Tarpaulin for Vehicles The Proper Way to Cover Cars, Trucks, and More

Using tarpaulin on your vehicle provides several key benefits. It protects your car, truck, or motorcycle from weathering and other environmental damage caused by the sun, rain, snow, and pollution. The sun’s UV rays can cause paint to fade over time, and exposure to the elements leads to rust and deterioration.

Choosing the Right Tarpaulin Material

There are several popular types of tarpaulin material to choose from:


This inexpensive woven plastic holds up well in most environments. It is water resistant, durable for multi-year use, and does not tear easily. However, it is not as flame-resistant as other options.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC tarps are sturdier than polyethylene and provide better protection against mold, mildew, and fire. These Heavy Duty Tarpaulin last longer but also carry a higher price tag.


Made of cotton or synthetic fabrics, canvas tarps are durable and breathable. They allow air circulation to prevent moisture buildup, making them a great long-term storage choice. However, they are less water-resistant than plastic-based materials.

Tarpaulin Sizes for Different Vehicles

The size of the tarpaulin you choose needs to properly cover the specific vehicle it will be used on. An oversized Tarpaulin can lead to excess material that flaps in the wind, while an undersized one leaves gaps where water and debris can seep in. Carefully measuring your vehicle’s dimensions will ensure you select the optimal tarpaulin size.

Sedans, Coupes, Compacts

For compact sedans, coupes, and small vehicles under 15 feet long, an 8′ x 12′ tarpaulin generally provides a nice fit. This covers from the hood to the rear hatch/trunk area with enough excess to wrap under the doors. Popular compact car models like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Ford Focus fall into this size range.

Midsize Vehicles and Crossovers

Midsize sedans, hatchbacks, and small SUVs between 15-17 feet long do well with a 10′ x 14′ tarp. Vehicles like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Jeep Cherokee, and Ford Edge have similar dimensions that a 10′ x 14′ tarp covers fully without excess material.

Full-Size Cars, Trucks, Large SUVs

For full-size cars, trucks, and large SUVs over 17 feet long, opt for a 12′ x 18′ tarpaulin for complete coverage. Full-size truck beds, as well as large vehicles like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Honda Pilot, are properly shielded by this generous-sized tarp.

Pickup Trucks

Tarps specifically designed for pickup trucks come in two standard sizes – 8′ x 10′ for short beds and 10′ x 15′ for long beds. The 8′ x 10′ securely covers most midsize truck beds between 5.5-6.5 feet. The 10′ x 15′ size stretches across standard 8-foot beds with ample excess.

Motorcycles, ATVs

Smaller 3′ x 6′ or 5′ x 8′ tarps work well for covering motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, and other recreational vehicles. The shorter lengths avoid excess material that could catch or be damaged more easily.

Maintenance and Storage

With proper care and storage between uses, a quality tarpaulin can protect your vehicle for many years. Some best practices include:

Inspect Regularly for Damage

Check the tarp fabric and ties/straps every few months for cracks, UV damage, or other signs of deterioration. Catching small issues early prevents further exposure.

Wash to Remove Dirt and Debris

Use a gentle stream from the hose or spray bottle with a small amount of mild detergent. Be sure to rinse away any residues thoroughly to avoid streaking.

Clean Mold and Mildew

In damp climates, mold can grow in folds or crevices over time. Wipe down with a bleach and water solution (1:10) using an old toothbrush to reach tight spots.

Dry Completely Before Storing

Allow several hours to ensure the tarp is entirely dried out after washing to avoid musty odors. Store dry tarps away from direct heat or sunlight.

Tarp Installation Tips

Properly installing your tarpaulin is crucial to achieving a secure, form-fitted coverage of the vehicle. With the tarp laid out, here are the key steps to follow:

Unfurl the Tarp

With assistance, if needed, hold the folded tarp by two opposite corners and gently unfurl it open without wrinkles over the entire vehicle. Ensure all sides and edges are even.

Thread Straps Under Doors

Most tarps come equipped with straps or ties along the perimeter. Starting from one corner, thread these attachment straps under doors and behind wheel wells on that side where they lay flush and taut.

Secure Corners

With the side straps in place, tightly fasten each corner of the tarp using ropes, bungees, or buckled straps. Pull excess material around the curved wheel wells and secure them.

Add Grommets

On open truck beds or other high wind exposure areas, reinforce the tarp corners and perimeter with heavy-duty grommets spaced every 2-3 feet. Then run locking ties or ropes through each grommet to wither harsh conditions.

Tighten Fully Around Edges

Give one last pull on all attachment points, straps, and ties to remove any remaining slack or wrinkles and achieve a custom-like fit. The vehicle shape should be clearly defined under tight tarp material.

Re-Tighten Periodically

Check the tarp installation regularly and re-pull loose straps or ties that may have shifted from weather and abrasion over time to maintain full protection.

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Prepare the Surface

Before unfolding the tarp, clean and dry the vehicle surface. Remove dirt, debris, bird droppings, or residues that could mark the tarp material during installation. A clean surface promotes better adhesion of straps and ties.


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