Monday, July 7, 2014

Making a small car big: Prius storage!

Time to put some Fab(rication) back in the lab before everyone starts to think it was short for Fabulous instead.  I've been teeing it up for quite a while and I'm sure all 3 readers of this blog have been waiting with great anticipation for this moment since I first posted about buying a Prius and how we'd fit 5 people and all of their associated stuff in it.  
After months of procrastination our 3500 mi roadtrip was looming and I had to get to work, something that was aided by my father's day present this year.  The end result of all of that buildup and planning is what basically amounts to a home built trailer hitch, a Harbor Freight cargo carrier and a locking storage box.  Sorry for the letdown.  

I toyed with many ideas including something along the lines of what Mr. Money Mustache did but I have a proven track record of being terrible at carpentry (and in general anything requiring craftsmanship) and as GI Joe so eloquently said, knowing is half the battle so I stuck with things I was at least marginally good at and put some random stuff together to make something cheap and functional.  As a side note, this project could have been completed without any fab work at all by using an aftermarket trailer hitch but they're expensive (~$100 w/40% off at Advance Auto) and the Class I hitches for the Prius are known to bend with just the weight of 2 bikes on them so I decided against that route, plus what's the fun in a project with no fabrication!!??  On to the creation of this storage masterpiece...  

I leveraged Mr Money Mustache's idea of tieing into the tow hooks since they were there and are designed to handle quite a bit of force.  The aftermarket hitches bolt in the same spot as well so I knew the frame in that area was up to the task and should support the amount of weight I was planning to load on the carrier.  After some of my signature chicken scratch sketches (which will not be posted for ridiculing) I headed off to Harbor Freight for a 2" receiver tube and then to the local metal supplier where I scrounged 8' of 14ga 2" tubing out of the scrap pile.  

Quite a bit of cutting, tacking, fit checking, cutting tacks, re-aligning, hammering etc. later (did I mention I'm not good at things requiring craftsmanship??) and I ended up with this:

A few gussets and some paint (and moments wishing I had a chop saw to make nice straight cuts) later and that part of the project was complete and it was on to the storage solution.  

Some searching of the interwebs and a few weeks of price matching and deliberating led to the purchase of a Contico 55 gallon locking box for waterproof, secure storage.  These things are light and built to withstand the rigors of the jobsite which make them perfect for this type of use, plus I can throw it on the deck to store things when not in use behind the car.  There are other options like waterproof cargo bags that could also be used as an easier to store alternative as well if you don't have the storage space.

Now on to attaching the box to the newly built hitch. I had a hitch carrier sitting in the garage that I picked up from Harbor Freight a few years ago so it was used as the base after some modifications courtesy of a 1987 vintage Toyota bottle jack:

Once the carrier was stretched to the proper width the box dropped right in and was secured using some u-bolts I had laying around:

Project complete.  Here's the final cost tally:
Contico 55 gallon locking storage box: $50.12 (w/coupon and free shipping from, also carried at your local Lowe's for ~$70)
U-bolts: $0, already had ($5 or less from your local hardware store)
Hitch cargo carrier: $0, already had it ($60 w/free shipping on Amazon)
12" receiver tube: $12 (w/20% off coupon at Harbor Freight)
8ft 14ga tubing: $16 (scrap pile at local metal shop)
Grand Total: $78 (or ~$140 factoring in the stuff I already had)

My hope was to be able to use a couple of Thule bike trays I had from an old roof rack to carry bikes as well but unfortunately they hung a bit too much off the back of the car and I was worried about taking out bikers and pedestrians (how ironic would that be??) so more development will be happening on that front and I'll be sure to post an update once I figure it out!

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