4WD MODIFICATIONS - GENERAL MODS
Nothing on a 4WD ute looks worse than a dented, scarred and rusty ute tub or tray. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Before you invest time and money in ute tub protection you need to work out exactly what your ute is going to do.
For example, a tradie may want his ute for work on weekdays and as a camper on weekends. In that case, he may fit a set of roll-out drawers that can take tools or camping gear and, in that situation, the top of the drawer unit will protect the tub floor. All that’s needed is something to stop the sides of the tub getting scarred.
Another case is a tradie who has a slide-on work module for weekdays and a slide-on camper for weekends. No ute tub protection is likely to be needed.
However, the bulk of 4WD ute owners use the tub as cargo area that does day to day service and then gets packed with boxed and bagged camping kit when required. In this scenario freight gets pushed or dropped inside and dragged out, and that quickly turns a new tub into a very second-hand one.
At OTA we’ve owned several utes over many years and we’ve evaluated three methods of protecting the metal and paint from damage. All have their advantages and disadvantages.
A moulded plastic, slip-in tub liner is the quickest way of protecting the original paint from scratching. It will also work to some extent in limiting denting caused by heavy stuff being dropped into the tray. The best liners provide access to the original tie-downs.
Tub liners are slippery to walk on and get red-hot in the sun. There’s also the risk of condensation between the original steel bed and the plastic, heightening the chance of rust.
We found on extended bush trips that the load caused abrasion between the liner and the painted steel, stripping the paint off in several places that rusted quickly.
We were one of the first in Australia to test a spray-on coating and found it to be durable, if vulnerable to damage on the tailgate surface. Since then, several more companies have come out with spray-on coatings and at least one company sells a DIY roll-on coating.
Like a tub liner a coated bed can become very hot in sunlight, but it eliminates the risk of condensation and rust.
Our testing showed that the coated bed protected the paint very well, but didn’t stop denting caused by heavy stuff being dropped into the tray.
We’d have liked the ability to touch-up chipped spots, but that wasn’t available. The DIY coating appeals in that respect, allowing the owner to freshen up the coating without the need for special spray equipment.
Mats vary from the common flat, rubber sheets, through perforated types to full zip-in liners that stick to the bed and sides.
We found that flat sheet mats suffered from condensation between the mat and the bed, but protected the paint from scratching and the floor from most denting. They also allowed an easy sweep or hose-out.
Perforated mats eliminated the condensation issue, but needed to be removed for a sweep-out.
The disadvantage of mats is that they don’t protect the tub sides and the wheel arches.
The zip-in type, fitted mat kit does all that, but we worry about the integrity of the zippers that connect the side pieces to the floor piece.
We reckon the best solution is a combination of slip-in liner or applied coating, with a rubber floor mat to cushion against denting.
If you opt for a slip-in liner it needs to be easy to remove, for an annual inspection of the metal underneath.
Liners and coatings are priced in the $700-$1000 range, depending on tub size and desired thickness. The DIY coating kits are around the $300 mark. Floor mats are priced from around $70 per linear metre.