the-mill tarps.

Just for the record, the Panama City bear was fine. He was relocated to a local forest without incident.

Choose the Right Tarp for the Job

In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that the Panama City fire department appeared to use something other than a heavy-duty truck tarp you’d find on the back of a flatbed trailer. The news reports showed a tarp that looks more like something you would find at your local camping store, a poly tarp and not a Vinyl one. Hopefully they have learned an important lesson about choosing the right tarp for the job.


That’s not to say a heavy-duty truck tarp would have withstood the weight of the falling bear. It is hard to say without actually testing it, and who wants to do that? In either case, the point of choosing the right tarp is still valid. Not choosing the right tarp could turn a seemingly easy project into a nightmare.

When truckers choose tarps for their loads, they take into consideration many different factors. They have to consider the cargo being covered, the length of the trip, the weather they expect to encounter, and anything that could damage their loads along the way. This includes everything from flying debris to animals.

Low-riding loads might be covered with a heavy-duty steel tarp secured by bungee cords or winch straps. A larger, bulkier load might have to be covered with a lumber tarps or still larger Machine Tarps secured with a combination of ropes, bungee cords, and bindings. It really just depends on what the particular need is at the time. It is up to truck drivers to figure out what those needs are and choose a tarp accordingly.

You may not be a professional trucker trying to secure fragile cargo for a 500-mile journey. However, if you are planning to use a tarp for any purpose, make sure you know what it is you are using. Ask questions if you have to – before you buy. Moreover, if you were part of the Panama City fire department, the local bear community would probably appreciate it if you invested in some heavy-duty truck tarps that would support their weight.

Tarp Inspection Improves Driver Safety

Did you know that heavy-duty truck tarps present professional truck drivers with some of the most serious safety risks in the industry? We tend to think of things like bad weather and carelessness as top safety issues, and they are, yet how many of us stop to think about something as simple as covering a load with a tarp?

Any veteran truck driver can tell you stories about broken bones, chipped teeth, deep lacerations, and other injuries, all relating to load tarping. Accidents involving tarps are all too common in the trucking industry. If you are a trucker, you can help your cause by regularly inspecting your tarps and bindings.

As tough as heavy-duty truck tarps are, they do wear out over time. Seams can start to separate, grommets can develop rust and bindings can lose their strength. Regular inspection of your equipment is the only way you will know that both tarp and binding is suitable for the journey ahead.

Inspecting Your Tarps

The Alabama Trucking Association recommends drivers inspect their tarps at least once a month. This involves spreading them out on the ground completely and then going over them in detail. It is a time-consuming process but one that is necessary to ensure driver safety. During the inspection, one should be looking for:

  • Rusted Grommets – Rusted grommets can be a problem if the oxidation has progressed to the point of causing the metal to no longer be secured within the fabric of the tarp. It only takes one rusted grommet to give way in order to cause a significant injury.
  • Damaged D-Rings – Damaged or insecure d-rings present a real hazard on the road and in the yard. You really do not want to be on the receiving end of a bungee cord if a d-ring gives way. When inspecting, check both the ring and the fabric strap that holds it in place. If either one is worn, consider replacing or repairing it.


  • Seam Wear – Even the strongest heavy-duty truck tarps are subject to seam wear from time to time. Worn seams can burst at any time, causing a tarp to fly uncontrollably in the wind. On the road, this is dangerous to other drivers; in the yard, it is dangerous to truck drivers and other workers.

Most minor wear and damage can be repaired with a minimal investment. Older tarps might need to be replaced. Generally, it is better to invest in high-quality tarps even though they are more expensive. These offer longer life and greater durability.

Inspecting Your Bindings

Whether tarps are secured using ropes, straps, or bungee cords, bindings need to be inspected right along with the tarps themselves. When bindings fail, disasters happen. It is simply not worth risking driver safety by not regularly inspecting this part of the load securing system.

Bungee cords are the most susceptible to wear caused by exposure to the weather. When a cord begins to fray, replace it. Also keep an eye out for bent hooks and loss of elasticity. Both can be problems.

Drivers who use load straps should check both the straps and the winches used to secure them. Straps tend to be more durable than bungee cords and ropes, so they do not wear out as often, but check them regularly nonetheless. As far as winches are concerned, inspect them for rust, damage, or mechanical malfunction.

Inspecting your tarps and bindings every month will make it easier for you to detect and repair damage before an accident occurs. You owe it to yourself to do so.

When You’re Parked: Other Uses for Flatbed Tarps

So, you’re an owner-operator who has invested a lot of money in flatbed tarps that only get used every now and again. What do you do when the truck is parked? Are there any other uses for them? Well, there are actually many other uses for flatbed tarps.

If you are talking tarps of the heavy-duty variety, you can do a lot more with them than just cover the cargo on your trailer. In fact, some of the people who buy them are not even truck drivers. They are average homeowners who have discovered how valuable a heavy-duty truck tarp can be. Below are just a couple of examples to demonstrate what we are talking about.

