Utes are very popular with tradespersons, perhaps because they are like a tool on wheels. You can use them to haul your equipment and materials around and some of them are so good that you can even use them as your family car on your days off. But which is the best ute for tradies?
April 2020 update: small business tax break
Did you know that that the in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Australia government has increased the small business instant tax write-off to $150,000. If you are currently looking for a work vehicle you may be eligible. You can learn more with our guide to the instant asset tax write-off.
Compare some of the best utes for tradies
|VW Amarok||85%||1,033kg||750kg/3,000kg||DC||1,555mm x 1,222mm||From $45,156|
|Ford Ranger||81.25%||1,069kg||750kg,3,500kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,549mm x 1,139mm||From $34,212|
|Holden Colorado||80%||1,000kg||750kg,3,500kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,484mm x 1,122mm||From $39,990|
|Mazda BT-50||78.8%||1,160kg||750kg/3,500kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,549mm x 1,560mm||From $28,990|
|Mitsubishi Triton||78.6%||962kg||750kg/3,000kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,520mm x 1,470mm||From $24,990|
|Nissan Navara||75%||1,100kg||750kg/3,500kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,503mm x 1,130mm||From $24,990|
|Toyota HiLux||73.33%||1,130kg||750kg/3,500kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,525mm x 1,645mm||From $27,027|
|Isuzu D-Max||73.25%||1,024kg||750kg/3,500kg||SC, KC, DC (also chassis)||1,552mm x 1,105mm||From $26,990|
|Mercedes-Benz X-Class||72.5%||1,056kg||750kg/3,500kg||DC (also chassis)||1,581mm x 1,215mm||From $51,554.85|
SC = Single cab
KC = King cab (sometimes called extra cab or space cab)
DC = Double cab or crew cab
Cab chassis is when the rear chassis is left bare for installing a tray or tub.
Prices are for NSW postcode 2000 and the lowest priced model, often a single cab chassis with no tray.
What should I look for when buying a ute for my work?
Because utes are so popular nowadays, most major car manufacturers build their own take on the ute. Each company offers varying trim levels, from farm-spec hack to premium, leather-clad interiors.
So, where do you even start? You should read our comparison ute reviews. Here's what you should be looking for:
First, let's talk about how much you can carry in your ute, known as the payload of a vehicle. This weight includes everything you need to haul around in your ute. Most ute makers aim for around the golden number of 1,000kg. However, that figure incorporates you the driver, any subbies or employees you're carrying and tools plus equipment. It also includes things like factory bullbars, add-on trays, canopies and tow hitches.
Very quickly, you may find your payload diminishing, so if you need to carry a lot of stuff, look towards the single cab utes with aluminium trays that can offer over 1,300kg of payload. It's possible to improve your payload by sacrificing some of the creature comforts and premium interiors of higher end models for the spartan, but lighter, lower-end utes.
The Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara and Mazda BT-50 dual-cabs all rank highly with +1,000kg payloads.
There's no point having a ute that can theoretically support the weight of a pallet of materials if you can't actually get the pallet to fit within the confines of the tray. So when purchasing a ute, go for one with a large cargo bed or tray – you'll find the dimensions in the manufacturer's brochure. Some ute builders also provide the measurements for the span between each wheel well, usually the limiting factor of a load bed, as these jut out into the floor of the cargo area.
If you want the ultimate in cargo-carrying real estate, purchase a single cab ute. You'll swap the extra row of seats a double cab has for a longer tray. If you still need some internal storage for sensitive or pricey tools, a space cab (also known as a king cab or extra cab depending on the manufacturer) has a larger cab that allows for this behind the passenger seats.
While you're at it, it may be a good idea to see if the dealer can apply a bed or ute liner to the tray to give it extra protection from scuffs and scrapes. Most ute liner paints also include rubber particles that make the floor of the cargo area less slippery underfoot when wet.
Additionally, make sure the ute has sufficient lashing points to secure your loads. Most of them have four, a few have six or more. These are typically rated load securing points that, when used with ratchet tie-down straps, can render even weighty loads immovable during transit. It is possible to purchase aftermarket heavy duty lashing eyes to customise your tray to suit the tools and materials you need to carry, so if the factory ones are in weird places, it's not a deal breaker.
While we're on the topic of load beds, remember to check the height of the rear tailgate. The lower your tailgate is to the floor, the easier it'll be to load it up without doing your back in. If you've got a forklift truck then this is less crucial. If you plan on using the tailgate for examining plans or carrying out fine work on the go, you might want to opt for a slightly taller ute.
Another thing to factor into your decision making is running/standing costs. These include depreciation, on-road costs, rego, CTP and also fuel/maintenance.
Purchasing the right ute can make a big difference to your cash flow. According to the RACV, in 2018 the 4x2 Mitsubishi Triton GLX dual cab was the cheapest ute to run, when fitted with a 2.4-litre diesel engine and five-speed automatic.
