Buying a truck is a significant investment. Choosing the right make and model, bed-length, functionality, towing capabilities, interior style, color; the truck wish list could go on and on. It takes time and attention to decide which truck you want to invest in.
As a truck owner, it only makes sense to maximize the utility of your truck in a way that aligns with your lifestyle. Unfortunately, most trucks don’t come with all the customizations people want or need or want right out of the box.
While access to truck customization information is essentially infinite, finding the expert information from trusted professionals is much harder to come by. This is certainly true for one of the most important elements of truck customization: the truck bed liner.
When it comes to purchasing a bed liner for your truck, it’s important that you’ve got the best information to make the best decision possible for you and your vehicle.
Truck bed liners are an essential customization that protect your investment. At LINE-X of Louisville, we’ve installed over 10,000 bed liners, and are happy to share what we’ve learned about the two most common types of bed liners: the spray-in and drop-in bed liner. But first, let’s talk about why everyone needs a bed liner for their truck.
Why Your Truck Needs A Bed Liner
People buy trucks for the utility, functionality, and load bearing potential of the vehicle. They offer flexibility for active lifestyles and careers. Bed liners are utility maximizers and investment protectors.
If you plan on moving cargo in your truck, you need a bed liner to protect the body of the vehicle from dents and paint damage. Even items like cardboard boxes, luggage, and hobby gear can scratch an unprotected bed. A truck bed liner will give you peace of mind that your investment and cargo are secure.
A Cheap Bed Liner Is Actually Expensive If It Ruins Your Truck
Okay, so you know you need a bed liner for your truck. But what’s important to understand is that not all bed liners are the same, and there are serious differences between a drop-in and spray-in bed liner.
Poor liner installation or product choice could be the difference between a truck with maximized value and a truck with a ruined warrant.
The most common mistake people make when they look for a bed liner is making the decision on cost alone, without considering the impact of that choice long-term. Some options are cheaper, but it’s most likely because the installer is skimping on the amount of product they spray into the bed or because they’re using a cheap spray or drop-in option. These cheap options tend to fail, even under light use.
A key thing to pay attention to is if the applicator offers Nationwide, a lifetime warranty, or any warranty at all. If they don’t, take the time to ask about the installer’s policies to see if they offer any kind of guarantee with their product.
Spray-In vs. Drop-In Bedliner: Benefits & Risks
Spray-In Bed Liner
A Line-X spray-in bed liner is a permanent spray applied to provide a protective coating to the truck bed.
Benefits: In addition to the standard benefits of a bed liner (protecting against scratches and dents), spray-on liners are able to minimize cargo shifting, protect against corrosion, and maximizes the amount of cargo space in the truck because the coating follows the contours of the bed.
Risks: The biggest risk with a spray-in liner is that bad application can reduce the quality of the product, so finding an expert installer is essential. Additionally, stains are not removable because the liner is essentially the bed, and cargo can be more difficult to slide out.
Drop-In Bed Liner
A drop-in bed liner is a hard plastic insert that is placed into the truck bed and typically fastened by self-tapping screws.
Benefits: Drop-in bed liners tend to be inexpensive options for economy customers. They are simple to remove, cargo slides out easily, and they do provide some dent protection/scratch resistance (though not at the same level as a spray-in liner.)
Risks: The installation of a drop in bed liner requires holes to be drilled into the body of your truck. For new truck owners, this is a significant risk. These holes catalyze a corrosion process that will create rust, even in brand new trucks (we’ve personally seen it in pickup trucks that are only two months old!)
Here’s why this is so important: if you have rust in your truck bed from a drop-in bed liner, the manufacturer will not cover the damage to the paint, even if the dealership installed the bed liner.
Additionally, with a drop-in bed liner, you could trap water and dirt, which accelerates corrosion and can stain the bed. Because the drop-in sits on top of your bed, paint chafing will also occur. We have seen drop-in liners wear through paint and expose metal less than one year after installation.
How to Decide Which Bed Liner Option Is Best for You
When deciding which bed liner choice is best for you, the main factors to consider are protection, cargo, installation, and cost. We’ll walk you through each of these factors and help you think through which one might best suit your needs.
The point of a bed liner is to protect your truck from the things you’re transporting. Any bed liner you choose needs to be able to provide this service. Both spray-in and drop-in bed liners provide bed protection, but there are issues with how a drop-in liner accomplishes this.
The issue with a drop-in liner is that even though it provides some dent protection, over time the plastic itself will cause scratching onto the bed of your truck if you’re constantly dragging things in and out. If the selling point of a plastic liner for you is dent reduction, consider that there’s a good chance you’re still going to get dents in your truck bed, just ones that you can’t see.
Depending on the kinds of cargo that you’re carrying, you’ll have different needs to consider when it comes to choosing a bed liner.
Most people will find the protection and utility that they need with a spray-in bed liner. This is what we recommend, and 9/10 times it’s going to give you exactly what you want. The scenario where a drop-in liner makes the most sense is if you find yourself sliding bulk product out of your work truck bed regularly (mulch, rock, etc.), but even this comes with a caveat. If you’re a landscaper (or move cargo in a similar bulk fashion), we think that it actually makes the most sense use both a spray-in liner, AND use a plastic drop-in if you plan on keeping the truck for more than two years. This ensures maximum protection and maximum utility.
Even though drop-in liners can provide protection from major scratches, it can sometimes give users a false sense of the trucks load-bearing capabilities. By dropping heavy materials into your truck, you may already be denting the bed and just not know it. The drop-in means that you won’t know if you destroy your bed floor. With a spray-in, you’ll immediately see the impact of the dent and have a more clear idea of how much weight your truck can realistically handle.
It’s important to think of installation as more than just time spent. You also need to weight the impact of the installation process on the truck body. In regards to time spent, both bed liners should be a same day process. A spray-in bed liner will take 3 hours or less, while a drop-in takes around 30 minutes of work.
The thing to consider is what the installation process means for the truck. As mentioned above, a drop-in liner requires 12 holes drilled into your bed. This is going to ruin the warranty on the paint, speed up corrosion, negatively impact the value of your truck. It’s vital that anyone going this route understands that cost.
Upfront, a drop-in bed liner is going to be cheaper. However, we would argue that if the ultimate goal is to save money, it might be smarter to use put a bed mat in the truck rather than risk all the damage concerns that come with a drop-in. Over time, the spray-in liner option is going to validate its cost as long as you find an expert installer. Your warranties will remain intact, and you’ll save yourself the hassle of needing to buy a new truck before you had planned because of rust and corrosion.
The Dirty Secret About Drop-In Bed Liners
A considerable percentage of trucks have drop-in liners because the truck was purchased with the drop-in pre-installed. Dealerships do this to increase their margin per vehicle on new trucks, or to cover up damage on the used trucks that they are selling. When it comes to bed liners, dealerships do not have their customers best interests in mind.
Drop-in bed liners are what you use when the truck is already ruined, not on a new or slightly used vehicle. Mostly, plastic bed liners are installed because they are 1) easy to use and 2) help dealers move damaged or subpar trucks. If cost is a non-negotiable barrier to purchasing a spray-in bed liner, we strongly recommend that customers simply use a bed mat for cargo (which should run around $120).
Ultimately, a spray-in liner will give truck owners the biggest bang for their buck. With a spray-in liner, you’ll be able to maximize your load carrying potential by maintaining full use of your bed, avoid the corrosion that comes from the drop-in installation process, and maintain the status of your vehicle warranties.