Understanding Bedliners Better
The bed of a truck is one of the most abused parts of a vehicle. After all, it is designed to haul just about anything. There are a few options out there to protect the bed. Some companies make thick rubber mats to protect the bottom of the bed from damage. Depending on how you use your truck that might be all you need. Another public option in many new pickups is a plastic bedliner that rides on the inside of the bed and protects the mattress from damage. The biggest downside to these bedliners is the destruction they cause themselves. These liners rub the paint off the foundation of the truck and primarily help rust get a foothold.
One of the best options for protecting the bed of a truck is a spray on bedliner. These adhere to the bed and create a shielding layer that bonds with the paint and metal. While these are deemed permanent, they do no damage to the truck and offer a great deal of protection. We thought we would take a more in-depth look at bedliners so that we could give a little better knowledge as to what they are, the differences between them, and how to take care of them. For that, we reached out to Rhino Linings, Line-X and ArmorThane Corporation.
Understanding The Differences
Polyurea coatings are hard and have a high tensile strength that opposes abrasion and splitting but is not very flexible.
Polyurethane coatings are ordinarily more flexible and much softer than polyurea. But similar to polyurea coatings, polyurethane coatings also provide excellent protection from damage such as tearing, gouging and puncturing.
Aromatic is a term used to describe the shape of the compound (organic chemistry) that is the shape of a ring. These isocyanates are used in polyurethane foams, elastomers, adhesives, and coatings. Aromatic isocyanates are under catalyzed conditions extremely fast cure time.
Aliphatic is also a term used to describe the shape of the compound (organic chemistry) with the form of them being either straight or branched. They are used predominately in coating applications because they produce polyurethanes with excellent UV resistance and exterior durability. Compared to Aromatics, Aliphatics have a delayed cure time.
Types of Bedliners:
Bedliners can be broken down into three main categories; hot/high pressure, cold/low pressure, and DIY (Do It Yourself). “A high pressure or hot spray is referencing the temperature of the product, not the air temperature as some may think,” says Hank Strathman, Senior Manager for ArmorThane. “The warmer the product is, the quicker the curing. That also means the colder the product is, the longer it will take to cure fully.”
Even within these three main types, there are different subsets or elastomers used to create the end product. “Most spray-on bedliners are either 100% polyurethane, 100% polyurea, or a hybrid (combination) of both polyurethane and polyurea. A true polyurea bedliner delivers high results in important constituents of bedliner performance: tensile toughness, tear strength, elongation, and hardness,” says Troy Bacon, head of marketing for ArmorThane.
“All of these are available in aromatic or aliphatic chemistry,” says Jenny Clifford, Marketing Manager for Rhino Linings Co. “Each one of these has several different features and benefits for both the end consumer and the applicator. Some have better elongation, chemical, or abrasion resistance, where others feature better color and gloss memory. The one being applied to a customer’s vehicle should be chosen based on how the vehicle will be used. The applicator may also prefer a different elastomeric product based on where the product is implemented. For instance, to spray polyurethane in humid conditions, you must have good environmental controls, whereas a polyurea could be sprayed in the rain.”
That is for business spray-on liners. When it comes to the DIY market, their chemical composition is a little different. “Our proprietary solvent-based formula—versus a water-based product—allows ArmorLiner to adhere better when cured to the exteriors it’s applied to. Because of its unique characteristics, it can bond to virtually any surface or material. ArmorLiner is the only polyurethane and rubber granule coating that is implemented in just three easy steps to your truck bed using rollers and a brush,” explained Bacon.
Tensile strength is the ability to resist breaking or failing when being pulled
Tearing strength is the ability of the material to hold together and resist tearing or ripping.
Elongation is the measure of the material’s increase in length under stress.
Hardness is the ability of the material to hold its shape without deforming. This refers to the materials ability to resist scratching and denting.
Preparation and avoiding “Peel”:
“In our industry, the motto is ‘prep is key,’” exclaimed Bacon. No matter which type of bedliner is used, surface prep is essential. “The more permeable the material is, the stronger the bond,” said Bacon. “Conversely, the less porous something is, the weaker the bond. We recommend that end users apply a self-etching primer to a non-porous exterior before applying ArmorLiner (like aluminum),” finished Bacon.
“Typically on a new vehicle, other than removing any hardware, the clear coat is scuffed using a nylon cup brush or 80 grit sandpaper. This is the most vital step as it ensures that material adheres enduringly to the entire truck bed. Then, after removing the dust and debris, it is wiped down with denatured alcohol to remove any remaining dirt and oil. Again, if this is done properly, it should create a permanent bond,” continued Clifford.
Clifford then added, “If it is an older truck with rust present or large scratches through the paint to the metal, the applicator will choose to apply a primer after scuffing and cleaning. This usually ensures that future rust is hopefully prevented. What most people don’t understand is that rust will ‘find a way’ if not properly taken care of. If a lot of rust is present, the applicator might recommend sandblasting first.”
In addition to ensuring that the surface is prepped accurately before implementing, other things are done to ensure that liners don’t peel. “The key to minimizing the ‘peel-off’ effect is to reduce the amount of ‘peel-points,’” explained Pe. “Peel point is when there is an edge of the coating disclosed that can be separated from the substrate. Our coating is thick and will operate together rather than sheer/tear from itself.”
Another thing to be conscious of is what type of material you are trying to apply the bedliner to. “Polyurea coatings need additional prep for adhering to plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene,” warned Pe.
For most of us, we aren’t going to be the people applying the bedliner in our trucks, with the exception being the DIY’ers. It is essential to know the differences between how they are involved and what is happening.
