Should I Buy a Truck with an Aluminum or Steel Roof?

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Steel makes people feel safe. Daredevils who dive in shark-infested waters use steel cages to keep the sharks out. Prisons use steel bars to keep the bad guys in. And if you’re a citizen of Metropolis, well, you’re protected by the man of steel.

If you need to haul around super heavy material, you need a big strong truck. And big strong trucks are made of steel.

Aluminum, like steel, is a metal. You buy aluminum at the grocery store in the bakery section. It comes in a roll. Aluminum is used to cover plates of leftover food to give to your guests as they leave a party. They also make soda cans, yogurt lids, and candy bar wrappers out of aluminum.

Both steel and aluminum are metals, but the similarities end there. Or so it may seem.

Built tough

For years, pickup trucks were made from steel. It makes sense — pickup trucks do hard work. They haul thousands of pounds of stuff, they tow thousands of pounds of stuff, and they're expected to last a couple hundred thousand miles.

But Alan Mulally, the retired CEO of Ford, and his engineering team said the truck industry was wrong, and that the future was in aluminum. For more than a decade, Ford engineers studied how to make an aluminum truck that was tough, rugged, safe, and good on gas mileage.

Prior to his retirement, Mulally told Consumer Reports in February 2015 that “pound for pound, aluminum is stronger and tougher than steel.” Pound for pound, aluminum also costs twice as much as steel (believe it or not), so Mulally had more than a few critics when he bet the farm that the market would someday favor an aluminum truck.

The Ford F-150

Mulally not only bet on aluminum, he bet that Ford’s most profitable vehicle, the Ford F-150 (800,000 units sold annually), would be adopted by buyers.

He was right.

The F-150 isn’t 100 percent aluminum, however. The frame is still made of steel, but the bed, side panels, and hood are made of “high-strength military-grade aluminum alloys.” While the phrase sounds impressive, what exactly are “high-strength military-grade aluminum alloys?” Answer: according to MetalMiner, an online resource for metal-buying organizations, it’s a marketing catch phrase.

By using aluminum, the new F-150 is 700 pounds lighter than the steel version and that translates into a 25 percent increase in mileage. Now F-150s get about 19 mpg city, and 26 mpg highway. In 2013, the all-steel version of the truck earned 13 mpg city, and 17 mpg highway.

The F-150 has been widely accepted by the marketplace, and as a result, Ford intends to integrate aluminum into its F-250 line in the next few years.

The aluminum trucks also cost more to build than steel models, primarily due to higher material costs. As such, customers pay a small premium when purchasing an F-150.

Is it safe?

According to tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Ford F-150 was the only truck to earn the Top Safety Pick rating in the large truck division, and the extended cab version of the truck received a “good” rating.

The test simulated a vehicle hitting a tree, hitting a pole, and clipping the side of an oncoming car.

All of the other trucks that were tested had problems with the the driver footwell area being crushed during crash tests. This suggests that drivers would suffer serious leg injuries in collisions.

Rollover crashes

A natural concern among those who might consider an aluminum truck is its safety in the event of a rollover accident. The IIHS test concluded that the aluminum Ford F-150 had better roof strength than that of the steel-cab 2011 F-150.

Roof strength is especially important for pickups, as 44 percent of all deaths involving pickups are due to rollovers. Roofs that aren’t built solidly cave in on impact, and the resulting force often ejects occupants from the truck.

Should you buy a steel truck?

Steel trucks will still be around at least until the end of the decade. In 2015, GM announced that it would begin building Silverados and GMC Sierras using aluminum.

Industry reports indicate that Chrysler will transition its RAM 1500 to aluminum by 2019 or 2020.

The question of whether or not to buy a steel truck will soon be moot. The industry is moving to meet federal fuel efficiency standards, and in order to meet those guidelines, manufacturers have to reduce the overall weight of the vehicle. With the lighter-weight benefits of aluminum over steel, many manufacturers are going to eventually make the switch. But for the next few years at least, you’ll still be able to find a truck made from steel. Whether or not you feel comfortable purchasing one is up to you.


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Michael

15 years of experience
518 reviews
Michael
15 years of experience
Mercedes-Benz GL450 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Atlanta, Georgia
Micheal was punctual and friendly. Work was completed within promised time. Will definitely use again.
Volvo S80 - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Roswell, Georgia
Michael was SUPER QUICK with doing my brake and rotors. Great communication throughout the whole process. Will always recommend

Kenneth

19 years of experience
509 reviews
Kenneth
19 years of experience
Toyota Sequoia - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Newport Beach, California
Kenneth did a great job and very knowledgeable. He has a great attitude and I will for sure be using him again.

Chuy

13 years of experience
129 reviews
Chuy
13 years of experience
Honda Civic - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Cicero, Illinois
Excellent work on doing the breaks for my car and the break and steering system flush I’ll definitely recommend and take into consideration for chuy’s work whenever I need a fix on my car

Richard

16 years of experience
72 reviews
Richard
16 years of experience
BMW 328i - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Dublin, California
Richard was an outstanding mechanic. After he arrived, the first thing he did after taking the initial pictures of the car is an assessment into what work was asked. He quickly verified that I did not need brake fluid and my front brakes even-though it affects his personal commitments and time, which I think is highly appreciate and thorough professional. He was detailed oriented - took time to make sure that all the issue are fixed. He paid attention to detail in overall car assessment- he goes above and beyond. He was also teaching me through the process which I found highly educational and appreciate him providing the information ensuring and making me comfortable what he was doing and explaining patiently all the questions that was thrown at him. When he works - you know he's highly skilled and experienced and knows his stuff. He is highly experienced. He is a "Master" mechanic in true sense :)

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