From the unibody chassis of the Honda Ridgeline to the supposedly bulletproof windows of the Tesla Cybertruck, there are a lot of ways to build a truck. Especially when it comes to safety, automakers have a lot of options when designing and producing a truck. One of those options is to use aluminum rather than steel. Here’s a comparison of those two options.
The hard facts
The main reason why some automakers are switching to aluminum from steel is because of efficiency. Aluminum is a lighter metal than steel is, according to Consumer Reports. As a result, cars and trucks that are built with a lot of aluminum can save a lot of weight. Reading Truck Body says that the F-150, after Ford started building it with more aluminum, lost 700 pounds.
Ford also claims, according to Consumer Reports, that this switch in metals won’t result in a loss of strength, durability, or safety in the truck. There is truth there, as aluminum is a tough metal that’s commonly used for planes. But in terms of the hard science, aluminum does have different properties than steel does, and some of those differences are in how tough they are.
For instance, as Consumer Reports mentioned, aluminum can bend more easily than steel can bend. That said, aluminum is also corrosion-resistant, and in the long run, that can make aluminum tougher than steel. Rust can easily kill a steel car after a while, but aluminum cars won’t have that issue.
What the crash tests say
As Reading Truck Body mentioned, the F-150 is so far the most popular pickup truck in America that uses aluminum body panels. The F-150’s competitors, which include the Chevy Silverado, the Ram 1500, and the GMC Sierra, for the most part, stick to a design based on steel.
The F-150 was the only truck of that bunch that received the Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS.
According to Reading Truck Body, the F-150’s aluminum panels helped protect the crash test dummy far better than the steel panels on the Ram 1500 or the Silverado did. While that was true then, it’s more complicated nowadays.
The latest safety tests
The latest model year of the F-150 doesn’t have a Top Safety Pick award anymore. In fact, according to Kelley Blue Book, the Ram 1500 is the safest truck right now while the F-150 is the second safest truck. That said, safety institutes take a lot into consideration when they’re judging the safety of a truck.
Steel, aluminum, crash tests, all of those things matter, but so do other stuff such as the truck’s headlights or how much smart safety features it has. For instance, the latest Toyota Tacoma, which does have a steel body, was given the Top Safety Pick award by the IIHS. The latest F-150, didn’t get that award.
The IIHS says that the F-150 did great in every crash test but simply had really terrible headlights. So it’s possible that the F-150 could’ve won a Top Safety Pick award if Ford equipped it with better headlights. This means that, in all likelihood, the IIHS agrees with F-150 lovers, the F-150’s aluminum construction doesn’t compromise its safety at all.
With that said, aluminum isn’t all great. Sure, factually there’s no proof that aluminum isn’t a safe metal to use. But, as Consumer Reports mentioned, aluminum is far more expensive than steel is. So, while there isn’t a loss in safety, there is a loss in your wallet when you choose to buy aluminum cars.