Aluminum vs. Steel Dump Bodies: What’s the Difference?

June 17th, 2021

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Dump truck services currently account for $19.1 billion in the U.S. with this market size expected to grow as construction picks up across the country. This growth means many fleet owners may be looking for additional dump trucks to fulfill service needs.  

When selecting your dump truck, choosing a steel or aluminum dump body is one of the first and most important decisions you’ll make. These metals can make or break the success of a job, so you must choose your material wisely. Base your final decision on various factors, including the metal’s weight capacity, strength and durability, cost, fuel efficiency, safety, and routine maintenance needs.  

While both steel and aluminum are great for commercial use, part of making a long-term investment is understanding your options. We’re here to guide you through the process of buying a dump body that will last for years to come. Read on to discover the differences between steel and aluminum dump body trailers, and more. 

What is a Dump Body?

A dump body is a semi-permanent structure designed for trucks to store and haul materials, to eventually disposing of its content through gravity. When most people think about dump trucks, the most common image that comes to mind is a truck with a dump body that gets lifted into the air with hydraulics to unload whatever its hauling. 

A blue truck lifts its dump body into the air to unload a delivery of dirt.

It’s important to note that dump bodies are somewhat fixed when attached to a truck since they do not have their own axles. Dump trailers have a similar function to dump bodies, but they are not permanent attachments. Unlike dump bodies, dump trailers typically have two axles and their own landing gear, which means they can be detached from a truck via the fifth wheel and left behind. 

Aluminum Dump Bodies: Pros and Cons

Aluminum is an excellent choice for many industries. New to the market, it has disrupted the steel standard that many are accustomed to. There are a variety of reasons businesses are opting for aluminum dump bodies. But with a heftier price tag upfront, what is its added value over steel? 

We’ll examine the pros and cons of aluminum below.

Pros of Aluminum Dump Bodies

  • Less spending on fuel: With a lighter weight, your truck will use less fuel. On average, switching to aluminum could drop your overall weight considerably. Fuel savings are a given and will help recoup the amount spent upfront on your aluminum dump body. These savings are hard to beat for contractors who are often on long drives through different states and counties.
  • Increased payload potential: Again, the lighter aluminum dump bed allows for more payload. With aluminum weighing approximately one-third as much as steel, you’ll be able to haul more volume efficiently.
  • Minor corrosion: Aluminum contains natural properties that create a protective oxide layer that fends off the rust. As a result, treating aluminum to resist corrosion is much cheaper. Rust on a dump body can be a money pit for truck owners, especially in a wet environment. Avoiding a hefty maintenance bill is another way aluminum bodies return on their investment.
  • Great for lighter trucks: Smaller commercial trucks aren’t always compatible with steel bodies. Depending on the size of your vehicle, aluminum could be your only choice.
  • Higher resale value: The factors listed above are among those that give aluminum a higher resale value than its competitor. Corrosion resistance is a huge benefit when shopping for your used dump body on the market.

Cons of Aluminum Dump Bodies

  • Cost: There’s no mistaking that aluminum costs significantly more upfront. This can be a deal-breaker for those on a budget. Aluminum bodies can cost around 30% more than steel. Although its lifetime value is reportedly cheaper, if you’re looking to save on your initial investment, you’ll want to avoid this metal.
  • Less resistance to denting: Because aluminum is a softer metal, it can be a risky choice for drivers with varying loads. Aluminum can easily dent and crack when treated without care. Avoiding abrasive materials is vital when working with an aluminum dump bed.
  • Not ideal for heavier loads: Aluminum is excellent for maximizing a load of non-abrasive materials, like dirt or gravel. When faced with heavier loads, these dump bodies are more likely to be damaged or weighed down. Reinforcement alloys, such as chromium, copper, titanium, and zinc, are sometimes used to increase durability. 

Steel Dump Bodies: Pros and Cons

Steel is a great option for heavy-duty jobs. Loading and unloading abrasive materials, like rocks and boulders, require a denser metal that you can rely on. Steel is by far the best option for durability. If you frequently haul heavy or coarse materials, read on to learn more of the pros and cons of using a steel dump bed.

Pros of Steel Dump Bodies

  • Cost: Steel is a much more economical investment upfront. It’s also cheaper to repair. If you’re on the market for a dump body but need to stick to a budget, steel might be the best way to reduce your bottom line.
  • Greater durability: Steel is a thicker metal, giving it the strength to endure tough conditions and cargo. This extra rigidity is beneficial for demanding road conditions. Steel bodies are less likely to bend or lose their structure when impacted by their load. 
  • Ideal for heavy-duty jobs: If you are frequently working heavy-duty jobs, steel is likely the only option for you. Its durability and strength help it withstand immense pressure that would be detrimental to aluminum dump bodies.
  • Safety: In most cases, steel offers more structural integrity and, in turn, more protection for drivers. To ensure you’re getting a high-quality metal, note how the body looks after construction. The fewer welds you see, the higher the quality of the steel.
  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel dump bodies are a sought-after option for those looking for a bed on the flashier side. While pricey, stainless steel bodies can be less expensive over time than aluminum, as their application isn’t limited to lightweight components.

Cons of Steel Dump Bodies

  • Repainting: Steel dump beds take a heavy beating. Some require a repaint every two years, depending on the paint quality and usage. Look for high-quality paint to reduce the frequency that maintenance is needed.
  • Fuel efficiency: With more weight, steel bodies use up more gas at a faster rate. Depending on fuel pricing, the cost of filling up could negate the initial savings on your steel bed. 
  • Weight: The more weight on the body, the less you get in the payload. There is also more strain on the tires and fuel system, which can decrease life expectancy.

Choosing Between Aluminum vs. Steel Dump Bodies

Ultimately, the choice between steel and aluminum dump bodies comes down to your usage needs and budget. Both metals have pros and cons that might impact your business or limit what you can do with the dump body. Think about your ideals and limitations regarding the following factors:

  • Weight capacity
  • Materials you’ll be hauling
  • Overall cost
  • Fuel requirements
  • Jobsite conditions and duration

Choose Hale Trailer for All Your Dump Truck Needs

The information discussed in this article about aluminum dump bodies and steel dump bodies should help guide you to the best option for your business. But if you still have questions, contact Hale Trailer’s friendly team of trailer and trucking experts. We have extensive industry knowledge and are happy to help you decide whether aluminum or steel is right for your fleet. View our locations around the U.S. to find the Hale Trailer near you.

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