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Buying a 4WD Ute Canopy; the ultimate guide

There is nothing more practical than a 4WD Ute with a good setup on the back. If you are looking at buying a 4WD Ute Canopy, this post covers every option you have along with the many pro’s and con’s of each setup and will leave you with a great understanding of the best option for you.

A Ute allows you a huge amount of flexibility, and there are a huge number of ways you can use the space. The most important thing you can do is to set it up in a way that suits the way you use your vehicle. A lot of people don’t get this right he first time around, and end up changing it down the track. This time consuming, expensive and frustrating. 

No matter which way you go when choosing a canopy for your 4WD, it will cost a significant chunk of money, so taking the time to get it setup to suit your needs is a wise move. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to work, live or play out of a poorly setup Ute Canopy.

Isuzu Dmax and Bull Motor Body

A good quality canopy makes all the difference to your 4WD

Custom built aluminium canopy

An insane, custom built aluminium canopy with all the fruit

Pick your base for the canopy

If you are going to install a Ute Canopy, you only have three bases to choose from which then branch off into numerous other options. You can swap between these options fairly easily in the beginning, but once you’ve bought a canopy to suit one of the 3 below it gets a lot harder and more expensive.

Well body or Tub

A significant number of 4WD Utes come from the factory with a well body, tub, or style side arrangement.  These are the panel style tubs that blend in with the Ute panels. You can attach a range of canopies to the top of these to store your gear.

The tubs themselves are not worth very much, and you can generally pick up a second hand one in good condition for a few hundred dollars at most. Hundreds of these are removed and scrapped every week for people fitting steel or aluminium trays, with the most valuable part being the tailgate and rear lights. If you are going to get rid of one, keep the lights and tailgate and sell them on.

Ford Raptor F150 tub

A tub, or well body, or style side is a very popular Ute setup

Tray

The other common setup from the factory is with a flat tray that often comes with fold down sides. These are most commonly made of aluminium today, but there are plenty of steel options available too. Canopies that attach to a tray are done once you remove the fold down sides, and they generally bolt through the tray. 

If you want a canopy that can be removed quickly and easily, this is the setup that most people go for, and they install what is called a ‘Jack off’ canopy. These comes with legs, and can be jacked up off the tray, and you can drive your vehicle away while the canopy stays on stands.

Trays come in a variety of designs and strengths, and often will be sold as light duty, heavy duty and so on. Their construction needs to suit your application, or you may end up with failures that aren’t pleasant to deal with. A light duty tray with a heavy canopy and lots of off road work is a recipe for disaster.

Ute tray option

A flat tray is a popular option for many Utes

Chassis mount

The last option is a chassis mount Canopy, which means that instead of having a tray, the canopy bolts directly onto the chassis. In essence the canopy is built stronger underneath to form the base, and is a fixed item. These can obviously be removed, but they are considered a permanent addition as its quite time consuming to remove and put something in its place.

Chassis mount canopy

A chassis mount canopy, where the tray is part of the canopy

Swapping between the 3 bases

It’s really not difficult to swap between the 3 bases above, providing you have some mechanical skills and are able to move and adjust brackets as required. That said, its not something you’d want to do regularly; you generally pick the direction you want to go and stick with it!

Ute tubs are generally held down by 6 bolts, and once you disconnect the fuel filler flap and hoses they lift off with a few mates (anywhere from 50 – 120kg). The chassis mount canopies and trays are also easy to remove, although some of them can be extremely heavy and require the assistance of an overhead crane, forklift or other machinery.

Well body canopy options

If you choose to go down the well body canopy path, you can install a few different options.

Fibreglass canopies

Probably the most common is the standard fibreglass unit, which is made by the likes of Flexiglass, Carryboy, TJM, ARB and also the vehicle manufacturers. These usually have 4 windows, with the rear one lifting up on gas struts. There are lots of variations to these though; you can get them with windoors on the side (yes, a cross between a window and a door), sliding windows, fixed doors or none at all.

