Ute cab-chassis tray or tub: Which is better?
Few automotive topics generate more debate than the pros and cons of ute cargo tubs and trays. Each has their positives and negatives which largely depend on what a ute is used for, because what might be considered a positive for one task can be a negative for another. So, if you’re a ute owner and trying to decide between a cargo tub or tray, here’s some key points to consider.
A cargo tub is generally the most cost-effective option because it’s an integral part of the vehicle’s bodywork and therefore included in a new vehicle’s purchase price.
By comparison, the choice of tray on a cab-chassis vehicle is usually up to the buyer and therefore an additional cost on top of the base vehicle’s price, which can be a substantial impost depending on the design of tray chosen and the materials used in its construction.
Quite often, a basic aluminium drop-side tray is included in a new vehicle’s purchase price as part of a manufacturer or dealership package deal. This can have the added advantage of being covered by the vehicle’s factory warranty. However, this is not always the case, so make sure you check the fine print to see if the tray is covered under a separate warranty issued by the tray manufacturer.
And if you’re wanting a custom-built steel or aluminium tray, with tailor-made tool chests, drawers etc, the costs can easily run into five figures.
Looks are subjective of course, but tubs are generally pleasing to the eye as they are an integral part of the vehicle’s styling. This design integrity is often preferable for work vehicles that need to display an eye-catching paint scheme or vinyl full-body wrap to promote a business brand.
And if a canopy needs to be fitted, quality OEM-accessory or aftermarket units (which can be colour-matched to the vehicle) are designed to enhance this OEM styling rather than detract from it.
That’s not to say trays can’t look good too, as they can also be colour-matched with the host vehicle for a more integrated appearance. And the superb craftsmanship evident in many custom-made trays and canopies is something any ute owner would be proud of.
Tubs generally offer much deeper sidewalls than drop-side trays, which can be handy for retaining taller loads and/or loose materials. Some tubs have two internal load-securing systems comprising fixed lower-level anchorage points and adjustable upper-level ones, which can slide back and forth in sturdy rails fixed to the tub’s inner skins on each side.
However, tubs also have shortcomings. The rear wheel housings eat into the load floor area, which not only causes limitations on load width but also reduces cargo volume. The height of the side walls and closed tailgate, particularly on 4x4 and Hi-Rider 4x2 models, can also be difficult to reach over when securing loads, as few tubs these days provide external load anchorage points (rope hooks) like they used to.
And a tub’s tailgate, when in its open horizontal position, can require a considerable stretch across it to reach the load area.
By comparison, trays are free of wheel-house intrusion as their load floors are positioned above the rear wheels rather than between them. As a result, trays are also generally wider than tubs. In fact, most trays exceed the width of the vehicle’s cab, which is great for load floor area.
However, this extra width can also make parking and other tight manoeuvres more challenging, particularly given that OEM reversing cameras are generally not available in cab-chassis models - not even as options.
Although trays are generally shallower in sidewall (drop-side) depth than tubs, they provide much easier access from all sides and often provide internal hook rail and external rope rail load anchorage options. The drop-sides on a tray can also be removed in seconds, if flat-bed operation is required or a canopy needs to be installed.
Trays are also usually fitted with sturdy headboard frames. These not only serve as cargo barriers between the tray and cabin, but when fitted with vertical pins on each side of the top rail can provide a handy place to secure lengths of timber, PVC or copper pipe etc. Admittedly, these frames can also be found on tubs fitted to some work-focused models.
Another advantage of a tray, particularly when made from aluminium, can be a sizeable increase in payload capacity as they are generally much lighter than full-steel tubs. This can lower the vehicle’s kerb weight, with a subsequent increase in its payload rating.
However, tubs generally don’t provide extra storage space, apart from underneath the tail where a full-size spare wheel/tyre resides. However, if an owner switches to a larger-than-standard tyre with increased width and diameter, they may discover that the spare can’t fit in the space provided for the standard-sized spare.
A tray, by comparison, is superior in this regard. Because the load floor sits above the wheels, it opens up much greater space beneath for not only larger spare tyre storage but also slide-out drawers, tool boxes, additional batteries, water tanks, air compressors and lots more.
Tubs may be more stylish than trays but that can create limitations in extreme off-road driving. In particular, the vehicle’s departure angle is limited by how far the bodywork extends behind the rear wheels combined with its height above the ground at its lowest point.
Not surprisingly, tub rear bodywork tends to be closer to the ground than a tray, so it stands to reason that trays typically offer superior departure angles. In extreme off-road conditions, tubs can also be more vulnerable to external panel damage from trees, rocks etc.
Installing a hard canopy on a tub is relatively easy as there are numerous OEM-accessory and aftermarket choices available, made from a variety of materials like steel, aluminium and tough plastic composites.
These types of canopy, which can be purchased off-the-shelf, are generally the least expensive option. They’re also designed to be easily removed and reinstalled as required, which is great if you have enough space to safely store them when not in use.
However, these canopies can have limitations, particularly in terms of side access. The side windows tend to be long and quite narrow. They can also be a fair distance above the ground, particularly on 4x4 and 4x2 Hi-Rider models, which can make it difficult to access the cargo area and remove items through them.
And if using rear access, a tub tailgate requires quite a stretch over it to reach items in the cargo area. This can become tiresome, particularly if trying to retrieve heavier items from high-riding models without having to climb up onto the tailgate each time.
Another thing to keep in mind is that even though your new high-quality tub canopy is totally water and dust-proof, the same can’t be said for the vehicle’s tailgate. When closed, these usually have sizeable gaps around their edges which invite plenty of dust and water entry that can be hard to seal effectively.
Off-the-shelf canopies are also available for drop-side trays, which tend to consist mainly of two types. These are either a moulded fiberglass shell with side windows and a glass rear lid or an aluminium or steel frame covered with a durable canvas top, with zippered side and rear flaps that can be easily raised or lowered.
More specialised canopies, designed either for work or camping, take tray versatility to a new level. They’re usually fabricated from aluminium to minimise weight and avoid corrosion and can be colour-matched to the vehicle (or close to it) using a tough powder-coated finish. They also have lockable doors which not only provide clear internal access but are also fully dust and water-proof.
These canopies can be either off-the-shelf designs installed with drive-in-drive-out convenience, or they can be custom-made from scratch to your exact requirements. However, the costs of the latter can quickly escalate. In some cases, the completed price can equal - or even exceed - the price of the vehicle they’re fitted to!
Some of these specialised work/camping canopy structures are also designed to be lifted-off as a single unit and stored if you need to use the vehicle as a tray-top. This type of canopy can also be designed to migrate to a new vehicle if required.
The choice is yours
As highlighted here, tubs and trays each have their positives and negatives depending on what roles utes are required to perform. Ultimately, it’s up to vehicle owners to decide which is best suited to their individual requirements after some careful thought and planning.