If you’ve just bought a new truck, there’s a good chance that someone (a friend, a relative, or a salesperson) has told you to buy a certain brand of spray-in bed liner “because they’re the best”. If you’re like me, you don’t like making this decision without doing a little research first (Not sure you want a spray-in? See a full list of Bed Liner Options). Here’s my analysis of the two biggest names in spray-in truck bed liners, Line-X and Rhino Linings.
Updated September 2013
7 Things To Know About Rhino and Line-X
NOTE: A particularly biased Line-X dealer took issue with our last comment, arguing that mess is just a part of the bed liner business. While I understand this argument – the best installers are potentially too busy to worry about cleaning – I think it’s bogus. When someone is going to be spray-painting your vehicle, they need a clean shop and a clean spray area. Otherwise, you’re going to get foreign objects and debris in your liner.
Now, on to the comparison.
Line-x is applied “hot” (temperatures between 130-210 degrees) using a high pressure spray system. As a general rule, Line-X liners tend to be thin (about 1/4″ thick) and uniform. Most people believe that thinner is better when it comes to looks; A thin coating tends to follow every contour of your truck’s bed and preserves the factory appearance. One other aspect of the thin coating is that Line-X liners usually have a very rough surface that sparkles when new. Line-X also tends to be run-free because it mixes in the spray gun and “sets” in 3-5 seconds.
Some people dislike the rough Line-x surface because it’s “harder”. It can be hard on the knees while moving around in the bed and it can damage your cargo (finished wood surfaces and Line-x liners don’t mix, for instance). While you can request that the installer reduce the roughness of the finish, this will also result in a surface that’s less glossy. Obviously, a harder material has some strength benefits (resistance to tearing), and many Line-X dealers swear that their material holds up better than the softer material offered by Rhino.
The thing is, many newer Rhino liners (SolarMax, Extreme, HardLine) use essentially the same application process and material that Line-X uses…so you have to be careful about buying into blanket statements. Suffice to say, Rhino has definitely changed/upgraded their products in the last few years in an effort to better match-up with Line-X.
It’s very important to understand that Rhino liners are applied differently from one installer to the next. If you find a Rhino liner installer that uses a hot, high-pressure system (a SolarMax dealer), the differences between a liner from that particular installer and a liner from Line-X can be small. Rhino’s SolarMax, Extreme, and HardLine liners, for example, are very similar to the standard Line-X Premium, Platinum, or Xtra liners.
On the other hand, some Rhino dealers are only offering TuffGrip liners, which are softer than Line-X. Softer has pros and cons:
- The increased thickness of a softer Rhino liner gives it a softer “rubbery” feel, and the liner’s surface isn’t as rough as Line-X so it’s more gentle on knees and cargo.
- Rhino’s thicker coating also aids in sound deadening, and the surface seems to “grab” objects better than Line-X.
- Thicker material usually means a duller appearance – it doesn’t follow the contours of a truck bed nearly as well as Line-X.
- It’s not as tear resistant as the harder materials.
To sum up, the newest products from Rhino are quite comparable to the Line-X line-up…but there are some Rhino dealers who don’t have the ability to spray the newest product. Unless you want a softer TuffGrip liner (and you’re OK with the reduced overall resistance of that softer material), you want to buy from a Rhino dealer that offers SolarMax and newer products.
What About Brand X?
There are literally dozens of companies offering spray-in bedliners, many of which are perfectly adequate. I won’t dive into all the brands and all the pros and cons here, mostly because there’s not much point. Each of them offers a product that’s chemically similar (often times identical) to one of the products offered by Line-X and/or Rhino.
If you’re looking at a “brand X” spray-in liner, ask the installer what Line-X or Rhino product is most comparable…then go put your hands and eyes on that liner to see for yourself.
In terms of deciding whether or not to buy a Brand X liner, it’s all about the installer, the warranty, and the price.
Notes About Toughness
Line-X and Rhino dealers love to brag about how tough their liners are, how amazing their material is compared to the other guy, etc. Don’t buy into all of this hype. Instead ask yourself the following questions:
Basically, you don’t need to worry about toughness nearly as much as the installers want you to. They’re trying to sell you their most profitable product, not trying to help you put a decent liner on your truck bed.
Notes About Color-Matching and Fade
Color-matching is beautiful on a new truck, and if the color-matched liner is UV protected, the color should fade at roughly the same rate that your regular vehicle paint fades.
- Fade is inevitable. Everything fades with time.
- Color-matched liners look a lot worse than black liners when they become stained, scratched, etc. Don’t ask me why this is, but everyone is more likely to notice a flaw in a color-matched liner.
- UV resistant coatings are profit centers for your average installer. It’s not like they’re a rip-off or anything (they’re not), but going with a non-UV resistant coating in black isn’t the end of the world. You’ll just end up with a dark gray liner in 5-10 years, at which point you probably won’t care.
- If your liner fades too much, there are some chemicals and treatments you can use to restore the color (with mixed results).
Basically, if you’re asking me, color-match isn’t worth doing.
Notes About Surface Preparation
If you really want to get the best spray-on bed liner possible, you need to ask your installer questions about their surface preparation procedure. There are four main surface preparation processes:
Questions To Ask Your Installer
How do you prep the vehicles? The best answer is “power sanding” and the worst answer is “chemical etch.”
Do you use a cold application process or a hot application process? Unless you want a tacky, rubbery surface that often has runs and dries unevenly, a hot application process is the way to go. Most Rhino liner installers have moved away from the cold application process, but there are still a handful of them out there…so be sure to ask this question.
How long does your prep process take? Longer is usually better. Many Line-X and Rhino dealers can ScotchBrite a pickup bed in 15 mins…but power-sanding a bed takes the better part of an hour. There’s also the time needed to remove accessories installed in the bed, misc. bolts, etc., and then re-install. Most good installers need 2 hours minimum from beginning to end, and some will need 3 or 4.
How long have you been in business? Longer is better. Rhino and Line-X both require their installers to honor many aspects of the warranty, which means installers are financially responsible for their mistakes. Bad installers tend to go out of business after a few years because they can’t afford to fix all their mistakes.
What dealerships do you work with? Ford, GM, Toyota, and Dodge dealers sell lots and lots of spray-in bed liners in their new pick-ups. Therefore, they have a good idea of who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t…if you can find an installer that works with some big names in your town, chances are you’ve found a good installer.
Can I see your shop? Good installers tend to have clean, well-organized shops. They can’t afford to have a lot of dust and dirt around because that will contaminate their sprays. A good spray-in liner shop will be proud to show off their facility.
The Best Liner Is…
In years gone by (think early 2000′s), the most obvious answer was Line-X. Line-X installers were using the best application process from the very beginning (most Rhino installers started with an inferior cold application process), Line-x offered a national warranty on their product years before Rhino, and Line-X liners tended to be better looking that Rhino liners that often had runs, inconsistent thickness etc.
But that’s all changed. Today, many Rhino liner installers use the exact same process that Line-X installers use and chemically similar products, meaning the difference between the two can be minimal. While Rhino and Line-X dealers will both try and claim that they use the “better” mix of chemicals, that’s really not important. The most important factors are:
To figure out how good an installer is, ask the questions we’ve outlined above, get some references, talk to your local truck dealerships, and you will find the best liner…whether it’s Line-X, Rhino, or some brand you’ve never heard of.
For the last 3 years or so, we’ve been gathering data about the most popular spray-in bed line brand. Suffice to say, our readers liked Line-X liners by a ratio of 2:1. “Brand X” liners got 6% of the vote, compared to 66% for Line-X and 28% for Rhino.
If popular opinion sways you, than Line-X is the way to go.
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