These tend to start off at around $2200 and work their way up to $5000 for a high end unit, but you can pick them up second hand for a lot less. On that note, you can also often get away with fitting a canopy off a different make as long as the dimensions are similar. That means you can sometimes take a tray from a Navara, and fit it to a Hilux, and so forth.

It’s worth noting that these fibreglass canopies cannot take weight on the roof without having an internal bracing structure, which supports the canopy and goes through the top of it to a set of roof racks. Alternatively, some people build roof racks externally, like our Hilux below. As a point of reference, I picked this canopy up for a few hundred dollars, had it painted professionally and made the racks up myself.

Flexiglass Canopy

The Flexiglass canopy on our old Toyota Hilus

Metal canopies

If you still want the fibreglass canopy shape on a well body Ute, you can actually get them made from steel and aluminium. This means they are generally stronger, and can take roof loading without the internal structure. 

Metal canopy styleside

A metal well body canopy on a Nissan Navara

Alternatively, you can get gull wing canopies that attach to the top of the well body. These can be made of steel or aluminium sheet, or mesh.

There are a number of canopies that sit inside and on top of a well body, which pull out to give you access to kitchens and all sorts of weird and wonderful things; people have made some pretty incredible metal canopies for well body Utes.

Fold out camper

A unique looking fold out camper in well body Ute

Canvas canopies

A lot of people find canvas canopies extremely useful, and the most common setup is a frame built with the canvas attaching to it. Sometimes the roof is solid sheet, and sometimes its not. Generally the canvas zips up on all 3 accessible sides, and I have seen a number of people option for mesh on the inside so your gear is still secure. 

Metal top canvas canopy

An aluminium and canvas canopy on a well body Ute

Tray mount canopy options

If you have a flat tray, your options for installing a canopy are practically unlimited. With a tray, you also have the option of a trundle draw under it to keep extra gear in. 

Metal gull wing canopies

By far and away the most common tray mount canopies around are your normal gull wing ones. These usually open on both sides, but you can get them to open on the rear as well. These are most often made of sheet metal like aluminium or steel, but people also run cages with mesh depending on their application.

Canopy on a tray

A GU Patrol running a solid tray and canopy attached to it

Canvas canopies

Again, canvas canopies are extremely popular for tray’s, and they are usually attached to a metal frame. Many people opt to have a metal cage behind the canvas so they are more secure.

Canvas ute canopy

A very tidy single cab Land Cruiser running a full size canvas canopy

Fibreglass canopies

You can also get fibreglass canopies for flat Ute trays, although they are not super common.

Tray and fibreglass canopy

A Fibreglass canopy that attaches straight to the tray

Composite canopies

As technology progresses, we see commonly used materials change, and there are a few businesses out there now that are selling canopies made from composite materials. These are light, strong, require no welding and offer amazing sound and temperature insulation.

Chassis mount canopies

If you aren’t planning on ever removing the canopy, you can save some weight by getting a chassis mount canopy, like what is on our Isuzu Dmax. These are usually aluminium, steel or composite and are essentially the same as a canopy that mounts to a tray, except its all one unit that attaches to your chassis.

Dmax canopy

Our chassis mount Bull Motor Body Canopy

What should you consider when buying a Ute Canopy?

What are you going to use it for?

The first, and most important thing to think about is what you want to use the canopy for. Is it just for somewhere that’s out of the rain to throw your swags and camping gear into the back, or are you going to deck it out with shelving, parts trays and tool storage for your day to day business?

Knowing exactly what you want from your canopy will point you in the best direction for getting the right unit to suit your needs. Beyond that, there are heaps of other important things to think about:

Weight

Keeping a 4WD legal, and underweight is a huge task today, and there are a lot of people that fail miserably at it. If you are overweight, or incorrectly balanced your chances of an accident go up, your insurance can be reduced or void and all in all your risk level goes up hugely.

Utes in particular are prone to being poorly balanced, with much of the storage space behind the rear axles, which means you apply extra leverage. There are a lot of dual cab Utes in particular that have bent chassis because of this.

