For decades, steel has been the metal of choice throughout the industry for truck bodies. While steel has many advantages in terms of strength, an increasing number of truck makers and fleet owners are turning their attention toward aluminum as a viable alternative. The rising popularity of aluminum truck bodies has brought about the interesting steel vs aluminum debate.
As with steel, there are many benefits of aluminum truck bodies. In the aluminum vs. steel truck frame debate, a lot of people have come to favor the former over the latter. An aluminum flatbed truck can offer increased workload and fuel efficiency.
On a part-by-part basis, aluminum can reduce the weight of a truck. For example, a Ford aluminum body on an F-150 could eliminate 700 lbs.
As the movement to establish aluminum enclosed truck bodies gains ground, truck makers are also taking notice of the savings that come with the production of aluminum truck parts. Simply put, aluminum is far cheaper to produce than steel because the majority of aluminum truck parts consist of recycled contents. This, in turn, makes aluminum the most eco-friendly option for truck body production.
One of the main benefits of aluminum truck models is the rust-resistant nature of aluminum alloys. When it comes to the parts that comprise a vehicle, rust-resistance is important because rust can literally eat holes into the body and engine of a truck.
Essentially, rust is to metal what weeds are to lawns. Once the weeds start to spread, all the grass and crops are in danger of being overtaken across great stretches of soil. Likewise, when rust forms along an edge or at a select spot on a sheet of metal, it does not take long for the rust to spread to neighboring parts. In the most concentrated spots, the rust can eat holes right through the metal surface.
Thanks to this rust resistance, aluminum is generally resistant to corrosion. Aluminum, by nature, forms an oxide layer along its surface that renders the metal resistant to corrosion in most cases. This protective layer of oxide shields the metal underneath from direct contact with air and moisture. As such, an aluminum truck body will generally be a lot more resilient in saltwater-dense air environments.
When it comes to steel, manufacturers must coat the metal’s surface with a galvanic layer of zinc. While the galvanic layer will protect steel from rust formation, this protection can get breached at any time. If an area along the surface incurs a major bump or scratch, an open wound along the galvanic layer could form, which would leave the exposed metal vulnerable to rust.
Aluminum, by contrast, does not have this type of vulnerability because the protective oxide layer along an aluminum surface is generated naturally by the properties of the metal. As such, the cost of rendering aluminum corrosion-resistant is minuscule compared to steel, which can cost a lot of money for manufacturers to galvanize.
Another advantage of aluminum truck bodies over their steel counterparts is the fact that the latter are typically only galvanized along the truck bed. Since the body of a steel truck is usually protected by paint, the exposed steel of a truck bed is generally seen as the only part worthy of the coating costs. However, the body paint on a steel truck can crack as easily as the galvanic layer.
An aluminum truck body, on the other hand, will generate its own protective layer against corrosion or rust, regardless of whether the body paint cracks.
Thanks to the rust-proof and corrosion-resistant qualities of aluminum, trucks are generally more durable with aluminum body parts. Throughout the years in which you own and operate an aluminum-bodied truck, the aluminum parts are better equipped to endure the passing winters that are liable to bring on heavy bouts of rain and hail. Overall, you are bound to save money with an aluminum truck due to the reduced need for fluid changes and body maintenance.
Additionally, since an aluminum body weighs less than steel and puts less strain on the tires and fuel system, the life expectancy of your engine is likely to be longer in an aluminum-bodied truck. After all, engine components do not need to work as hard in vehicles that move along roads and conquer steep inclines with utmost ease. Therefore, you are less likely to have your engine break down on an interstate highway or be hit with sudden, costly parts-replacement when you drive an aluminum truck.
Contrary to conventional wisdom — which holds that aluminum enclosed truck bodies could never be as safe as steel due to the latter’s superior strength — aluminum has proved to be a safe metal for truck bodies. In recent aluminum vs. steel truck frame tests, the former has in fact prevailed.
The Ford F-150 is thus far the only pickup truck to be rated a Top Safety Pick by the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The aluminum-bodied truck beat out steel-bodied trucks from four competing automakers — Chevrolet, GMC, Ram and Toyota — in a series of simulated accidents that tested each vehicle’s strength in a range of scenarios, such as head-on collisions and crashes into trees.
The F-150 was the only truck to remain intact in the driver footwell area, which was crushed on impact in the other four vehicles. In a comparative real-life crash scenario, a driver would have sustained serious injuries in the lower extremities in the four trucks that fared poorly in the IIHS test. These results speak heavily of the safety advantages of vehicles made with optimally heat-treated aluminum.
A truck with an aluminum body will get more mileage per gallon thanks to the reduced amount of weight that the body places on the tires. An aluminum body can reduce the overall weight of the body by roughly 50 percent. Likewise, the fuel efficiency of an aluminum-bodied truck is eight to 10 percent greater than that of a steel-bodied truck.
A heavier truck, by contrast, will place greater amounts of weight on the tires. Consequently, the heavier weight can result in a shorter lifespan for the tires and a reduced payload capacity. The more weight tires must endure, the harder it becomes for them to roll, especially when you drive on inclines.
