The versatility of utes is one of the reasons why they’re the favourite type of vehicle for the majority of Aussies. Staples like the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton and the Isuzu D-Max are four of the top ten best-selling cars. These are vehicles that are equally good at shuttling building materials to the worksite, tackling nasty trails, or sending the kids off to school.
4×4 dual-cabs make the bulk of ute sales. And these are Australia’s most customised cars with a wide selection of ute accessories and parts sold. Toolboxes, canopies and trays all increase the available space without sacrificing cabin utility. They also add a needed dose of security and safety, while upping curb appeal. These accessories for utes are also the most popular choices when equipping extra and single cabs.
Why have One?
A toolbox bolted onto the tray or tub has undeniable practical appeal. It organises tools, parts, equipment, and any remaining gear in neat internal compartments or drawers and shields anything inside from bad weather or thieves. The relatively small dimensions also mean that the left-over space on the tray or in the tub can be used for what owners find fit. Lastly, there are appearances to keep up, and toolboxes also do a very decent job in this respect.
Designs and Varieties
Shapes and designs impact functionality and where on the ute the toolboxes are placed. On-tray gullwing toolboxes are popular choices, as they open on both the driver’s and passenger’s side and allow for quick access. Other options bolted onto the tray are top or side open boxes. Undertray boxes fit near the wheel wells, and are smaller in size, but enhance space and organisation. For housing batteries for electric tippers or secondary batteries for caravans, drawbar toolboxes do a fine job. Somewhat bigger are camper or caravan trailer toolboxes used to accommodate goodies like sliding fridges and ovens for longer off-roading trips.
Materials and Build
Toolboxes need to be durable yet light enough to not impede the carrying capability of the rear axle. Aluminium is preferred in this respect, as it is also malleable, and relatively easy to weld. Stainless steel is still used, but in areas where it matters – hinges and locks. Rubber seals keep boxes watertight and external coatings in a range of colours guard against corrosion. TIG welds provide a clean look.
Opening and closing lids and doors is smoother with fitted gas struts; internal storage can be further improved with drawers in different configurations, and security is enhanced with inexpensive anti-theft alarms.
Canopies begin where toolboxes end. They are bigger in every respect, and often made to a higher standard. Most canopies will take up the whole width of the tray (roughly 1800mm), but lengths can vary anywhere between 700 and 2400mm depending on the tray size and cab style. The bigger dimensions call for internal beams, reinforced floors, and roofs with a high carrying capacity (up to 300 kilos).
Designs differ just like with toolboxes. These versatile accessories for utes can be optioned as part-tray, full length or lift-off variants. Part-tray canopies are just that, with lengths levelling out at 1500mm, and height kept to a standard 850mm and in line with the cab profile. Full-length canopies take up all available space, with larger variants naturally reserved for single cabs. Extra cab canopies can extend to 2100mm, whereas dual cab variants to 1800mm. Still, this is way larger than even the largest toolboxes.
Lift or jack-off canopies can be lifted off the tray and placed on 4 legs. The design implies more materials be used in the canopy base to support the weight of tools and gear inside and to prevent caving. It also means that they are limited to 1800mm to incorporate the side bracing. The benefit of freeing up space with a completely empty tray, though, pays off with the increased functionality. Any goods can be secured inside and kept in a designated place, while the tray is free for other uses.
Materials in canopies are of the same high-standard aluminium and steel mix, with more attention to internal bracing. Canopies however can take more accessories. Jerry can holders, spare wheel holders, roof racks, and ladders are just a few. Both toolboxes and canopies can have checker plate exterior finishes that allow for loading extra gear, and this has a non-slip surface to keep all items put.
While tubs are the ute parts most often pushed by dealers, there’s more fun with a chassis-only build, regardless of the cab style. Tubs are easily removed (and won’t come back any time soon) and custom trays can take their place, offered in the dimensions, materials, build, and extra features to suit individual needs and vehicle specifics.
Trays can consist of the deck only (with integrated wheel guards), or have straight or tapered designs and an included headboard. Widths will be around 1780-1800mm to fit most utes (the VW Amarok being the exception here at 1900mm) and lengths from 1600 to 1800mm depending if the tray is for an extra-cab or dual cab design.
Structural strength is provided with a thick C-channel and main frame, along with a rectangular hollow section subframe. Trays can be had either in lightweight or non-corrosive aluminium. There’s also ‘black’ (untreated) or galvanised steel, with the latter being more durable.
Ensure that you get all the necessary goodies, like a non-slip surface, built-in tie-down points, and a complete range of lights and indicators. Some builders will also throw in undertray toolboxes or trundle drawers. Trays are more often a custom build, but there are builders that offer pre-fabricated lineups to suit most ute makes. This also applies to tray and canopy combos that can be had for much cheaper (and in a cleaner look) than building the two separately.