As a result, its hugely important that you consider weight when buying a Ute Canopy and tray. I would go as far as to say this is probably the number one consideration, as it will literally make or break your setup. Think about the weight of the tray or well body, canopy and then what you put in it. Consider if you are towing too, as a your tow ball weight will have a major impact on your payload.

Most dual cab well bodies are around 50 – 90kg, and then a canopy on top is around 40 – 100kg (with some weighing a lot more than this) empty.

Aluminium trays are generally only about 40- 60kg, with steel ones comfortably hitting 150kg if they are very solid. Add a canopy on, and you can comfortably have 250-600kg of tray and canopy without even adding a single thing into it! For this reason alone, a full size steel tray and canopy is out of the question for many as its just too much weight.

Canopy weights

Getting the canopy weight right is one of the most important hurdles

You can get canopies made from a variety of different materials. Gull Wing Canopies are usually entirely steel or aluminium. You can get steel frame and aluminium sheet options, or some are aluminium with fibreglass pieces. Composite canopies are extremely light weight and strong, and a good option too.

Our Dmax canopy is about 180kg empty, and that’s on the lighter end of the scale being chassis mount and made from aluminium and fibreglass. Before you commit to a canopy, make sure you get a weight in writing, and that it actually is the weight you paid for!

Canopy weights

The weight of your Canopy will make or break your setup

Security

There are some pretty low life people around these days, and security of the gear in your canopy is extremely important. Camping and 4WD gear isn’t cheap, and its an easy target for those who are looking for a quick score. 

Some canopies can be broken into in a matter of seconds, and others would require a huge amount of work to do so, and so people don’t even bother. 

One of the reasons I hate having glass in a canopy is that its always a weak point, unless you have mesh behind it, or breaking it doesn’t allow you to take or access anything. The normal fibreglass canopies that you see on well body Ute’s are extremely insecure, and can be broken into very, very easily. The locks can easily be twisted off with a spanner, or you can bust one of the windows very easily.

Dmax canopy

This style canopy offers some security but they are easy to break into

Canvas is the weakest of all, with a simple blade giving you access to  some expensive gear. If you are going down this path, seriously consider mesh behind it, or a nice, big dog to greet anyone game enough to enter your property.

A good quality canopy will be enough of a deterrent to get into that people won’t even bother. Things like quality locks that are designed to snap at the lock before opening the door if forced are a good example of the engineering that goes into a well built canopy. Today, you can get canopies that won’t even allow you to pull the tab out without unlocking the canopy, which means the only way to get in is to literally cut a hole with a grinder.

At the end of the day, if someone wants to get in, they will. It’s all about making it hard enough that people just walk on and give it a miss (and making sure your 4WD insurance is properly set up!).

Canopy door lock

Are the canopy door locks good quality?

Overhang and length

As I mentioned above, there are a LOT of dual cab Utes that are bending chassis, and its pretty scary. Some of this comes from genuine accidents, but others are caused by overloading, improper loading, improper design and not driving to the conditions.

The length of your tray and canopy, and where/how you load it is hugely important. In the past, a standard dual cab canopy was about 1500 – 1600mm long, and that’s now been increased to 1800mm and even 1900mm depending on the vehicle. The more overhang you have, the more likely you are to bend or break something. Yes, it does give you more storage, but you’d be surprised at how much you can jam into a smaller area if you design and use  it well.

Overhang is also very important to consider for towing. On a number of dual cab Utes, if you install an 1800mm tray or canopy, you will need an extended tow bar, or hitch, and you may still have issues with the trailer wanting to hit the back of the vehicle when you turn sharply. The leverage you apply by attaching a trailer with a heavy tow ball weight is significant, and moving it further back is not a good practice.

You don’t have to get a full size canopy. Some people get Ute Dog Boxes, or part canopies and just have the front, or the back of the tray empty for other gear. Obviously you lose some space, but you save a lot of weight and can use the space for something else.

Tray length is important

A 1700mm canopy, which is easily legal and still has plenty of overhang

Height and Width

When you purchase a 4WD Ute Canopy, you’ll have some choices for height and width. The width is usually based off your tray/well body, or the distance from one side of your outside of rear wheels to the other. 

