Which is Better...Aluminum or Steel Horse Trailers?

Which is Better...Aluminum or Steel Horse Trailers?

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Are you in the market for a new horse trailer? If so, would you know a quality horse trailer from an inferior one? Would you know what materials are preferable for strength, durability, and safety? Which would you choose...aluminum or steel?

In today’s market, consumers have become curious about the products they buy. With so much information readily available via the Internet, books, publications, and so forth, people are more likely to research an item (especially a more expensive item, such as a horse trailer) prior to purchasing it.

Through research, horse owners can become more knowledgeable about the products they wish to buy. They can learn about advancements and new technologies used in creating today’s horse trailers. And, before investing in a new trailer, the individual may be better informed on how manufacturers can use today’s new materials to build better horse trailers.

Should You Choose Today’s Steel Over Aluminum?

Once upon a time, steel rusted! Rusted steel became weak and fragile. Aluminum didn’t rust. Therefore, aluminum was predominantly the material chosen for use in building horse trailers.

Over the years, however, consumers have become aware of the inherent problems found in trailers made of all aluminum. Some of the problems that have occurred with aluminum trailers include broken welds, corroded floors, and the shearing/tearing problems that can happen in minor accidents, especially on the lesser quality trailers. With problems such as these added to the high cost of aluminum today, it’s needless to say that the aluminum trailer industry is suffering a bit.

Some manufacturers continue to build their horse trailers with all-aluminum frames, roofs, walls, and interior dividers. Among those manufacturers are Sooner, Featherlite, Four Star, and Exxiss. Other manufacturers, such as Trail-et, Hawk, EquiSpirit, and Bee, however, use mostly steel and/or a combination of both steel and aluminum.

Why do some manufacturers stick with all aluminum, when others have moved on to newer and better materials? Perhaps the answer lies in the history and development of the trailer industry, itself...rather than in the quality and benefits of one material over another.

From Steel to Aluminum

Several decades ago, horse trailers were made of steel that would rust. Because the steel would rust, the trailers would quickly deteriorate and become unsightly and unsafe for hauling horses.

By the late seventies and early eighties, several horse trailer manufacturers, such as Sooner, Featherlite, and Four Star, began building horse trailers made from aluminum to replace the old, rust-deteriorating steel trailers. After all, everyone knew that aluminum didn’t rust! Soon, horse owners were convinced that the new, all-aluminum trailers were the way to go.

In years to come, it would become apparent that using all aluminum in horse trailers had some negative consequences. But, back in the late seventies and early eighties, those consequences had not yet become known. The high cost of aluminum seemed to be the only negative aspect to building all-aluminum trailers. However, consumers were willing to pay the extra cost to avoid buying a trailer that could potentially deteriorate from rust.

Eventually, the “all-aluminum” trailers hit the market full-force and became THE trailers to own...in spite of the higher cost! Besides, if something cost more, it must be a superior product. Right?

Sooner, Featherlite, and Four Star horse trailers were consequently perceived as being top of the line. Consumers failed to realize that the higher trailer prices charged by these manufacturers were merely the result of the higher cost of aluminum versus steel. This consumer perception led other manufacturers, such as Sundowner, Cherokee, and Bison to switch to aluminum. The aluminum trend also caught on with later manufacturing companies, such as Exiss and Eby, who wanted to reap the benefits of the industry.

Aluminum Isn’t So Perfect, After All!

The quality of all-aluminum trailers is going to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is to be expected, since not all manufacturers construct their horse trailers in the exact same manner. But the biggest problem with all-aluminum trailers has to do with the aluminum, itself!

One pound of steel is three times as strong as one pound of aluminum. In other words, it takes more aluminum to equal the strength of steel. When aluminum is used in the frame, this fact has to be taken into consideration. Manufacturers have to increase the amount of aluminum used in the floor and frame to make these as strong as a floor and frame made of steel. Because of this, some of your better aluminum trailers, such as 4 Star, will often weigh as much as a steel-built trailer. Sometimes, the aluminum trailer will even be heavier than one made of steel.

Often, the interior dividers in aluminum horse trailers are not “beefed up,” making the dividers about 1/3 the strength of a steel divider that is equal in size. As a result, the weaker aluminum divider is doomed to fail more quickly. Unfortunately, when aluminum fails, it shears and tears and becomes a danger to horses. The torn edges can potentially result in minor to major lacerations from a relatively minor mishap.

Not only is aluminum somewhat weak in nature, it is also difficult to repair. Unlike steel, aluminum does not weld easily, and original welds can never be re-welded to their original strength. Add to these issues the fact that aluminum is a good conductor of heat. This is a great fact, if you’re making aluminum cookware! However, this is not so great when it comes to keeping your horses cool on a hot day!

Having realized throughout the years the inherent problems with all-aluminum trailers, the major “all-aluminum” manufacturers, such as Featherlite, Sooner, Sundowner, Exiss, and Eby, have vastly improved their manufacturing processes, and thus, their trailers. Consumers have also become aware of the problems associated with all-aluminum trailers. Owners of aluminum trailers have experienced these problems first-hand. They’ve seen aluminum floors deteriorate from lack of cleaning. They have seen broken welds and tears in the aluminum. They have fought to keep their horses comfortable when the temperatures outside were soaring!

Will Consumer Demands Lead to Safer Horse Trailers?

Safety has become a major goal in the automobile industry. Consumer demands and government regulations have resulted in higher safety features in today’s cars and trucks. As a result, the steel industry was greatly influenced, and necessity required that something be done about the rust problem. This led to the development of galvaneeled steel, galvanized steel, and powder coated steel...materials which are tough, easy to use and repair, and relatively inexpensive.

Many consumers who are horse owners are beginning to realize that, if their tow vehicles are required to meet certain safety regulations, then their horse trailers should also be required to meet certain safety regulations for the protection of their horses.

Unfortunately, in spite of the development of newer steel materials, which can provide safer horse trailers, aluminum trailers are still being built. One reason may be that companies such as Featherlite, Sooner, Exiss, and Four Star, have become so large that they would suffer economic hardship, if they switched at this point in time. Another reason may be that many customers continue to believe that all-aluminum horse trailers are better. So, there continues to be a market for all-aluminum trailers; and, as long as there is a market for them, manufacturers will build them.

Neva Scheve is the author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. Neva and her husband Tom are the owners of EquiSpirit Horse Trailers. Built for your horse's safety.

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