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Ute Tray vs Tub; what’s best?

If you are in the market for a Ute, and aren’t sure how you want to set it up, this post will guide you in the right direction. When you purchase a Ute, its bare form from the factory is a Cab Chassis, with literal meaning given to the two words. You get a Ute with a Cab on it, and the bare chassis exposed on the rear. It will have no tub, or tray, and be utterly useless until you do something with it.

Of course, you can buy Utes that come with a tub or a tray if you don’t want the cab chassis (bare) option, and in this post we discuss the differences, pro’s, con’s and issues you have to consider.

If you are intending on getting a canopy, then we have written a hugely comprehensive guide here – Ute Canopy Guide. This should form a huge basis of your decision, if you are getting a canopy, as getting it wrong is time consuming, costly and very frustrating. Ask me how I know!

Tray or tub

What’s better; a tray or tub?

Why would you want a Cab Chassis?

Maybe we’ll start with the elephant in the room. If you are going to put a tray or tub on anyway, why would you want a Ute in Cab Chassis form? The answer is simple; these are the vehicle of choice if you want to customize what goes on the rear. 

There’s no point paying for a tray or tub from the vehicle manufacturer if all you are going to do is rip it off and replace it with something else anyway. If you are going down the path of chassis extensions, or modifications that require access to the top of the chassis then its going to be a requirement anyway.

Most people who order a Cab Chassis do so with the intention of mounting a custom tray, or service body on the rear. For example, the Bull Motor Bodies canopy that we run on our Isuzu Dmax bolts directly to the chassis, and is a tray and canopy in one.

The other thing to remember is that a lot of the factory trays that come from the vehicle manufacturers are quite cheap, or lightly built and if you intend on giving it a hard time, you may as well save your money or you’ll end up getting something better when it breaks.

Can you swap between a tub and tray?

It’s a fairly straightforward process to go from a tub to a tray, or from a tray to a tub. They are held on by 6 mounting points, have a latch for the fuel cap access port that needs to be dealt with and the lights can be plug and play. 

I removed the tub on our Dmax and fitted a service body (integrated tray) fairly easily, but you need 3 people to help lift it on and off.

Dmax 4WD

We removed our tub and replaced it with a service body fairly easily

What’s the benefits of a Tray?

A Ute tray is literally a flat tray, or one with sideboards. They are almost always made of aluminium or steel, with some random exceptions available too. Most trays also have a headboard, which prevents anything going through the rear window, and gives it something to tie off. The headboard usually follows the profile of the cab.

More room

There’s no doubting that a tray gives you more room. They are often the widest part of the vehicle (excluding the mirrors), and allow you to carry as much gear as possible. With a tub, you lose a lot of space to the actual panels (which waste a lot of space). A tray generally sits well over the rear wheels, with no wheel arch interfering on the actual tray, whereas a tub will lose space in the wheel arches too.

Ute trays can always fit a full pallet, whereas there’s still plenty of dual cab Utes with tubs that won’t do this, and it can be quite limiting in what you can use the vehicle for.

Ute tray option

Tray’s give you the maximum room possible on a Ute

They can weigh less, or be heavier duty

If you pick up an medium range aluminium tray, its going to be a lot lighter than your standard tub, which is made of steel and despite being thin material adds up quickly. If you want something heavier duty, you can get that in a tray.

Some steel trays are basically bulletproof, and this is why you’ll often see a lot of extreme 4WD’s with solid trays that can literally rub their way up a bank, or take a bump from a tree without any issues. Of course, the heavier duty they are, the heavier they are as well!

Less panels to damage

A tray has far less surface area to damage. For starters, they are much higher up which means your chances of hitting the bottom of them are very slim. Compare that to a tub which is easy to take out the rear quarter of when you drop off a ledge.

A tray will also take some punishment, but the moment you knock a tub its going to suffer far more damage. Beyond that, a tray is actually harder to damage. I recall having a heap of scratches on our Hilux simply from leaning over the tub to grab things out, and a button or belt buckle scratching the paint. 

You can fit a much ‘better’ canopy

I’m going to be blunt here. The canopy range that you have access to with a tub is pretty abysmal. Sure, it suits some people and there’s 100% a market for it, but a proper gull wing canopy that sits on a Ute Tray cannot be beaten in terms of functionality, and you have far more choice with a tray.

