Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Converting Cargo Trailers into TTTs

Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby usmc70_14 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 7:19 am

Hello everyone...

I am still in the process of placing an order for a 7x12 V Nose with 7' Height, tandem axle trailer.....

I've had some hiccups with manufacturers and now I'm lost in terms of materials to use. My confusion is on aluminum VS steel. Originally, I wanted steel then I was convinced to do an all aluminum build.

The purpose for my trailer is to use as an office / camping / tailgating. Eventually, I will be getting a 4 wheel UTV and storing it in there. That's why I originally wanted steel. The trailer will mostly be used and stored in Florida.

I look forward to hearing various thoughts and recommendations you may have.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby beachguy005 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 11:53 am

Let's see.....Florida, where it's hot, humid and rainy. I would go with alu simply because it's lighter in weight and rust won't be a concern.
I'm in SW Florida myself.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby GTS225 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:33 pm

I disagree with Beachguy. Salt air, water and sand is going to corrode the aluminum, or rust the steel. You biggest worry, in my opinion, is how well to seal up your trailer material to prevent corrosion.
I might suggest aluminum, as it's going to be lighter overall, and if you have a local shop spray it with bedliner before you build on it, that should seal it up enough to make it last a long time.

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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby beachguy005 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:17 pm

You have a lot of salt water in Iowa? We have boat lifts down here with cradle beams that are either galvanized steel or aluminum. The aluminum ones last a lot longer and don't ever rust. The get submerged in brackish and salt water.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby McDave » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:57 pm

Aluminium trailers are much lighter and stronger overall. Also more expensive, but you get what you pay for... hopefully. If I had it to do over, I would be willing to delay my build in order to afford an all aluminium trailer. Hindsight being what it is and all...

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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby usmc70_14 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 6:53 pm

How about the "toughness" of aluminum when hauling around weight?

I can't recall where I read that not all aluminum can withstand certain stresses compared to steel. My little background in science tells me aluminum is stronger and lighter than steel.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby CoventryKid » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:54 pm

Converted our NEO 7x16x7 in 2015 and started travelling essentially full-time.

Thousands of miles later, the NEO is in great shape. Only 1 broken trailer spring last year on Hwy 101 in Oregon. If you've driven 101 recently, you know why.

Bought NEO because of reputation and light weight (1870 lbs empty) 'cause our high top conversion van cannot tow as much as a 1/2 ton truck.

Hope this helps.
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NEO NAVR 7x16 V-nose aluminum trailer now a comfortable travel trailer

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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby Ottsville » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:55 pm

McDave wrote:Aluminium trailers are much lighter and stronger overall. Also more expensive, but you get what you pay for... hopefully. If I had it to do over, I would be willing to delay my build in order to afford an all aluminium trailer. Hindsight being what it is and all...

McDave


I've always wondered about the weight and strength comparison of aluminum to steel so I looked this up(from https://sciencing.com/strength-tubing-v ... 11536.html):

The strength of any material can be described by a physical parameter known as Young’s modulus of elasticity, measured in force per unit area. This parameter can be used to assess the strength of aluminum and steel tubing.

Young’s Modulus
At 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Young’s modulus of elasticity for aluminum is 10 million pounds per square inch (psi). Young’s modulus of elasticity for steel, regardless of its type, is around 30 million psi. This effectively means that steel tubing is three times stronger than aluminum tubing of the same dimensions.

Weight
Size for size, steel is around three times heavier than aluminum. However, because the walls of aluminum tubing need to be three times thicker than steel tubing to achieve the bending strength, any weight advantage is lost.


So let's play around with a deflection calculator for square tubing at http://metalgeek.com/static/deflection.php

2" STEEL tubing, 0.120" wall, 96" long with 500 lbs load in the center, ends detached
type = steel ends = free
est. weight = 3.068# per foot
OD = 2" ID = 1.76"
Moment of Inertia = 0.5332

Deflection = 0.582"

Then we attempt to find a similar sized aluminum beam that would have the a similar deflection by varying wall thickness. Going from .120 steel to .5 aluminum gets this:

2" ALUMINUM tubing, 0.5" wall, 96" long with 500 lbs load in the center, ends detached

type = aluminum ends = free
est. weight = 3.4917# per foot
OD = 2" ID = 1"
Moment of Inertia = 1.25

Deflection = 0.7373

Note how with same size tubing the wall size has to quadruple to approach a similar deflection(but not reach the deflection of steel) and the aluminum actually weighs more.

Let's up the size of the aluminum tubing but keep .120 wall:

3" ALUMINUM tubing, 0.120" wall, 96" long with 500 lbs load in the center, ends detached


type = aluminum ends = free
est. weight = 1.609# per foot
OD = 3." ID = 2.76"
Moment of Inertia = 1.9143

Deflection = 0.4814"

This gives us less deflection than the original steel beam and a little over half the weight.