Height however, is generally up to you. For tray or chassis mount canopies, 900mm to 1200mm seem to the be the most common sizes. If you look at the canopy on our Dmax you’ll see it sits above the roof line considerably (and with the Light Bar on top only just fits in the garage).

This is a compromise either way. The units that sit flush with the roof will give you substantially better fuel economy at the cost of a fairly significant reduction in space. That said, if you are tall (like me) a tall canopy is almost a must as you’d bump your head every time on the door otherwise!

Canopy width and height

The wider and taller the canopy the worse your economy is, but the more space you get

Price

There’s no denying that canopies are extremely expensive, regardless of which way you go. This is why I encourage some serious research into what you need and will use, before you commit and get it wrong. The cheapest options (steel frame and canvas) start at around $2000. Fibreglass well body canopies are next up, with some of the well body canopies topping out at about $5000. If you want something more specialised, with beds and camping gear that folds out you can be looking at up to $15,000.

Gull wing canopies start off at about $2200 for a cheap one (full size), and work their way up to easily $30,000 – $40,000 depending on what options you go for, and how it is mounted. There are a number of businesses supplying aluminium trays that start off at about 10k, and that’s not even looking at a canopy!

Aluminium canopy

What sort of budget do you have in mind?

I can’t stand not getting value for money, and there’s a big overlap in the $3000 – $6000 market between canopies. I would never pay $3000 + for a fibreglass canopy on a well body, as the value just isn’t there for me when you look at functionality, security, weight and accessibility. I’d much rather throw a bit more and get a gull wing canopy on a tray, or chassis mount.

That said, its your money, and you can spend it how you like, but really consider the benefits of each setup before you drop money onto it. If you spend $6000 – $8000 setting up a well body with a canopy, drawers, electrics etc and then rip it out a few years later for a gull wing setup you will lose a bucket load of money. You wouldn’t believe how often this happens!

Of course if you go down the second hand market you can get some real steals, with the well body canopies losing their value the fastest, by a long shot. A sneaky trick you might consider is to look for mining auctions, and also for entire vehicles. You’d be surprised at how cheap a vehicle sells for with a super expensive canopy on the rear! Take the canopy off, part the vehicle (or sell the rest with a tub) and Bob’s your uncle!

Norweld Tray and Canopy on a 200

A Norweld Tray and canopy on a 200 Series. These canopies are top of the range (and you pay for it!)

Spare tyre locations

There’s no doubt that having at least one or two spares on your 4WD is a necessity for travelling this great land. However, there are lots of different ways you can mount your tyre when you install a canopy. For many people, just leaving it under the tray is ideal. It does reduce your clearance a little, but its low to the ground, out of the way and carried in a location the vehicle was designed for. This is of course, unless a long range fuel tank steals the space!

The spare tyre under our Dmax

Our spare tyre, under the vehicle

A lot of people mount them on the rear of a canopy, which makes them look great and easy to access, but the canopies need additional bracing to take the weight, and having that much weight up high, and so far back is not good at all for your vehicle and its handling.

Some people mount them on the roof, which allows it to be brought forward, but they hurt your fuel economy, are not much fun to lift down and increase your centre of gravity. If you have the room, they can be mounted inside a canopy, up against the headboard. Some canopies actually have a slot between the cab and the canopy for the tyres to go, which keeps the weight forward. There really is no perfect position, but it is something to think about.

Twin tyres on a canopy

Twin tyres mounted on the rear of a gull wing canopy

Functionality, Space and Fit out

The more functional, roomy and accessible your gear is, the more enjoyable life is in general on the road. This is the case if you are working from the back of your vehicle as an electrician, or travelling around Australia on a big trip.

If its hard to pack and unpack, stop gear rolling around and doesn’t keep everything dry and dust free, it gets a giant no from me. If you have to climb inside, lean way over, or struggle to get gear out a small window its not fun. This is one of the reasons why I really don’t like Ute well bodies and canopies.

