ByUnsealed 4X4April 5, 2018
Platters are for fruit. Trays are for utes. But what if you want a tray with all the fruit?


If gripping a welder brings on more shakes and shivers than a handful of ice down your undies, then this is for you. We’re not talking about building your own piece of metallic origami with bird-s**t welds scattered around the place.


Instead we are going to give you the inside scoop on what makes a damn good steel tray that is built how you’d really like it to look and function. And if chopping up a perfectly good $100K+ wagon straight off the lot gives you a bigger thrill than base jumping, then we’ve got you covered too. Axing the rear-end off a 200 Series LandCruiser should go hand in hand with choosing a suitable custom-built tray – because there is no ‘off-the-shelf’ kit in this domain. But we also look at when to say, “OK, I get it! Any more accessories and it’s little more than ornamental!”


So let’s check out where to start, questions to ask, and practicality versus ‘pimp-my-ride’. First up, look beyond your sister’s boyfriend’s mate’s garage gig unless it happens to include some engineering qualification certificates on the wall. This quarter-tonne web of steel has a purpose, usually involving heavy loads strapped to itself; and the inadvertent departure from this purpose (or the vehicle) may be cause for concern when cruising the M1 or the CSR track.


A drive to a few outlets will let you see the sometimes stark differences in design and ideas on what works well. Then you’ll be armed with the right info on what’s best for your custom-designed tray.



This is the part you will rarely see – but like any foundation, everything swings off this important piece of infrastructure.


Steel trays may use either ‘black’ steel or galvanised steel. The latter is more expensive and takes a bit more preparation and welding skill. However galvanised steel makes much better sense for corrosion prevention; and a black steel tray will be soon screaming that ugly ‘R’ word after a few beach runs.


Materials and mounts will show how your preferred builder does things. Universal bars for securing the tray to the ute chassis mounts are great for cost saving and far simpler for the builder… but you lose other options like clearances and potentially strength in design for your vehicle. After all, we are talking custom builds – so shouldn’t the tray chassis be designed for YOUR ute, not someone else’s TATA?


Cross-beam struts also make a difference in many ways: From supporting the tray surface adequately and again minimising corrosion, to maintaining structural integrity across the whole tray and allowing for extra items like under-tray drawers, water tanks or even tipper hydraulics.


Having a chat with your tray builder about different options will soon give you that warm fuzzy ‘he knows his stuff’ feeling, or another bout of the ‘ice in your undies’ kind of quiver.



The buck stops here, as does any other fast-forward item whose inertia wants to park itself beside your left ear in a dead-stop scenario. The headboard gives your tray the means to secure those loads and stop them from shifting forward into the cab. That’s it, job done. A quick Google search of ‘load through cab’ images will soon show you why a decent headboard makes sense.


You can still choose a range of styles, as long as the design caters for them. Tubular loops shaped to the cab always look good, but they’ll take a little more work to incorporate. Square frames (either shaped or straight) serve well for practicality, and can also be used to blend with canvas canopies or other functions more easily. In-fills provide that extra ‘momentum reduction’ and should also be considered for the load types in mind.


An open view between spaced bars might look trick, except if you’re carrying a tray full of firewood every weekend (as it might start knocking on your rear window). Perhaps consider mesh here. Then there is the custom ‘profiling’ option, where your favourite ute brand cut into some sheet steel let’s following traffic know you really do love your Navara, or Great Wall, or whatever… The options are almost endless if your man on the MIG is up to muster.



Here’s where it all happens of course – where all your crap lands and should stay where it’s put. The surface selected can change that to some degree, so have a think about it before slamming the cheque on the counter.


Chequer-plate is a solid, robust kind of material and will pretty much handle everything you chuck at it… except a shovel. If you’ve ever tried to shovel a load of sand or whatever off a chequer-plate floor, then you’ll know what we mean. There must be a new curse word invented every weekend by fellas trying to slide a shovel along a chequered floor. Great for gripping a pallet or strapping down the dirt bikes for an even dirtier weekend. But use a hose to wash the mud off.


Smooth floors serve a purpose for the brickies and tippers, and also finish off nicely. Galvanised sheet will keep much better for longer once that paint starts to chip away, so galvanised steel keeps coming up as the winner for steel trays.


Timber floors can really finish off a custom build nicely when they’re done right. The type of timber used makes a difference in finish and longevity – so choose wisely. A regular dose of quality decking oil will see the timber lasting as long as steel – and looking a million bucks.



This is where the fun begins, but it can also end badly. Most tray builders will have a wish list as long as their arm, because this is where you determine the function of the tray and the builder gets to show off his talents. A plain old tray is just that; plain. But add some smart profile-cut acknowledgements to your preferred brand, maybe some toolboxes, tie-downs, dog chain links, the latest in LED lighting, even a crane… and whammo, you’re the envy of all your mates down at the local. Of course, while you were ‘shopping’ through that wish list, you also happened to tick the under-tray tool drawer, water tank, hydraulic tilt, and maybe even a few work lights, aerial tabs and a twin-tube headboard…


“Yep, and I’ll need a reverse camera and sensors, too!”


Your tray looks light Santa did a dump and run of pressies on the back of your ute. Its literally bristling with gear and storage compartments. But here’s the uncomfortable part – how much did all that weigh? It’s not uncommon for a fully-kitted tray to bring a modern dual-cab ute close to its GVM (or so close that the ball weight of a van or trailer might tip you over the legal line in the sand).


Work closely with your tray builder and get advice along the way – not just a sales pitch for extras. And that’s our best tip for the day: Build a relationship with your selected tray manufacturer. Make sure they understand what you need and want, and make sure you know exactly what you are getting and how much you are paying. The builder should be prouder of their tray than you are, and then you’ll know you’ve got a tray so good that someone might want to ‘steel it’.


Steel Pros



Easily paintable

Many accessory options

Accepts cranes and tilt

Steel Cons


May rust


Alloy Pros


Maximises carrying capacity

Corrosion resistant

Lighter side panels when removing

Alloy Cons

Easily damaged

Limits some accessories (cranes, etc)