Securing Your Valuables: Build a DIY Vehicle Lock Box on a Budget - ITS Tactical

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Securing Your Valuables: Build a DIY Vehicle Lock Box on a Budget

By Rob Henderson

Building a Vehicle Locker

As regular readers of ITS may be aware, I ran into a bit of a situation last year involving my Jeep Wrangler and some immobilizing mud. One of the main things I took away from the experience was the necessity of keeping essential supplies with me in the vehicle. The main problem I faced was a method to properly secure and organize this equipment when I wasn’t with the vehicle. Since my Jeep has a soft top, anything inside the cab can be easily accessed by anyone walking by; an inconvenience Jeep owners pay for the ability to remove the top. The doors lock but the zippers on the windows render them pretty useless. Check out this article on opening a suitcase zipper with nothing more than a ballpoint pen to get an idea of what I’m talking about here.

DIY Vehicle Lock Box

In order to keep essential items in the vehicle, I knew that I needed some form of lockable storage. While there are several ready-made steel lock boxes available, they were either too small or too expensive for me. I decided to set out and create a lockbox that would hold the essentials and keep them relatively secure from unauthorized access. Something we advocate at ITS is a layered security approach and understanding that all locks and safeguards only buy you time. There’s nothing that you can do to keep someone out that’s determined and has the right tools.

1st Generation Lock Box

Building a Vehicle Locker

Building a Vehicle Locker

I’d previously designed a similar small lock box made from particle board that would fit behind the backseat and allow me to carry a small amount of useful supplies. The main idea was to cover the open space behind the seat and make the tailgate the opening method. Because the tailgate locks, it was capable of keeping the casual snooper out. The small lock box worked well at first, but I found myself quickly running out of space. I wasn’t able to carry some larger things that would be useful because there just wasn’t enough room. I made the decision to remove the backseat and build a larger lock box that could accommodate much more.

Building a Vehicle Locker

2nd Generation Lock Box

I like to keep a variety of supplies in my Jeep for situations I might encounter on and off-road. Some of these materials include medical kits, fire starting tools, recovery gear and tools. The smaller lock box worked well for carrying these items but I also wanted to be able to store things that could help me live out of the vehicle in an emergency. Things like a sleeping bag, extra food, water, clothing and bulkier items.

Building a Vehicle Locker


For this lock box, I chose MDF for its strength and durability over the 1st gen particle board version. It’s also very easy to work in terms of cutting and sanding. In order to secure the lock box to the vehicle I needed to put a few holes in the tub of the vehicle. This was a tough choice, but since it’s an older vehicle that I plan on keeping long term, I didn’t have an issue with a few small holes. If you don’t want to drill holes into the frame, I would suggest building a more complete lock box with the ability to run a cable through it. This facilitates attachment to the seat frame or other sections of the vehicle. Remember, this setup isn’t foolproof and anyone with the right tools, opportunity and enough time can take anything.

Building a Vehicle Locker

I purchased the MDF from Lowes and highly recommend having them make the larger cuts that you’ll need. For this particular lock box, I needed a 41” X 30” section, a 36” X 11” section and a 30” X 11” section. The three cuts the Lowes employee made for me were extremely helpful and saved a lot of time.

Building a Vehicle Locker

On my previous lock box, I had used 3/16” toggle bolts and I found this method to be very useful since the underside of the frame wasn’t accessible. Toggle Bolts allow you to secure something from only one side and once tightened, they provide a solid connection. The previous bolts I used were Phillips Head bolts and I wanted to change to something that a common thief might not be carrying with them. After checking a few options, I decided on Hex Bolts for this new lock box. Unfortunately, the ones I purchased were only 2 inches and ended up not being enough. I used the 4 inch Phillips Head bolts that came with the toggle side but I plan on ordering some longer Hex Bolts and replacing them soon. I also picked up some cheap flat black spray paint and some eyelets for an addition I was planning. The beer in my photo above is not required for the assembly of this lock box, but I can attest to the fact that it definitely helps in the construction process. Also, you may want an additional set of hands when taking the lock box in and out for measurements, as it can be a bit awkward.

Building a Vehicle Locker


The tub of the Jeep looks like it would be fairly simple to mount the lock box on top of, but there’s a few obstacles that prevent a standard square cut. The hinge and lock portion of the tailgate extends into the tub in an odd shape. While I could have spent a bit more time sculpting the pieces to fit perfectly, I wasn’t too concerned with the gaps left by a few square cuts into the MDF.

