It’s a simple fact – if you want to build something that can last nearly forever, make it out of cast iron or stainless steel. There’s just one problem – a cubic foot of these materials weighs between 450-490 pounds.
On the other hand, the same volume of aluminum weighs about 168 pounds.
Over the years, manufacturers and upfitters like Expertec have used steel and aluminum nearly interchangeably, depending on the actual use of the product in question. Effectively, both steel and aluminum need some protection from the elements – especially the salt used on the roads in winter, so the overall durability of the two is virtually identical.
Traditionally, steel has gotten the nod from fleet managers and upfitters for hammer-strong durability and long-term use. Today, though, in a world of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines and profitability demands, we’re seeing customers taking a closer look at where the overall weight of their upfitted trucks and vans will tip the scales.
More and more, fleets are looking to reduce the weight added to the chassis to meet regulations and reduce fuel use. At the same time, the added potential benefit of less maintenance on brake and suspension systems due to lower weight means less downtime and lower maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.
But is it actually worth it?
Absolutely. Lessening the overall weight of a ready-to-work vehicle is now being achieved with several components including aluminum, composites (including fiberglass) and new manufacturing techniques to reduce the amount of steel used. Considering the current unrest between China and the United States in the world of steel, these other materials – led by aluminum – are being used more and more often on the assembly line, the aftermarket, and the upfitting industry.
At the same time, the use of material besides steel offers fleets and tradesmen the chance to get ahead of the potential legislation governing unloaded vehicle weight (UWV) — how much the truck weighs with auxiliary equipment, as well as full fuel tanks, engine oil and coolants. These have traditionally applied only to vehicles over 10,000 pounds GVWR, but the alarming part is that several chassis cab vehicles currently on the market could potentially tip the scales in excess of that limit once they are completely upfitted.
Now, some people may shrug their shoulders and simply say, “So what?”
The short answer is that weight – rolling and unsprung – breaks vehicles. Axles, springs, brake components, and even transmissions and cooling systems are all taxed when vehicles weigh more than their “stock” counterparts and that can lead to costly downtime at the least and accidents at the worst.
Does it make more sense to look, understand, and deploy a weight-reducing upfitting strategy before a company ever takes delivery on a vehicle or simply keep buying steel because, “We’ve always used steel”?
Let’s make some assumptions, based on the real world.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has found an average fuel savings of roughly two percent for every 100 pounds of weight reduction.
It would be easy to skew this example in the favor of weight, but we’re going to keep it “real world.”
We upfit two identical trucks – one aluminum, one in steel. The overall weight difference is 300 pounds. Now, let’s drive them for 100,000 km. If, in fact, the E.P.A.’s figures are correct, we’ll increase our mileage by – let’s aim small – 5-6 percent due to that weight savings.
Our “steel” truck gets an average 15 Liters per 100 Kilometers.
Our “aluminum” truck would, on paper at least, get roughly 14 L/100KM.
Over 100,000 km, then, our fuel costs, assuming an average cost of $1.10/L for the life of the test – and of course that will fluctuate.
Nonetheless, our aluminum truck would use roughly 14,000 liters over that 100,000 kilometers, while our steel truck would use 15,000.
That comes to a savings of $1,100 and depending on how many km the truck gets driven, that could be over a period of only a couple of years. If we factor in only one “extra” brake job or weight-related damage to the vehicle, that number could jump significantly and be well over $2,000. Considering the very real fact that more and more vehicles in fleets and trades are being used by the initial purchaser for far more than 100,000 km, paying attention to the material used in upfitting a truck or van can add significant cost savings over the life of the vehicle.
Sound complex? It doesn’t have to be. This is the primary reason we’ve been in business for so long – thinking through every action an owner or fleet manager might want to take on an upfitted vehicle and ensuring they have all the data they need to make the right decision for their business.