Ute Tray Idea

What is a better Ute tray: aluminium or steel?

Buying a new ute? Or maybe you’re re-kitting an old one. While some utes do come with their rear section pre-installed, many commercial buyers prefer to buy a chassis-only ute with a bareback so that they can select the best fit for their needs. Customising your ute with a tray not only expresses your personal style, but it also adds value to the car.

Ute trays allow you to move cargo, whether it’s fruits, vegetables, livestock, camping gear, construction equipment, bulk shopping, or extended relatives coming over for a family barbeque. The kind of tray you choose makes all the difference, so here are some tips.

First, make sure you get your tray from a reliable supplier. They should have a good track record and great customer service because you’ll have to come back to them if anything goes wrong. Good suppliers offer after-sales service and will fit and install the tray for you.

They will also have a wide network of distributors and service people so that you can reach them at your convenience. Their products – even if they’re imported – will come with a warranty and their products are tried and tested within the Australian market.

The main materials used to make ute trays are aluminium, steel, and alloy. The alloy is generally powder coated and is mostly available in matte black, white aluminium is shiny and grey. Aluminium trays tend to be lighter, which means you can carry more cargo, given the car’s weight allowance. Steel, on the other hand, is a rougher wearing material.

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Aluminium vs Steel Ute Trays

If you are considering a new ute tray then most likely you will be asking yourself, should I get a steel ute tray or aluminium ute trays? There are pros and cons of both, and often it comes down to personal preference.

Ute Tray Idea

Weight

Aluminium is much lighter than mild steel. As a general guide, a steel tray is about twice the weight of an equivalent aluminium tray. For example, in comparing HiLux trays from Toyota’s genuine accessories range, a heavy-duty aluminium tray weighs 160kg compared to 308kg for its steel equivalent. That’s a weight rise of 148kg or more than 90 per cent.

The negative effects of such a substantial increase go beyond any upsurge in fuel consumption and mechanical/tyre wear. The weight of a tray must also be added to a vehicle’s kerb weight, which reduces its GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) rating and, as a result, its payload.

For example, if a light commercial vehicle in cab-chassis form has a kerb weight of 1500kg and GVM of 2800kg, that means it has a 1300kg or 1.3-tonne payload capacity. However, when you add a steel tray which weighs 300kg, the payload has to be reduced by the same amount to avoid exceeding the GVM. So, the heavier the tray, the smaller the payload. Therefore, the much lighter kerb weight achieved with an aluminium tray can be a great advantage if payload capacity is important.

However, the extra weight of a steel tray can be useful too, particularly in cab-chassis vehicles often driven unladen or with light loads. Their leaf-spring rear suspensions, usually designed to carry one tonne-plus payload, can be so stiff without a decent load over them that they’ll try to punch your head through the roof each time you drive over any bump larger than a pebble.

Fitting a heavy steel tray, though, can often provide the sprung weight needed to compress those rear springs enough to improve ride quality when empty.

The Ute Tray Service Body has many optional accessories available allowing you to create the safest, most functional and best-looking work vehicle around. 

Strength

As a general guide, steel can be up to four times stronger and three times stiffer than aluminium. So, where strength and hardness are most important for your work application, steel stands out as the obvious choice.  

However, that’s not to say that heavy-duty aluminium trays don’t offer ample strength and rigidity. There are plenty of owners more than happy with the performance of their aluminium trays in harsh environments; it just depends on your specific work requirements.

For example, given that aluminium is softer than steel, you don’t need to be a metallurgist to know an aluminium tray is going to come off second-best in any repeated clashes between the two. So if your work involves carting around lots of heavy steel Acrow props, jackhammer drill bits, star pickets, sledgehammers etc. that are usually thrown aboard rather than carefully placed (and let’s face it, who does that?) a steel tray could be better suited to such abuse.

Steel could also be a better choice for carting landscape supplies, particularly piles of hard, jagged rocks which can tumble with great force from the bucket of a front-end loader. However, the extra weight of the steel tray will also reduce the amount you can carry, so this always has to be factored in.

