The latest pickup toolboxes are engineered to offer the busy contractor improved functionality and a stylish truck accessory.
Toolboxes used to be made of wood or steel and tossed into the back of a pickup truck, where they’d be strapped down to prevent sliding into the back of the cab at every red light and stop sign. Far from weatherproof, they’d rust and age over a few short years. A new generation of customized, rust-free aluminum pickup toolboxes has taken over, and while there’s currently no revolution in their design, they continue to evolve to meet the needs of installers and other contractors.
While new toolboxes are far more functional and specialized than their primitive ancestors, truck owners have also become much more concerned about appearance, looking for boxes that complement their trucks and present a professional image, says Alex Golin, owner of Auto Truck Depot in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They provide a wide range of truck accessories, from toolboxes to racks, bed covers, running boards, brake controllers, hitches and towing accessories through a retail store and online.
“We’ve come a long way from tool chests and work boxes,” he says. “The next evolution was crossover toolboxes that sit over your bed rails, but still open up with one hinged flap. Next came the gull-wing style that you could open from either end. Finally, we saw the manufacturers combining toolboxes and auxiliary fuel tanks together in the mid-1980s.”
CHOOSE THE RIGHT STYLE
Regardless of style, the boxes are now largely made of diamond plate metal.
“Aluminum has become the most popular material for toolboxes,” says Golin. “The metal is lightweight and it doesn’t rust when constantly exposed to the elements. However, we still see some buyers on a budget choosing black or white steel.”
Installers should be careful to choose a toolbox with an efficient design that meets their needs.
“The single-lid crossover design is still our most popular style,” says Golin. “Although you can conveniently reach into the gull-wing from both sides of the box, the design of the center hinge limits the size of tools you can easily store in it. The single lid allows you to store tools that measure the full length of the box.”
Toolbox width remains relatively constant at about 21 inches. What is changing is the depth of the toolboxes.
“Deep-profile toolboxes go down about 19 inches and almost rest on the bed,” says Golin. “We’re now seeing low-profile boxes that only go down about 12 inches and still provide access underneath the toolbox, so you can carry lengths of pipe or full sheets of plywood.”
If truck beds use tonneau covers or a fifth-wheel hitch, toolboxes must also be appropriately sized to fit.
TOOLS & FUEL
The three most popular sizes for larger auxiliary fuel tanks combined with toolboxes are: 43 to 50 gallons, 75 to 80 gallons and 92 to 100 gallons. However, each successive increase in capacity widens the toolbox base.
“The largest fuel tanks are 60 inches wide and you can only fit those models on trucks with beds 8 feet and longer that have a wheel well base located further back,” says Golin.
Tanks come bare bones with fuel caps, but optional accessories allow contractors to do anything from pump fuel using a hand crank to using an electric pump, or flipping a switch that feeds fuel directly into the fill spout of the main fuel tank via gravity.
While auxiliary tanks have primarily been designed to carry extra diesel fuel, Golin says that some manufacturers are now supplying gasoline tanks, offering double-walled designs to meet safety standards. “Not everybody drives a diesel and many contractors need to fuel gasoline-powered equipment on their job sites,” he says. “We’re now offering them and I think that a gasoline option on combo tanks will be an emerging trend.”
Proper toolbox mounting is critical — especially for fuel/tool combos.
“An 8-foot truck bed isn’t actually rigid,” Golin says. “It’s meant to twist. When you have a big toolbox combo unit bolted onto the bed and you’re driving over bumpy terrain and your truck bed twists, it’s going to cause the seals and the welds on the auxiliary tank to break. You can mount the combo box onto pressure-treated plywood and rubber on top of that to absorb the twisting motion so it won’t impact the welds and seams.”
Most toolboxes are impervious to thieves — it would require outsized effort to steal the tools inside. However, extra security is now available via a recessed padlock. “The locks are surrounded by an enclosure so you can’t use cutting tools to access the padlock,” says Golin.
He notes that contractors have become more concerned about how equipment impacts their company image in recent years, shifting their preference from exposed aluminum to aluminum painted in glossy black to match a preference for black pickup trucks.
“When you’ve got no chrome on your vehicle, the last thing you want to do is to draw attention to this nice, bright shiny toolbox that looks nothing like the rest of your truck,” he says. “I’ve had one customer who is a contractor waiting six weeks to have a toolbox custom-painted in black, when an exposed aluminum model could have been delivered inside of a week — and the black box will be kept under a tonneau cover so you’ll only see it when he’s towing.”
But even shiny black designs are beginning to fall out of favor for powder-coated matte black. “I was just talking to one of the manufacturers of tool/fuel combo boxes and they’ve completely switched their production line from shiny black to matte black,” Golin says.
Maintaining the toolboxes is simply a matter of washing them along with the truck.
“Even aluminum, when it isn’t washed, will see the dirt oxidizing the finish and turning it from shiny to dull,” says Golin.