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Complete guide to buying a tub topper

By Tristan Tancredi, 14 Nov 2020 Gear

Guide to tub toppers

There’s been an evolution in ute canopies. Enter the tub topper.

THERE are myriad options for the ute owner when it comes to storage, and a canopy is an effective and popular way to keep tools and off-road equipment securely stowed, sorted and protected, from both the weather and prying eyes.

They also provide a great base to attach other accessories such as racks and rooftop tents, as well as installation of electrical systems and storage drawers.

“Security, protection from the elements and storage are the core benefits of a canopy,” explains Thomas Harding from RSI Smart Canopy. “Whichever canopy you select, these factors are non-negotiable. A canopy will keep your cargo safe and secure; provide a sturdy base for a rooftop tent; or create a mobile workshop for your business.”

A relatively new style to the Australian market is the Tub Topper (referred to as Truck Caps in the US of A), and, as Troy Bignell from Camp King Industries explained to us, their simple design and budget-friendly price tag means they’re starting to gain traction in the Oz market.

“The tub topper is something that is relatively new in the Australian space, but it is taking off like wildfire,” Troy said. “This design allows for great looks, great roof-load capacity, great use of space, and a great price.

“A tub topper can help you achieve the same space as a full canopy, but at nearly a quarter of the cost. Similarly to the tub by itself, it also allows you to get the weight down as low as possible as the tub will drop down lower than a tray,” he added.

LOOK BEFORE YOU BUY

AS with any piece of aftermarket gear added to a 4x4 build, it’s important to first establish what your intended purpose is: Are you a tradie looking to keep your tools safe? Perhaps you’re planning your next Red Centre run?

“We suggest to identify your intended usage and preferences,” Hannah van der Sluys, Ironman 4x4’s Alu-Cab brand manager, advised. “Is it going to be for trade tools, general storage, weather resistance, security, styling etc. Each canopy on the market offers a unique set of benefits, choose the right one that fits your needs.”

Once that’s established and you’ve started the long, tedious process of browsing aftermarket catalogues, there are a handful of essential elements to keep in mind, as Gräbe de Villiers from South African company RLD Design explained.

“Compare apples with apples,” he said. “Material; coating finish (powder coated or not); do you have to assemble the product yourself before you can fit it? Would you be able to replace components easily? Fitment (does the product bolt on to the OEM mounting hooks in the load-bin? Lead time to obtain the product; and, most importantly, aesthetics ... does the canopy complement the ute and add value?

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“Don’t go for the cheapest option and also don’t buy something simply because of its name,” he added. “Make sure about the value for money and also the expandable accessories that could be fitted after fitment or as your need to expand arises.”

Thomas Harding added that other important factors to consider include roof-load capacity; side-door access to cargo; air-pressure vents (to reduce tailgate dust ingress); the finish of the welding and fabrication; the range of accessories (roof racks, drawers, etc.); and, for pooch lovers, whether it’s dog-friendly.

“While researching, we strongly encourage creating a checklist to help determine what constitutes your ideal canopy,” Harding said. Sage advice.

As with any off-road purchase, ensure the supplier has a quality reputation and can back its product with aftermarket support and a substantial warranty. On this point, it’s important to ensure that the tub topper mounts on the prescribed loading points of your vehicle, as it could create a lot of unnecessary headaches with OEM warranties and the like down the track.

When asked what gets customers riled up the most, Troy Bignell told us that small access points are one of the most common frustrations. “Before getting something installed, try to find someone with a similar setup and see how much of the back you can access,” Troy advised.

MATERIAL WORLD

CANOPIES come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are constructed using different materials, with your budget typically dictating what path you’ll head down when the time comes to swipe the credit card. Typically, you’ll have to choose between stainless steel, fibreglass, aluminium/metal, or a form of plastic construction.

The new breed of canopies are made from stainless steel or aluminium and offer greater roof load-carrying capabilities, sturdier construction and extra durability.

Troy Bignell from Camp King Industries tells us that there are a number of benefits to running an aluminium tub topper over a fibreglass option.

“The biggest benefit is its ability to bear loads much greater than its counterparts,” Troy told us. “Most fibreglass canopies can only carry a load of 50 to 70kg without some sort of additional internal frame. Most aluminium canopies are rated for 300kg-plus and weigh about the same.

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“A secondary benefit of this is that due to the rigidity of aluminium, you can have much larger door openings, making it significantly easier to access your equipment in the back.”

Hannah from Ironman 4x4 added: “Aluminium construction provides a rigid chassis for a more sturdy and robust construction. Aluminium offers great resistance to weather and the elements.”

Keep in mind, however, that metal fatigue is more prominent in aluminium than stainless steel, so aluminium may have a tendency to crack more easily over time.

Stainless steel is an extremely strong and versatile material and, contrary to popular belief, isn’t as heavy as you’d think, as Gräbe explained: “Due to the strength of the stainless steel the canopy can be manufactured from much thinner – and therefore lighter – sheets, without sacrificing strength.”

As an example, RLD Design’s stainless-steel canopies have a starting weight of 75kg, which is almost negligible when compared to a vehicle’s carrying capacity of at least 750kg.

WEIGHTY ISSUES

BY installing a canopy, like a tub topper, and then loading it with tools and/or gear for your next camping trip, the kilograms will begin to rise. This is why it’s critical to always monitor your vehicle’s weight and not overload it.

“Like any accessory on your vehicle, it is going to reduce the load carrying capacity as it increases the overall weight of the vehicle,” Troy told us. “This is why it is incredibly important to look for a lightweight yet still incredibly strong option.

“It is incredibly important not to exceed the manufacturer’s specifications. Not only because it can void your insurance but also because it can make your vehicle unsafe, increase wear and tear, and make it more prone to failure.”

Canopies provide a great way for tradies to house their tools overnight, while also keeping them sorted and secure during transit. Tools can be heavy, though, and their weight can quickly accumulate, adding to the total weights of the vehicle.

“For this reason, the weight of the canopy itself should be kept as low as possible,” Hannah van der Sluys explained.

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