Building a Vehicle Locker

Building a Vehicle Locker

Once this piece was cut correctly, I was able to place the top in the correct position and start assembling the front and support section. After placing the front section in, I marked the location and secured it to the top using 2.5” exterior screws. Something I can’t recommend enough is purchasing a countersink set for your woodworking. Countersinking allows your screws to fit flush and would additionally allow you to fill the sections with wood filler.

Building a Vehicle Locker

I chose to offset the support side underneath rather than placing it right in the middle. Honestly, with the strength of the MDF, I wasn’t sure I would even need a support piece but I wanted one to use as a divider. Because I keep extra fluids for the vehicle, I wanted a barrier to prevent them from spilling into the gear I was planning on keeping in the lock box in the event they leaked.

Building a Vehicle Locker

Building a Vehicle Locker

When the front and middle section were screwed together, I hit everything with the flat black spray paint and let it dry for a bit. Once dry, I fitted the lock box into the correct place and started drilling the required holes. This was the most time consuming portion, as I was drilling through the wood and the frame. I wanted to make sure everything lined up perfectly so I didn’t drill unnecessary holes in the frame. The toggle bolts were a bit wider than the bolts and I needed to make the holes larger. In order to mount it properly, I used a washer on the top side to secure it to the wood and also cover the larger hole created for the toggle.

Building a Vehicle Locker


Building a Vehicle Locker

Building a Vehicle Locker

Once the holes were the proper size, mounting was fairly simple and straightforward. After everything was mounted, I secured some eyelets into the top and sides of the lock box for tying things down. I’ve taken a few trips with a cooler and other camping items and hate everything sliding around. I chose to put a middle eyelet on the front of the box, as I still wanted to be able to use the flat top of the box and not have anything sticking up in the middle.

Building a Vehicle Locker

Building a Vehicle Locker

Overall, I’m very happy with the way this larger lock box turned out. The materials were around $50 and it took about three hours of my time. I feel confident that it will be secure enough to keep passersby from getting to my gear. Because the box doesn’t offer water or dust protection, I keep all the supplies in individual bags and containers. Sensitive items are kept in Pelican cases or dry bags. I found this easier than trying to seal the lock box and because I also wanted the option of removing the entire box if necessary.

Building a Vehicle Locker

Hopefully you’ve found this DIY Vehicle Lock Box useful and it inspires your own project. What do you use right now for your vehicle storage? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • James Jerome Smith

    I want to know how to store stuff in my truck without it brain melted by the heat in Texas during the summer. Almost everything in a med kit gets destroyed if I don’t take it inside everywhere I go.

  • Nicole Mayer

    My Sorento set up…

  • Kenneth Joseph

    I’m interested to hear some feedback for James question as well. Thinking about taking my vehicle med kit inside with me now in the summer months, I live in PA though so it’s not nearly as hot.

  • Nicole Mayer

    We can get up to 110 here…no problems as far as melting med kit items, burst ointment packages, etc.

  • Ryan McManus

    looks great… hope it never gets too wet

  • Michael Bowman

    Great article. I’ve been wanting to make something exactly like this for my YJ wrangler but I can never seem to get the cut outs right for around the lock. Do you have the rough dimensions of that cut?

  • Anthony N Claire Escamilla

    I’m in San Antonio so I also know about the flesh melting heat..what about using foam insulating panels? They’re easy to cut and attach.

  • Jon King

    Tyler Middleton

  • Joe Cat

    Chris Fowler-Smart

  • Andrew Calvo

    Steven Cromer

  • Ed Esquivel

    I don’t see this keeping out a thief with half a brain.

  • Steven Cromer

    This is pretty cool. I made something similar for the jk but it looked like crap. It looks like the YJ should be a lot easier.

  • Ralph Duharte

    Hector Infante Power Mike

  • Darren Rash

    Here’s the one I built for my 08 Sierra. Constructed out of water resistant signboard and covered in roll on bed liner, front lip reinforced with angle iron, spring luggage handles. 48 inch depth on the drawers and a hatch up against the cab for the heavier gear such as Jack tool set etcetera. did not opt for the 48 inch extension drawer slides because they are $200 a pair. waxed the drawers and base instead

  • Darren Rash

    I live in PA too, haven’t had any problems with my med kit

  • Charlie Esparza

    Matthew Alexander

  • For the next iteration, you should give serious consideration to using machine bolts and nuts with big washers.  You want to have just the smooth bolt heads on the outside of the box, and all the nuts on the inside.  That way, when the box is closed, there is no way to get to the hardware, so you have to be able to open the locked door to remove anything.

