Aluminum or Steel?
Whether you intend to haul a few sheets of plywood, take yard trimmings or junk to the dump, or haul the family gear for camping or fishing trips, picking the right trailer is important.
If you’re in the market for a new trailer you may have asked yourself which is better an aluminum trailer or a steel trailer? These materials can have a direct impact on reliability, durability and security and it’s important to do some research so you better understand the many options and can choose the one that is best for you.
Just like steel is an alloy of iron, the aluminum used in all-aluminum trailers is an alloy metal as well. (An alloy metal is comprised of a minimum of three types that lend themselves to a metal’s strength.) In the case of an all-aluminum trailer, 95% of the trailer will be composed of aluminum and the other 5% of other metals. Steel from iron alloy has a similar composition and when push comes to shove, they are both equally strong.
But where aluminum and steel really differ isn’t in their “strength” per se, it’s in their flex. As an alloy, aluminum is as strong as steel but is less rigid and has more flex. This means that it will flex to a greater point and still return to its original shape before it bends permanently. Steel, on the other hand, has a lower flex point and will keep its rigidity longer than aluminum. This is often why people refer to steel as stronger but what they really mean is that it’s more rigid. This isn’t necessarily a good thing unless you will be hauling on uneven surfaces. On such surfaces the flex of aluminum could, in theory, flex to the point of breaking much earlier than steel due to its more flexible nature. But really, one could see either as an advantage unless you’ll be mostly traveling on uneven surfaces. If this is the case, then steel is for you.
Lets take a look at a few of the features of both steel and aluminum trailers:
- Strength: Steel is known for strength and sturdiness, whereas most people think of aluminum as a lightweight, and therefore not particularly strong, material. Though aluminum is lighter (a benefit we’ll get to in a minute), the type used in cargo trailer manufacturing is an alloy—as steel is an ally of iron—that makes it as strong as its counterpart.
- Weight: This is an important consideration as mentioned above, aluminum is lighter than steel, which provides several benefits. It’s easier to pull and move around, which means you can tow many types of aluminum trailers with a mini-van, SUV, or crossover, rather than a heavy-duty pickup. The lighter weight also provides better gas mileage than steel enclosed trailers. And, because aluminum trailers are lighter, they have a higher payload capacity, meaning you can load more items into an aluminum carrier before reaching the maximum amount of weight your vehicle will tow.
- Upkeep: The fact that steel rusts presents a problem can present a problem when it is time to resell your trailer. Steel trailers only a couple years old often have patches of rust, which is difficult to cover or clean. Older steel trailers can be badly rusted, unsightly and even a safety hazard, with rust compromising load-bearing components.
On the other hand, aluminum trailer owners can keep their trailers running like new for decades with just routine maintenance. In terms of visual appearance, owners can restore their trailer's exterior with an acid bath that renders the trailer lustrous and pristine in minutes. These are just two reasons aluminum trailers command a higher resale price than steel trailers do.
- Damage: Which material will stand the test of time? Steel is more prone to rust when exposed to the elements. If you’re planning to make use of your utility trailer for many years, it makes sense to invest in a material that can outlast the weather. Compared to regular steel, aluminum is much more corrosion resistant.
- Resale: Aluminum trailers tend to be more expensive up-front than steel trailers. However, because they resist rust, are easier to maintain, and last longer, they not only cost less in maintenance, but they tend to keep their value for higher resale. All-aluminum trailer companies almost always offer longer warranties than steel trailer companies, which makes buying all-aluminum trailers a lower risk investment than buying steel.
Now that you know some of the important differences between steel and aluminum trailers hopefully you’re better prepared to shop for the perfect trailer. Although there are other factors you may want to weigh before you make your final decision we hope this article has helped you better understand the differences between steel vs aluminum.
Experts You Can Trust
The experts at USA Trailer Sales carry a huge selection of hitches, trailers and accessories. We are always here to help you negotiate the many options and possible customizations available when buying your trailer. Please contact us with any questions you may have or stop by one of our six Michigan locations to speak with a local trailer expert today.