Corrosion

In addition to its lighter weight, aluminium’s other great advantage is corrosion resistance. Aluminium is made from bauxite, but mild steel is made from alloys of iron and carbon. Therefore, aluminium is non-ferrous and rust-free, whereas steel is the direct opposite.

Therefore, you don’t need to protect an aluminium tray from the elements. It’s particularly good in coastal environments, where exposure to sea air and (depending on your usage) saltwater will not result in the dreaded rust taking hold.

Mild steel, on the other hand, if not sealed in some way, will start to rust almost immediately when exposed to the great outdoors. And saltwater is its greatest enemy. Arguably the most effective treatment to prevent this is hot-dip galvanising, but other options can include powder-coating or at least a decent lick of paint.

Regardless of which protective treatment is chosen, the chips and scratches that inevitably result from hard use will always lurk as potential rust starters. The good news is that steel used in the construction of tray bodies is generally much thicker than the lightweight sheet-metal used in the production of automotive bodies.

So, unless you drive rather than dive into the surf each morning, even a poorly maintained steel tray is unlikely to suffer the depth of rust that can compromise its structural integrity, even after years of hard work.

See our list of available Ute trays  to help you make an informed decision for your vehicle.

Cost

Aluminium is around 30 per cent more expensive than mild steel, so you would expect an aluminium tray to cost that much more as a result. That’s usually the case with custom-made trays, given the higher cost of raw materials, specialised MIG/TIG welding gases and labour due to longer fabrication times.

However, this price difference is not consistent across pre-fabricated trays, which are typically the preferred option for car dealers. These trays are usually delivered in flat-pack kit form and bolted together by the dealerships as drive-away-no-more-to-pay packages, but in some cases, flat-pack steel trays can cost more depending on their design and shipping costs.

Although these one-size-fits-all trays aren’t tailored to suit specific requirements like a custom-made tray, they are roughly half the price and, in many cases, more than adequate for the work expected of them.

Other considerations

Steel is magnetic, and aluminium is not, which could be either helpful or hazardous depending on your job requirements. Steel can also create sparks in some situations, which could tip the safety balance in favour of (non-ferrous) aluminium if flammable gases or liquids are commonly found in your workplace.

If building a custom tray, thought should also be given to the drop-sides and how they could be removed to double as ramps for loading wheeled machinery if required. Reinforced aluminium ramps could be adequate, or the greater strength and rigidity of steel could be required. However, the latter would also be much heavier, which could present a weighty problem when removing and replacing from the sides of the tray.

Also consider what equipment may be required for your work application, particularly if the tray is going to have a hydraulic tipper function or perhaps you’re planning to mount a small crane for loading heavy items. Some of these calculations may require the input of a certified engineer to advise if an aluminium or steel tray is the best option.

Some ute owners may also want a tray to match the colour of their vehicle’s cab, either for commercial reasons (like fleets with uniform colour and signage requirements for each vehicle) or a tradie just wanting a more integrated look for his or her work vehicle. This is more easily achieved with a steel tray.

What to look for in buying Ute trays?

Most utes arrive as standard with a tub unless you select the factory tray option. Tubs and factory trays are only two of a large number of cargo-carrying options available. Some people will choose an option for the back of their ute based on work, others based on recreation. If you’re not sure what suits you best, you’re reading the right feature.

These tips have been devised by our professional experts and will help you choose the right tray that fits your truck’s size and adds more space and value to the vehicle along with offering years of stress-free service.

Size of the UTE: Gold Coast Ute Trays

It wouldn’t be wrong to state that the size of your UTE’s tray is one of the primary and most important factors that you need to check before selecting a tray. No matter if the tray is a top-rated one or manufactured by a new company if the size doesn’t fit well, then it is useless. It is a better idea to check the size of the most popular and in-demand UTE tray (such as those offered by Gold Coast Ute Trays) and inquire about all the pros and cons. It is an immensely crucial part of buying the UTE tray because there are so many different types of trays. Some can be easily adjusted while some are more specific; similarly, some cannot be adjusted and cannot fit a broad range of chassis and brands. If you can test the tray for size and functionality before buying it, then it will be most feasible. Don’t forget to ask for the dimensions of the UTE tray, especially if you want to carry longer equipment/objects.

