It never ceases to amaze just how much a bakkie has become an integral part of South African life. Fundamentally, a bakkie is a workhorse – a pick-up truck in American parlance – but in our Rainbow Nation it performs many other roles embracing all manner of leisure and sporting activities. Nominally, there are two sizes of bakkie, half-ton and one-ton, the latter being by far the biggest seller. In any given month, the three most popular one-tonners – Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu KB – sit high up the Top 10 Best Sellers list, usually with the Hilux at No.1. Available as a single-cab, extended-cab and a double-cab, with a variety of engine and drivetrain combinations, all bakkies have one common design feature – an exposed load area. While this is not necessarily a handicap for work applications, for practically all other uses a secure form of cover is required – a canopy.
Choosing the right canopy for your requirements needs some careful forethought. What type of canopy suits the style of your bakkie? For the most part, canopies are made from canvas, aluminium, stainless steel or, most popular of all, glass fibre, but a galvanised steel option recently became available for a handful of SA’s most popular bakkies. Canvas canopies usually are made up of an aluminium frame covered with strong and durable ‘ripstop’ canvas material, which does allow for the inclusion of windows, but have a limited range of applications. Aluminium canopies are relatively light, sturdy and are a popular choice amongst the off-road fraternity as they often have roof rails that can act as mounting points for awnings and tents. They are also well-suited to custom applications.
Stainless steel offers strength and durability and is more suited to bespoke practical applications, such as a small mobile workshop containing valuable tools and machinery. They can be manufactured in various ways and can include side opening doors, extra locking mechanisms and steel mesh. Glass fibre is by far the most common material, but it is important to establish that it will not shatter if broken – look for an SABS approved mark. Galvanised steel canopies appear at the high-end of the market and offer a level of exclusivity.
When looking for a canopy to buy, having a clear picture in your mind as to what you actually need is vital if a calamity is to be avoided. Draw up a list of your requirements. Will it be a permanent fixture or one that needs to be fitted and removed on a regular basis? Heavy canopies are inherently stronger and will likely last longer, whereas lighter canopies are easier to remove. Will a vertical door canopy that requires the removal of the bakkie’s tailgate be preferable to one with a conventional horizontal-split tailgate? Vertical doors will limit the size of items you can load.
Other factors to consider include the ease of operating any windows – make sure toughened glass is used that carries an Armourplate, SABS or E-mark – the inclusion of a third brake light, the option of fitting an interior light if necessary, and/or the fitment or option of roof rails, in which case the weight limit the canopy can carry needs to be established. A heavy load on the roof will affect the vehicle’s handling in a number of ways, especially as it will raise the vehicle’s centre of gravity. Other features you may want to consider are doggy bars, tinted glass and gullwing windows, which increases access to inside the canopy.
Once you have drawn up a short list, look around and identify the canopies that meet or exceed your needs. The market is huge, and there are many canopy manufacturers around eager to get a share of the action – and inevitably some are better than others. Quality costs money and the cheapest option may well prove an expensive mistake in the medium to long term. Therefore it is important to do some thorough research in order to find a company with a credible track record. Visit well-established canopy sales outlets and get explanations at first hand. When viewing the design, check the robustness of the latches that secure the canopy to the load bed. Check the sturdiness of the tailgate support struts and the hinges, be it a door or a tailgate. Crucially, satisfy yourself that the locking mechanism is up to its task. All metal fittings should be rustproof and, in all instances, ensure the sealing rubber is of the highest quality to prevent any air and water leaks. Ventilation must preclude any exhaust gases entering the canopy.
Most motor manufacturers will have canopies itemised on their approved accessory lists, which may help in choosing a particular make of canopy. Remember to see if the canopy comes with a warranty. Check out the Internet and look at customer forums where owners’ purchasing and after-sales experiences are revealed, as they may have an influence on your purchasing decision. A properly-matched canopy will add pleasure and value to you bakkie.