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Installing a Toyota Tacoma Camper Shell

The ARE CX HD truck cap for our Tacoma.

Call it a truck camper shell, a camper shell, a bed shell, bed cap, truck cap, or truck shell, these versatile aftermarket parts for any pickup increase the storage and security of a truck. Our 2020 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab SR 4x4 is our go-to rig for weekend adventures, trips to the junkyard, and trips to the grocery store. The truck moves quick when we need it to, gets decent fuel economy, and is just fun to drive, on-road and off. One area where we and other Tacoma owners have spent some time further honing the Tacoma is in the bed and general storage area. And while that bed is handy to have as any open pickup truck bed is, occasionally added interior and secure storage is needed. We've added bed boxes to trucks, tonneau covers to trucks, and more, but a truck camper shell is one surefire way to add secure, and (mostly) weatherproof storage to any truck. Our third-gen Tacoma is no exception, and it didn't take us long to home in on an A.R.E. camper shell, namely the stylish yet extremely durable CX HD for our Taco. With a call to A.R.E. and a trip to our local dealer—Tom's Camperland on Bell, in Surprise, Arizona—within an hour or so, these companies greatly improved the everyday functionality of our Tacoma.

A.R.E. Camper Shell or Truck Cap

At the end of the day a camper shell or truck cap is nothing more than a simple structure that fits the top of the bed and encloses the area behind the cab. Sure, we could build one out of scrap wood or buy metal and weld one together, but modern fiberglass camper shells have many advantages. They are lightweight, relatively strong, easy to make look good, and this general design has been proven over many years. Plus, we have a trick up our sleeves: Truth be told, this A.R.E. CX HD truck cap combines those features with an internal aluminum structure for superior strength that triples the weight capacity of the CX line to 550 pounds. After playing around with the Build Your Own feature on ARE's website, choosing the CX HD with a few options was easy.

Installation of Our A.R.E. CX HD Truck Cap

Generally camper shells or bed caps are installed by your local dealer, and that is fine with us, but we figured you'd like to see what goes into the installation. Our local dealer for A.R.E. products is Tom's Camperland on Bell Road in Surprise, Arizona. When the top arrived at Tom's Camperland, Heath McCann helped us set up an installation time. Kodi Smith installed our CX HD in about an hour one fine weekday. Here are some of his tips for making sure the install went perfect.

  • Smith likes to carefully seal the gaps at the front of the third-gen Tacoma's bed. This is effectively a gap in the bed not enclosed by the cap, so some silicon or seam sealer will do the job of helping to keep the weather and dust out.
  • The clamps hold the top to the truck via the factory's slide and lock tracks along the insides of the bed.
  • Smith said these clamps are tough, and he's rarely seen issues with them. Just make sure to use a -inch Allen wrench and a 9/16 wrench to check the bolts once a month and before any off-road trips.

Options for Our A.R.E. CX HD

Aside from the HD option, which adds the aluminum inner structure and brings the weight capacity of the rack to 550 pounds via the integrated roof rack, we also opted for an aluminum framed sliding front window—the color-matched aluminum-paneled "windoors"—for both sides. These can just open into the interior of the top or have a built-in driver- or passenger-side toolbox inside them. We opted to leave the toolboxes out. This allows easy access to the contents of the truck from either side. In the back we opted for the aluminum-framed single T-door, a standard option that is lockable and allows us to see out the rear of the truck. Inside the top we also added the optional 12V LED dome light and dual rope lights with the optional prop switch. The lights are controlled with a three-way switch on the LED dome light that allows on, on when the rear hatch opens, and off. The rope lights and dome do a great job of illuminating the cargo area of the truck when we need them.

Our Impressions of the A.R.E. Truck Cap So Far

This may seem like lip service to A.R.E., but in all honesty, so far, the CX HD has been a major upgrade to our third-gen Toyota Tacoma. Before it was installed, we had to shove groceries and other items we purchased into the cab if we had other errands to run or a long trip to make. With the top on the Tacoma we feel much better about bringing all the stuff we need whether we are headed out camping, to the parts store, grocery store, or to the junkyard for more parts.

A.R.E., 866.658.8376, https://www.4are.com
Tom's Camperland, 623.977.2888, www.tomscamperland.com