    • robhenderson

      everlastingphelps That’s a great idea, I’ll definitely keep that in mind as I improve the design!

  • AlanSlaughter

    instead of toggles, you may want to install Rivnuts into the vehicle. These install like a rivet, but have a hollow, threaded middle for your bolts to go into. The advantage is you can remove the box without losing half of your fastener. The threaded rivnut is right there waiting when you are ready to re-install.

    • robhenderson

      AlanSlaughter I haven’t heard of Rivnuts but they look like an awesome solution. Thank for the suggestion, I’ll definitely be picking some up!

  • Gary Trotchie

    Zack Ross

  • Larry Duncan


  • Aaron Marrett

    Aren’t the heads to the screws still accessible?

  • Christopher Tio

    I’d prime the MDF then have it coated in bedliner for water resistance. MDF and moisture don’t play well together.

  • Sam Emerson

    Oh shit does that mean that the quickclot that I leave in the car could be useless?

  • James Jerome Smith

    Almost every medicine has a temp that it should not be stored above. It should day on the package or website. Last summer I had to use some gauze and tape and the adhesive on the tape had turned into a sticky mess

  • Jon Samadopolis

    Particle Board and MDF are literally the worst materials to use. They are rigid but shit for strength when it comes to screwing into. Those eye hooks will tear right out. The second MDF gets wet it turns into a sloppy mess. I can also break into that box with a swift stomp of my boot. PT Plywood or Marine Board are what you want to be using if you’re gonna go with wood. Both are far superior in all possible ways to PB and MDF and honestly are probably cheaper.

  • Joe Keeney

    Just be real careful with moisture when using MDF. If it gets wet it will swell real bad. Used it to make a roll out for the back of my Avalanche and when the bed cover leaked it was not pretty.

  • Lars Mårten Rikard Nilsson

    insulate a compartment with polystyrene and connect a cooling fan for that compartment to the car battery/ignition somehow? using a CPU-fan from a computer maybe?

  • Craig Woodruff

    Scott Woodruff

  • James Jerome Smith

    Maybe a solar fan?

  • d0zer1

    Might want to consider some sort of rubberized coating for that particle board too–something like rhino lining.   Water is not kind to particle board.  But nice design and thanks for sharing.

    • robhenderson

      d0zer1 I’m actually setting up an appointment to have the whole tub including the box Rhino Lined. I’m tired of slipping and sliding on the bare metal floorboards every time it rains! ~ Rob

  • JuanJose Miguel Corrada

    I wish this worked for my Tahoe. Let alone that I live in PR and this wouldn’t last 2 days before they steal it. I just run a bag with essentials that I remove out of my vehicle when not in use.

  • Grant Peet

    Becca Joines

  • Nick Jarvis

    You can take a page out of the Prius book and hook up a solar panel to a fan inside of the bed to circulate air.

  • Paulo Marcondes

    Sidney Schaberle Goveia

  • Joshua Cast


  • deerdude93

    I deal with sheet stock quite a bit, and I would strongly recommend using 3/4″ OSB subflooring (i.e. AdvanTech) instead of MDF. The paint will help a little, but if it ever gets wet, it will swell up half again its size. It also could sag over time if it has weight on it or is not well supported. Nice job though, it looks good, and will serve its purpose for a while at least. I have to use a truck in my work, but my first vehicle was a Jeep CJ5 and I absolutely loved it. I never been able to kick the fever since.

    • robhenderson

      deerdude93 Moisture is definitely a concern for me and I’ve been looking into getting the whole tub including the lock box Rhino Lined. From what I understand that should help with the moisture issue somewhat. I’m also looking for ways to improve it though and if I do another iteration I’ll definitely look into that OSB sulfuring.

  • Geist

    Great article, perfect timing too. Helped me remember I can just build my own for the time being rather than waiting till I have the coin to drop on a pre-made unit.

