There’s a wide variety of vehicle storage systems on the market today, so there’s no excuse for risking the OH&S implications of inadequate cargo and tool handling.
A look at Australia’s new vehicle registrations shows that the preferred ‘tradie’ vehicle is still the ubiquitous ute or tray back. Out of nearly 175,000 light commercials sold last year, only 22,000 were vans, meaning that utes and tray-backs took the lion’s share of the market.
Of the ute and tray-back figure around half are 4x4s and many of those are used as dual-purpose work and recreational machines. A storage system often has to serve the double purpose of tool and camping gear stowage.
The starting point for a ute or tray-back storage system is a decent headboard, to prevent freight crashing through the back window and into the cabin, in the event of an accident. Many cabins are vulnerable, because tray headboards are non-existent, or made from lightweight aluminium angle iron.
Heavy tools are more safely and securely stowed in roll-out drawers that can be full or part length. The better quality ones are strong enough to double as work benches.
Getting in and out of ute trays is a potentially dangerous business: tailgate cables can break or uncouple; slippery tailgates are a grip hazard; and there’s always the chance of a foot getting caught on the way up or down. A swing-down ute step is a great investment.
Plastic tray liners are a great way of preventing metal trays looking shabby, but plastic liners bring their own hazards: the surface is often slippery and, unless they’re properly installed, can cause ‘sweating’ and rust formation. Another solution is a spray-on coating.
It’s difficult to ensure the security of equipment stowed in the back of utes. The most popular solution for open utes is a set of lockable tool boxes, bolted to the tray or on top of roll-out drawers.
A much tidier, but more expensive, solution is a purpose-built body, incorporating compartments with lockable swing out or roller doors. Cab/chassis kitted out with special bodywork often turn up in the used market.
Canopies are primarily aimed at the recreational market, but some are suitable for working vehicles as well. The best types have dual tailgate locks and full-length, lift-up side windows, so that it’s easy to retrieve items from the front of the tray. For extra security, glass sections can be backed with metal mesh panels.
Good quality canopies can be supplied with roof rack kits that have internal metal tubing to transfer rack loads to the ute tray.
Roof racks are potential disaster zones. All too often they’re overloaded, which contributes to poor vehicle handling, braking and stability. Racks are best kept for lightweight items such as conduit, plastic pipes and light ladders. A set of rack rollers takes the strain out of ladder storage.
As with utes, vans need to be fitted with a strong barrier between the driver and the freight.
It’s much easier to fit out a van than a ute, because it’s only a matter of selecting one of the many rack and shelf systems to suit the vocation. Modern vans come with remote central locking, so security is simply a matter of pressing a button.
A combination of roll-out drawers and racking can solve nearly all van storage problems.
Large vans ‘rack’ their bodywork, particularly when they’re driven on rough sites or parked on uneven ground. If internal shelving is bolted to the van sides it’s possible for the attachments to tear out the inner bodywork of vans that do a lot of rough-ground work.
The best solution for these applications is shelving and racking that attaches only to the floor.
There are internal roof racks for long items, such as ladders.
Safety should be the prime consideration when kitting out light commercials with storage gear.