Covering the Roof

Why spend thousands of dollars to pay professionals to replace your roof when you can do the job yourself? That’s the philosophy of many a homeowner who invests in a poly tarp to keep the roof covered during the replacement project. After removing the old roof, the tarp goes up to keep everything dry for the next couple of weekends.

The better option would be to use a heavy duty truck tarp that does a great job of protecting the roof. It can be laid out and then weighed down with stacks of roofing tiles. Alternatively, it can be attached using bungee cords or rope or D-rings. In just a few minutes, the exposed plywood can be protected from the rain and sun. Just remember that flatbed tarps are not a permanent solution for a leaky roof. They will eventually come down with constant exposure to the elements.


Sun Shield

Even truck drivers need a vacation, right? So while you are away enjoying time with the family, why not use one of your flatbed tarps as a sun shield for the truck cabin. Covering it with a tarp will keep the damaging sun out. That will help keep the temperature inside the cab down and prevent sun damage to the dash, seats, and instruments.

Truck Repairs

As an owner-operator, you may perform a lot of the maintenance and repair work for your rig yourself. However, if you don’t have a garage to pull the truck into, you might be standing out in the hot sun or the driving rain. A flatbed tarp with a couple of tent poles is an easy way to construct a temporary enclosure that will protect you from the weather while you work. You can feel free to lift the hood and get down in there for as long as you need to. When you’re all done, your temporary shelter comes down easily.

Winter Fun

Enterprising homeowners in the north have discovered they can use heavy-duty flatbed tarps to get little extra enjoyment out of the winter months. For example, tarps form a great base for a home ice rink. They keep the water in while protecting the grass underneath. What’s more, you do not need any lumber or high-tech construction skills. All you need is a little snow and cold enough temperatures.

And there you have it. Who knew the standard flatbed tarp could be so versatile? Moreover, we’ve only scratched the surface. A heavy-duty tarp is useful for so many things whether you’re an owner-operator or just a homeowner looking for a large piece of vinyl or canvas that will stand up to the weather.

When you buy your flatbed tarps, take the time to make sure you are buying a high quality product. Our tarps fit that bill. A high-quality tarp will give you years of faithful service with a minimum of rips and tears. A cheap tarp, well … not so much.

The Hazards of Semi-Trailer Tarps

To someone who has never done it before, the process of tying down semi-trailer tarps seems pretty easy. But it’s actually not. The process, also known as “tarping a load,” can be extremely difficult thanks to weather, load sizes, and environmental conditions. Some truckers say the best way to avoid the hassles of tarping a load is to just not accept loads requiring tarps.

Unfortunately, tarped loads are part of the freight hauling trade and are better paying loads. Every truck driver ends up having to learn how to tarp a load at some point in his career. The best ones learn to identify hazards and work around them; the rest injure themselves or generally make their own lives miserable.

Here are some of the more common hazards of semi-trailer tarps:

#1 – Wind

The first and most obvious hazard relating to the use of semi-trailer tarps is wind.It causes flapping and flapping causes tarp damage. Wind is a problem when you are putting the tarps on, while you are driving down the road, and when you are trying to get the tarps back off again. More than one truck driver has learned how to para-sail on a windy day.


The problem with wind is that truck drivers are rarely able to load and unload in enclosed bays. Trailers are typically out in the yard when drivers come to pick them up; they deliver them same way at the other end. That means any little bit of wind can cause a major problem. Being able to tarp a load under windy conditions is a very valuable skill to have.

#2 – Oil, Grease, Etc.

Oil, grease and a variety of chemicals and solvents can ruin your day if you are a truck driver. These things present problems in a number of ways. First and foremost is the very real danger of slipping and falling when you’re trying to tarp a load on a dirty slab. Such falls can result in serious injuries in a manufacturing or industrial environment.

The other problem comes by way of getting any of these undesirable substances on your tarp. Chemicals and solvents can damage canvas and vinyl to the point of ruining their water resistant properties. That may sound counter-intuitive, given that oil and grease repel water, but it is true nonetheless. A tarp stained with solvents can be a real problem after the stains have had time to dry out.

#3 – Load Size and Shape

Tarping requires proper cargo control equipment to be in place to protect the cargo and the tarp.The shape and size of a load can mean the difference between easy tarping and several hours of unmitigated misery. For example, a nice, uniform stack of steel piping can be covered and tied down very quickly. The entire tarp can be applied in 15 to 20 minutes. That is not the case when a truck driver is transporting something less uniform – like a load of CNC machines.

This kind of load might mean several different machines of varying shapes and sizes. The tarps have to be applied in such a way as to protect each of the machines without scratching or otherwise damaging them. Maybe the driver can climb on top of them, maybe he can’t. It all depends on the size and frailness of the load. Unusual loads can be a real nightmare to tarp. Heavier tarps are harder to manage and can cause injury which results in some fleet companies moving over to super light tarps

Using semi-trailer tarps to cover a load might seem fairly straightforward and easy. However, it’s not. So next time you see a truck driver going down the road with a tarp or two securing his cargo, remember that preparing the load for transport might have been a nightmare. Just be glad your job is not so difficult.