If you reach in from the back, you have a tailgate that you’ve got to lean over, which is frustrating too, but given its your only point of access to the back of the canopy you have to live with it. Well bodies also waste a huge amount of usable space in between the panels and around the wheel arches. If you get a flat tray and gull wing your room and ease of access increases significantly.

Land Cruiser canopy

How are you going to make use of the canopy space?

With a gull wing canopy, you have access at a lower level, without leaning over anything and you automatically get some protection from the weather when you open your door. Some come with 3 doors, which means you can literally access the entire canopy with ease, and never have to climb inside.

One of the only frustrations I have with the gull wing canopy is that when you open it, occasionally things will have moved and they fall out as you can’t see what is loose until it is too late. Still, tie things down well and its rarely an issue.

The ultimate test for functionality though, is whether you struggle to do what you need to from the back of your Ute. Things like drawer systems, fridge slides, running water, access to storage, a table and so forth will make or break your setup, and I’m a big believer in having an idea of how you are going to set your canopy up before you purchase it.

There are thousands of amazing ideas online for every type of setup, and your choices are just about unlimited. Your fit out though, needs to be practical and suit what you want out of your vehicle. This is ours below, with a kitchen on one side, and storage area on the other.

The kitchen in our Isuzu Dmax

The kitchen side of our canopy, which is set up to be super easy to use

Durability

Everyone uses their vehicles differently. Some people never leave the bitumen and just need to carry some gear around out of the rain, and that gives you much more choice in terms of suitable canopies. However, if you regularly tackle terribly corrugated roads, nasty 4WD tracks and endless bull dust you require a different level of durability.

Some of the cheaper aluminium gull wing canopies have a history of cracking over time, as do a number of the fibreglass versions (even some of the very expensive ones). With plenty of valuable gear in the back of your vehicle its important that your canopy doesn’t fall apart when you need it most.

Durability is usually fairly easy to identify based on the construction and other users feedback. It doesn’t take long for good products to get a great reputation and for bad products to receive the other end of the spectrum.

Chassis tray mounts

Have a good look at the structure and mounting points of the canopy

Make sure you investigate the material used, especially when it comes to buying aluminium canopies, as there is a difference between some of the cheaper units on the market and a top quality version in terms of aluminium grades and fabrication practices.

If you are getting glass in your canopy, have a good think about its durability. In particular, the well body canopies have a very common habit of glass exploding. Sometimes this is for no reason at all; a warm or cold day, sitting there and not even being driven, and bang! Other times, usually when opening or closing the glass twists a tiny bit and it shatters. This is often related to the gas struts getting little burrs or rust on the actual piston, and causing one side to open or close faster than the other

Lastly, if you are towing on gravel, you will be familiar with rocks flicking back up towards your vehicle. If you have glass on the rear it will get hit and crack, or shatter eventually. Most people put a piece of cardboard or plastic over the glass to protect it, but if you don’t have glass there you have much less to worry about!

Canopy quality

After thousands of kilometres of terrible gravel roads, how will the canopy be?

Accessories

You can spend a bucket load on accessories for a 4WD Ute Canopy. Roof racks, under tray toolboxes, water tanks, under tray tool boxes, air tanks, interior and exterior lights, electrical fit outs, battery and solar systems, change rooms, vents, legs to jack the canopy off and the list keeps growing. It is only limited by your pocket depth, and how much weight you want to add.

Some canopy manufacturers don’t get involved in much of this, so before you commit to something, have in mind what you want them to do. There are businesses who offer a drive in, drive out package for all of the above accessories, meaning your vehicle only needs to go to one place to have the whole lot done.

50L water tank under the Dmax

A 50L water tank installed underneath and at the front of our canopy

It’s also worth thinking about how you are going to attach these. Whilst you can generally modify generic products to fit together, its so much easier to get them from one place where they are designed to attach together.

