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In Australia, a Ute is a pickup truck, but they don't look like our pickups," says Randy Cryer, who lived there for a time and discovered that most Australians drive trucks with shiny, all-aluminum aftermarket pickup beds instead of "factory tubs."

Cryer's own experience with a rusty box on his trusty '83 Toyota Hilux convinced him there was a market here for these smartly designed pickup beds, so he brought Ute Ltd. to the U.S. in 2001. Now, Utes are beginning to catch on, thanks to his growing relationship with General Motors' Business Central commercial dealerships, which offer them as a "bed delete" option on GMC and Chevrolet pickups.

Constructed entirely of extruded aircraft-grade T6 aluminum, the beds are lightweight but strong–load-rated for up to 8,000 pounds, depending on the vehicle. Their weight-to-strength ratio makes them fuel-efficient, too.

Because the entire deck sits above the wheels, the Ute's box is relatively shallow (about 12 inches), but the tailgate and both sidewalls drop down or are easily removed, turning your pickup into a flatbed. This allows for optional undermounted toolboxes or a slide-out tool drawer (4-1/2 inches deep by 5 or 6 feet long). Top-mounted utility boxes are also available, as well as stake sides, a cab-protecting headboard, side steps, drop-in ladder racks, and a three-door canopy top.

Ute beds come in sizes to fit compact, full-size, and Crew Cab pickups, plus chassis cab models. To date, GM is the only manufacturer to offer Utes through its dealerships. Installed cost is around $2,400, according to Cryer, who says dealer incentives can cut that price by up to $900. Utes also are available through commercial upfitters and can be purchased as a DIY retrofit for existing pickups.

For more information, contact any GM Business Central dealer or call 866-883-2337.

Ready For Impact

The socket sets builders use for lag bolts and screws are typically not designed for use with air and electric impact tools. Garage mechanics use impact-type sockets and bits that can withstand high-torque, metal-to-metal pounding. DeWalt, one of several power tool manufacturers now offering portable impact drivers for construction work, has solved this dual-tool dilemma with a new 38-piece accessory set of "impact-qualified" sockets, nutsetters, and screwdriving bits. Now the tools you take to the job are the same ones that will help you fix your ride if you break down on the way home.

Chevy Revives the Panel Truck

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As an itinerant carpenter, I wanted one of those roomy, windowless early-Suburban panel trucks. I may still have a chance. Chevy has revived the concept, but in a smaller package, with its HHR Panel.

At first, this "truck" looked a little dinky for my 6-foot-tall frame, but only until I got in and loaded it up. Innovative storage options like the fold-down shotgun seat, flat load floor that converts to a raised shelf, and spacious interior add up to 57 cubic feet of cargo room. Two under-floor, lockable compartments add to storage.

Power options for the HHR Panel include 2.2-liter or 2.4-liter inline four-bangers that provide 149 and 179 hp, respectively, with manual or automatic shifters. Both have a 30-mpg highway fuel rating and can travel up to 450 miles on a 16-gallon tankful. That's not bad for such a little big truck.