WE PIT FRONT RUNNER AND SMITTYBILT SLIDING DRAWERS AGAINST EACH OTHER
It’s a natural progression when you participate in anything that is equipment-intensive, like offroading, overlanding or rock crawling, that you will gather a lot of stuff. Ask anyone that has done a fair bit of the above and you will hear that storing equipment so it can be accessed is as important as having it all tied down (so that it doesn’t end up in your lap, or worse). Like any rig out there, the JKU can use a little help in the area of accessible gear storage. We got together with our good buddy Ron Howard (no, not the film director and childhood star of Happy Days) to do a little comparison on each of our own recent purchases. We want to pass along what we learned in hopes that it will help you with the gotime shuffle.
I’ve had more variations of off-road tool kits, bags, boxes and vaults than I care to admit but it wasn’t until I finally bit the bullet and got a Front Runner Cargo Slide from Peden 4x4 that I finally felt like I got it right. Ron, however, must have received a few more cards in his deck than I, because he pretty much went straight to it and got a Smittybilt Security Storage Vault sliding drawer unit from Four Wheel Parts. He had his gear organized while I was still doing the shuffle.
All said, these two slides have a lot of similarities. Both units are comparable in build quality and ease of installation. Both have similar weightbearing capacities in the 136 kg (300 lb) plus range, however they achieve the same goal in different ways. Both are constructed from 16 and 18-gauge sheet steel and are finished in black powder coat. They each have heavy duty slide mechanisms and lock in the closed position. They both feel smooth opening and closing, with the Smittybilt having a solid grab handle to get a grip.
Neither unit locked in the open position, which is an oversight I plan to do something about with a drill, a pin or two and some stainless cable. I will update this article when that minor mechanical miracle occurs. Other similarities are the overall sizes, which is not surprising given the space they are tasked with maximizing. It is unclear to us whether the late model JKs, with the sub woofer in the floor, are compatible with either of these products, so if that’s you, be sure to ask your retailer about clearance.
Here is where they differ.
The first is cost. The Front Runner slide rings in at $618, while the Smittybilt is only $487, and you’re getting a lot more metal for that. The Smittybilt is basically a big-ass toolbox on a slide. Pull it out, unlock the lid, and open it up to gain access to 110L (3.8 cu ft) of storage space that keeps your gear packed and protected from the elements and the pry bars of the uninvited. Arrange up to 160 kg (350 lb) of your gear with a little thought and it will even be as quiet as curtain call at a redneck Saloon in Texas, that accidentally booked “Cats.” The box isn’t so tall that it doesn’t fit under the closed rear window of a hardtop, so you still have room for an upper shelf unit in there if that’s on your radar. Four flush mount tie down loops are provided to make that flat top useable too. The stock sub woofer remains in place, but you do lose access to the in-floor cubby hole, so clear that space out and make sure your drain plug is in.
We took Ron’s OEM deck cover and cleverly sawzalled the end off so that with the drawer in closed position, he could pull just that end piece off to access the jack storage area and the plug ‘n’ play connections to a back up camera. All in all, the unit is a bit big but that didn’t stop Ron from installing it himself the first time around. However, we fear one of his bearing slides may have suffered a bit in the process, but not enough to affect its performance.
Our Jeep got the Front Runner version, which is essentially a sliding deck of similar dimensions that locks firmly in place and provides plenty of tie-down slots to fix your gear in place. It is load rated for 113 kg (250 lb) worth of gear on a moving platform - just lash it down with any number of the tie-down points and be good to go with confidence. I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of massive Pelican cases that haul my offroad trinkets, and the smaller one fits under our soft top bar so we don’t have to open the window to pull it out.
Front Runner makes an impressive array of black storage containers
that work well with this platform, to consider as well. I strap the case down and it fits well and opens nicely when the slide is fully extended. Now if I didn’t want that weight, or needed the room to haul a bunch of big-ticket items around in the back of the daily driver, I could remove the case. I tend to bed down in the back of the JKU on camping outings, so this option will be put to good use.
The Front Runner Slide has proven to be dead quiet when empty or loaded, so they’ve done a good job with the fit tolerances. Both units represent a huge improvement in getting at your gear when you need it, without having to go through the pain of the go-time shuffle. Let’s do a little late night pros and cons run down and leave you with a choice that comes down to personal preference, as both offerings do their job well.
The Front Runner slide does not come with a storage box, which allows for more customizing options.
The Smittybilt offers lockable storage and D-rings on top to lash down additional gear.
The Smittybilt doesn’t lock in open position, but offers 110L of cargo space.
The Front Runner is good for 113 kg (250 lb) worth of cargo.