Roof racks on our Bull Motor Body

Lots of canopy companies sell accessories like roof racks, drawers, underbody toolboxes etc

Custom made or off the shelf

There are some incredibly talented fabricators in Australia (and overseas). There are also some that should have their qualifications revoked (or those that don’t actually have any formal qualifications!). When looking for canopies, you’ll soon see there are businesses that are dedicated to making them, and then there are fabrication shops that knock a few out a year, and most good fabrication shops will happily give one a crack, even if they’ve never done one before.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with getting a custom made unit from somewhere that doesn’t regularly make them, but it is a nice feeling putting an order through with a business who has made 10 of the same canopy you just ordered that week.

Canopy building

What experience does your canopy builder have?

Even talented fabricators don’t always get the real life experience in using their products, and there will be things that don’t get thought of during the design and build stage that are frustrating when it comes to using them. Businesses that have been doing this for a long time know what breaks, where the weak points are, and how to make the canopies functional.

Bull Motor Body Canopy

Bull Motor Bodies only make Ute Canopies, and have been doing so for years

Jack off

Whilst the name will give plenty of people a giggle, it is actually pretty descriptive. Lots of people today are buying Jack Off Canopies, so they can leave their canopy behind on a set of legs. If you use your Ute for lots of different things (carting motorbikes one weekend, then camping the next), these are a good option. 

It does cost more to have the relevant bracing put in, and then you have to buy the legs, but at the same time it gives you more options.

That said, the legs are bulky and heavy (and need to be stored somewhere), and if you have a vehicle set up for a heavy canopy and then you remove it, the rides going to be nice and rough!

Custom built jack off canopy

A custom built jack off canopy and massive tent. Jack it off, and drive away!

Dust and waterproof ability

Another hugely important factor to look into when buying a Ute Canopy is its ability to keep the elements outside, and your gear inside clean and dry. A quality canopy will not let a drop of water in, or a spec of dust. Our Bull Motor Canopy has been spotless, and the only dirt inside is from me chucking firewood, or dirty gear in.

Even if it pours with rain and the door is open, nothing ever runs down onto you, which is exactly how it should be. Have a really good look at the design of the doors when you open them up, as the cheap ones will let water run down between, and you’ll end up soaking wet.

Canopy door seals

Quality door seals and hinges make a big difference

Well bodies and some canvas canopies do not have a good reputation for sealing well. In fact, there are numerous businesses out there selling rubber sealing kits, vents and all sorts of gear to try and keep dust out of these canopies. The water is usually less of a problem, but the dust is a nightmare, and even some of the high end canopies allow fine bull dust to pour in. Not what you want all over your nice camping, electrical, cooking and food supplies!

This all comes down to the seals used, but on a well body application there are just too many gaps to seal off well, and that is a major downside for anyone who’s travelling on dusty roads.

Canopy sealing

A quality canopy won’t leak a drop of water or spec of dust inside

Is it modular?

You will move things around in your canopy. It’s a given; you’ll come up with better ways to mount things, remove drawers and tubs for certain trips and adjust the way its setup over time. The better canopies have been designed to accommodate this, with the ability to quickly unbolt items and move them around.

If you have a basic, custom build canopy with box section inside you have much less option when it comes to moving things around. You either need to drill holes, or weld brackets on, and neither are preferable.

Some of the clever canopy designs have aluminium profile running around the headboard, rear and roof of the canopy which you can easily attach to using the unistrut sliding nuts. This allows you to very quickly install a tie down point, or move a shelf over, or remove a fridge slide if you need to.

Sliding unistrut nuts

Sliding Unistrut nuts allow you to bolt things down quickly and easily along the rails

Lifting lugs

You can easily bolt things down or install tie down points along the rails

Roof strength

Some canopies can take weight in their factory form, and others require additional bracing to be installed (at a cost!). If you plan on having roof racks, or mounting anything to the roof, make sure you question what capacity it has, and ensure that its designed for off road use!

Canopy roof strength

What weight do you plan on having up top?

Escaping the weather

One of the things we love about our Gull Wing Canopy is that you have a small area where you can stand under to escape the weather, and its set up in 2 seconds. Every time you open the door, we have a patch about a metre by a metre where we can stand out of the sun (most important) as well as the rain (as long as its not too windy).

