Wheelers like to be prepared for whatever they may encounter off-road. Being prepared often means not only having basic self-recovery items handy but also extra fuel, water, and spare parts. Maybe even a chainsaw, generator, camping gear, and provisions. All of these things find their way into the bed of our pickups or the cargo areas of our Jeeps and SUVs.
If there’s a downside to the cargo-carrying attributes of lifted fullsize pickups and SUVs, it’s trying to reach all those things we bring along on such outings without climbing into the bed or leaning deep into cargo area to get the item that’s needed. As every four-wheeler knows, there’s some mysterious force that seems to place the very item we need just out of reach, whether that’s a towstrap, spare part, or toolbox.
We used a half-sheet of 3/4-inch AC-grade plywood, Hettich heavy-duty sliders, Titebond III wood glue, and an assortment of wood screws to build our slide-out cargo tray. Cost was less than $130.
An easy and inexpensive cargo storage solution to such a dilemma is installing a homebuilt sliding cargo tray so you can load and unload what you need without having to do the “belly balance” while leaning over the bedside or dropping the tailgate to hoist yourself into the bed.
Aftermarket “cargo slides” have been available for years. But instead of spending hundreds on one, we built a tray based on nothing more than the drawers you find in your kitchen or shop. What’s nice about making your own sliding cargo tray, like we did, is it can be made to fit any size pickup, SUV, or even the cargo area of an RV or toy hauler, using whatever quality of tray material and slide mechanisms your budget allows.
The critical part of building your own cargo slider is selecting the right slide mechanisms because they’ll support all the weight when the tray is pulled out. Most full-extension slide mechanisms found at do-it-yourself centers extend only 18 inches to 24 inches, and they don’t have the load rating or the length needed for off-road-vehicle applications.
This is one of those DIY projects you truly appreciate having the use of a high-end table saw. We could have used a circular saw, but that’d been way too much effort.
On the other hand, heavy-duty, full-extension 36-inch Hettich drawer slides ($90 per pair), which can support loads up to 500 pounds, are a great choice for building a slider cargo tray. That length places the back of the tray about mid-way of the wheelwells of a pickup (or at the back of the rear seat of a fullsize SUV) when it’s closed, and the front of the tray extending just beyond the tailgate when it’s slid fully open.
Our cargo slider, which is built out of 3/4-inch AC-grade plywood, measures 36 by 44 by 4 inches. It can easily support all the tools and gear we need for wheelin’ out in the boondocks and slides it all within an easy reach when needed.
As you can see by the photos of our little do-it-yourself woodworking project, this is a very handy cargo storage upgrade that any four wheeler with basic carpentry skills and handtools can whip out in a couple hours without breaking a sweat.
As with any DIY project, always take safety seriously. Ear and eye protection is a must, as is keeping fingers out of harm’s way.
The easiest way to make strong sides when building a cargo tray like this is to use rabbet joints. The joint’s “step” adds strength in both gluing power and structural support. We made the saw cuts half the depth of the material, or 3/8-inch on our 3/4-inch plywood, with our table saw.
Cutting the vertical rabbet notch along all four sides of the floor piece was the trickiest part. A steady hand and our quality table saw helped get the cuts precise.
This is how the floor and side pieces join. The rabbet joint is a good choice for a vehicle slide-out cargo tray when the pieces are screwed-and-glued into place.
We wanted tie-down cleats, so we bought heavy-duty units and placed them 2 inches from the sides to allow room for the tie-down strap hooks to attach.
A router and a jigsaw were used to set the D-ring tie-down anchors flush with the floor for a flat surface when they are not in use. Tie-down anchors are optional, and so is the size and shape if you want to follow the same design.
Titebond III glue and countersunk 2-inch #8 wood screws do a fine job of anchoring the sides to the bottom of the tray. Double-check to make sure the bottom and sides fit flush, especially along the bottom where the floor and sides meet, before tightening down the screws.
We got a little fancy with the front side, using a jigsaw to cut a couple curves to give our slide-out tray a little flare. Using quality wood glue and longer screws makes for a strong build.
How the tray is finished is up to you. We coated ours with Rust-Oleum black bed liner topped with a couple coats of brown to better match our SUV’s tan interior cargo area.
Here’s the completed tray with tie-down anchors secured. If you plan on putting a lot of load on the anchors, bolt them in place instead of using wood screws. We covered the floor with non-skid shelf liner that looked good with our SUV’s interior.
A critical step installing the slides is making sure the bottom of the tray sits at least 1/2-inch above the top of the angle bracket’s inward leg. This allows room to clear the bottom of the box (should there be any warping), thick carpet, and the tailgate when tray is slid open.
Different slides use different attaching hardware. Our Hettich slides used 3/4-inch #10 countersunk panhead screws to attach the inner slide rail to the tray and 3/4-inch #12 countersunk flathead machine bolts to attach the slide bracket to the angle aluminum.
The slides are on roller bearings, so the tray moves very easily. We wanted to make sure the loaded tray didn’t move in transit, so we drilled a 5/16-inch hole through the slides and half-way into the tray side to fit a 5/16x1 1/2-inch cotterless hitch pin.
This hitch pin keeps the bed tray from sliding open when our vehicle is in transit, or when we open the tailgate on a downhill.
A slide-out cargo tray is a wonderful addition to any wheelin’ rig or the underbelly storage compartments of an RV like a toy hauler. Once this slide-out cargo tray is in place, slide it out and take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor. We no longer have to climb onto the tailgate to retrieve something that has slid or rolled to the rear seat of our fullsize Bronco.
(Estimated cost: $130)
(2) 36-inch Heavy Duty Hettich Drawer Slides
(1) 4-foot x 4-foot x 3/4-inch AC-grade plywood
(2) 3-inch x 3-inch x 36-inch x 3/16-inch 6063-T52 aluminum angle
(24) #8 x 1 1/2-inch wood screws (for tray build)
(8) #10 x 3/4-inch countersunk pan head screws (slide to tray)
(8) #10 x 3/4-inch countersunk machine bolts (slide to angle base)
(6) 3/8-inch x 1-inch countersunk machine bolts, nuts, lock washers, fender washers (angle bases to bed/floor)
(1) 5/16-inch x 1 1/2-inch cotterless hitch pin
If you don’t have the time or interest in building a cargo tray but wish you had a cargo tray/drawer, there are a number of aftermarket trays available (including some vehicle specific) from companies including ARB USA (arbusa.com
) and Tuffy Security Products (tuffyproducts.com
). Peruse some of the offerings at 4 Wheel Parts (4wheelparts.com