Cheapest 4x2 ute to run
Mitsubishi Triton GLX 4x2 2.4-litre 5-speed auto running costs
|Depreciation ($/week)||$86.70||Fuel (cents per km)||9.89|
|Interest ($/week)||$26.24||Tyres (cents per km)||1.06|
|On-road costs ($/week)||$47.96||Servicing (cents per km)||5.48|
Other 2WD utes, like the D-MAX SX Hi-rider, had lower running costs but suffered from more aggressive depreciation and interest.
The cheapest 4x4 ute is also a Triton, this time a GLX with the Japanese car makers' 2.4-litre diesel engine and a 5-speed automatic box.
Cheapest 4x4 ute to run
Mitsubishi Triton GLX 4x4 2.4-litre 5-speed auto running costs
|Depreciation ($/week)||$98.25||Fuel (cents per km)||10.02|
|Interest ($/week)||$28.68||Tyres (cents per km)||1.06|
|On-road costs ($/week)||$48.52||Servicing (cents per km)||6.43|
As you'll notice from the above, a 4x4 model will cost a little more to run thanks to the increased kerb weight that hampers fuel economy, in tandem with the extra power consumed in turning the second drive axle.
Generally speaking, a 4x2 model should use less fuel, unless it's a petrol model.
Calculating ute towing capacity
If you need to tow a trailer on a regular basis, you'll want a ute with maximal towing capacity. The higher the capacity, the more leeway you have with trailer towing.
One thing to be careful of, though, is that the manufacturer's figures are often a tad unrealistic. Typically, the class-leaders aim to have a 3.5-tonne braked towing limit. However, legally, drivers need to make sure their vehicle doesn't exceed the gross combination mass (GCM). You can find that figure in your owner's manual. You cannot exceed this weight under any circumstances. It is the combined mass of your vehicle, everything it's carrying (payload) and the trailer mass (including trailer ball download).
To see the actual problem, let's pick a real-world ute. Isuzu claims its D-MAX will tow 3,500kg. Which it can. But what isn't made terribly clear is that the payload your truck carries will impact on the amount you can tow. Suppose you have three burly subbies with you, each with their own toolbox. In the back, you've put 300kg of tools, equipment and materials. If each tradie weighs 100kg and has 30kg of tools, then including you as the driver (who also tips the scales at 100kg), you've got 400kg of passengers on board, 90kg of tools and 300kg of materials. That totals 790kg. The payload for the D-Max is listed as 1,024kg. Taking the payload, plus the weight of the tow ball mounting and trailer hitch weight, you could be easily touching (or exceeding) the maximum allowable payload for your ute.
Calculating what's left for towing, we take our payload and kerb weight from the GCM, so let's say it's 1,024kg for the payload and the kerb weight is 2,016kg on a crew cab D-MAX ute. The GCM is listed as 5,950kg and after deducting the payload and kerb weights, we're left with an actual towing capacity of 2,910kg. This is something to bear in mind as you must ensure you do not exceed any legal towing limits.
In addition to verifying the actual towing capacity, it's always a good idea to buy a beefy-engined ute if you're going to do a lot of towing. This way, you'll have bags of power and torque to shift the trailer and load without having to rev the engine loads.
4x4, 4x2, low rider or high rider?
The majority of ute builders allow you to choose between low-rider and high-rider configurations, as well as 4x2 or 4x4. This is one area you can really save money.
If you realise you don't need the additional towing capacity and off-road performance that a 4x4 model offers for your line of work, a 4x2 model will reduce fuel usage, potentially improve payload (as there's one less driven axle). The low-rider stance can additionally help you squeeze under height barriers/low hanging ducting in multi-storey car parks.
However, if you work on projects before roads get installed and have to contend with mud and rough terrain, a 4x4 is the way to go. All 4x4 utes should have a hi-lo range gearbox that makes shifting trailers around much easier on soft ground, while a difflock can prevent you from getting stuck. Some of the ute makers don't include a locking diff as standard (a couple don't even make one), so you'll have to pay extra for one.
On some utes, you'll have the option to beef up the underbody protection. Thick steel or aluminium bash plates are bolted under the gearbox and engine to shield it, in case you drop onto a rock or protruding piece of iron when moving around a building site.
A 4x4 ute should be able to take you and your tools into the middle of nowhere if needs be, but not all 4x4 models are created equal. Some lack a difflock, others have no low range, others again lack underbody protection and high ground clearance.
If you regularly need to venture further out to work on out-of-the-way pipelines or electrical installations, you need a ute that's built for the task. Look for:
- High ground clearance (8 inches and above is ideal)
- Bumpers and overhangs that closely hug to the wheels to limit the chance of the body contacting with the ground on aggressive inclines and declines
- Difflock. A locking rear diff physically interconnects the two drive wheels on an axle, preventing the wheel with least traction from spinning hopelessly. They can be used to extract yourself from some pretty sticky and deep mud or tricky water crossings with soft river beds.
- Terrain response. Look for an adjustable dial, with settings for driving over grass, mud, gravel or sand. The vehicle then alters things like throttle response and traction control settings to optimise the amount of grip you have and keep you moving in the right direction.
