One of the most common thread starters on forums and Facebook groups goes something like this: “Looking for a bed liner, should I go spray-in or drop-in?”. In this post, we’ll try to answer that question as well as we can, with an unbiased review of what it’s like to own a spray in vs drop in bed liner. Feel free to comment on what we got right or wrong.
NOTE: These pros and cons are based on the commonly reported experiences and there are exceptions to these results for both systems.
Spray-In Bed Liner 101 and Installation Advice
Applied in a paint shop with a spray gun, spray-in/spray-on bed liners are essentially a painted coating. The specific coating that’s painted onto your vehicle varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and from product line to product line, so it’s important to ask some questions before buying a spray in vs drop in bed liner. Specifically, you want to know:
- Is the liner an aliphatic or aromatic coating?
- What is your specific vehicle preparation process?
- Can I see your paint shop before I buy?
Here’s why you want to ask these questions.
Aliphatic vs. Aromatic – Most spray-on coatings are polyurethane, and the coatings harden when exposed to the atmosphere. However, some coatings are aromatic and some are aliphatic. Aliphatic compounds maintain their pigment better than aromatic compounds, which means that they don’t fade nearly as quickly. Of course, aliphatic coatings are also more expensive.
Most people in the spray-on business agree aliphatic compounds are better. Our advice? If you’re not getting an aliphatic compound, you should be getting a very good price…and you can expect relatively fast fading too.
Vehicle Prep Process – Since a spray-on liner is essentially paint, vehicle body surface preparation is critical. A poor or rushed prep process is far more likely to result in problems than a quality preparation process.
Any good prep process will involve:
- Stripping your truck’s bed down to the primer or bare metal, using a grinder or sander
- Careful cleaning of the newly ground or sanded surface
- A chemical cleaner is sometimes required in addition to the grinding/sanding process
- Careful masking around the painted area – you don’t want overspray on the back of your truck’s cab, on the fenders, etc.
- Ample separation between your vehicle and other vehicles being sprayed. Ideally, your spray-on installer will have an actual spray booth with a separate ventilation system. This prevents overspray as well.
See the Paint Shop/Liner Installation Area for Yourself – You can tell a LOT about the quality of a bed liner installer by looking at their shop. Is it clean? Organized? Do they have discarded parts or tools laying around? Are the employees wearing eye protection and masks? Are the vehicles separated from the paint booth/application area? etc.
Spray-in Bed Liner Pros and Cons
Now that you have some background and advice on buying a spray in vs drop in bed liner, it’s time for a list of pros and cons.
- A good spray-in liner looks very nice when applied correctly.
- You can spray the coating wherever you like, provided of course the area is prepped. This means you can have a bumper or fender flare coated.
- The surface texture does a decent job of keeping cargo from sliding around, at least when you compare it to a slippery plastic drop-in liner (however, most spray-in surfaces are not as good at controlling cargo as the ZeroSkid rubber flooring we use in the DualLiner)
- If the spray-in installer does their job correctly, they destroy the factory paint in your truck bed. While this isn’t a negative by itself (after all, they’re re-painting the bed with a new coating), it does mean that your truck’s corrosion warranty is invalidated on any parts with a spray-in coating.
- Spray-in installers must be highly trained, attentive to detail, and extraordinarily careful. If the installer takes a shortcut during the preparation or application process, the results can be disastrous. You can find plenty of stories about installation screw-ups on truck forums (like this one, this one, this one, or this one. They’re not hard to find).
- Spray-in liners aren’t removable. If you buy a new truck, you can’t take a spray-in liner out of your old truck and drop it into your new truck.
- Spray-in liner warranties aren’t as good as you might think. This article at PickupTrucks.com talks about the limitations of warranties from Line-X and Rhino.
- No protection from dents and dings from cargo loading and unloading.
- Expense. A spray-in liner can cost as little as $350 and as much as $1,000, depending on the features and particular liner you install.
As one blog post put it when comparing bed protection options, “Installation is 90% if the puzzle. If you have a good installer, you’ll probably end up with a liner that lasts…All spray-in liners fade when exposed to a few years of sunlight. While some formulations are much more resistant to fade than others, UV radiation always wins.”
NOTE: There are also DIY “roll on” bed liner coatings available, but we decided not to include them in our spray in vs drop in bed liner review as we do not recommend these bed liners for a few different reasons. For more information, you can read our DIY bed liner post here.
Drop-In Bed Liner Pros and Cons
Conceptually, in the spray in vs drop in bed liner debate, drop-in bed liners are pretty simple, so we don’t have any specific background info here or install advice. Our only tip is to make sure you buy a drop-in that’s specifically designed for your truck. A lot of drop-ins are “universal,” and that means they don’t fit exactly right and it’s a big reason why some truck owners choose a spray in vs drop in bed liner. If these universal fit drop-ins become loose, they can buffet around as you drive down the road and scuff your paint (which is why all of DualLiner’s hard plastic sidewalls are designed to exactly fit the truck they’re installed in).
- Generally inexpensive – they can be purchased for less than $200 in many cases
- DIY installation
- Removable/transferable to your next truck (assuming your next truck has the same bed dimensions)
- The plastic liner protects your bed from dents and dings when cargo is loaded and unloaded
- Because of their low price point, a lot (but not all) of the drop-in liners available are low quality, with poor fitment that leaves voids between the liner and bed which are weak and can crack over time
- The surface of most drop-in liners is very slick, which means your cargo can slide around and bang into the sides of the bed which can damage your cargo
- If the fitment is poor, a drop-in liner can buffet in the wind as you drive down the road, move around when cargo is in the bed, etc., and this movement can scuff the paint
Spray In Vs Drop In Bed Liner: What About the DualLiner?
With the DualLiner bed liner you can forget about the pros and cons when trying to decide between a spray in vs drop in bed liner. We feel like the DualLiner offers the best of both products. It’s easy to install yourself and fully transferable (just like a drop-in), but the DualLiner’s ZeroSkid rubber flooring sticks your cargo in place. The DualLiner is also considerably less costly than most spray-ins.
While our opinion on the issue is pretty clear (we think DualLiner is best), we encourage anyone buying a DualLiner, plastic drop-in, or spray-in liner to be very cautious. If you opt for a spray-in, vet the installer carefully. If you opt for a drop-in, be sure it fits correctly, and consider purchasing a rubber bed mat to improve the cargo control.