Jeep XJ

My Jeep
XJ Storage

XJ Cargo Box

I have had a few questions about the cargo box I built for the back of my 96 XJ Cherokee. I had seen a few designs online before, and I think I actually was prompted to do this after reading about an Isuzu Trooper owner and his storage box back in the '90s. One goal was to keep things out of sight both for security and to reduce clutter. The tinted glass helps, but I wanted to keep things out of sight. Some Cherokees were sold with a factory cargo area cover right at the top of the back seat, but I don't have one and wanted something that didn't scream "I'm hiding something!!"

I built the cargo box using a sheet of 17/32" plywood.. That makes it heavy, but after being used for about five years, I can say that the added thickness helps ensure it will not collapse or deform under loads. My kids used to climb in and out through the back whenever they could, and I have an 80-pound Chocolate Lab who sits on top all the time. It's been solid without only two minor engineering changes.

When I originally built the box, I still had a stock-size spare in the wheelwell storage position. The box was built to fit from the face of the tire, across to the right wheelwell. On the right, you can just see the top of my "Truck Air II" compressor next to the right side. The box is level with the top of the compressor and almost the height of the wheelwell, to maximize the surface area. One thing I try to do every time I am out jeeping is to pack out more than I pack in (haul out somebody else's litter) and the small cubbyhole on the right side became a deep well that holds a pair of work gloves, trash bags for litter removal and a roll of paper towels.

The Box
The Box

The spare is an old 235/75R15 AT, but trial fit shows that there is still enough space for a 30x9.50" tire. Some folks on NAXJA claim to have gotten certain 31" and even 32" tires in the stock location. I'm currently on 32x11.50 Mud tires, and will not try to get those or my planned 33x10.50s in there. The wall of the box again holds gear in place under the spare tire, so I keep chains, gloves, an e-tool and some nylon zip ties in there.

My Craftsman 1/2" breaker bar not only serves as a lug wrench, it pulls double-duty as a prop for the lid. The hinge is about 4" behind the top back edge of the seat. This leaves the lid short enough to just barely clear the roof, but still lean back against the backseat when fully open.

Box open.  You can see some of the gear I kept in the box for winter driving, including a heavy jacket, gloves, food, blanket, etc

The original box design had a full-width opening, but a trial fit quickly revealed that the spare tire leans in quite a bit, preventing a full-width lid. I ran a 2x2 along the inner edge of the box and simply made a cut on the left side of the door, shortening it about 2 inches.

The 'removed' part of the lid was simply tacked down to the box, and the 2x2 became a support for the left edge of the box. The box lid is supported completely around the edges by the walls and that 2x2 support. The carpet on the lid overlaps the left edge to keep seams from attracting unwanted attention. Notice I had to notch the back edge to fit over the latch opening as well. I wrapped the carpet over the edges to keep the lid from banging and making noise on the wall, and does a great job of reducing road noise.

Here is a profile view; you can see the beveled front edge to fit up against the back of the seat. Holes drilled in the side to make lifting it in and out easier. My original plan was to cut horizontal slots connecting the top and bottom edges of these holes, but a few trial fits showed I didn't really need a full handgrip to lift the box. The carpet extends down the front to minimize rubbing on the backseat. Originally this was left loose, but later I stapled it down after gluing the carpet closer to the hinge.

All corners are reinforced with vertical pieces of 2x2 from the floor to support the top. The front panel is lower than the fixed top deck piece, for added strength in that area.

This is the Box removed from the rear.  Note the holes in the side allowing for easier removal and handling, as well as the top carpet piece that extends over the front

The hinge was a 48" piano hinge, available from Home Depot and screwed into place using supplied brass screws. The screws extended just past the wood surface, so after grinding some of them down I covered the exposed portion with duct tape to minimize snagging. Automotive carpet was found at Pep Boys, if I remember correctly. One roll covered the box, although you'll notice my cutting skills came up short on the back edge, where I have a seam on the right side.

Since taking some of the pictures above, I added a brace in the middle of the box to prevent warping near the hinge. The brace extends back several inches past the hinge, far enough to support the lid and keep weight off the hinge. I had to play with the internal loading arrangement but feel the added wood goes a long way toward adding to the strength of the boxtop. There is also a 2x2 running fore-and-aft bracing the center support and the middle of the back wall.