The Weight Factor:

A majority of buyers overlook this important factor of weight of the tray, which otherwise should be the second aspect after size to check out for. The Gold Coast Ute Trays can come in a variety of weights, and the tray’s weight will impact your truck’s fuel efficiency greatly. Apart from the tray, do think about the weight of your tools to get an aggregate weight of the full load after installing the new UTE tray. This means, the heavier the tray after full load, the lesser fuel economy your vehicle will offer. Therefore, the type, size and shape of the goods you plan to carry will hugely influence the practicality and fuel economy aspect of your vehicle, and this is why the weight factor should be considered when making the selection of UTE trays. Choose the one that offers adequate space for accommodating all your goods and equipment securely and properly.

Manufacturing Materials:

Usually, you will find Gold Coast Ute Trays made from alloy, aluminium or steel and your choice between these materials will mostly depend upon your needs and requirements along with your lifestyle. For your information, aluminium UTE trays are the cheapest option among all materials. These tend to be lighter in weight as well. On the other hand, steel trays are more resilient, strong, and tough. Alloy UTE trays are very attractive physically but aren’t as reliable as steel or aluminium when it comes to life and longevity of the tray. Do select the material that suits the weight and type of the things/objects you intend to carry in it as well as your personal preferences. For example, steel is a material that makes the tray extremely robust in its structure and therefore, it is a perfect option if you have to carry heavy objects like industrial or construction goods. Moreover, while selecting a suitable material, don’t forget to think about your sense of style. The powder-coated alloy trays are usually available in matte black only while the aluminium trays are available in shiny grey.

Withstanding Weather Conditions:

One of the main qualities of Gold Coast Ute Trays is that these are weatherproof, but not all of the trays available in the market currently are weatherproof. Being able to withstand the weather is an important quality because it guarantees the tray’s durability against the adverse conditions and you will be able to enjoy peace of mind as your items will be safe and protected. In comparison to aluminium trays, steel UTE trays are very durable and weather tolerant, but these are heavier and not rust-free. So, if you want to install a steel UTE tray then do think about getting it protected against rusting. Also, make sure that you should install the tray in a way that water cannot be collected between the tray and your vehicle no matter which material you opt for because water collection is the primary cause behind rusting.

Availability of Internal Space:

Given the nature of your job, you will need to carry different tools and equipment, and this is why it is important that you choose a UTE tray that offers plenty of space to keep your tools. In this regard, do consider the quantity and size of your tools and then opt for the perfect size of the tray.

Usage of the Tray: Gold Coast Ute Trays

To determine the usage of the tray before making the decision. Gold Coast Ute Trays come in such huge varieties that it would be better to think about their probable use such as whether you need to transport animals, goods, fruits/vegetables or heavy commercial equipment. If the tray comes with a roofing option, then it would be ideal but having an optional tarp is also great. If you want to transport plumbing or construction materials, then your tray must have a ladder rack to help when you hold supplies.

Ease of Installation:

Do give some attention to the tray’s installation process too and be more attentive if you want to install it on your own. Installing a UTE tray could be a difficult process considering that it is a large and heavy equipment and you may need the help of someone while installing it. Before buying, inquire from the manufacturer about the product’s complete installation process and do consult a professional if you want help in installing it.

Ultimately, your choice will come down to what you drive, what you tow, what you want to carry, and how often. Utes are a great vehicle option, especially when you get the right set-up on the back.

The above list, including the company links, is not exhaustive, but hopefully, it will give you places to start looking. As for prices, there are so many variables your best bet is to call the companies you’re interested in and obtain current pricing.

Forums and social media are also full of recommendations from people that have the products you might want. It’s one of the great things about the caravanning, camping and four-wheel-driving community. People are always willing to offer advice; you just need to ask, and then filter!

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