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How to Choose a Ute – Part 5: Upgradeability

How to Choose a Ute – Part 5: Upgradeability

We have reached the final part of our blog series! There is still another topic to cover when choosing the best Ute for your slide-on camper. But as a recap,  here are the links to the past articles included in this guide.

Part 1: Camper Dry Weight

Part 2: Budget

Part 3: Horses for Courses

Part 4: Stats, Figures and Facts 

In this article, we will talk about Upgradeability. When choosing a slide-on camper, it’s important to consider the upgradeability of the Ute, or the number of upgrades available on a specific model. 

A slide-on camper is a great way to add extra living and storage space to your vehicle, providing you with a great and convenient way to explore the great outdoors without towing. However, it’s important to ensure that your Ute can handle the camper’s weight and that it can handle the rigours of that weight in off-road terrain. 

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing how to choose a Ute that can handle the weight of a slide-on camper, and how to make sure that it can handle that weight in off-road terrain.

Payload Capacities

gvm-upgrade-why-we-need

When choosing a slide-on camper, you must ensure that Ute’s payload capabilities are enough to handle the camper’s weight + the weight of other items. Some slide-on campers can easily weigh up to 800 kilograms dry weight. And remember, this figure should include all of the necessary gear:

  • Fridge
  • Mattress
  • Freestanding Legs
  • Water tank
  • Gas bottle 
  • Cooktop
  • Battery system
  • Charging system
  • Lounge, etc.
  • Frame, structure and building materials

The sum total of these varies wildly from 390kg (Trayon Camper) to over 800kg; even worse, some American imported slide-on campers can easily get over 1100kg dry-weight.

Keep in mind that the payload specification of the ute still needs to factor in the load of your other items like:

  • Water
  • Battery system
  • Food, beverages
  • Off-road accessories (bulbar, side steps, winch ect…)
  • People
  • Anything else you want to take

Be sure to look at the dry weights of the camper and ensure that the Ute can handle the weight, both on and off-road and there is plenty of buffer room for your other items.

In part one of this 5 part series, we covered dry weight in-depth, and how it isn’t always straightforward, so be sure to check that out.

You should also consider the weight of any other items you tow, such as a boat or a trailer. Determining the total weight of everything you plan on carrying before choosing a Ute is essential.

If you crunch the payload numbers and it is borderline overweight (quite common), don’t worry! You still have the option to get a GVM Upgrade, we’ll discuss that below.

GVM Upgrades

One of the most important upgrades to consider when choosing a Ute is GVM upgrades. GVM stands for Gross Vehicle Mass, which refers to the maximum weight your Ute can safely and legally carry – think of it as the weight pressed on the road by the four wheels when it’s fully loaded. We have a dedicated article discussing GVM upgades in detail so be sure to check that out, as it can be tricky to navigate. However, we will give you an overview below.

The first step here is to make sure that the Ute you choose has GVM upgrades available in the first place. Keep in mind that some companies play the numbers game and may only offer GVM upgrades for popular, high-selling vehicles. 

Finding GVM upgrades for vehicle brands/models such as the Foton Tunland or Tata may be challenging. Not because they are bad vehicles, but because they are just not selling enough for 3rd party manufacturers to invest in selling upgrades on.

Another scenario would be for newer models or recently-redesigned vehicles. There may not be any GVM upgrades available yet. Examples include the new 2023 Ford Ranger, which as of this writing, may still be undergoing certifications and approvals for any upgrades. 

When choosing a Ute with a second stage manufacturing GVM upgrade option which is pre-first registration and is federal, it will often be less expensive and they will typically be easier to install than aftermarket upgrades which is after the vehicle has been registered and is only valid within a state. 

When choosing a Ute with an aftermarket GVM upgrade, choosing a reputable company specialising in GVM upgrades is important. However, be cautious, if you do intend to get an aftermarket GVM upgrade, in many cases it will need to be installed by a qualified/certified specialist.

