Aluminum and steel are two of the most common materials used in almost any modern object. And we’re not just talking about home and kitchen appliances, electronic equipment, and personal devices here. The debate as to which between these two materials is better has expanded well into how we travel the highways and byways of modern human existence. In this article, we’ll attempt to make a steel vs aluminum trailer comparison with the hope that you will be more enlightened to make the right decision as to which of the two systems will better suit your trailer needs.
When it comes to aluminum vs steel strength, there is this notion that the latter is structurally stronger than the former. This is largely attributed to the belief that when one talks about objects that are made of aluminum, they are looking at 100% aluminum. If this were the case, then there really is no point in making any comparison at all since pure aluminum will be substantially weaker than steel.
The aluminum used in objects like a modern trailer is typically combined with other metals to produce what we call an aluminum alloy. Different aluminum alloy manufacturers will have their own secret ‘recipes’ as to how to formulate a stronger structure. For example, they may use 85% aluminum while the remaining 15% can be composed of other elements such as copper, silicon, zinc, tin, manganese, or even magnesium. In the aerospace industry, they typically use a combination of aluminum and magnesium to make it lighter while retaining its strength. Cast alloy systems combine aluminum with silicon. The addition of other elements to aluminum is what gives an aluminum alloy its strength.
The same is true with steel. A steel trailer frame is made up of iron and carbon as well as other elements. So, you see steel is an alloy, too. It’s not really that much different from your aluminum alloy, except perhaps to the base element (iron vs aluminum) and the additional elements.
Both systems are strong. However, they do have one characteristic that may be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you use the trailer. Steel is generally more rigid. As such, it will require tremendous amounts of force to bend it. This should come in handy when traversing on uneven terrain. The structural rigidity of steel will keep the integrity of your trailer. Unfortunately, if it does bend there’s not much you can do to ‘unbend’ it. Once steel has been bent, it is now more susceptible to cracking.
On the other hand, an aluminum trailer frame is more flexible. It is still strong, but it can absorb forces a lot better than steel. As such, when it bends or flexes, it is 3 times more likely to go back to its original shape.
So, which one is stronger? Both are strong, except that you will also have to consider other factors.
Aside from strength, it is also important to look at the weight of the material. When it comes to aluminum vs steel weight, the latter will come out as the clear winner. Trailers that are made of aluminum alloy are generally 10 to 15 percent lighter than their steel counterparts. This can translate to a few things.
One of them is lighter workload on your engine. True, you may have a powerful V8 chugging your trailer, but if the trailer was 10 to 15 percent heavier, that roughly translates to additional workload for your truck. And whenever engine workload is increased, you can also expect fuel economy to suffer. The tires will also be affected. You may have the best trailer tires in the market, but if you’re lugging a heavy trailer behind you (using the best trailer hitch in town) these tires will also have to take some of the brunt.
Heavier steel trailers especially those that weigh more than a couple of tons will often require some of the best trailer brake controllers in the market to be installed on the tow vehicle (that is if your truck doesn’t come with one already). But if you can somehow manage to reduce the weight of your trailer, then you clearly won’t have a need for such a system anymore.
One of the most obvious reasons why most folks choose an aluminum trailer over a steel one is because of the remarkable resistance of aluminum alloy to rust. Aluminum is well-regarded for its ability to resist rusting; hence, providing the added benefit of longevity or durability. However, it is important to understand that aluminum is only resistant against rusts, which is technically the chemical reaction that occurs when iron and steel react with oxygen in the air. Rusting is a form of corrosion. The more appropriate question, therefore, is whether aluminum corrodes or not.
You might be flabbergasted in learning that your aluminum metal trailer is prone to corrosion as well. This is known as aluminum oxide corrosion whereby the aluminum in the alloy reacts with oxygen in the air to produce aluminum oxide. This layer of aluminum oxide protects the underlying surface of the aluminum from further corrosion. It is for this reason that aluminum trailers will typically outlast their steel brethren.
Maintenance and Cost of Repair
In our ongoing stainless steel vs aluminum trailer comparison, we’re left with one item left in the bag. Up to this point, we know that aluminum trailers beat steel versions in terms of weight and durability. It’s strong, too.
Aluminum may be a bit more expensive to repair, but when it comes to maintenance, it is a lot easier than steel. Aluminum trailers, since they don’t rust, will never require the application of rust-resistant material. The aluminum oxide that may have built up over the years can be easily removed with an acid bath. On the other hand, steel trailers will have to be rust-proofed.
Aluminum trailers are lighter than steel trailers. They are also rust-proof, easy to maintain, and equally strong. Steel trailers, on the other hand, are strong and very rigid and may be a lot cheaper to repair. Ultimately, the choice is yours.