A lot of canopies don’t have this luxury, and you need to set up awnings to do the same job. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as you get a lot more room, but it also takes a lot more time and effort to do. We don’t even run an awning, as for day trips the canopy door is enough, or we set up a portable shelter/sit under the camper trailers awning.

Sun protection from the canopy

Gull Wing Canopies provide a fair bit of shade just on their own

Import vs locally made canopies

There are a lot of businesses importing canopies today. This means that the competition is fierce, and that there are some dramatic variations in quality coming out. You can buy a cheap imported aluminium gull wing canopy for $2000, or a top end one for $25,000 (with no internal fit-out). 

Like everything that comes from overseas, the quality has been improving for years, and there is some reasonable quality units coming in. That said, there is some absolute trash too, and you need to do some research of your own. Before you put your hard earned down, find at least a few owners who’ve given them a work out! 

Obviously our preference is to support local business, but I completely understand that you have to do what is best for yourself too.

Canopy welds

What do the welds look like?

Central locking

Central locking can be installed on all of your canopy styles, except Canvas (unless you have a mesh frame inside, then its still possible). I can tell you from experience that being able to press the unlock button on your vehicle and have the canopy unlock (or lock) with the car is amazing and well worth it. It sucks having to individually check each lock is shut, and put your key in each time. I know, as our Hybrid Camper Trailer is setup like this.

They should still come with key access to override it if it all goes wrong, but I’ve rarely used mine! 

Central locking in the canopy

Central locking in our canopy

What does it look like?

There are some truly next level trays and canopies being built today. If form and looks is a big thing for you, there are heaps of options. Unfortunately, these amazing looking canopies usually cost a fortune too, so you have to weigh your priorities up.

Whilst I would have loved to get a Norweld tray and canopy that looks absolutely fantastic, I ended up with a boring looking service vehicle canopy. Why? I care more about quality, price and functionality than I do looks, and I got it at a steal of a price second hand.

Chopped and stretched 200

A chopped and stretched 200 series Land Cruiser with a custom canopy on the rear.

Will you need a false floor?

Before you buy a canopy, have a think about how you are going to use the inside of it. If you are like most people, and you are going to install drawers and other gears, look at the gap between the floor of the canopy and the height of the lip. Many canopies have a 15 – 120mm lip, and as a result you need to build a false floor to make your fridges, drawers and so forth clear. 

It’s not the biggest thing in the world, but it adds more weight, and needs to be secured properly. Our canopy has  a 50mm lip, and on the side where the kitchen is I propped the wooden structure up using some pine pieces.

Canopy lips

If you have a lip like this, you will need a false floor for drawers and your fridge slide

Door heights and gas struts

The height that your canopy doors open to can be a bit of an issue, regardless of what height you are. If you are short, it can be hard to grab the door and pull it back down, and also to lift it up to its full height without letting it go. I have seen a lot of people install little straps so they can be handled easier, and that’s a good step in the right direction.

If you are tall, this is also a big issue. On a normal dual cab Ute, with a canopy that is roof height, the doors won’t open enough to let you stand under the canopy, and that is a major problem. At 6 foot 6 I know exactly what its like to bump your head, or to have to duck to get something, and when you are talking about a canopy that is accessed hundreds of times a week its not pleasant.

Most good gull wing canopy manufacturers make their gas struts with adjustable holes, so you can make the door open more or less, depending on your preferences. 

On the subject of gas struts, make sure they are replaceable, and powerful enough to comfortably open the door to full height, and easy enough to close the doors.

Canopy gas struts

Decent quality gas struts with adjustments on both end to set the heights

Lighting

You will need some form of lighting in your canopy. Of course, you can install this as an aftermarket mod, but a lot of people get it done when they purchase the canopy. Lights inside the canopy as well as on the inside of the doors are well worth it, and having work lights/reverse lights off the back of the canopy are often useful too. Your call, depending on how you use your vehicle.

