In-Depth Reviews

In-Depth Review: Gator SFX, an entry-level tonneau cover you might never give up

Gator SFX Review
  • BRAND: Gator
  • MATERIAL: Aluminum and marine-grade vinyl
  • FINISH: Black grain
  • WARRANTY: Limited lifetime (structural), ten years (tarp)

There are truck owners who know what they need and want. As far as they’re concerned, there is no reason to spend extra money, sometimes lots of extra money, on features they don’t need or want. 

The Gator SFX soft tri-fold tonneau cover does the job for these drivers. This low-profile cover protects the truck’s bed, effectively keeps out water and doesn’t advertise what’s underneath.  

And then there is the first-time truck owner who spent all their money on the truck. Like their truck, this is their first tonneau cover, and they get lucky and stumble across the Gator SFX tonneau cover. They may never look back. 

Design and functionality

The Gator SFX is a soft-cover tonneau cover mounted onto a tri-fold frame. Like many soft cover designs, there are no side rails. It clamps directly to the side walls of your truck. The distinguishing feature of this model is the clamps. Rather than the camlocks typical of many tonneau covers, which need periodic adjustment, the Gator SFX has a unique spring-loaded clamp. It releases and folds in seconds and secures with two straps. When it is time to close the cover, release the straps, fold it back down, and lock it in with the spring-loaded clamps. You’re ready to go. 


Getting the Gator SFX on your truck

The Gator SFX comes out of the box, ready to go. It is lightweight and can easily be lifted and installed by one person. Installation time is about ten minutes. 

Place the folded cover assembly across the sidewalls of your truck and unfold it, aligning side-to-side and front-to-back. Once you position the cover correctly, fasten the panel closest to the cab. This forward-most panel serves as the base for the Gator SFX. Rather than the spring-loaded clamps, the base attaches with clamps tightened by nobs on a threaded shaft.

Once tightened, unfold the panel to the tailgate of the truck. Before activating the spring clamps, ensure the tailgate opens and closes without any problem. Do a final check of alignment. When you are ready, the spring-loaded clamps are on the last panel and easily and quickly pull down to fasten on the lip of the sidewall. Check the open and close function a final time.

When you want to fold the panels up, undo the clamps on the last panel and push them into the recesses of the crossbar in the frame. They are designed to store there. Fold the panel over, then over again, and lock them into place with the strap. In seconds you have access to two-thirds of your truck bed and an unhindered view out the back window from the driver’s seat. 

Need full bed access? Undo the clamps up against the cab and lift the assembly off. It’s as easy as that. 


Keeps thieves away

The first rule of protection against theft is not advertising what you have. This is what the GatorSFX accomplishes, and it does so very well. Thanks to the aluminum frame, the Gator SFX looks substantial enough that it might be adequate to discourage most thieves. 

The other nice feature is that the clamps are only accessible through the tailgate, so if you have a locking tailgate, that’s one more barrier you have against theft. Thieves are generally lazy (that’s why they steal your stuff). The slightest hindrance, even having to slice through a soft tonneau cover, is enough to make them look for another truck. Others don’t want to call attention to their misdeeds. 

The reality, however, is that the Gator SFX is a soft cover. An unrefined thief can cut through it with a utility knife. Bottom line: Don’t leave your truck unattended if you don’t want your things stolen. 


Keeps water out

There is no such thing as a waterproof tonneau cover. Read the fine print. Reputable manufacturers use the term “water-resistant.” There’s a difference. In the right conditions, everything leaks at some point. It’s a matter of time and circumstances. 

But the Gator SFX has an excellent reputation for repelling water and minimizing leaks. Besides being quick and easy to use, the spring-loaded clamp system creates that perfect bond. We’re sure there are exceptions, but we’ve run into a lot of Gator SFX owners in the parking lots, and they all are delighted telling you about their tonneau cover that doesn’t leak. 

Given the $300 price point of the Gator SFX, you wouldn’t think it would score high in the leak prevention area, but it does. 


Stands up to daily use

Again, given the $300 price point, you wouldn’t expect the Gator SFX to stand up to the workhorse demands of the serious truck owner, but it comes through. The aluminum frame and the marine-grade cover work every time. The soft cover and frame also withstand the elements, including the weight of hail and snow. 


A warranty that means business 

Nothing lasts forever, but the frame of the Gator SFX has a limited lifetime warranty, and the tarp is guaranteed against faults in workmanship for ten years. Again, Gator is one of those companies in the tonneau cover world that maintains a good reputation for products at the entry level. In this world of social media and YouTube videos, they understand that keeping customers satisfied is essential. 


How does the Gator SFX stand up to the other Gator models?

