Cargo Drawers

This Article looks at gearing up for a 4WD camping trip and the need to find a sturdy, compact storage solution that won't rattle, break or allow loose items to fly around the cabin. We look at cargo drawers and list the features you should look for.

Cargo Drawers Overview

Sturdy drawer construction is absolutely paramount. It’s not too uncommon to hear about home-made versions spoiling a trip because it was not up to the job. Professionally built drawers will not rattle, vibrate or come loose even under the harshest 4WDriving conditions.

You'll be surprised how heavy the load in a drawer can become when packing for a big trip. For example; tools, gas bottles and recovery gear can weigh up to 100kg in one drawer alone! Some things to consider when choosing a quality built cargo drawer system is:

  • Make sure you check the load capacity and internal measurements.

  • Check for ease of use and test the drawers, are they on rollers, are they smooth or do they stick? Consider that when in use in the bush as the vehicle may not always lie flat. The drawers need to be easy to pull out when needed and stay secured when not.

  • A good idea is to get some recommendations and testimonials from other people.
With a lot of commercial products available on the market, shop around, as you will definitely get what you pay for.

Drawer Construction

Drawer Materials

Sturdy construction of drawers is very important due to the rough and jarring ride that will occur off-road and the heavy loads that may be carried. Most cargo drawers for 4WDs are constructed from materials that are tough, relatively inexpensive and preferably light in weight. The list below explains the advantages of the various materials used by manufacturers in constructing cargo drawers. Each manufacturer will have their own preferred material. Shop around to choose the system that best suits your needs and budget.

Galvanised Steel

The main advantage of using galvanised steel is: it’s not expensive, easy to work with, commonly found and it comes in a large variety of shapes and forms. Galvanised sheets usually come in 0.9mm, 1.2mm and 1.6mm and can be easily bent into box shapes or channels using a pan brake or a hydra bend machine. Strengtheners may also be used such as: “U” channel and “top hat”. Galvanised steel is usually used in the framework of the cargo drawers, either spot or MIG welded (much stronger) or bolted with nylock nuts.


Aluminium is quite light and relatively soft when compared to galvanised steel; however, it’s much more expensive. Aluminium can be very strong when it’s used with strong framing concepts and utilising strengtheners such as: rectangle hollow, “top hat” or “T” bar. Some manufacturers are utilizing both extruded and folded aluminium, which provides great strength (around 120kg per drawer), without weighing in as excess baggage. Storage drawers purely constructed in aluminium can result in up to 60% reduction in weight when compared to other materials on the market. This will obviously provide lighter overall vehicle weight and thus lead to better fuel economy.


Plywood was the very first type of engineered wood and it is made up of a number of layers of veneer, each layer glued at right angles to the adjacent layers. These layers are bonded under heat and pressure with strong adhesives such as phenol formaldehyde resin. Plywood is known to resist cracking, shrinkage, twisting or warping and it is generally quite high in strength. 4WD storage drawers that are made with timber are usually made with marine grade plywood, with highly stressed areas being re-enforced with steel bracing or truss rods. When this method of construction is implemented and used with heavy duty rollers, great strength can be achieved with drawer loadings of over 200kg.

Drawer Quality

Things to look at when it comes to quality components that feature in storage drawers include:

• Stainless fittings: Are the drawers made with high grade stainless steel fittings or are they made with galvanised fittings?
• Flush mounted latches: Do they have quality flush mounted ‘T’ latches?
• Do they use quality stainless steel screws, bolts and nylock nuts throughout?
• Are they fully sealed heavy duty roller bearings and are rated at high loads?
• Are these bearings designed to be dust proof?
• Are they finished with premium automotive carpet or industrial carpet?

Drawer Customisation and DIY Kits

Drawers can either be fitted by a professional using their own 4WD templates or fitted by yourself using their kits. DIY kits are designed to fit your make of vehicle and may come to you in flat packs where you put the pieces together at home. These have been professionally designed and they carefully follow the contours of the rear compartment. The drawers are usually designed as wide as possible with the drawer roller assemblies as compact as possible. All aspects of the design have been calculated for the optimum use of space including the space behind the wheel arches, which can also be utilised for storage.

Drawer Safety and Security

Safety for you and your family must be paramount! Some things to consider when looking into a storage drawer system is:

• Use heavy duty “tie downs” and make sure the tie down points provide extra load security in rough terrain.
Check the situation for using child restraints. Are anchorage points still accessible or can they be installed in the unit?
Check whether or not the system complies with Australian Design standard
• Cargo barriers should be installed in all vehicles that carry rear loads. Check to see what options are available with your chosen system. Some systems are designed to suit the popular makes of cargo barrier in either half or full sizes.
• A key-lock is a good feature in storage drawers if you believe you’ll be leaving gear in your vehicle when it’s unattended. There are occurrences where a vehicle has been broken into, yet all recovery gear stored in one drawer was not stolen as the drawer was locked. Thieves usually take what is easily obtainable and a lock provides a simple deterrent.

Drawer Layout Options

The two main types of layout options are: “side by side”, where the drawers sit below the fridge side by side with each other and “double stacked”, where a fridge will sit beside two or more stacked drawers. You will find advantages for both of these systems and it is usually personal preference to a drawer system that best suits your needs.

Advantages of side by side

This system gives the driver a clear view, especially when the driver is looking out of the passenger's side rear door window and the cargo area side window before changing lanes or moving to the left.
Much of the weight sits lower and thus helps lower the centre of gravity. This is important in any vehicle as a lower centre of gravity increases road handling and reduces the risk of roll over.

The “side by side” system can come in two halves and either side can usually be removed to fit a cargo seat or to allow more space for large items. This system costs a little less and you will save money in freight due to the fact they break down into smaller components.

There is efficient use of space between the fridge and the seat and efficient use of space near the wheel arches. The removable panel for the jack storage area is very easy to access.

Advantages of double stacked

The height of each drawer can be varied to suit your specific needs. You may want to secure larger items such as: gas bottles, cookers and lanterns into these bigger drawers without the worry of them moving around too much.
There is flat storage space above the fridge itself due to the “tabletop” design of the top shelf of the drawer system. Here you can place large items such as satellite dishes that need to lie flat.

The fridge sits up to 200mm lower with the “double stacked” system. Shorter people will find this more practical to access the fridge without the dangers associated with standing on any elevated platforms.

Fridge Mounting

A storage system should also include a solid provision for mounting a fridge, with or without a slide mount. Always consider the height and clearance needed to access the fridge with the lid as a total solution. If you are considering a fridge slide or drawer, only consider a slide rating that is at least 100kg. Since fridges can weigh up to this weight, someone weighing 90 kg or more should be able to sit on the drawer when it’s fully extended without the drawer and rollers showing any evidence of strain. A storage system should also include a solid provision for secure and easy to use/refill water storage (50 - 70L is ideal for both range and weight).

Other Drawer Options

Some extra options that are also available may include:

• Optional drawer partitions.
• Optional bed extension.
• Optional “lift off” table which sits on top of an open drawer. This is usually constructed from 19mm food contact grade polyethylene plastic.
• Optional access to wheel arch storage area.
• 1 to 5 year warranty.

Drawer Conclusion

Your storage solution should be just that - providing a "home" for everything. Remember, when you travel, you are on holidays and you want to be able to quickly setup camp, prepare your meal and have everything at your fingertips. A real test of a good storage solution is not only one that holds together, but one that adequately stores everything you need safely, whilst being easily accessible.

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Created: June 2008
Revised: October 2014
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