How is your lighting

Getting your lighting right in the canopy is important

Small lights in our canopy

Running little LED lights in the canopy

Material finish, Colour and heat

One last point that is worth a bit of thought is the temperature that you are creating inside your canopy. There is no doubt that darker painted canopies are warmer inside than their lighter counterparts, and that an unpainted finish will be hotter than one that is painted a light colour.

Often this comes back to the colour of your Ute, but if its possible, avoid unpainted and dark colour canopies unless you are prepared for them to get warm. The heat inside isn’t good for anything, especially your fridge, which is trying to keep your beverages cool! A lot of people who do have issues with canopies getting hot end up installing insulation on the doors, roof and walls, and it does make a big difference. The other option is to install a few vents, but this can create issues with dust and moisture getting in.

Checker plate is marginally cooler than flat aluminium, and tends to maintain its look better over the life of the vehicle without dulling. I will say that our white canopy is never that warm inside (even on really hot days with the fridge running), and I much prefer not having any vents or places for dust, water and moisture to get in.

Custom canopy with tent

Keeping your canopy as cool as possible is a good idea

Where can you get Ute Canopies from?

There used to be a handful of people selling Ute Canopies. Now, there are hundreds of businesses. Some are locally made, and many are bought from overseas in bulk, and arrive by the hundreds in sea containers. Below are some of the more well known Canopy Manufacturers. If I’ve missed some, please let me know and I will add them. 

Gull Wing Canopies

Norweld, Rosscos, Bull Motor Bodies, Bosston (Hidrive group), Alloy Ute Canopies, Tuff Engineering, Tong Metal, Jmac Engineering, CSM service bodies, Jacksons Carry Me Camper, Metalink,

MW Toolbox, Mates Rates Tools (MRT), Ute Store, Kylin Campers, Coastmac Trailers, Trailer parts direct, 

Tidy Gull Wing Canopy

A very tidy 200 series with a Gull Wing Canopy

Well Body Canopies

Flexiglass, ARB, TJM, Carryboy, Spartan, OEM (Toyota/Nissan/Isuzu etc), Canopies WA, HSP 4×4 Accessories, Sports Range, Delux 4×4, Carryboy, Dunn and Watson, Ute Canopies Australia, 4WD Supacentre.

D22 canopy

A very common fibreglass canopy, fitted to a D22 Navara

Canvas Canopies

Morley Canvas, Southern Cross Canvas and just about any of your local canvas and trimmer shops, or camper trailer outlets.

Canvas canopies

There are lots of choices for canvas canopies

Our experiences with Ute Canopies

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you have a good idea of what is going to suit your requirements, and what won’t. My first 4WD was a Toyota Hilux, running a well body tub and eventually we installed a second hand Flexiglass canopy to keep our gear dry and more secure. 

It was better than nothing, but the access was terrible, it certainly wasn’t very secure and packing/unpacking was horrendous. The sliding windows were hopeless for getting things out, which meant the rear access was your only choice. The only saving grace was the tailgate could be sat on!

Hilux canopy

Our first Hilux running a Fibreglass canopy

When we planned our latest build, I knew I wanted to go for a full size aluminium gull wing canopy. I managed to pick a second hand Bull Motor Body Canopy for $3800 with a heap of extras, and its been amazing. You have heaps more room, its secure, dust and waterproof and accessing gear is so much better.

I would never, ever go back to a well body and canopy. That said, my needs are different to yours, and you should have enough information from this post to make a pretty educated choice on what is best going to suit your requirements.

Dmax at Esperance

Relaxing at the beach for the afternoon

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2 comments… add one
  • hansheu lu May 17, 2020, 9:59 PM

    How about the RSI Smart Canopy this? Want to know your opinion

  • Aaron Schubert May 18, 2020, 4:51 PM

    Hey Hansheu,

    I actually saw one of these the other day. They are pretty unique units. I like it, and it would suit a lot of people. For me, I’d much rather an aluminium gull wing as its far more secure, accessible and easier to use

    All the best
    Aaron

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