Roof racks forward or back

The canopy options are much greater with a tray

Access is much easier

On our original Hilux, we had a well body (or tub) for many years, before I put a Flexiglass canopy on it. Even without the canopy, access was a pain. You have to reach over the tub, and trying to reach something in the centre was always hard. On the back of the vehicle its no better either, as you have to fend against the tailgate.

Departure angle is generally better

Trays sit higher up, which means you are less likely to hit them. In some cases too, the tow bar being run is different for a tray and a tub style ute (with the tray one being marginally higher). Yes, your tow bar is always the first thing to hit right at the rear of the vehicle (and this is usually fine), but its the corners of the vehicle that are most susceptible, and a tray has ample clearance there unless you have big bits hanging down off it (like underbody toolboxes that aren’t tapered, or the a rear part of the tray).

Departure angle

The departure angle of a tub is always much worse than a tray

Customization is much easier (length, width, toolboxes etc)

Tubs are made by the OEM, and come in one size. By this, I mean you get one for a single cab, one for ane extra cab and one for a dual cab, and that’s it. You can get a few accessories to suit those tubs, but you can’t change the size.

When it comes to trays though, you can mount a tray made of a number of different materials, get one wider or longer than normal, and of varying degrees of strength. If you live on a farm and want something that is going to last the life of the vehicle with everything thrown in the back and getting abused, you can do this. You can also get a huge number of accessories for trays like underbody toolboxes, sliding rear drawers, underbody water tanks and the list goes on and on.

Toolbox and water tank

An underbody toolbox and water tank (other side), all mounted to the tray

It could be a business deduction

If you run a business, and you can justify a tray as a requirement to do your work you might be able to claim it as a deduction, including a canopy on the top. I’m not an accountant, and this is not financial advise, but its worth exploring!

You can run jack off setups

One of the more popular Ute setups over the last few years has been to run a tray, and then have a canopy with legs that can be jacked off. Most canopy makers are doing these today, and it allows you to have a normal Ute with a tray any time you want, if you lift the canopy off. Simply pull up where you want to drop the canopy, install the legs, undo the fasteners holding it on and wind the legs up, and then drive out. 

This gives you secure storage when you want it, and a normal Ute when you don’t (but don’t ignore the fact that the legs are big, heavy and it takes time to take it off and put it back on.

Jack off camper

A jack off style camper that you can literally remove anywhere

What’s the downsides of a Tray?

Less aerodynamic

By their very nature, a tray blends in less well than a tub does. You’ll find they stick out further, and are more likely to catch the wind when you are travelling, which results in extra fuel consumption. This is especially the case if the headboard sticks up above the vehicles cab.

You have to tie everything down

One of the most annoying things about a tray is that you have to tie everything down, unless you have it covered which is less common. There’s regulations out now which will land you a nice find for travelling with an unsecured load, and that means even if you want to throw an esky in the back and a spare tyre, it has to be tied in. 

You might think this is frivolous and easy to do, but some things are harder than others to tie down, and when you have a heap of items and limited places to tie to, it can be quite frustrating. Of course, if you have an open tub things should be tied down too, but many of them today come with hard lids, roller shutters or the normal tonneau covers which help keeping things secure.

Flat tray on a 4WD

Anything loose needs to be tied down, and well

They are far more expensive

Our Dmax came with a tub, and I spent a seriously long time trying to find a replacement tray. Second hand ones started off at about $1500 and that was for something that looked pretty average. I got quotes over 10k for a custom aluminium tray (without a canopy), which shows how much more they can be. 

On the flip side, you can literally pick up a pristine tub for a Ute for under $200. Every day, hundreds are removed from Utes and replaced with trays, and you know what they do with the tubs? They remove the lights and usually the tailgate (as these are commonly needed parts) and they crush the tubs and send them to scrap metal. 

If you look your model up online you’ll see a heap for sale, although this does become harder as the vehicle gets older.

Steel trays can rust and be very heavy

Aluminium trays have come a really long way over the years, but regardless they are not as durable as a steel one, and I know plenty of people who give the back of their Ute a hard time and much prefer a steel tray.

If you go down this path, know that no matter how good the paint job is the tray will eventually rust, and its going to be heavy as. Again, not always a problem depending on what you are doing with it, but if you need the payload and you add a heavy steel tray its not helping your situation.

