I've searched to the ends of the internet for opinions on camper shells and have found little consensus, tons of anecdotes and lots of hyperbole, but not many thorough, detailed testimonials.
When all was said and done, after scouring the internet I felt I was still at square one.
The best thing I did was get off my ass and go the the dealers for all three shells. Seeing firsthand the (sometimes huge) differences in build and hardware quality and strength made my decision extraordinarily easy.
If you're like me, when you buy a Tacoma, you plan on driving it til it dies. Then rebuild the engine and drive it some more. And the same principle applies to anything I put on my truck--I want to do it right the first time and would rather pay a premium for quality than deal with the hassles that may come from saving a few bucks on accessories.
If you're interested in knowing which camper shell is hands-down the best quality, regardless of price, here's my very well researched 2 cents on the matter:
I looked at all three and there was no comparison. The available features, design, build quality and hardware quality on Snugtops are head and shoulders above ARE and Leer.
The biggest benefits, for me, were the following:
- Snugtop's 1" resin-filled honeycomb roof construction. Go to a Snugtop dealer and see a cut-away for yourself. This is standard on all Snugtops. Leer and ARE do not even come close. The Snugtop roof is built with a very thick layer of fiberglass, resin-filled honeycomb material, thick layer of fiberglass, and a very thick layer of color-matched gel-coat.
- Snugtop's window hinge design, hardware and build quality. The Snugtop fiberglass where the hinge attaches to the shell is heavily reinforced. The fiberglass all around and under the hinge mount is about 3 times thicker than the rest of the fiberglass (Leer and ARE do not have this). The hinges are about 2+ times bigger and much stronger than the Leer and ARE hinges. The hinges have 2 mounting bolts per hinge (Leer only has one per hinge).
- Snugtop's one piece rear window and channeled rain gutter. I've had camper shells with metal framed rear windows. Eventually over time, they all leaked. The camper shell got old and lost just enough shape that the window frame and rubber seal on the shell frame did not completely line up. Either that or the hinge got old and sloppy and the metal framed window did not properly line up with the shell frame. This meant rain very easily got in through the gaps. Also, the metal framed windows always drained into the bed of my truck.
- Snugtop's water seal. Snugtop has 4 rubber gaskets between the shell and the bed rail. The shell also overhangs the side of the bed so that water drains over the side and not onto the bed rail. Leer has a slight overhang and ARE has none.
- Snugtop's available features. Snugtop offers a few features that I like, that ARE and Leer do not offer-- oversized sliding windows and sliding, removable screens.
I just asked a friend who's had a Snugtop on his Tacoma for 10 years. He said he loves it. It keeps him dry. He was even rear-ended a few years ago and the shell survived, intact.
I'm not knocking Leer or ARE. If you're sticking to a budget, they're both good options.
But if you want the best quality and a shell that will keep you drier and happier for 10+ years, I recommend Snugtop.