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Steel vs. Aluminum Horse Trailers


If you've been watching closely, you've probably noticed an interesting trend developing in horse publications, books, trade journals and on the internet's "information highway." More and more, horse owners are seeking out information about the products they buy, especially on high ticket items such as horse trailers. For instance, these individuals may look for information on aluminum versus steel horse trailers.

In the process of doing research, horse owners are becoming more knowledgeable about the new technologies and advancements made in today's materials. Individuals are realizing how these new materials can be used to make better horse trailers.

Why Choose Today's Steel Over Aluminum?

One of today's realizations is that rust has all but been eliminated in today's steel. In the early days of horse trailers, consumers knew that steel rusted, and aluminum didn't. Therefore, aluminum was considered to be better.

Trailers made of all aluminum have now been around long enough for consumers to actually see the inherent problems. Examples include the corroded floors, broken welds, and the shearing/tearing problems that can happen in minor accidents, especially on the lesser quality trailers. Add to these problems the soaring cost of aluminum, and it's no wonder sales have been sagging in the aluminum trailer market!

Why do manufacturers of horse trailers such as Sooner, Featherlite, Four Star, and Exxiss, build their horse trailers with all aluminum frames, walls, roofs, and interior dividers? Why do other manufacturers, such as Trail-et, Hawk, EquiSpirit, and Bee, use mostly steel and/or a combination of both?

It's our opinion that the answer originally lies, not so much in benefits of one over the other, but in the history and development of the trailer industry itself.

When Horse Trailer Manufacturers Turned to Aluminum

Back in the late seventies and early eighties, horse trailer manufacturers, such as Sooner, Featherlite, and Four Star, started developing horse trailers made from aluminum. The big reason for this was because many steel horse trailers deteriorated rather quickly from rust. A rusted horse trailer was not hard to miss, and everyone knew that aluminum didn't rust. As a result, it didn't take much to convince horse owners that the new, all-aluminum trailers were the way to go.

All the negative reasons for using aluminum back then were not readily apparent, except for the high cost of aluminum. However, the cost didn't deter consumers as much as the rust factor. So, they paid the price.

Once the "all-aluminum" trailers hit the market full force, the no rust factor, along with the high price, gave the perception that a trailer made of all aluminum was, indeed, a superior product. (After all, the higher the product cost, the better the product. Right?)

Consequently, horse trailers, such as Sooner, Featherlite, and Four Star, were perceived as being top of the line. Consumers did not realize that the extra expense was merely the result of the higher cost of aluminum. Because of this consumer perception, some existing manufacturers, such as Sundowner, Cherokee, Bison, etc., switched to aluminum. Many later manufacturing companies, such as Exiss and Eby, also went the aluminum route, rather than try to "buck" the trend.

Aluminum Problems

Bear in mind that just because a manufacturer builds an all-aluminum trailer doesn't mean that it is building the same type or quality of trailer as other manufacturers of aluminum trailers. Quality will vary according to the company's construction philosophy. The real issues to look at are the problems inherent in the aluminum material itself.

Pound for pound, aluminum is only 1/3 the strength of steel. Thus, when it is used in the frame, this has to be taken into account. Manufacturers have to boost the amount of aluminum used in the floor and frame to get the equal strength of a steel frame. This is why some of your better aluminum trailers, such as 4 Star, will be the same weight (or sometimes heavier) as a steel built trailer.

Where aluminum is not often "beefed up" is in interior dividers. Since aluminum is weaker by about 1/3 from that of an "equal in size" steel divider, it will fail quicker. And when aluminum fails, it shears and tears. This creates a danger to horses of minor to major lacerations from a relatively minor mishap.

Aluminum is a good conductor of heat. (It makes good cookware!) For this reason, keeping horses comfortable is a problem on hot days. Repair issues are also difficult. Aluminum is not only difficult to weld, but welds can never be re-welded to their original strength.

The major "all-aluminum" manufacturers that we have mentioned (Featherlite, Sooner, Sundowner, Exiss, and Eby) have now been around long enough that they have vastly improved their manufacturing process, and thus, their trailers. At the same time, aluminum trailers have also been around long enough that consumers have become aware of inherent problems associated with these trailers. Owners of aluminum trailers have noticed aluminum floor deterioration from lack of cleaning. They have also struggled with the heat problems, and they have seen broken welds and torn aluminum.

Safety Demands Affect Horse Trailer Manufacturing

Because of the demands on steel from the auto industry, it's little surprise that almost all the rust problems with steel have been eliminated. Galvanealed steel, galvanized steel, and powder coated steel, are all relatively inexpensive, tough, easy to use and repair, materials. Consumers are beginning to wonder that, if they are protected by steel in their tow vehicles, why shouldn't their horses get the same protection?

If newer steel materials can provide safer trailers for hauling horses, then, why are aluminum trailers still being built? First of all, we believe that companies such as Featherlite, Sooner, Exiss, Four Star, etc., have become so large that it would be economically difficult, if not impossible, for them to switch at this point. Secondly, since the connotation that all-aluminum horse trailers are better is still strong in the minds of many customers, there is still a market for these aluminum trailers. In fact, there may continue to be a market for them for years to come.

Also see: The Rise and Possible Fall of All-Aluminum Horse Trailers




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