Waterproofing can be much harder

Keeping things dry in a tray is a lot harder than in a tub. You can get canvas and normal tonneau covers, but they tend to be expensive and few and far between for trays. Tubs on the other hand have them all the time, and there’s options for hard lids and roller shutters that can be quite useful.

Ute Tub benefits

They blend in better

There’s no doubting that a Ute Tub blends in well. They are made by the OEM and are essentially an extension of the Ute. Do they look better? That’s up to personal opinion, and honestly, not something I really care too much about anyway. Function over form any day of the week, but you might disagree.

They’re cheap to replace

If you ding your Tub, you can generally get one for under $200, and they are quite quick to replace. As your 4WD gets older replacements become harder to get, but there’s generally a lot floating around in the first 5 years. The only caveat here is the colour you have; if you pick something obscure you might be up for more money having to get it painted!

They can be very functional

Ute Tubs can be the perfect solution for some people, and we ran ours on the Hilux for a long time. If you don’t care about secure storage, or you want to carry a motorbike, or push bike in the back, and throw muddy gear in, or transport people up and down bike tracks there’s some really good reasons to hang onto a tub. 

If you want a bit of security you can put a hard lid on top, or at least a tonneau cover to keep prying eyes out. Not everyone wants a canopy, and in some cases they can be really annoying and frustrating.

Hard tonneau cover

A tub and hard cover can be pretty functional depending on what you want it for

Ute tub downsides

It’s easy to do panel damage

Ute tubs hang down really low, in front and behind the rear wheels and they are seriously vulnerable to getting hit. If you go down the path of a rear bar, it will protect the back of the vehicle, but not the tub, which is most likely to get hit.

Your canopy options are hugely limited

If you want a canopy on a tub, you are really limited to those that bolt on top, and none of them seal dust very well. I’ve seen some canopies that sit inside the tub, but they are few and far between. What’s even more frustrating is that the cost of tub canopies are extremely expensive, especially for one with ‘windoors’ (windows that open upwards like the rear glass canopy on the side), lights and a few other bits and pieces. 

If you specifically want a canopy, think long and hard about whether its going to do the job for you. I know a huge number of people who’ve spent 4 – 10k decking out a Ute tub with a nice canopy on the back before getting sick of the lack of security, windows breaking, dust leaking in, weight and limited access, and then they end up selling the whole lot for a huge loss, and doing it all again with a tray and gull wing canopy. 

Dmax canopy

Even with windoors these canopies are much less user friendly

They are heavy and take up lots of usable space

A well body on a dual cab Ute is going to be somewhere between 40 and 80kg, and that’s a fair bit of weight. You can get light weight aluminium trays for well under that, or go with a service body that’s all in one. Our entire Bull Motor Bodies canopy was about 200kg when we installed it, and that’s with a solar panel on the top, roof racks, a big inverter and shelving inside, 50L water tank and a few other bits. Remove everything and you are probably sitting around the 150kg mark, which is pretty impressive.

Canopy choice is the main factor to consider

If you intend on installing a canopy, I believe this is the most important factor to consider when choosing between a tub or a tray. You can’t mount a normal gull wing canopy in a tub, and once you’ve spent a heap of money going one way its quite expensive and time consuming to go the other way.

If you haven’t already, check out our ultimate guide to buying a Ute Canopy and use that to make your decision better. I hate seeing people deck well body Ute’s out with nice canopies, electrics and draw systems only to get sick of them, and move to something else.

What’s your situation now, and in a few years?

Ultimately, what you get should be determined by what you need now, and what you’ll need in a few years. There’s no better option; just the most suitable one for your situation. Having had a tub, then a canopy on the tub, and now a service body (inbuilt tray and canopy) I would never, ever go back to a tub, but that’s because it doesn’t suit my needs nearly as well as a gull wing canopy. 

Have a think about what you will want in a few years too; its fun to drive around with a Ute, but after a few winters and everything getting wet, or nicked out of the back it can lose its attraction pretty quickly. If you just want a bit of storage, don’t care too much about access and don’t want to spend a fortune sometimes a Ute Tub with a hard cover is the ultimate solution.

If you want 100% dust proof storage that is secure, you can’t go past a well built gull wing canopy on a tray, or in built unit directly to the chassis.

Do you run a tub or a tray? Do you like it? Would you change?

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