Truck Bed Liners: A Comprehensive Guide

/ / Car Accessories
A Scratched Truck Bed

It’s a great feeling driving a shiny new or gently used pickup truck off the vehicle lot and imagining all the materials you will haul in it. You might wonder how you will maximize the cubic feet of the bed and tackle all sorts of demanding projects. But, an untreated truck bed won’t look pristine for long as it’s susceptible to scuffs, scratches, and dents.

A bed liner is an aftermarket solution that helps protect your investment. These protective products come in three primary forms: mats, drop-in, and spray-on liners. Each option has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s crucial to understand how each one works, the level of protection it provides, and its overall cost.

Another factor to consider is hiring a professional or installing the bed liner yourself to save money. This largely depends on the bed liner you choose, your budget, and how you plan to use your truck bed. For those who have yet to decide on their next truck, you may want to consider choosing from the best pickup trucks of 2023.

Mat, drop-in, or spray-on liner?

A Drop-In Truck Bed Liner

When examining the different options for bed liners, the first one to consider is a mat. These mats are comprised of rubber or carpet and lay across the bed’s floor. You’ll want to purchase one created specifically for your truck so it fits snugly around the wheel wells. The advantage of the mat bed liner is its lower cost, with options under $100, ease of removal, and ability to prevent cargo from sliding around. However, not all mats protect your tailgate, and the side walls of your truck bed remain vulnerable.

Drop-in liners are made from either rubber or rugged plastic and consist of two pieces: one for the tailgate and the other for the entirety of the bed. You can purchase a drop-in specifically molded to your truck model or utilize a universal version that fits most truck beds. Drop-in liners provide complete protection, including the side walls, from getting damaged during hauling, but the plastic material can cause items to slide during transport. This type of liner is more expensive than the mats, with options in the $200 to $300 range depending on features such as cutouts for lights and under vs. over-the-rail variations.

Spray-on liners are a more permanent solution that usually involves removing the original layers of paint from the bed and then coating the bed with a thick and coarse material designed to safeguard it. The spray-on layer is an excellent way to help prevent scratches, rust, and other surface damage from deteriorating the back of your truck. However, it is by far the costliest, coming in anywhere from the mid $300s to over $700, depending on your vehicle and the crew installing it.

DIY or hire a pro?

A Professional Spraying On Truck Bed Liner

You can install a mat liner fairly easily by flattening it out and laying it correctly across the truck bed floor. The wheel well cutouts keep the mat from shifting around, but many products also include Velcro and adhesive to help attach them to the bed.

Drop-in liners are more complex for DIY warriors with multiple pieces but are still very doable. You need to gently work the liner into place, wrapping the plastic over the rails and installing fasteners to keep it tightly secured. Bending the center of the mold upward slightly can help align the rest of the piece with the side walls of the bed.

For those looking to get the spray-on liner, hiring a professional with experience in applying the protective layers is best. Those unfamiliar with the process may have an uneven or unsightly end result, and premium spray-on materials are expensive. You might also consider investing in the highest-rated truck bed cover brands to help keep your ride looking its best and adding extra protection for cargo. 

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