2013 Buyers Guide: Bedside Toolboxes
Optimizing storage space with side-mounted tool/cargo boxes lets you have everything you need on the jobsite organized and accessible
By Steve Campbell & Bruce W. Smith
For those professional contractors who need full access to their pickup beds for materials or tools, side-mounted boxes that sit atop the bedrail, or storage systems that go around and over the wheel wells, offer great lockable alternatives to the typical cross-bed toolbox.
Pickup bed space is at a premium for professionals. Tools, material and other equipment all have to make it to the jobsite, and if they’re well organized and easily accessible, any task can be performed more efficiently.
Added lockable storage can also provide greater security for valuable tools, equipment and parts.
While many pickup pros have equipped their trucks cross-bed toolboxes, that design takes up valuable bed space and offers limited storage for longer objects. It’s also a pain to get to anything that’s fallen to the bottom or ends up in the middle of the toolbox.
That’s where today’s wide array of alternative toolboxes comes into play.
For example, high-side boxes that are mounted atop the bedrails provide shop-like storage. They range in size from 48 to 96 inches, and in some models, are 24 inches high and 20 inches deep.
This rail-top side-storage option allows full access to a 4- by 8-foot bed while dramatically increasing cargo carrying capacity of smaller tools and parts.
Then there’re the cargo management systems designed to fit below the rails, which allows the use of tonneau covers and bed caps or toppers.
Some wheel-well cargo boxes (also called pork chop boxes due to their shape) are equipped with pullout shelves with bins for smaller fasteners, fittings and tools.
A WIDE VARIETY
Today’s boxes are constructed of steel, aluminum or plastic and may be painted or powder-coated for both weather protection and appearance. That leaves a lot of choices.
Aluminum units may be either constructed of smooth sheets or diamond tread, and both steel and aluminum boxes are generally equipped with stainless-steel hinges and latches. That’s very important if you live/work in climate conditions that promote rust.
It’s also important to consider the grade of aluminum used to build the boxes. If you want maximum life and retain looks, then Marine-grade aluminum is an excellent choice. It’s the best for withstanding constant exposure to the outdoors, calcium chloride/salt and coastal environments.
So when you buy, look closely at build quality and material. Inspect how well the paint or powder-coating is done in the corners and around the latches, which is where rust will rear its ugly head in a couple years.
Latching styles include paddle, push button, pull and “T”-handles, and many use dual-cam locking mechanisms for greater theft prevention. Nearly all of the higher-end, professional-grade storage systems feature keyed locks, and some are also equipped with a secondary padlock option for even greater security.
Again, look closely at the handle mechanisms and how they are installed. If they look cheap, they probably are and will give you problems in a year or two.
(One option to consider is having the locks/latches replaced with a set of one-key-fits-all latches from BoltLock. These toolbox latches are keyed to your truck’s ignition key. This means fewer chances of lost toolbox keys and much greater convenience and security.)
Side-storage and pork chop boxes are designed to protect their contents and survive inclement weather, so good ones are equipped with integrated sealing systems and, depending upon size and access, even rain channels or gutters.
Foam or “D”-shaped rubber bulb seals lock out moisture, and some low or wheel-well boxes sit on a raised platform to prevent rust and corrosion. Most top- and side-opening box lids are also equipped with hydraulic or gas prop lifts.
When you are looking at boxes and pork-chops with slide-out drawers, look closely at the slide rails to see how they are mounted to the box sides and the quality of the rollers: Are they solidly attached? Are the tracks easily lubricated? Is there a lot of slop in the way the drawer slides out? Are the rollers ball-bearing style or just riding on a small shaft?
Doors should have strong gas struts and those that drop-down should also have a good chain that takes the load off the struts when the door/lid is open.
You can tell quality by both look and feel.
Attaching systems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most use simply installed self-tapping screws, J-hooks or bolts as well as brackets or mounting plates that are fastened to either the bedrail or the bed floor, depending upon the type of box being mounted.
Our advice: Nix the self-tappers and “J”-hooks. Toolboxes take a beating in the field, so don’t go cheap on the mounting.
If the roads are rough and terrain not that friendly, consider having a steel plate bolted to the bedrail as a cap and the toolboxes through-bolted with a similar plate under the rail so they don’t work loose.
This also serves a security feature: It’s easy for a thief to cut a J-bolt, but not as easy to get a ½-inch nut loose that’s been spot-welded.
Many of the boxes that are mounted to the top of the bed rails are also fitted with legs that bolt to the bed, providing support for the rear of the box. Here’s another area that can stand beefing up – especially if you are loading down the boxes.
Pickup beds flex and, in turn, that motion racks the toolboxes. When that happens, the lids of light-duty toolboxes fly open or never latch properly. That’s why it’s important to choose side-storage boxes that are 1) made from heavier-gauge materials, and 2) the mounting is rock solid.
A length of angle-iron, sanded and painted (or powder-coated) provides far better support than the thin metal of a pickup’s bed rail.
Even though installation of side boxes is relatively straightforward, at least one manufacturer, Unique Truck Accessories, encourages professional installation at one of its authorized dealers to ensure proper attachment.
High-side boxes are available with either top-opening drop-down doors or bottom opening lift-up doors and can be fitted with hooks for extension cords.
In addition, many manufacturers, such as American Truckboxes, offer custom boxes built to the customer’s specifications, with optional dimensions, shelves and drawers.
So if that crossbed toolbox just isn’t cutting it, look for a storage solution that offers better bedside manners. The varieties of styles, options and materials in side, pork chop and underbody toolboxes should provide a lockable storage solution for virtually any need. –Pro