Gator ETX

You heard it here. If you want to get the Gator SFX for less than it already is, you’ll find its cousin, the Gator EFX, on Amazon for about $239. What’s the difference? Nothing, as far as we can tell, and we’ve checked it up and down. There is still the marine-grade quality softcover stretched over an aluminum frame. The spring-loaded clamps work just as easily and quickly. It even has the same limited lifetime warranty on the frame and a ten-year warranty on the cover, the same as the Gator SFX.

What’s stopping you?

Gator Tri-Fold Pro

The next step up from the Gator SFX is the Gator Tri-fold Pro. What’s the difference? We don’t see a whole lot. The clamping system is different, but if anything, it’s a little clunkier. The price point is a little higher, starting at $329. 

Once again, you will be much happier with the Gator SFX. It’s a popular model, and the clamping system can’t be beaten. 


Frequently asked questions

I’ve heard that getting a tonneau cover for my truck will improve mileage. Is this true?

This is true of all tonneau covers, even for entry-level ones. The improved mileage makes sense when you consider the aerodynamics. Turbulence–the air passing over your truck–is the enemy of efficiency and better mileage. As you drive down the highway, the air passes over the cab and down into the truck’s bed, where it gets trapped. It finds its way out, but only after causing a lot of turbulence, which takes more energy (and fuel) to overcome. If you have a tonneau cover, the air passes over the truck bed without getting trapped and keeps on going. You get less turbulence and slightly better mileage.  

There is documented proof. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), a trade association in the automotive industry, performed a wind tunnel study in 2007 and substantiated this. They tested different trucks and different types of tonneau covers. On average, using a tonneau cover led to a 5.7% reduction in drag, translating to a 1.8% increase in fuel efficiency. That doesn’t sound like much, but 1.8% off your fuel bill adds up for an everyday truck you use to commute to work. 

How do I clean my Gator SFX tonneau cover?

When you wash your car, clean the tonneau cover in the same manner. Many of the DIY car washes have foaming brush extensions. Those will work well, too. Use a matte cleaner regularly to rejuvenate the vinyl and keep it supple. Many retractable tonneau covers go on work trucks to secure tools and materials. Try to keep from spilling paint or solvents on them. 

Sap from trees is one of your tonneau cover’s biggest enemy. Use a solvent-based cleaner designed to remove these types of things, and then follow it up with a good wash. Look at the directions for specific cleaning instructions. If you live in an area that gets snow, often the snow gets mixed with pine needles and other small vegetation. The show melts or falls off, but the droppings from the tree remain, making it a sticky mess. Take the time to hose off both the snow and the green stuff. 

I just installed the Gator SFX tonneau cover, and the locking mechanism and other actions are tight. 

Give it time. Things will fall into place.  

When your tonneau cover is new, locking mechanisms and other actions are stiff and difficult to operate until they wear in. Weather can be a factor, too. Hot weather loosens things up a little. Colder weather shrinks things and makes them stiff.

How can I make my Gator SFX more water-resistant?

Start by doing nothing at all. Gator designed the XSF tonneau cover for maximum water resistance. You don’t need to make it better. Doing so might damage what Gator has already done. 

When it comes to long-term water resistance, the worst enemy of your tonneau cover is repeatedly taking it off and putting it back on again. Molding and weatherstripping get creased and work loose. If you see this happening, replace the material, or add more adhesive.  

The key to eliminating leaks is to take care during the installation. Ensure the tops of your truck walls, both the side and the bulkhead, are free from debris and other junk. Consider cleaning them with isopropyl alcohol. This ensures a clean bond between the tonneau frame and your truck. 

You mentioned the MX4 has a support frame. Is it difficult to install that tonneau cover onto the frame?  You never mention that.

That’s because almost all tonneau covers come with the frame and cover already assembled. You don’t have to worry about it. If you are in doubt, check with the manufacturer. 

I see different prices around for the Gator SFX.

This is common. Manufacturers and dealers run specials, or they might discount prices if they have excess inventory. Shop the various sources. Watch refund and exchange policies and what kind of service they have. The best dealers list a phone number. If they don’t or encourage email through the website, send them a message asking a question about the product. See how their response times are. 


You might only need the Gator SFX

All pickup truck owners are different. Some want a bulletproof cover that keeps their truck looking like Fort Knox. Other just want a cover to keep the rain out and the elements away from whatever is covered.  Others think, “We want to try out this tonneau cover thing and see what the deal is. Do we like it?” The Gator SFX might be the logical place to start. 

It could be all the tonneau cover you are ever going to need.

About the author

David Patterson

Our editor, who brings a wealth of experience in tonneau covers and truck accessories sales to our editorial team. With over a decade in the industry, David has a deep understanding of the products and a knack for helping customers find the perfect fit for their trucks.

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