ute canopies and trays
source: pexels.com

Tray or Tub? What to Fit on the Back of Your Ute

Utes are outselling any other car type by a big margin. They’re well-suited to the Aussie lifestyle, and can be used for work or when venturing out in the bush. Plus, double cab variants do a good job with everyday driving tasks. When buying one new, you’re faced with the dilemma of whether to get a tray or tub. These additions to the back of the ute open up different possibilities.

The tray versus tub debate has split ute owners into two contesting groups. Some swear by the versatility of tubs, while others favour trays for their all-round flexibility in catering to different loads, and the use of bigger canopies. Whichever group you fall into, your choice will be based on your needs, and how you use the ute.

The Case for Trays 

Trays come in two basic designs. They’re either completely flat or equipped with high sides. Unlike tubs, they sit a bit higher than the wheel arches so offer a completely flat and usable surface. Many also come with an integrated headboard to protect the cab. Buyers can choose between lightweight aluminium ute trays or heavy-duty variants made of high-grade steel. Compared to tubs, a tray scores points in a few key areas:  

ute trays
source: norweld.com.au


While newer utes are now coming with wider tubs (and can take a Euro pallet), they’re still no match for the overall space even on a basic, standard-sized tray. The fact that the tray sits over the rear axle means that it won’t use valuable space to accommodate the wheel arches. And the thicker side panels in tubs don’t do any favours since they eat into much-needed realty for any wider items you need to carry. If you’re using the ute for work, those few centimetres in every direction can be a deciding factor in whether you can load the ute with what’s needed or not. In short, choose a tray if you’re carrying larger loads.  


Tubs aren’t the last word in durability, and the sidewalls and tailgates will see a lot of abuse that tarnishes their main selling point – looks. The paint is easy to scratch, and dents are a given. Trays, on the other hand, will sustain less damage. They’re higher up for starters, with more thought and effort put into frames and floors and thicker metal where it matters (C-channels, main and subframes, and decks). If you’re after something that will last, regardless of your choice of materials, then opt for a tray.  


We’ve all seen how a sagging rear axle impacts how a ute drives, not to mention how it looks. Weight is one factor that will determine whether you go for a tray or tub. Lighter ute trays for sale made of aluminium can save quite a few kilos over the heavier and taller panels in tubs. Then again, if you want something that will outlast the ute itself, go for a heavy-duty steel option. These are also quite a bit heavier but are meant to take a beating. That’s not to bag aluminium trays. They’re just as durable, often fare better in bad weather (being by default corrosion-resistant) and offer a unique look.  

custom made ute trays
source: ozchivalry.com.au

Versatility and Customisation 

With tubs you’re often stuck with what you’ve got (since they’re factory options). Not so with trays. While there are standardised sizes (1800mm length and 1780/1800mm width depending on the ute model and cab design) you can also go a few centimetres shorter or longer, and have the tray a bit wider. Basically, you can customise the aluminium ute trays to the dimensions and accessories that you need. 

The accessory list is also much longer. You can add sliding tray drawers, sturdy mudguard flares, integrated underbody toolboxes, any number of tie-down points, as well as a full array of lighting (including number plate lights). Tray builders are more than happy to add exactly what you need. If you’re intent on using the ute for regular off-roading, then a bespoke tray with all the off-roading accessories will provide more functionality.  

Easier Loading and Unloading 

Access to all that you have loaded on the tray is straightforward. There are no high sidewalls to get in the way, and you can load and unload gear and equipment from just about anywhere. With tubs, you’re often restricted to using the tailgate. The combination of headboards and rear H-racks also lets you stack longer and heavier items, like ladders and building materials higher up, while still having access to the tray for anything else.  


One major consideration between trays and tubs is the kind of canopies they can take. Smaller fibreglass canopies are the only reasonable option for tubs. While they may look good, they’re limited in their versatility and won’t stack up to heavy-duty use. Trays can fit bigger, heavier and more highly customised aluminium or steel canopies. These come in varying designs, expand on the available space and are a boon in safety and securing a range of different gear. Canopies are also more user-friendly for work purposes and offer a lot more when in the bush.  

ute canopies
source: eztoolbox.com.au

Any Cons to Think About?  

While there’s not much a ute tray can’t do, it still will have downsides. Not everyone will be sold on the workhorse looks. Then again, this ute addition is more about function than form. Another point is that they’ll negatively impact fuel consumption, with additions like headboards and toolboxes increasing drag. And lastly, you’ll have to think how anything that you put on the tray is tied down, as well as protected from rain or hot weather. These are minor gripes, and many ute owners won’t hesitate to strip the tub and do a tray conversion.  

The Case for Tubs 

Tubs are what utes will often be fitted with straight out of the factory. In most cases, utes in higher trims (and better engine options) will most definitely have a tub, while trays are more of the utilitarian option found on entry-level (and often underpowered) cars. They look undeniably more streamlined with the rest of the bodywork and are optioned in the same paint.

If you’re ok with the so-so space and won’t be loading extra-large items, then tubs are a fine choice. They offer a few interesting accessories, like tonneau covers and hard lids to keep things safe and protected in bad weather. In addition, the higher side walls will be more at home with taller gear loaded at the back. Lastly, they’re the cheaper choice, so if you need some kind of storage right now (without having to go for a tub on chassis design) then this will be the least costly option.  

There are, however, too many compromises. Tubs are generally heavier than lightweight trays, fall short on space, limit access to loaded gear with higher sidewalls, will lose their shine much quicker, and won’t allow you to fit a decently sized canopy. And they’re not as durable. Assess what you want out of your ute, and get what best works for you.  

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