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Most sportsmen I know value their pickup trucks more for utility than for beauty. Yet this doesn’t mean that your truck’s bed has to become a dented mess from loading and unloading your outdoor gear. These days, truck owners have more bed-protection options than ever.

The Drop-In Option
Drop-ins are the most common type of bed liner; some truck manufacturers even offer them as an option. Made from polyethylene or other plastic materials, these liners are manufactured to fit specific truck bed applications and literally drop into place during installation. Fasteners attach the liner to the sheet metal. A separate tailgate protector that screws into place is sold with the liner.

Current drop-in-liner technology includes non-skid surfaces, fade-resistant pigments and bed-floor ribs that both cushion cargo and promote air ventilation between the liner and the sheet metal to reduce the risk of rust caused by trapped moisture. The installation of a typical drop-in liner takes less than an hour using simple hand tools.

Over-the-bed-rail drop-ins offer the most protection for those who typically load gear from the sides of their truck. Under-rail models are a good choice if you’re also adding a tonneau cover or bed cap. Expect to pay $250 to $300 for a drop-in liner.

Spray-on Protection
As the name implies, spray-on liners consist of a rubberized material (such as the polyurethane-polyurea elastomer used by Line-X) that’s sprayed into the bed to form a 1/8- to ¼-inch-thick coating.

Professional installation takes several hours, and though the material dries to the touch in minutes, the liner should cure for at least 24 hours before heavy use.

Since every spray-on liner is a custom application, you can choose which areas of the truck you want protected, including the lower fenders, rocker panels or floorboards for hose-out cleaning. And since spray-ons eliminate the need for attaching hardware, your bed is totally protected. Prices for a spray-on liner vary greatly with the options you choose, but plan to pay $400 to $600 for the job.

Which Works Best?
Generally, drop-ins are thicker and therefore provide better protection from really heavy cargo. They’re also less expensive, easier to install and removable. A spray-on liner, on the other hand, forms a permanent bond with the sheet metal, sealing out corrosion-causing moisture that can be trapped between a drop-in and the bed floor. Spray-ons also give your truck bed a custom look, especially if the liner is color-matched to your truck’s paint job.

Where to Buy them
Good sources for bed liners include Durakon (Duraliner drop-in bed liners, Durasport bed mats; 800-695-4637; www.durakon.com); Herculiner (877-437-2854; www.herculiner.com); Line-X (spray-on bed liners; 800- 831-3232; www.goline-x.com); and Rhino Linings (858-450-0441; www .rhinolinings.com).