Steel Vs. Aluminum Tow Truck Beds: Which Is Best For You?Michael Farrell
Steel tow truck beds and aluminum tow truck beds offer unique sets of pros and cons, here’s how to find out which is best for you.
Some people are big aluminum fans and others prefer steel. Different preferences largely relate to individual needs and even climate. Here are the basics on both so you can decide for yourself!
Aluminum Resists Rust, Steel Is Prone To Rust
The majority of steel is going to rust within one year of consistent use and exposure to the elements. Once rust sets in, the disintegration process begins and over time will cause steel truck beds to completely disintegrate. On the other hand, aluminum resists all forms of corrosion. Hence why all-aluminum truck beds skyrocketed to popularity when introduced in the early 2000’s.
Steel manufactures have yet to invent a way to permanently prevent rust on steel. As if now, they use the galvanizing and galvannealing process, which includes coating the steal with a protective topcoat made of zinc. This works to reduce rust for a while, but as soon as the top layer is breached by anything at all rust is able to flourish. If something knocks against the surface or wears down an area of the bed, you will see rust start to set in.
Which Is Stronger: Steel Vs. Aluminum?
Aluminum beds tend to cost more than steel beds, although steel manufacturers will tell you their beds are much stronger than any aluminum. Naturally, aluminum is a more fragile and less dense material.
Steel is a harder substance, meaning it is going to be less susceptible to damage from impact, say for instance you toss a heavy piece of wood into the back of your truck and it bangs against the side of the bed. Steel is far less likely to dent than aluminum in this instance.
Pure aluminum contains around 1/3 the strength and weight of steel. Yet, it’s important to note that aluminum truck beds are not made from pure aluminum. Instead, they are made from 95% aluminum with the remaining 5% made up of added metals including copper, titanium, zinc and chromium. Small trace amounts of other metals may be present as well. This makes overall strength more comparable to steel than pure aluminum, but it is still softer and therefore easier to ding up.
Some aluminum truck beds are made tougher than others; if you go with a cheaper option you could end up getting what you pay for.
If you look around for common uses of each material you will notice steel is more commonly used as a supporting structure as it has a reputation as one of the toughest common alloys. On the other hand, aluminum is commonly known for its use in tinfoil and soda cans, which can sort of make one doubt its actual strength.
The unique aluminum blend used for truck beds is much stronger than any soda can, but aluminum does tend to develop stress fractures at a faster rate than steel. It’s not uncommon to see broken or cracked aluminum frames, beds and bodies. Always check with the welding on an aluminum bed before purchasing to make sure there are NO craters at the ends of the welds.
So long as you don’t routinely toss heavy tools or equipment into the back of your aluminum truck bed you shouldn’t have too many dents and dings to worry about. Also, the heavier loads you transport the greater risk of the aluminum frame cracking. If you normally transport lighter loads this may not be an issue at all. This is why the types of loads you routinely handle may have a big impact on your decision between steel and aluminum.
Steel Truck Bed Maintenance Vs. Aluminum Truck Bed Maintenance
Steel must be constantly checked for signs of rust. If you notice scratches in the paint you want to conduct touch-up work right away before the steel has a chance to oxidize and begin showing discoloration associated with rust. If your truck has been through the galvanizing and galvannealing process you don’t need to look it over as often. But as it begins to age it becomes equally important, as the zinc topcoat is more likely to wear away over time. If you live in a moist, salty climate, say for instance in a coastal community, the risk of rust increases.
After your steel truck bed undergoes any repairs you must look it over to ensure welded and riveted areas are properly finished. Prior to welding, the galvanic layer must be a removed, as a result new rivet and screws may compromise the integrity of the galvanic coat.
Aluminum may not rust but it will need all hinges and latches regularly lubricated. Not to mention, aluminum beds require costly repairs because when they become damaged it is more difficult to fix such a soft material. Operational errors may cause the need for extensive repairs to chain attachments, bed lock locations, and other critical points.
You may have to spend more money in fuel if you go with a steel truck bed as opposed to a metal truck bed, as aluminum tends to be a lot lighter than steal.
Aluminum truck beds generally weigh around 10% to 15% less than steel truck beds advertising the same loading capacity. But, you’re likely to spend that money right back at the shop due to the steep cost of aluminum repairs.
Which Is Best For You, Aluminum Or Steel?
Some people cheer for aluminum and others prefer steel truck beds, it has a lot to do with what you use your truck for. If you are going to be carrying extremely heavy cargo, steel might be the best bet for you. On the other hand, if you are focused on lighter loads it might be better to go with aluminum to reduce issues of rust and gas consumption. Then again, you must consider the cost of repairs in your overall analysis.
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