    • robhenderson

      @Geist That’s the thought I had as well. While I would love to have an all steel box, I just can’t justify the price since I’m not sure that I’ll be using this as a Daily Driver for the long term. Once I have some Rhino Lining done in the tub including the box, it should be a fairly permanent box.

  • Dan Otg

    Nick Sciberras

  • Paul Walters

    Good article, just built mine last week! I bolted to the seatbelt attachment holes on my YJ.

  • Dustin Higdon

    Lots of good insulation, shade and ventilation.

  • ITS Tactical

    That looks great! I love the idea of drawers, might have to look into that for the next iteration. ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    Wow that looks great. I’ve been thinking about getting Rhino Lining done with mine. Those drawer faces look awesome! ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    That’s a great idea! I may work that idea into mine as well since the openings are just sitting there unused. ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    Hi Michael, I just checked the measurements for you and from left to right facing the tailgate the measurements run 4″ wide and 2.25″ deep, 5″ wide and 1.5″ deep and 1″ wide and 1/4″ deep. This stair step was the quickest method I found but a gentle curve with a jigsaw might be easier. ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    Thanks for the input Jon, I’ll definitely look into those materials. I’m actually thinking about Rhino Lining the tub and the box so that should help somewhat with the strength and the water resistance. ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    I was thinking the same thing Christopher! I’ve got an appointment soon to get the whole tub shot in Rhino Lining and I think I’ll have them include the box. ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    Hey Ryan, Yeah I’m going to try and keep it covered until I can get the whole thing Rhino Lined and then hopefully moisture won’t be as big of an issue. ~ Rob

  • ITS Tactical

    Hi Aaron, The screw heads are definitely still accessible and someone with enough time could work them out. My idea with this was to keep out casual snoops and people looking for a quick grab. I’m definitely working on ways to improve it though and I’d like to place some mounts inside the box to the side of the frame so that the top would stay put even if the top screws were removed. ~ Rob

  • Paul Walters

    If you see the vertical 2×4 pieces closest to camera, those are the ones I drilled and bolted through. I thought about bolting through the backseat L bracket holes in the floor of the cargo area, but I didn’t end up needing to.

  • Darren Rash

    Thanks 🙂 I had some walnut plywood left over from a previous project

  • Lucas Dwght

    Geno Nowell

  • ZombieKiller

    I built this drawer system for my 2014 FJ. The rear seats still fit perfectly and I used Airline L-Track on the top to secure my fridge and other gear. The drawers also work great as a step to use while securing things to my roof rack, it gives you an extra 8″ on height.

    • radioreject

      ZombieKiller That is seriously impressive.  Great job.

    • willeman

      ZombieKiller do you have the plans for this drawer system or any drawings

  • DTip

    Nice build.  Some inexpensive rug grip would help with keeping items from sliding around so much both inside the compartment, but also on top once tied down/secured.  Would also reduce noise/vibration potentially.

  • nDjinn

    I can attest, to it being pretty easy. I did a very similar build on a 97 TJ and on my Land Rover Discovery I I did one one better with a heavy duty pull out draw (as the storage space is much deeper). I am no carpenter, in fact I am awful at it.

  • Nicole Mayer

    Those door faces make mine look naked!! Nice work on the whole set up!

  • Nicole Mayer

    What kind of hinges did you use for the hatch? I have a long piano hinge but it still sticks up a bit.

  • MightyP

    Very cool and well done.

  • mogundrum

    Great Idea. I have a CJ-7 and the tailgate which I love is not lockable now and would feel if I made it lockable would hinder the everyday opening and closing of the tailgate. I do not want to but due to this factor would opt for the more expensive metal lock box that just fits in the back opening. I am guessing I could drill holes in the location of the existing holes for mounting the rear seat frame and use the same bolts that way I would not have to drill any holes in the frame of the Jeep, just in the lockbox and keep the lock box from being lifted out. Great article. Thanks for posting it. Peace, Reese

  • jamaicajoe

    On a project I did in a 1993 Ford E350 15 passenger van, I covered the carpeted floor in place the last two seat rows with painted plywood and used “T” nuts to secure an assortment of 1/4-20 eye bolts (which were shortened and soldered a backing nut and washer). Those eyebolts were used to secure all manner of storage containers, bicycles and other gear with bungee cords, The “T” nuts won’t pull through the plywood. Much more secure than just threading w wood eyelet into MDF.

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