Steel vs. Aluminum: Which is Best for Trailers?
By TAXA Adventure Specialists \
You’re ready to set out on your adventure, but first, you need to pick a camping trailer — and you have two common options: steel or aluminum. Each material has its sustainability benefits, where steel offers more recyclability and durability, and aluminum is lightweight, which can save you money on miles per gallon. So, what’s the best choice between an aluminum vs. steel trailer? Let’s explore the pros and cons of each to help you make the best choice based on your needs, budget, and preferences.
What is steel?
Steel, an alloy made of iron and carbon, has been around since 1800 BC and is made using a blast furnace or an electric arc furnace. In the early days of camping trailers, steel was an ideal material because it offered the strength and durability required for being towed behind a vehicle without being damaged. Steel was also commonly used for the exterior panels of these early camping trailers because it provided protection from the elements and insulation inside the vehicle. Today, steel is the material of choice for many off-road and folding trailers as they can handle tough terrain without bending or denting.
Why is it used in trailers?
Steel trailers have dominated the camping vehicle game for decades, primarily because of their strength. Here are some other reasons why steel has been a popular building material for adventure vehicles:
- Affordability - on average, steel camping trailers are about 20 percent less upfront than trailers made with other materials.
- Recyclability - steel is completely recyclable, and it can be recycled into the same material over and over again.
- Rugged - steel trailers are less likely to dent or become damaged as they’re being pulled behind your vehicle over rough terrain. They can also withstand inclement weather better than other metal types.
Downsides of steel trailers
While steel trailers offer affordability, strength, and sustainability, there are some downsides to this material as well. For one, steel can be heavy, which means it’s going to contribute to the maximum weight your car can tow before you even load your camping gear inside. Steel trailers also require more maintenance than other materials because of rust and corrosion when exposed to the elements, which can make the upkeep of your camper more expensive.
What is aluminum?
Aluminum is the most common metal on Earth, and it’s known for its silvery-white color and lightweight properties. As a building material, aluminum is made by using a large amount of electricity to smelt mined aluminum oxide into metal. The first aluminum trailer was invented by Hawley Bowlus in 1934. Today, aluminum remains a popular choice for a variety of camping trailers, like the teardrop-style trailer.
Why is it used in trailers?
Aluminum is an extremely popular material for camping trailers today for a lot of reasons. Here’s a quick breakdown of why this material dominates the adventure vehicle world:
- Lightweight - perhaps one of its greatest assets, aluminum trailers are lightweight. This creates less strain on the towing vehicle and allows you to transport more cargo.
- Fuel efficiency - as a result of its lightweight properties mentioned above, aluminum trailers offer better fuel efficiency for your towing vehicle.
- Recyclability - aluminum already has a long life, meaning you won’t have to replace it with another model for quite some time. When it’s time, aluminum is also highly recyclable making it a great option for sustainability.
- Easy to maintain - aluminum trailers are naturally resistant to rust and corrosion, which means you can spend more time exploring and less time keeping up with the appearance of your camper. These trailers tend to be easier to fix than steel if they get dented or damaged.
Downsides of aluminum trailers
Though aluminum trailers offer many benefits, they’re not without their faults. Aluminum trailers require acid washes or treatments to renew their appearance every few years, and can end up looking quite beaten down without these washes. These trailers are also generally more expensive upfront.
Should you get an aluminum or steel trailer?
Because both materials have their strengths and weaknesses, your decision should hinge on what works best for your situation. If you live in an area with lots of snow or an area that’s very coastal, aluminum trailers might be the better choice because their non-corrosive properties won’t rust in the presence of harsh environmental conditions. Conversely, if you know you need to haul a lot of gear and you’re doing so over rough terrain, steel trailers might be your best bet.