These companies will typically have a wide range of upgrade options available, and they will be able to provide you with the best advice on which upgrade is right for you. Additionally, they will typically have a good reputation for quality work and customer service.

Off-Road Capabilities

When considering the off-road capabilities of a ute, we must first define “off-road”. 

My definition of “off-road” is anything off the bitumen. This can include dirt roads, corrugated long distance driving, sand driving, mud driving, and more. I would even consider a slight bit of dirt road with a few potholes here and there as off-road. 

In any case, these terrains can increase the risk to your vehicle, so it is important to  consider the extra weight (may it be a slide-on camper, a boat, etc) that your ute will be handling in these not-so-ideal road conditions.

When driving off-road, you will be putting your Ute and slide-on camper through much stress and more demanding conditions than when driving on-road. The Ute and camper will be subjected to more vibration and stress, it’s essential to ensure that the Ute is well-equipped to handle these conditions.

One of the key features to look for when choosing a Ute for off-road use is a high-ground clearance. This will help to ensure that your Ute can navigate rough terrain and avoid getting stuck. You should also consider Ute’s suspension system, as a good suspension will help absorb the bumps and vibrations of off-road driving.  The best money you can spend on a suspension is in the shock absorbers!

Another important factor to consider when choosing a Ute for off-road use is the Ute’s 4WD capabilities. Here it’s important to identify what your intended use is, including:

  1. What type of terrain you intend to go on
  2. How much time are you going off road
  3. How much weight do you intend to carry

Getting a clear idea on that will firstly help you identify the base ute to choose, as discussed in part four horses for courses article, but secondly, it will help you identify if you need to invest in additional off-road capabilities like:

  1. Air lockers
  2. Snorkel
  3. Suspension upgrade (ground clearance and static load carrying)
  4. Underbody protection
  5. Off-Road tires

Availability of these is not always great, so factoring that into your budget and vehicle choice is important.

Accessories

When choosing a Ute, it is smart to consider all the accessories you want to take with you. 

Accessory companies like TJM and ARB don’t exist because people enjoy receiving bull bars for Christmas. In Australia, it’s not just a matter of slapping some bling on your car. 

It fulfils a crucial function as you know. But it doesn’t come without payload compromise.

For example, a bullbar can weigh up to 100 kilograms, so you must ensure that the Ute can handle that extra weight. A bullbar is an excellent accessory for off-road driving, as it provides extra protection for the front of your Ute. A bullbar can also mount a winch, and lighting which can be incredibly helpful when navigating rough terrain.

Other accessories might include:

  • UHF radio for short distance comms
  • Sand flags so people can see you right before you pop over a sand dune
  • Roof racks
  • Jerry can holders
  • Additional spare tire 
  • Brush bars
  • Water tanks
  • Long range fuel tanks
  • And the list goes on

Every one of these serve a utility which may or may not be important to you depending on your intended purpose. However, there will always be a trade-off between payload capacity and adding more accessories. There is a finite ceiling for every vehicle, so it is a good idea to be very deliberate about the accessories you choose and not get too wrapped up in marketing and hype.

Another thing to consider is accessibility to these upgrades, what they cost and what your budget is. So creating a spreadsheet is always a good idea! 

Large companies like ARB and TJM will play the numbers game when it comes to R&D and product development and will not produce a range of accessories for a vehicle that is not that popular and doesn’t sell very well. 

They just do not have the numbers to make them profitable. Just something to be considered with your vehicle choice.

Conclusion

When choosing a Ute for a slide-on camper, it is important to consider the upgradeability, payload capabilities, off-road capabilities and accessories. Make sure that the Ute you choose can handle the camper’s weight and any extra accessories, and that it can handle that weight in both on and off-road terrains. Most importantly, ensure that the Ute you choose has GVM upgrades available for it, if you intend to carry more. 

We sincerely hope that you found the blog series as informative, helpful and enjoyable as we did when writing it. We hope that our information was useful to you as you choose which ute to consider for your upcoming purchase.

Which subject do you want us to discuss next? If you haven’t already, scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up for our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss any future updates with additional useful information.

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