- Bullbars, winches, antennas, lighting and snorkels. Bullbars provide a great place for mounting additional lighting and some come with built-in winch trays and recovery points. If you do get stuck far from town, a winch can be a lifesaver. Having a set of load-rated recovery points on the front and rear of your ute means you're able to self-recover if needed; you could even use just a hand winch. Winches also prove useful around job sites, as when correctly rigged, they can drag logs around or move broken-down plant equipment. An extra height antenna will mean you can keep in touch using CB radio and also pick up signal in the middle of nowhere. Finally, if you need to ford deeper water than the standard factory engine air intake allows, installing a snorkel will counter that problem.
Other factors to consider when purchasing a ute
There are other requirements you'll need to bear in mind. If you're planning on putting a livery on the ute, will the body styling allow for this? For example, the Ford Ranger is nice and slab-sided, perfect for displaying your company logo and contact details. But other utes are curvier and could distort your information.
Also, if you're pretty heavy handed with your work truck, does the company sell a workhorse/farm spec ute with harder wearing interiors? Some companies, like Mercedes, don't really.
How do I pick a ute that'll suit my trade?
Best ute for carpenters and joiners
If you're a chippie, likely, you'll want a ute that can carry long lengths of timber (saving you all the hassle and expense of third party deliveries) and also security for your tools.
The best ute for you will be one that has a factory-option canopy with roof bars. This way, you can haul around your materials (including large sheets up top) and still have a lockable compartment for your more expensive power tools. If you find yourself carrying wood sheets a lot, you might want to look at a single or space chassis cab with a tray. These can better handle ply sheets and a few car makers offer a rear bar that means you can still put longer lengths of wood on the roof.
Utes for plasterers
Plastering: it can be a messy job sometimes, right? You'd be best buying a ute that has a wipe-down interior made from rugged plastics. Factory seat covers wouldn't be a bad idea to keep plaster dust off the upholstery and the larger trays of single and space cabs will help you carry full plaster boards around. These trays should also be washable and let you scrape off dried bits of plaster. A space cab means you've got room behind the passenger seats for power tools like mixers that might go missing when parked up.
I'm a builder. Which ute should I pick?
If you work as a builder or bricklayer, there'll be no replacement for payload. The higher the payload, the more you can carry and you lot work with some pretty weighty equipment. Cement mixers and bags of mortar are heavy, as are bricks.
Likely, you'll be best suited with a single cab chassis model with the most amount of payload. A 4x4 will help you get into sites before the asphalt road is laid down and a higher towing capacity will mean you can chuck a mini excavator and generator on a trailer too.
It might also be a good idea to look and see if the dealer sells rubber matting that can stop the bed getting dinged up – then you'll recoup some of the cost when you come to sell your work ute.
Plywood lining the tray is a good idea; that way the plywood can get beaten up by loading and unloading, but the body and paintwork of the ute will remain pristine.
Best ute for electricians
Sparkies, you lot often have heaps of little fixings, cables, connectors and equipment. The value of the stuff you have in your ute could be rather high, so security is a big concern. Look at utes with lockable canopies. If the canopies have windows, see if the manufacturer sells security grilles for them (or go for an all-metal construction). Internal racking will be a big advantage, so you can organise your inventory and access it easily.
If you don't want a canopy, you could look at getting a tonneau cover which will keep the weather off power tools and testing machines.
Utes for painters and decorators
If you work as a painter or decorator, keeping your load area clean is going to be a chore. Look for a ute with a non-stick cargo liner; maybe even have it ply lined so when it comes to selling your ute, you can lift out the paint-splattered ply lining and the bed will look like new. A canopy or tonneau cover will keep tubs of paint cool.
Which ute for a gardener?
Working as a gardener or landscaper is great. You work outdoors, enjoying everything the weather can throw at you. Often, you'll be working with bulky petrol mowers and have a lot of tools like leaf blowers and saws. A pair of loading ramps will make loading up a ride-on mower a breeze.
If you have a number of jerry cans, an open back ute is probably the way to go to stop the build-up of fumes.
Utes for metalworkers/fabricators
Metalworkers, welders and fabricators will love the payload a ute can offer. You can use the rear load bed lashing points to fasten down your welding or cutting gas bottles and even have a dedicated scrap metal basket. If you work a lot with RSJ steel beams, a trailer might be your best option, so look for something with a good towing capacity. A set of seat covers will protect your upholstery from metal swarf and grit. Having a space cab ute will give you some secure storage for things like your angle grinders, welders and drills.
Utes suitable for plumbers and pipefitters
Plumbers should look for a ute with the option of fitting a canopy or a rear load bar. Then you can carry lengths of pipe on the roof. Racking will give you somewhere to keep plumbing fittings, blow torches, power tools and more specialised equipment.
Utes for mechanics
Utes are basically like a rolling toolbox, with an engine! Mechanics will benefit from having extra lighting to illuminate whatever they are working on, plus a dual cab will give you lots of secure storage for expensive Snap-on tools. You might also consider adding an extra alarm and battery and keep an eye out for a ute with a really high towing capacity so you can hook up a car trailer. An oil-proof bed liner will keep the rear protected.
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