Aluminum trailers were first introduced in the 1970’s. The controversy, of course, was aluminum vs steel. Which was stronger, easier to haul and lasted longer. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, which we will discuss in depth.
Companies like Aluma Trailers have been producing aluminum trailers for years due to the increase in demand. Aluminum trailers were both lighter than steel, allowing for better gas mileage, but also, aluminum trailers resisted rust and corrosion. These reasons alone made the aluminum trailer very popular. But which metal is stronger? Steel has always had the reputation of being one of the strongest alloys. On the other hand, we have aluminum. The word alone makes us think of aluminum cans and aluminum foil. What isn’t explained is that all metals, steel, aluminum or otherwise, are all alloys. Steel is an alloy of iron. The aluminum alloy is about 95% aluminum with 5% copper, titanium, chromium, and zinc. So it gives aluminum approximately the same yield strength of steel.
Both types of trailers need maintenance. Because the aluminum trailers resist rust, lubricating the hinges will be the biggest issue you will have. You should also give aluminum trailers an acid bath at most, every two years to renew the exterior. Steel trailers, however, need to be examined for rust periodically. If there are scratches or peeling paint, the steel will start to oxidize. Painting can be a more costly repair and has to be done after simple maintenance or welding to prevent rust.
There are many disputes as to which is a better trailer. Aluminum trailer owners will argue that the ride is smoother on the road. They also claim that they have a smoother ride with a fully loaded trailer vs an empty steel trailer. Also, better gas mileage for the aluminum trailer is argued because some say aluminum is as heavy as steel. Which is true, except the trailers are not manufactured with 100% aluminum. 5% is a combination of other alloys. With a light trailer, cargo pounds can be added before reaching maximum weight limits. This gets the job done more efficiently.
In some respects, steel is stronger than aluminum. After all, bridges, tanks, ships, and trains are all manufactured with steel. So, that statement stands true to a point. More force definitely has to be applied before steel starts to bend. However, aluminum flexes more than steel which also means aluminum is more likely to bounce back. Also because steel is more rigid, it is likely to stay bent while the aluminum recovers. That also means steel is also more likely to crack and fatigue before aluminum.
There is yet another myth regarding steel trailers vs aluminum trailers. If an aluminum trailer is manufactured with steel parts, steel must be better, stronger and more reliable than aluminum. Aluminum trailers do have some steel parts, like axles, but this is only because steel is better in this particular case, not because it is a superior metal. If steel is better for the job, aluminum trailer manufacturers will use it. In the long run, using the best material for the product will prove to be the best choice for fewer repairs and maintenance.
If you are a steel trailer owner and want to sell that trailer for a newer model, there are a few things you should certainly keep in mind. First, because steel rusts and is prone to corrosion, resale may be hard. The simple fact that a steel trailer just a couple of years old may have spots of rust, will make repairs and a new paint job necessary before selling. Also, rust compromises the strength of the steel frame. Older trailers can be badly rusted and a safety hazard. You may only get the price of scrap metal in this case. Aluminum trailer owners may not even need to consider resale as they can keep their trailers going strong and looking good for decades with routine maintenance. There is a higher probability for resale in this case for a much higher price than an older steel trailer. You may even find that aluminum trailers may have better warranties when brand new.
The question remains, which is better, aluminum trailers or steel trailers? We have discussed the advantages and disadvantages. Maintenance costs, efficiency, strength, and endurance play heavily in your decision. Trailer owners through the years have proven that aluminum is a superior material for trailers. Less maintenance is required and they still look good after decades with minimal care. Steel trailers may cost less initially, however, expensive maintenance, painting and low resale value will cost you dearly in the long run. The choice is yours, but in the end, you will see the aluminum trailer is the right piece of equipment for any job big or small.