One of the obvious reasons anyone buys a ute is the ton of available space at the back. You can opt for a dozen different things here, but the first consideration is whether you want a tub or tray. Tubs are what car makers often have fitted to utes in higher trim, whereas factory trays are reserved for base models. The logic is that the first is what you’d use when off-road (often as a double-cab pickup), and the latter for hauling building equipment and tools (and in a single-cab chassis).
But what if you need a custom option? While there’s some customisation to tubs already offered at the dealership, trays just offer that little extra. There’s more space, better accessibility, higher loading capacity, and a ute tray to fit any cab style, not to mention the ability to install a canopy or service body. And then there’s the long list of aftermarket accessories. If you’re done with factory-fitted trays or want a tray conversion, here are the main points to consider:
Size and Space
As with everything size matters. While this is dependent on the cab variant you have, trays can be longer or shorter or optioned to the right dimensions and the gear you need to carry. Any custom tray will have more usable space in every direction than even the biggest well body tub, be able to carry heavy and larger building materials or have the reality to fit the biggest canopy or toolbox you can get.
Single cab trays are longer, with most rounding out just under 2500mm, extra cab trays hover around 2100mm, and double cabs cab pack a tray that is 1800mm long. This is quite a bit more than what’s on offer in a tub. Widths for all are between 1800 and 1900mm, depending on make and model. These are general estimates, and you can custom-build a tray to just about any (reasonable) size you want.
Have a good think at what the ute tray will be used for, the kind of equipment or gear it will carry, and whether any required extras, like floor liners and covers eat into the usable space. With the tray sitting flat and higher, there’s also space for additional under-tray toolboxes.
Aluminium or Steel?
The choice of materials determines the overall weight of the tray. You still what something that is durable enough when loading and unloading supplies and equipment, and that can stand in general everyday abuse. Both metals do well in this respect, but if you carry heavy gear, consider a lighter aluminium ute tray to prevent rear axle squat. This is also the ideal base for a bigger and heavier canopy. Tray floors are reinforced and thicker sheets of aluminium and the same quality build carries over to the drop sides. Go for an aluminium ute tray body if you want it to last in any type of weather, including heavy rain.
Steel trays are more than double the weight of aluminium variants, with some weighing over 250 kilos. This considerably hinders payload capacity, increases fuel use, puts more stress on the rear axle and suspension, and will wear down the tyres faster. The payoff is slightly more robustness and durability, but rust can become an issue if the steel is untreated.
Features and Functionality
Functionality is the main reason behind tray conversions. You can tailor both the size and features of the tray body to any load or application. Tray builders offer flat trays or trays with drop sides and quite a few extras. Headboards with built-in window protectors keep the cab protected, trundle drawers offer protection and easy access to tools and gear and tray liners keep floors scratch and dent-free. Look for welded tie-down points and headboard or side tie rails to keep said loads still while driving.
Additionally, go for recessed locks and lids with gas struts in trundle drawers for safe and quick opening and closing and extras like mudguards to keep the tray and ute clean. And if you’re carrying really long stuff, get a ladder rack installed. Whether you use the ute for work, or for that weekend getaway to the bush, a tray can be adapted and fitted with all the goodies you need.
Are You Getting a Canopy?
Canopies are the logical extension of any tray. They further increase usable space, help you get organised and keep all your gear safe and locked. Like trays, they can be optioned in different sizes and have all the features you need. Unless you choose a welded on-chassis canopy, most are built as an afterthought, taking the tray as the base. Some builders offer tray and canopy combos, so if you’re thinking of getting rid of the tub, this is one job that saves both time and money. And if you have a particular design in mind, or a particular use, such as camping, consider how trays and canopies work together.
The versatility utes provide is why you got one in the first place. Trays build on this and provide more space than a factory-fitted tub, better build and durability, more functionality and a range of different additions, including provisions to fit a full-sized canopy. The only thing remaining is to find a reputable builder that will get what you and your ute deserve.