Entry into the box is easy, with a short length of parachute cord as a handle, passing through two holes at the rear of the lid. The parachute cord is tied to a washer underneath the lid. The washer gives it enough weight to pull the loop of cord back flush to the deck.

Part II - Platform
Rear seat upright.  Platform stowed behind seat Rear seat folded, you can see the 'ledge' made by the original box.
One of the selling features of the Cherokee was the flat-folding rear seat that increased cargo area. The storage box breaks up the otherwise level cargo area, so I built a smaller platform with a center support. When I have the back seat up, the extension can be removed or stored atop the original box. After folding the seat down, the extension gives me about 57 inches of flat area. That's still about 20 inches too short for me if I feel the need to car-camp, but it's enough room to sleep in, in a pinch. I've heard rumor (again, from NAXJA) that a Full-size air mattress will fit as well.
Rear seat folded with platform in place.  Carpet has been installed on the extension at this point Platform in place, you can see the space beside platform for water jug storage

There is enough room beside the forward platform to store a 5-gallon water jug or Blitz can, easily accessible through the back doors. Like the storage box, the platform is sturdy plywood so I can put a load on it without worrying too much about flimsiness. I hadn't picked up carpet for it in some of the pictures, but it is now fully covered to match the box.

What would I do differently?

I'm really not sure, but like all Jeep projects this one's still a work in progress

  • I have since cut a hinged door on the left rear of the box. While it makes the inside acessible when there is a lot of gear on top, I don't really like it. The plan for the next round is to build a slide-out drawer in that area. This will be accessible from the top as well but is primarily for use when I have a lot of gear on top of the box and don't want to remove it all to get inside
  • I added 32" BFG All-Terrains after the Rubicon Express 4.5" lift so my rinky-dink spare doesn't fit any more. I currently store oil, ATF and other supplies in that hole where the tire was, but will try to put together a taller box with a removable lid to fit that side where the tire was.
  • The front extension covers a lot of wasted storage space. To get to that space, I'm thinking of cutting a pair of access hatches in the top but need to be able to keep strength in that area.
  • I have kept my eyes open for some sort of lock that would keep the gear inside but won't rattle and bump constantly either. They won't keep a determined thief out, but the goal is delay, anyway...
  • I have been looking for a flat tie-down similar to the ones on the floor of the Cherokee right now. They can be used to hold camping gear, etc. on the top lid.

If I go all-out and build another one, I will probably build one that will let me get into the box from the inside of the Cherokee if needed. When I built the original box, I was making a daily drive from Littleton to Loveland, Colorado (130+ miles a day) and kept the back packed with winter gear. This plan would probably have a top door split the door fore and aft with hinges on the right and left sides, but also build a pullout drawer for the rear.

What have others done?

I got a series of pics from Trey, showing the box he built. One of the gripes I had in the early stages of the box was that a lock would bounce around and make noise on the hasp. Trey's solution was so simple and effective that I'll be doing the same shortly. He glued the 'hook' side of a sheet of velcro onto the lock. The 'loop' side is the carpet, so the lock is held silently.

Trey's Storage Box Velcro on the Lock and First Aid Kit Lock, Hasp and recessed Tie-down

Trey's box has a little more space between the rear hatch and the box, so he also has a First Aid kit velcroed onto the back. The box itself contains an ammo can, and a crate that contains a quart of oil, ATF, WD-40, carb cleaner, roll of shop towels, some cheap work gloves, a bunch of disposable nitrile gloves, a container of fast orange wipes, and two 1-liter bottles of drinking water. Trey saran-wrapped the package (like a pallet of boxes being shipped), to keep it all from jostling around. The saran wrap is more useful in a trunk where the thing slides around and get flipped over, etc.

Also in there: a tarp, a soft rooftop carrier bag, big duffel bag, small backpack, crappy cheap hand winch, folding shovel, a gallon can of lantern fuel.

Still to come: A "bug out bag" that includes a dual-fuel Coleman stove, a cookset, nalgene bottles, flashlight, food, knife, camp axe, and other survival/camping/emergency supplies.

It's called 'Storage' for a reason

e-mail Jim
created: Nov 24, 2002

Modified September 16, 2007