Custom Jeep Drawer Cargo System

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As anybody with a sort wheelbase Jeep knows, it’s easy to run out of storage space fast. Jeeps were never intended to be multi-day expedition vehicles such as the Toyota Land Cruiser or a Land Rover, but we continue to try and make it work.

For my current needs, I decided that I would rather sacrifice the lack of storage space for a smaller, open-cab, short-wheelbase vehicle like a Jeep to maximize my adventures in the Pacific Northwest.

This article outlines my first attempt in maximizing the available storage space available in my Jeep.

Storage Options

Like in most off-road vehicles, you only have certain places to store your gear. The storage areas include the main cargo area, a roof rack, or on a tire carrier. Of course, each vehicle has its own areas to stash your gear other than those listed. Each storage area has its advantages and limitations, depending on the use of your vehicle.

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After considering the options (and my budget), I decided that the first priority was to maximize the internal cargo area storage space in my Jeep. In most situations, my travels will usually only include my dog, and at times, possibly another family member or friend.

My first solution was to simply stack all my gear and tools in the cargo area. The main problem I found with this option is that it leaves no space for my dog to ride in the Jeep, especially when I had a second person riding along (I prefer for her to ride in the back as she somehow always finds mud).

At this point I decided I needed some type of storage box to place within the cargo area. I started looking through the Jeep aftermarket catalogs and found a variety of cargo storage devices, including boxes with flip up lids, boxes with drawers, cages, and trunk lids. Each style of box has its advantages and disadvantages.

In addition, not only were these storage boxes out of my budget, none provided a flat, carpeted storage surface that was even with the wheel wells on an YJ. So I decided to build my own storage box.

What inspired me was the utility boxes that I seen in the Australian 4×4 magazines. These boxes are designed with a pull out drawer, are carpeted and have aluminum angle to protect the edges. If designed right, I would have a 54 inch wide by 32 inch deep flat surface to mount and strap down gear to the top, such as refrigerators/coolers and all my camping gear plus have room for my dog. Wishful thinking? I’ll find out.

The Construction.

I actually started work on the box over a year before, and then it sat over the winter. Once the weather started getting nice it was time to finish the project. That’s the reason I don’t have any pictures of the construction process, only the finished project.

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To get started, I measured the area you want the box to be installed. For my Jeep YJ, I made it 32 inches deep x 35 inches wide (well it’s actually 36 inches wide and its a very tight fit squeezing it between the wheel wells). I chose this depth so it would allow for clearance of the tailgate latching mechanism that protrudes into the cargo area, plus it allows me to store the upper half doors between the box and the tailgate. With this arrangement, there is also a small amount of storage between the front seats and the box for those items you would like access to while driving. I chose to make my height ¾ inch higher than the wheel well so that I could butt up ¾ inch plywood over the wheel well to the box to make one large flat surface.

I ended up purchasing two sheets of ¾ inch exterior grade plywood for the box and the drawer. If you have access to marine grade plywood that may be a better choice if you live in a wet region. While shopping, I also purchased a heavy-duty drawer slide (on roller bearings with a 100 pound capacity), wood screws and wood glue.

After cutting out the wood components of the box and drawer, I glued and screwed them together. I sealed the inside of the drawer with paintable caulking (to keep water out and any spilled fluids in), and then applied a weatherproof finish. I initially used exterior porch paint (discount bin at Lowes), and then I applied marine varnish over that. If I were to do it over, I would only apply the marine varnish.

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I fitted the slides to the box and drawer following the slide manufacturers instructions. I discarded the wood screws that came with the slide and used #10-32×1″ machine screws, nuts and washers to attach the slide to the box and drawer. I countersunk holes where I didn’t want the screw protruding and cut off any excess threads.

I purchased the marine grade outdoor carpeting from Lowes. I cut each piece to size and glued it down with Weldwood Original Contact Cement. I tried the non-flammable contact cement from Weldwood and it does not work very well for this application.

In order to protect the edges of the box, I finished each edge with ¾ inch aluminum angle. I only used a heavy set of tin snips and a file to miter and fit my corners since I did not have any other method of cutting the aluminum. I countersunk the holes and used wood screws to fasten down the aluminum angle.

Other finishing touches include hinges to fold up the sections that rest on the wheel wells, two handles on the drawer, tie downs and a clasp to lock the box. I used existing holes for the seat and seatbelts in the rear cargo to fasten the box to the Jeep cargo area.

The Road Test

It was time to test the box on a short adventure. I loaded up the box for a Mini Expedition to the Olympic Peninsula.

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My intentions for the drawer are to store my tools, vital fluids, spare parts, repair kits, recovery gear in order to be as self sufficient as possible. The drawer was packed tight for the trip with all that I placed in it. I was a little worried that the slides would not bear the weight of a fully loaded drawer but I was wrong, the drawer works perfectly even when loaded down.

On the deck of the box, I stored my cooler over the left wheel well, my Rubbermaid box with cooking and camping gear over the right wheel well, and my tent, sleeping bag and pad towards the rear. This allowed my dog (at 60 pounds) plenty of room to move around. On this trip, with what I had stored on top of the deck, I had no problem opening the drawer.

Obviously, having a dog limits some of the space that could be used to haul gear. Even so, I feel that I could take my dog out and short of the necessary fuel (I’ll take care of this later) I could take enough supplies and gear for a week long adventure.

See all the photos of my Jeep drawer system at Custom Jeep Drawer Cargo System.