Modern Cars Are Losing Weight: Everything You Need To Know About Aluminum Auto Bodies

Aluminum is growing in popularity as an auto body material, with more and more manufacturers using it to supplement or even replace steel frameworks. If you aren't sure whether your next vehicle should have aluminum panels or not, here's the skinny on what to expect if you make the switch from steel.

"Rust" On Aluminum Is Actually A Good Thing

Red rust forms when the iron in steel oxidizes, chemically combining with oxygen in the air and water around it. The resulting material is structurally weak and flakes away easily. As more rust forms and falls away, more iron is exposed to the air, so the cycle repeats. Aluminum vehicles bodies are not subject to this risk at all, since they corrode instead of rusting. Corrosion on aluminum is sometimes called "white rust," however.

When aluminum corrodes, it forms a tough outer shell of aluminum oxide, which protects the vulnerable metal inside instead of flaking away and exposing it. This makes aluminum more suitable for humid, wet, or salty environments, since these elements can increase the rate at which steel rusts and breaks down. Corrosion also makes it easier to hide body damage, since the affected area will be the same color as the rest of the aluminum.

Aluminum Bodies Raise Gas Mileage And Lower Prices

Depending on the kind of aluminum used in the car body, panels may weigh as much as three times less than they would with steel construction. This means it's possible to take hundreds of pounds from a car's weight without changing its dimensions or panel specifications at all. Since lighter cars take far less energy to move, this translates directly to a significant increase in fuel efficiency.

Lighter construction makes smaller engines more viable, as well. Since a smaller engine saves material and time to build, vehicles with small engines tend to be less expensive than stronger ones. It's possible that an aluminum body will allow automakers to lower the lowest costing model of their new vehicles by including smaller engines than ever.

As an added bonus, making cars lighter also helps to open the way for alternative fuel sources. Since solar and electric vehicles are typically hampered by their inability to produce great amounts of power, reducing the power it takes to move the car makes them both more viable in the future.

Changing Metals May Cost You Temporarily

Unfortunately, bringing in more aluminum auto bodies may not be a smooth transition. Mechanics require different tools and techniques to work with aluminum panels, which could leave them unable to service more and more of the newer models. As shops invest time and money to train employees for working with aluminum, labor charges will likely rise to compensate, passing the cost on to the drivers themselves.

Smaller mechanic businesses may not be able to afford the new investment, meaning they won't be able to service aluminum vehicles. If you live in an area with few body shops, it's possible that repairs will be difficult to come by, so take that into account before purchasing a vehicle with primarily aluminum construction.

This increase in charges should only be temporary, however. Once most mechanics have made the transition to combined repair services, costs should go back down. If you prefer to have your car serviced at a dealership, you won't see a difference in service availability at all. Dealerships that sell vehicles containing aluminum will be some of the first to shift the services they offer.

Utilizing aluminum may allow automakers to produce more efficient, weather-resistant vehicles, but the change comes with a price. Talk to your local body shop about servicing rates for aluminum vehicles, and they might even offer you tips about whether or not you should switch.

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