The first aluminum-bodied pickup truck was a bolder change than some people realize. Trucks symbolized hard-working strength, and steel was considered an integral part of that image. Then Ford decided to switch everything up. At the time, there were worries that Ford would lose sales and loyal customers. But several years later, and Ford’s competitors have started taking up aluminum, too. Here’s what you need to know about the Ford trucks with aluminum bodies, and what the material means today.
Aluminum-bodied Ford trucks
Since 2015, the Ford F-150 has had an aluminum body. In 2017, the F-Series Super-Duty trucks also gained aluminum bodies. Both were the first pickups in their class to get bodies made out of the lighter-weight material, according to The Drive. However, the F-Series still retains a frame made of high-strength steel.
At the moment, the Ford F-150 and F-Series Super Duty are the only trucks that have both aluminum bodies and aluminum beds. For 2019, the Chevrolet Silverado did replace some steel body panels with aluminum ones, but not the bed. And although the GMC Sierra also has ‘mixed-material’ body panels, it skipped an aluminum bed for a carbon-fiber one. Ram has also only used aluminum selectively.
Critics assumed, at the 2015 F-150’s launch, that aluminum would be too weak and expensive to fix. And according to an Autoweek report, that’s still the prevailing mentality for some engineers and designers. To quote an old cyclist saying, “steel is real.” But actually? That hasn’t really proven to be the case.
What owners should know about aluminum Ford trucks: cost
There have been a lot of videos put out demonstrating how the aluminum body panels and bed of the F-150 aren’t as strong as steel or cost more to fix. Chevrolet did it for one of their “Real People” ads. Edmunds actually bought and tested a 2015 F-150 to attempt to prove or disprove the notion. And there are countless YouTube clips of people smacking trucks with sledgehammers or saying the panels are made out of beer cans.
But as we and Automotive News have reported, aluminum isn’t expensive to fix or live with. In 2017, one Texas dealership was swarmed with hail-damaged aluminum F-150s. But because Ford invested in proper technician training, and designed the pickup with a modular structure, the average aluminum truck repair cost $2000 less than a steel repair would. Not only did this reduce the labor hours needed to fix the trucks, some aluminum parts were actually cheaper than their steel counterparts. This is partially due to aluminum’s recyclable nature: Ford could melt down left-over metal for more parts.
Insurance costs also aren’t more expensive for aluminum than steel. In fact, because of the ease of repair, the Highway Loss Data Institute reports collision claim severity is down by 7%. That being said, collision claims overall are up 7%. That’s because, to be fair, aluminum isn’t quite as strong as steel.
What owners should know about aluminum Ford trucks: strength
That being said, the trucks aren’t made out of beer cans. They’re also, based on information from Reading Body, less susceptible to rust. As Car and Driver reported, Ford spent over two decades researching aluminum manufacturing. The automaker uses a blend of alloys that have been extensively used in many industries, including military and aerospace. They’re not quite “military-grade”, as the ads proclaim, but they’re not too far off.
Those Chevy ads that showed cinder blocks bouncing into the rear bed? Who does that, and without a bed liner? And if you were really worried about the F-150’s panel strength, look no further than the recent Tesla Cybertruck reveal.
They bashed an aluminum door panel with a sledgehammer, and all it got were a few dents. A Silverado’s or Ram 1500’s door would probably be dented, too.
What owners should know about aluminum Ford trucks: weight savings
In any case, the weight savings were undoubtedly worth it. And not just for the fuel-efficiency gains. As YouTuber Big Truck Big RV explained, lowering the F-Series’ body weight meant Ford could beef up the rest of the truck. With a lighter body and stronger components, that meant the F-Series’ towing and payload capacities could go up. And considering both the F-150 and F-Series Super-Duty top their respective classes in terms of payload capacity, it paid off.
Are aluminum-bodied trucks still controversial?
Unfortunately, the answer seems to be ‘yes’. But it’s a controversy that isn’t really based on anything anymore.
Many truck manufacturers act like going full-aluminum is something somehow beneath them and their customers. The fact that many still believe aluminum to be this delicate, expensive material also doesn’t help.
However, the 2015 F-150, the very first year of the aluminum body, is the best model year to buy. And as the data has shown, the aluminum-bodied Ford trucks aren’t more expensive to fix than steel. And the increase in collision damage probably has just as much to do with the overall increase in truck and SUV weight than as it does material properties. Plus, if aluminum wasn’t a structurally-sound metal, why would Ram and GM use it in their trucks at all?
If you’re looking to buy a pickup, don’t feel like an aluminum body somehow discredits any of Ford’s trucks. Is aluminum dominating the truck industry? No. But that doesn’t make it worse than steel. Just different.