Truck bodies can create value for fleets and contractor organizations. Fleets that are responsible for maintaining basic infrastructure put tremendous use and strain on their truck equipment every day in order to do their jobs. These fleets include municipal services, county/highway maintenance, electric utility, telecommunications, residential and commercial services, construction, mining and forestry services. Truck body quality, durability, safety, efficiency and ease of maintenance are all important considerations for fleets. Equipment, safety gear and tools are stored in truck body compartments. Environmental impacts are an increasing concern, and sustainable choices can be addressed in a fleet’s choice of truck body.
Selecting the right truck bodies for a service fleet is part of the responsibility of fleet management. Part of this responsibility is choosing the right material: steel, aluminum or composite. This blog will examine several factors that are worth considering in choosing the material from which your truck body will be manufactured. These factors include initial expense, ongoing maintenance costs, overall weight, vehicle payload capacity, impact on fuel expense, the ability to be easily repaired, corrosion resistance and overall product lifecycle. Below, we take a closer look at how steel, aluminum and fiberglass composite truck bodies compare.
Truck body cost is an important factor for fleet managers to consider. Initial cost is one key consideration, and expense of ongoing upkeep is also important. Some materials may be less expensive than others in terms of initial installation, but they may not be as cost effective in the long term.
Steel Truck Bodies can be less expensive than composite truck bodies to install, in terms of the initial upfit and cost of the body. All truck bodies require ongoing maintenance and upkeep, though steel corrodes faster than composite or aluminum truck bodies.
Aluminum Truck Bodies can be more expensive, in terms of the initial upfit and cost of the body, than composite and steel truck bodies. While they require less maintenance than steel, aluminum truck bodies are more costly to repair than composite or steel truck bodies and are heavier than composite.
Composite Truck Bodies typically have a longer service life than both aluminum and steel, and can be remounted onto new chassis with the same dimensions. With a lower cost of repairs and durability in all weather conditions, composite truck bodies have lower life cycle costs.
The less that a service truck body weighs, the more payload capacity it has. Reducing weight without sacrificing strength in a truck body allows for more material in the truck. Additionally, fuel costs are a consideration for every commercial fleet. When fuel is more expensive, it can impact the profitability of the whole organization. There is a direct relationship between lighter-weight equipment and improved fuel efficiency. In other words, the lighter the service vehicle, the less money the fleet has to spend on fuel. The calculation for fuel savings is that for every 100 pounds of weight reduced there is a savings of approximately 2% of the fuel cost.
Steel Truck Bodies are the heaviest of the three options. Work trucks with steel bodies generally have less payload capacity and burn more fuel than work trucks with composite or aluminum truck bodies.
Aluminum Truck Bodies are manufactured using lightweight materials, and so they have a clear advantage over steel, which is a heavier material by far. As is the case with most composite truck bodies, aluminum truck bodies require steel components.
Composite Truck Bodies manufactured by BrandFX deliver a winning combination of improved payload capacity and fuel economy. In some cases, composite truck bodies enable fleets to select a smaller base chassis, which enables greater fuel savings. The strength of a composite body is derived from the technology of the construction, and not from the weight.
Depending on the industry, service trucks are required to be able to handle a lot of ongoing heavy work. Despite their lighter weight, BrandFX advanced composite truck bodies are ideal for heavy-duty use. Under normal heavy-duty use circumstances, BrandFX advanced composite truck bodies will not dent, crack or break.
Steel Truck Bodies have rightly earned their reputation for toughness. Dependable steel will stay dented or bent until they can be repaired, patched or simply repainted.
Aluminum Truck Bodies require specialized tools to repair. While aluminum truck bodies have the lightweight advantage of composite materials, they are not as durable as steel.
Composite Truck Bodies are engineered to be much more resistant to damage than aluminum, which dramatically reduces the need for maintenance or repair.
When considering their choice of service truck bodies, operating conditions and climate play a huge role. Corrosion resistance is an important consideration for fleets located across the Northern half of the United States, and across Canada, where road salts are sprayed during the winter months. Corrosion resistance is equally necessary in coastal areas where there is more salt in the air. In these conditions, composite service truck bodies are an ideal fit due to the material’s inherent ability to resist moisture, and avoid corrosion.
Steel Truck Bodies – Steel truck body manufacturers attempt to reduce the effects of salt on steel by coating their products using corrosion-resistant technologies. Steel service bodies operated in icy and coastal regions continue to be at high risk for corrosion, for example, along the Rust Belt, the northeastern US region affected by exposure to the elements.
Aluminum Truck Bodies – Though aluminum truck bodies do not ‘rust’ when exposed to salt the way steel truck bodies do, they do oxidize which leaves a chalky coating on the surface. Aluminum truck bodies that are treated with a powder coat are highly resistant to corrosion and rust. Areas on a truck body where this powder coat wears away are vulnerable to corrosion.
Composite Truck Bodies – Composite materials resist corrosion completely. In some cases, BrandFX composite truck bodies have steel components in the structure. These steel components are treated to be protected from corrosion.
A disadvantage to using steel truck bodies, particularly in colder and coastal areas, is their vulnerability to corrosion. Modern steel truck bodies are often treated with corrosion-resistant coatings that make them more able to stand up to the elements:
Electrocoat (e-coat): A coating method that uses electrical current to paint a part or assembled product.
Powder Coating: Powder coating is a type of coating applied as a free-flowing, dry powder that creates a hard finish that is tougher than conventional paint. The coating is applied electrostatically, then cured under heat to allow it to flow and form a “skin.”
Phosphating: Phosphating provides a good base coating so the finished part has increased usable life. The phosphating process creates a tight adherence to the base metal, inhibits corrosion, and helps the powder coating stick better.
From a lifecycle perspective, composite truck bodies win because they create the most value. Fiberglass truck bodies are a worthy investment, regardless of the truck’s operating environment and the fleet’s expectations for a truck’s life cycle. Investing in advanced composite truck bodies reduces the total cost of ownership significantly because they last longer. Fleets ideally hope to keep truck bodies for a decade. Within those years, a fiberglass truck body can be re-mounted onto another chassis, and it will also pay for itself in fuel economy.