In the beginning, there were horse trailers, introduced during the late 1950s when trail-riding became popular. Buyers didn’t worry about the metal used to build the trailer because the only metal available was steel.
Steel had some problems though. The biggest problem was that it rusted. Even today, most steel starts to rust after only a year of use. Over time, a steel trailer can slowly disintegrate.
When the all-aluminum horse trailer came on the market in the 1970s, pioneered by Featherlite Trailers, it had a huge advantage over steel as a manufacturing material. Not only did aluminum resist rust and corrosion, it was also lighter and therefore easier to pull. Trailer owners reporting better gas mileage when hauling an aluminum trailer only added to its popularity.
All-aluminum trailers tend to be more expensive than steel trailers, however. And steel trailer manufacturers claim aluminum trailers just can’t withstand the stress of trailering as well as a steel trailer. This leaves buyers with a hard choice-do they pay more for an all-aluminum trailer with its supposed superiority, or buy a more familiar steel trailer and save money? Opinions vary wildly.
What are the facts, though? Is an all-aluminum trailer really a better choice? Have steel trailer manufacturers managed to overcome the material’s flaws? This article aims to answer that question.
Metallurgy for the masses
The big question to be answered is which metal is stronger. Steel trailer supporters like to point out that steel has a reputation of being one of the toughest common alloys, while aluminum is more commonly known for its use as foil or pop can material. Balcony Balustrade
However, the aluminum used in all-aluminum trailers is an alloy, the same way that steel is an alloy of iron. This alloy has about the same yield strength as steel! It contains at least 95 percent aluminum, and the other five percent is composed of copper, titanium, chromium and zinc. Other metals are also added in trace amounts to further refine the alloy’s properties.
Steel companies, though, still can’t come up with a process that makes steel as rust-resistant as aluminum. The best they have is the galvanizing and galvannealing process, which coats steel with a protective layer of zinc in order to retard corrosion. Unfortunately, it only lasts until the layer is breached. Galvannealed steel trailers can receive added protection with a coat of paint, but since trailers are constantly exposed to harsh weather as well as high-velocity gravel the question is when, not if, the protective layers will be penetrated. Galvanizing and galvannealing is also expensive, so most steel trailers only galvanize the skin to keep the price low. The trailer’s frame is left to the tender mercies of the environment.
Both kinds of horse trailers require upkeep, but the biggest issue with aluminum trailers is simply lubricating the hinges and cam latches. You’ll also want to make sure to wash out the interior, since horse urine is corrosive. For cosmetic purposes, an aluminum trailer should be given an acid bath every couple of years to clean and renew its exterior.
Steel trailers, on the other hand, must be examined constantly in order to prevent rust. Any scratches in the paint need to be touched up or the steel will start to oxidize. If the steel has been galvanized or galvannealed though, you won’t have to inspect the trailer as frequently, but you’ll want to make sure that welded and riveted areas have been properly finished after every repair. The galvanic layer must be removed to weld, and rivets and screws compromise the galvanic coat.