To compensate for the weight and strain, the engine’s fuel system consumes more fuel just to power the vehicle along as intended. With an aluminum truck body, you free up some of this excess body weight. The reduced weight makes things easier on the tires, which, in turn, demand less from the fuel system.
The lower weight of an aluminum truck body also allows for increased payload capacity. The amounts of fuel and engine power that would otherwise be consumed powering the vehicle’s weight uphill can instead be reserved or used to haul larger truckloads.
For commercial trucking, the savings on fuel, reduced maintenance and tire wear and the increased load capacity translate to greater productivity and a healthier bottom line.
The production of aluminum is an eco-friendly process in which materials are recycled, and no harmful chemicals are used. When the parts of aluminum trucks are made, discarded metals are put to good use, and strong, efficient vehicles are pieced together as a result.
As with steel, aluminum originates from ore. However, the melting process required for aluminum is cleaner and less wasteful than the refinement stages for steel making. Thanks to this cleaner process, aluminum production emits less greenhouse gas than iron or steel production.
Aluminum production has also made it possible for automobile manufacturers to ease up on landfills and put discarded materials to better use. In fact, 85 percent of aluminum is made from recycled aluminum products.
Moreover, the amount of recycling involved results in far less energy consumption than regular metal production. Compared to the amount of money it would cost to produce aluminum from new materials, recycling cuts the energy costs associated with production down by 95 percent.
An aluminum truck is also more environmentally friendly once you take it to the road. Thanks to the lighter overall weight, you burn less fuel and engine fluid when driving an aluminum-bodied truck. The reduced vehicle weight makes riding easier on the engine and helps to prolong each service interval.
Steel is generally stronger than aluminum. As such, steel allows for more payload capacity than aluminum if you ignore other factors, such as the grade of the aluminum.
In terms of strength, an aluminum truck body can surpass its own expectations if the metal is sufficiently heat-treated. For example, the 2015 Ford F-150 features a truck body constructed with 6,000-series aluminum, which is heat-treated to a strength that favorably compares with most steel truck bodies.
Another factor to consider is the lighter weight of aluminum, which allows auto manufacturers to produce truck bodies with thicker gauges of aluminum yet still retain the weight advantage. A sheet of aluminum is only a third as dense as a steel sheet of comparative thickness. Therefore, an aluminum truck body can be made with double the thickness, yet still be lighter weight than a steel truck of the same size and mass.
Ultimately, the strength potential and weight advantage can amount to greater workload capacity for an aluminum truck. If the aluminum is heat-treated to maximum strength and made with a slightly thicker-than-normal gauge, the truck could be stronger yet lighter-weight than a comparative steel model.
Combined, the two advantages can allow for more productive workloads, greater fuel efficiency and a longer lifespan for the tires and engine parts, which endure less wear and tear in a lighter-weight vehicle.
The amount of maintenance required for an aluminum truck body is generally minor in comparison to that of a steel-body truck. When it comes to the upkeep of an aluminum truck body, maintenance primarily consists of lubrication here and there, such as on the latches and hinges.
Thanks to the rust-resistant natural oxide that forms across the surface on an aluminum layer, there is no need to panic when a paint crack forms on the hood, roof or door of an aluminum-bodied truck. In fact, the paint on an aluminum truck body is purely aesthetic.
On a steel truck, the fight against rust is an ongoing part of maintenance, regardless of whether you have a fresh paint job and a galvanized truck bed. If a crack appears in the paint along any area of the truck body, rust could soon form if the problem is not remedied as soon as possible. Likewise, if the galvanized layer of the truck bed gets damaged, the truck will need immediate service work to prevent the formation and spread of rust and corrosion.
Granted, a galvanized steel truck bed does not require as much maintenance as a regular steel bed. However, the cost to repair a damaged galvanized bed is generally more expensive because the galvanic layer has to be removed to treat the underlying steel.
Ultimately, steel truck bodies have proven to be reliable for many decades. Nonetheless, aluminum bodies require far less maintenance, and this can be a huge money saver over the years that you own and operate an aluminum-bodied truck.
For more than 60 years, Reading has been one of America’s leading providers of commercial truck bodies. Since the beginning, we have spearheaded innovation in the development of safer, more efficient and advanced truck body designs. With our constant refinement of parts and alloys, we have remained committed to producing the strongest and safest truck bodies on today’s market.
In 1979, Reading introduced the service industry’s first entirely aluminum truck body. Since that time, we have led the development of aluminum as a safe, efficient and viable alternative to steel bodies for commercial trucks. Thanks to our innovations, aluminum is now gaining ground throughout the auto industry for its lightweight, eco-friendly and fuel-efficient qualities.
As the aluminum vs. steel truck body debate draws more attention among automakers, fleet operators and truck drivers alike, Reading remains committed to offering only the finest truck bodies in both metal categories. At Reading, we go the extra mile for all of our customers. Our service bodies come with many great warranties, and we also do custom work to suit the unique needs of each customer.