The whole ute thing has become so blurred that it seems like we’re looking at the sector through Mr Magoo’s squinting eyes.
The one-tonne truck has strayed far from its humble origins. Urban and suburban owners now embrace it, fed with a tempting diet of specced-out models from most manufacturers.
It’s also become a favourite for fitting out with all sorts of add-ons for pretending it’s some sort of sports car.
Low-rider enthusiasts have embraced the boxy shape of older models. Low riders are those vehicles that seem to be scraping the ground, but can be pumped up by pneumatic or hydraulic means, so that you then almost need a ladder to climb aboard. Or not; some riders just hug the ground, their drivers hoping an inquisitive police officer with a measuring tape doesn’t come their way.
All of which means the supply and fitting of add-ons to turn a ute into something it was never meant to be, or to make it fitter for a particular purpose, is big business.
Fleet managers, a sensible group of people, have ute upgrades well and truly sussed.
They know who makes the best gear, where to get it and what’s fit for purpose. Some of their fitouts, among them vehicles that power lines companies use,are works of industrial art, paragons of practicality.
So the following 10 things to avoid, or be very, very careful about, aren’t for fleet managers. But if you’re an average joker itching to spend some money on blurring the line, please read on:
1 Fake roll bars. They look kind of purposeful and add a touch of macho glamour, especially in chrome or matte black. And they do make a satisfactory substitute for a headboard to help secure long loads. But as for providing protection in a rollover ... don’t count on it. That’s why they’re usually called “sports bars” or similar. They tend to be bolted to the floor of the tray and not the strong chassis, so as you’re about to roll over a 100m bank there’s not much point thinking, “Well, at least I’ve got the roll bar.”
2 Poorly designed canopy. Many canopies, which provide a secure cover over the tray, as well as increasing usable volume, are well designed and well made, often by New Zealand companies. Some, however, are not so good. These may have unnecessary blind spots, a poorly designed hatch lid, cheap hardware, or a less-than-perfect fit with the tray. If there’s one add-on that needs research and considerable shopping around, this is it.
3 Flimsy sidesteps. Like the canopy, there are some good, strong assemblies out there, but others are fairly flimsy and not engineered to fit strongly to the chassis. They’ll be damaged the first time — or maybe the second time — they hit a rock, log or some other immovable object.
4 Nudge bar. Much the same story as sidesteps, a nudge bar is only as good as the way it is attached to the chassis — and some are only fit for a light nudge. It’s better to forget them altogether. Spend more on a good aftermarket steel bumper.
5 A hard lid. Some owners like a hard lid covering the cargo tray, so let’s not condemn it out of hand. For many, though, they’re literally a pain in the rear. They restrict the ways you can use the load area, are a nuisance to remove and refit, and poorly designed ones rattle. A roller lid like those on the Ford Ranger Wildtrak is a different matter.
6 Row of lights. Some owners who have a sports bar, a bullbar or even a nudge bar feel they’re naked unless a row of powerful spotlights is bolted to them. Not sure why you’d want these, unless most driving is done at night on rural backroads, or for hunting animals at night. Otherwise, they’re an invitation to be broken or stolen.Oh, and be sure to read up on the regulations covering additional vehicle lighting or the next WoF inspector may be a bearer of bad news.
7 Huge wheels and rubberband-like tyres. What’s this thing about fitting 20-inch or larger alloys with tyres of such shallow profile that they look like the thick rubber bands the Post Office used to use? Driven’s seeing them more and more, even on new utes in dealers’ yards. Guys, these are (mostly) vehicles with old-fashioned rear suspension comprising a solid axle attached to leaf springs, and there is a basic problem if you’re looking to transform handling by fitting impractical wheels and tyres.
8 Deck spoiler. Don’t do it. Unless you like being laughed at. By everyone from children to superannuitants.
9 Cheap seat covers. Little helps destroy the image of a ute as a practical, hard-working vehicle than a set of $19.95 seat covers. Save them for a 15-year-old used import with 200,000km on the clock and twice the distance on the sagging seats. A good set of canvas covers looks great and prevents everything from vomit to the contents of lunchtime meat pies marring the seat’s material underneath. Such covers are not necessarily cheap but they’re a better investment than almost anything else on this list.
10 Lowering kit. These have a following among those who don’t want a low rider, but like a hunkered-down sports-car look. Not sure why anyone would bother, this being a ute we’re talking about. The modification will probably make ride and handling worse.