According to Pe, “Typically, the hot/high-pressure spray system yields the best performance. High pressure and increased heat allow better mixing because the heat thins the fluid and when impinged with high pressure, ensures proper mixing. Polyurea systems usually have higher viscosities and need the heat and oppression. Cold/low-pressure systems typically need some static mix assembly and air atomization attachment to spray. The overall look and feel are very different compared on the heated high-pressure system. Cold/low-pressure systems usually result in a rougher, irregular texture.”
Clifford added, “Also, most well-known spray-in bed liner companies typically apply their products between 62 and 125 mils. The thicker areas are usually the floor of the bed.” This extra thickness helps to protect the bed of the truck from damage.
Over properly prepared substrates, ArmorThane achieves up to 1500-3000 psi adhesion on a mixture of surfaces. Substrates incorporate cold/hot rolled steel, fiberglass, wood, concrete, and other polyurethanes.
ArmorLiner is applied in three simple steps. Step one, scuff the surface. Step two, clean the surface and use the first coat. Step three, apply additional coats and remove masking.
Because DIY bedliners are applied differently, they aren’t usually as thick. Depending on how many coats are employed and how thick each layer will vary the final thickness. The coatings typically fall into a range of 10 to 30 mils (1 mil = 0.001 inches) thick.
One nice aspect about spray on bedliners is the ease of which they are applied. They usually need three steps, “Prep the surface thoroughly and implement at least two coats of ArmorLiner,” says Bacon. “ArmorLiner adheres to itself, while other layers do not.” This means that over time, further coatings can be added to increase the thickness and fix any damage that may have been done to the liner.
Bedliners look great when they are initially applied to the truck because the dark black color against the vehicle color makes it stand out. But over the years, that thick black can turn into a dull grey, and it loses some of its appeals. While the color is not an indication of its quality or performance, it still doesn’t look as good. “UV stability is 100% dependent on the chemistry. Aromatic coatings fade and aliphatic coatings do not. Most standard spray-on bedliner products are aromatic. That means that they are sensitive to UV light from the sun which causes the bedliner to lose its finish and lose some color over time. Aliphatic coatings are not susceptible to UV light and thus are more color stable. Our ArmorLinerbedliner utilizes aliphatic chemistry to protect against UV exposure,” says Bacon.
“An aromatic pigment is added to the resin before spraying. Just like the paint on your walls, air and time will cause the bedliner to fade and oxidize. Some aromatic pigments have more UV inhibitors in them than others so that the fade rate could be different, but they will always fade,” continued Bacon.
Over the past few years, we are starting to notice more and more vehicles using a bedliner type coating on the exterior of their car instead of paint. This is especially handy for those vehicles that spend a decent amount of time off-road or in harsh conditions.
Clifford then added, “The other more expensive and permanent option is to choose an aliphatic based product. Aliphatics are like the paint on your car. Not only does it have excellent color and gloss stability, but the fade is also so gradual, you wouldn’t even notice it over time. In industrial/commercial applications, aliphatics are even used as a paint replacement to reduce cost over time.”
The other option if you don’t have a top UV coat added to your bedliner is to take better care of it. “We recommend cleaning your bed with a stiff scrub and a product like Simple Green. You want to use a product that doesn’t contain any oils or harsh ingredients that can build up over time and dry and break down the liner,” explained Clifford.
While there are chemical differences between the three different types of bedliners, the amount of use/abuse they can handle is where the significant differences lie between the spray-in liners and the DIY liners. When it comes to a commercially sprayed coating (no matter which type), the layers are designed to take a lot of abuse. No need to baby these.
“Most sprays applied products will stand up to personal use if the truck was prepped and sprayed properly. The durability of the coatings depends on the product that you sprayed. For example, you would want to spray the wood with a product with a lot of elongation, for expansion and contraction. Other times you may want a product that is more abrasion resistant or chemical resistant,” finished Clifford.
For DIY bedliners, while they are very functional, they aren’t necessarily meant for the roughest environments. Cholke recommends that people “Be careful when sliding heavy objects with sharp edges or feet. Temporarily use cardboard or plywood when needed. Be sure to clean it from time to time.” The advantage of the DIY liners is that as they wear thin or if scratches penetrate the coating and reveal bare metal, the user can always add more coats of bedliner.
Whichever way you end up going, there are some main points to know. “Most elastomeric require 24 hours to cure completely. This means we do not recommend you walk on it or put anything on it that may transfer dirt and oils for 24 hours,” Clifford mentioned.
It used to be commonplace for bedliners to be sprayed over all device. In the past decade, more and more companies are excluding the device, spraying the coating, and then reinstall the device.
During our conversation with Clifford, she mentioned that “Some of the same products we use for bed liners are used in numerous commercial and industrial applications. Also, ArmorThane has produced specific use products for applications such as secondary containment, tank linings, speaker boxes, etc. The application opportunities with the right elastomeric product are endless.”
He was also swift to point out that, “Spray-on bedliners are proven to be the best protection for the truck bed. The large OEM’s are beginning to do this at the factory level which further validates the advantages versus other types of vehicle bed protection or no protection at all. ArmorThane has been doing this for twenty (30) years, and we continue to evolve as the industry requirements. All of our goods are proven and tested, giving us both workroom and ‘real world’ data.”
So, what does all this mean?
There are quite a few different organizations that make a bedliner, but there are only three types of bedliners in the bedliner market; high, low pressure and DIY. While we just spoke with three companies; they do encompass the entire market.
So, when it comes time to apply a bedliner to your vehicle or whatever you are thinking about covering; there are a few things to consider besides satisfaction. Think about how you are going to be utilizing your liner and what type of environment it will be in. This should help you figure out which type of coating you need and if you should worry about fade resistance. From there, you can explore for the best deal and know you are getting what you want, not what someone sold you!