There’s a good reason drawers for a 4WD are so common. They can be one of the most appreciated items when you are travelling, working or just using your 4WD day to day.
The thing is though, 4WD drawers can also be frustrating, hard to use and impractical, so you have to choose wisely, and get something that is going to suit your setup.
Why install 4WD drawers?
The most common reason for installing 4WD drawers is to get more storage that is easily accessible. Drawers allow you to keep items that you need regularly at the bottom of a pile of gear, and still be able to slide them out as needed.
You can generally pack them quite well too, instead of having loose items floating around the place and this means you have more room for other items. They also contain your gear, so when you hit a big bump, or are involved in an accident what is in your drawers stays there as a pose to flying throughout your vehicle!
How much do they cost?
You can buy 4WD drawers for as low as a couple of hundred dollars for a single drawer, and the pricing works their way up into the several thousands of dollars for a high end product that will fill the lower portion of a 4WD wagon.
You can go down the DIY drawer path too, which we discuss below and save a fair chunk of money. Alternatively, there are a lot of carpenters who are selling custom 4WD drawers locally.
DIY drawers for your 4WD
I’ve built a couple of different drawer systems for my 4WD’s now, and quite enjoy working with timber. That said, to make your own drawers you do need a certain level of skill and some basic tools, and if you haven’t done much of it before its a good idea to get someone to help you.
The project doesn’t have to be complicated, but to get a good result you need to have a certain level of skill. Your material choice as a DIY drawer maker are vastly limited unless you are capable of cutting, folding and welding aluminium.
Downsides of drawers for a 4WD
There is nothing that you can fit to your 4WD that will be perfect, and not have some form of downside. Drawers are amazing in many situations, but they can also be frustrating and cause grief in a number of different ways:
They aren’t usually portable
4WD drawers by their very nature are not usually portable. That means once you’ve bolted them in place, you have to spend some time removing them, and its not something you’d do just to nip down to the beach for a swim.
For a lot of people that is just fine, but there will be times where you wish you could pull them out to transport a piece of furniture that is a bit bigger, or a bike, or what ever it may be.
The only exception to this is if you fit light weight, plastic drawers that get held in place with a temporary measure (straps etc) which you can pull out quickly, and easily.
They can be super heavy
My biggest gripe with 4WD drawers is that they can be so heavy its almost not worth fitting them. Of course, there are lots of things you can do to get light weight drawers (and we go into this further below), but taking up 10% of your available payload on a set of 4WD drawers just doesn’t make sense to me.
If you don’t know what I mean, some drawer systems are 100kg, and that is without a single item in them. Given most 4WD’s can only legally carry between 600 and 1100kg (and your tow ball weight has to come out of this), its a huge amount of weight.
These can weigh more than your bull bar and winch, and that’s saying something! What does your 4WD weigh?
They can make accessing your fridge difficult
A lot of people fit two drawers on the lower level, and then have a fridge pull out on the top level. This is fine if your vehicle is low to the ground, or you are tall, but for the average person being able to see into a 12V chest fridge that sits on top of a drawer in the back of your 4WD is a mission.
People then go out and buy tilting, or drop down fridge slides which resolve the issue, but are incredibly heavy in themselves, and the weight spiral continues. I’ve always preferred having drawers on one side, with a fridge on the other (as low as it can go) for this reason, but at the end of the day its a personal decision.
Other things to think about
We mentioned briefly above about the location of your fridge slide, and you need to have a good think about this before you commit to any drawer system. Are you going to be able to see into your fridge? Is there a cage over the top of the fridge so you can load items above it and still pull your fridge out without any issues?
If you go to a 12V upright fridge then your options increase dramatically, but you need to think about where your fridge and fridge slide is going to sit, and how it will work.
Install a table too
The best thing you can do to a 4WD drawer system is to install a table into it. This can be done in a number of ways, but the extra bench space is always appreciated. Whether its to put your phone down, to make lunch on or just to sit sunscreen on I guarantee its one of the best things you can do.
In terms of table options, the most common is to have a small slide under a drawer that pulls out, creating extra bench space. If there is a lot of leverage then you can install a leg that can go down to the floor.
Alternatively, you can make an insert that goes into your drawers (and it can live there all the time) which you can slide around. I’ve seen them cover half the drawer, and you can move it forward or backwards to expose the part of the drawer you want access too, or pull it out all together.
Lastly, you can get tables that just clip onto the edge of your drawer, which are generally made from stainless steel and kept separate.
What ever you do, make sure you have a table that you can use.
If you haven’t worked out already, I’m very conscious of weight. No matter what drawer system you get, have a good think about what its going to weigh when fully loaded, and where that weight is.
For this reason alone, you’ll rarely see heavy drawer systems on dual cab Utes located at the rear of the canopy, as the weight can make the chassis crack.
If the weight is on one side of your canopy, what are you doing to offset that on the other side?
If you get a trundle drawer in your canopy, consider using it for bulky, light weight gear that you need often and not heavy items like spare parts, tools and heavy food.
The most common material for 4WD drawers today is probably timber, and specifically marine or construction ply. I would recommend 12mm ply as its thick enough to be very strong, and not so thick that its hugely heavy. You can read more about this here – 4WD Drawer Systems; what ply should you use?
Alternatively, you can still buy a number of steel 4WD drawers on the market, and these suit a purpose but for any vehicle that is going to be pushing weights I’d never look twice at.
Aluminium is king of the drawers with its great strength and minimal weight, but its much harder to make and generally costs a lot more. Our next setup will have aluminium drawers as I think they are the best arrangement possible.
Lastly, you can get a number of plastic drawers, and we run 6 of them in our Dmax, with a plywood surround. These are light weight, durable and easy to use, but they don’t hold a huge amount, so bear that in mind!
Drawer slide rating
If you are using drawers with slides, then you need to get something that has a suitable weight rating for what you are going to carry. It’s not uncommon for a 4WD drawer to weigh 50 – 80kg each, and that force when bumping up and down a 4WD track can be amplified considerably.
I would be looking at 200 – 250kg rated drawer slides in this particular arrangement, and that’s what we’ve used in the past with great success. They are heavy, and I’d think about using drawers that use plastic to slide on instead.
Mounting your drawer system
When you get your drawer system, you’ll have to come up with a way to mount them. The professional kits generally bolt down to your vehicles body using existing holes, or you can easily add t nuts, or nutserts into your drawer system to hold it down.
Make sure its super secure, and isn’t going anywhere as it would cause a lot of damage in an accident.
Don’t make them too tall
I’ve seen a number of people build drawer systems that are more than 300mm tall, and unless you have a specific plan in mind its easy for the drawer to become an annoying mess, with piles of your gear on top of other piles.
Drawers are great to keep your items easily accessible and quick to find, but if they are too big then you just end up with a giant mess.
Alternatives to drawers
Some people much prefer to use crates, or storage boxes that can be easily removed from your vehicle at the end of a trip. These are great, but it means that instead of being able to slide a drawer out and grab what you need, you have to pull several boxes out and open them to grab what you need.
Obviously these are going to be lighter, and for many that’s enough to make the change.
What do you use in the way of drawers for your 4WD? Are you happy with them? What would you do differently next time?