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Offroading ute: service body, or tub and canopy?

Utes are now just as popular for offroad touring as wagons, but how best to set one up?

OVER THE LAST ten years the ute has come a long way with massively improved safety, on and offroad performance as well as convenience features. Many 4WD shops now work on more utes than wagons, and a few years ago I too made the switch from a Land Rover Discovery 3 to a Ford Ranger PX.

There’s a lot of setup choice for wagons, but even more for utes. Most people run with a canopy over the standard tub, then add drawers and a fridge slide, and that’s a time-proven setup. Or you could run a flat tray and lash gear to it.

One interesting alternative is the service body, where you entirely replace the tub with a combined tray/canopy setup. And I’m giving it a shot.

This Trigpoint body has internal dimensions of 1700mm length and 1800mm width, and there’s two toolboxes either side for things like recovery gear. There’s also a 70L water tank under the body. Some setups run a drawer toolbox under the body, but I prefer using the space for water.

The main reasons for the change; poor dust sealing on the canopy, and difficulty of using the space effectively. The overall volume of space is about the same, but it’s much easier to access with the service body and is a much more usable shape – no wheel arches in the way, lower load height and no tailgate to lean over either. There’s also a huge second roof rack for even more storage space.

READ MORE on Practical Motoring 4×4: pros and cons of a service body vs a canopy.


  • Andrew Riles

    This is something I’m debating atm….I have a dualcab with a tub and no canopy….as my rig is a work vehicle cum weekend camping vehicle I need a solution that works both ways and leaning towards a flat tray with easily removable and/or undertray storage boxes….

    • That’s the way to go I reckon.

    • Daniel C

      Your other option is trayback and have the service body fitted with manutec (or eqivalent) wind down legs, that way when you want to go away you can simply back under the camping body, wind the legs up and detach them and drive away. Gives you best of both worlds then you can still use the ute to carry items but you can switch to touring in a matter of minutes.

  • phantomm

    I had a Jeep Grand Limited with the 5.7 hemi before I swapped it for a Nissan Patrol single cab with a work body on it. Definitely the way to go for me. I have never like towing anything anywhere. More wheels to worry about. i cheated a little, though, by buying one that was ex Telstra, so it was set up with the canopy and shelving. Plus it came with proper roof racks, two spare tyres and an under tray tool box and an under tray water tank. It also has a rear draw that sits beneath the canopy. It is 2 metres deep and is a great place to keep my Max Trax and long handled shovel. It also came with dual batteries. I have divided the canopy into two sides. The driver’s side is set up as a very comfortable bed and the other side is where I carry my supplies including food, gas cooker and tools. I am 190cm long when I am laying down and I fit into the rear canopy very easily. There is also a 5 metre long storage pipe bolted to the roof rack where I carry two surf rods. And I also have a metal detector in the back along with digging tools as well. I have added a 12 volt fuse panel and some lighting, plus sockets for the fridge and charging equipment. I also installed a 300 VA invertor for some 240 volt access if needed. It has a bifold door one the right hand side and a a single door on the left, so I can prepare food in the shade or in the rain and stay dry. Of course I still have a tent and tarps to attach to the canopy for extra shelter. I’ve designed as a “bug out” vehicle but not in the sense of preparing for the end of the world. More along the lines of “what will I do this weekend? Fishing or prospecting?” Whichever I choose, it’s ready to go, with no further preparation needed apart from getting food supplies. It also came with dual fuel tanks so I can virtually drive from Perth for over 1000 kms without refueling. There are still a few more things I want to add like solar power, LED lighting up front and a winch. I have fitted a UHF radio in the front, a dash cam, GPS navigator, extra power sockets and a hands free for my phone. But I want to get rid of the standard Patrol seating and put a pair of sports seats in and then I can put a console between them. It also came with a roo bar and air bags for the driver and passenger. I’ve been on a few trips and everything works as I hoped, especially the sleeping arrangements. I sleep snug as bug no matter what the weather outside.

    So, definitely the cab chassis with the canopy built in is the way to go, since you can modify it in many ways.

  • Cameron Sanderson

    Hi,
    I’ve got a question. When looking at either of these how do you manage dust and dirt. We had 2 amarok utes (great cars), used for work with a lot of gravel roads and off road. One with a soft tonnou and the other a hard cover. Problem was that both just sucked dust into the tray, so that any gear in there was covered in dust. Not great when you’ve taken the family away for the weekend. Tried various rubber seals etc but no success.
    So, any tips on how to deal with this, be it a hard tray or tub?

    • A service body like the one above is best. You’ll struggle to dustproof anything else. The dust factor was a major reason I switched to a service body.

    • Ben Parker

      How about installing some sort of vent high up on the front of the canopy/service body or back of the cab if no canopy, that would admit clean, dust free air from up high into the canopy/ute tub to provide a positive pressure and therefore not allowing dust to be sucked in through the tailgate?
      I had a canvas canopy made for a previous vehicle and the manufacturer included these vents high up on the front of the canopy, so long as I remembered to lift the flaps covering them I never had an issue with dust coming into the cargo area of the ute.

      • Yes that works Cameron. However the vents have to be carefully made and preferably with a filter for dust.

  • Hoodwinked

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/