So for a given profile, in this example 2" square, it looks like steel gives a better weight to strength ratio. But if you are willing to change the profile, aluminum beats steel in weight to strength.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby Tigris99 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 9:04 pm

ok here is the material basics

steel is tried and true but is heavy but can and does rust faster

Aluminum is stronger lb for lb vs steel. But the aluminum bits are "larger". Like beams thicker/larger etc. Aluminum does NOT corrode like steel. Basic rain water alone will NOT corrode the alloys used in trailer near like steel will. Salt water has much less of an effect as well TO A POINT.

if it's not coated an in contact with any other metals it will corrode out FASTER than steel (galvanic corrosion).

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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby hankaye » Fri Sep 14, 2018 9:09 pm

beachguy005, Howdy;

beachguy005 wrote:You have a lot of salt water in Iowa? We have boat lifts down here with cradle beams that are either galvanized steel or aluminum. The aluminum ones last a lot longer and don't ever rust. The get submerged in brackish and salt water.


Well, the difference is about nil (0), both corrode, ferrous metals will show the stuff referred to as "rust"
while the aluminum and other non-ferrous metals show their corrosion with different colored "stuff'.
Aluminum and magnesium have a grayish powdery looking "rust" (some lighter shades others darker), it
all depends on the other materials used to create the various alloys.
Some aluminum and magnesium surfaces have what is referred to as an anodized surface treatment. A chemical
that etches itself into the surface of the metal to prevent corrosion. Works very well, until the anodized
coating is broken. Could be a minor scratch or being cut intentionally.
Just about everything corrodes, I made a good living fighting it for the Navy and Coast Guard for almost 25 years
taking care of their aircraft.
Here is a good description; Basically, corrosion it a refined material returning to it natural state.
http://www.materials.unsw.edu.au/tutori ... -corrosion


hank
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Every day I beat my own previous record for number of consecutive days I've stayed alive.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby beachguy005 » Sat Sep 15, 2018 5:51 am

Yes, you're correct that aluminum will corrode, along with everything else on the planet. But a galvanized steel I beam for a boat lift will become unusable long before an aluminum one will. One could argue that a steel beam re-galvanized or maintained, would give as long a service life as the alu and considered as not corroding, or corroding at the same rate, but steel has a lot more maintenance requirements. I've done my share of maintaining Navy steel and a Colvin sailboat.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby Dano-Mich » Sat Sep 15, 2018 6:06 am

Last fall I purchased a 2005 7x12 R&R all aluminum trailer. It had a leak in the roof at the back that hadn't been repaired for a long time. The luan above the ceiling ribs was totally rotten, saturated, and falling apart. If this had been a steel trailer all the ribs in the ceiling back there, the side wall, and back door would have been totally rusted. I repaired the leak and put in new wood and she's good to go. All aluminum for me, decision is easy.

EDIT: In talking with manufacturers, they say if you are going to be abusing the trailer to go with steel. For a landscaping business that abuses their trailers every single day and load it up, might make sense to go with steel. For lighter or average duty use like a recreational trailer, go with aluminum.
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby low277 » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:18 pm

When I started looking at trailers to buy I first looked at all aluminum. I looked at a couple of aluminum manufacturers, my assumption was that they would be much lighter. After getting a quote on the trailer I wanted and sticker shock. I looked at steel trailers with aluminum skin. After comparing the aluminum vs steel trailers I found the weight was not as different as I thought it would be. From memory I think the difference was only about 200 lbs. I ended up buying steel and so far so good. But ultimately you have to be happy with your your choice. Lots of variables. Good luck! :)
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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby Tigris99 » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:30 am

they charge a premium for aluminum trailers. which is stupid because they use the lowest cost alloy out there. Doubt any actually use 7000 series alloys to justify the price. Alloy choice also plays a part in weight savings. Better alloys are stronger so less is required.

But the weight savings based on trailer size could be a big deal in smaller trailers that are design for use with smaller vehicles.

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Re: Aluminum or Steel Trailer Build? Pros/Cons

Postby cg_ops » Wed Sep 19, 2018 10:56 am

Not sure if you guys are looking at the actual weights of the aluminum vs steel trailers of the same size but several dealers and a few articles I've read say that the weight savings are (generally) severely exaggerated. I was dead set on going aluminum until I started really looking into it. It's just not worth it unless you're very near the limit of your TV.

The most succinct article I could find (in 2 minutes of googling) to support my overall research is this article that I found relatively early on in my research of the topic:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/enclosed ... ad-allison
Aluminum or steel? In most cases steel will be cheaper and slightly heavier. Most people think aluminum will be a 50% weight savings, but in reality you usually save 5-25% depending on the trailer and manufacture. A well built 6 x 10 enclosed trailer will save you about 180lbs off of a 1200lb steel trailer. Aluminum trailers will not rust, but a properly coated and undercoated steel trailer can last just as long as an aluminum trailer. Aluminum trailers have to be checked for cracks periodically and require maintenance to keep their shine. We love our Cargo Mate, Lightning, & Rance aluminum trailers, but they are not maintenance free. Steel will most definitely rust, can crack, & be heavier than it’s aluminum brother. Aluminum typically costs 20-50% more than a comparable steel enclosed trailer. An aluminum trailer will maintain a much higher resale value for the usable life of the trailer.
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