People think that aluminum horse trailers are superior to steel because they are lightweight and rust resistant, but did you know they are also unsafe? If you don’t believe us, check out the recent crash safety reports for the new all-aluminum Ford F-150 SuperCab truck. These poor results illustrate how your aluminum trailer or truck can crumple in an accident just like an empty soda can. Luckily, Double D Trailers has developed a better option that provides both strength and rust resistance into a superior horse trailer.
When Brad Heath, owner of Double D Trailers, first heard that Ford was planning to make an all-aluminum pick-up truck, he was immediately interested to see the results. Why did he care so much? Brad has been preaching for years about the safety issues in aluminum horse trailers. He was personally convinced that aluminum was a poor choice of material for vehicle construction.
The official test results agreed with him.
In July of 2015, the Ford F-150 crew cab and smaller SuperCab trucks were subjected to a new ‘small overlap front crash test.’ This means that the trucks slammed into a barrier at 40 mph with only one-quarter of its driver’s side front bumper. About one quarter of all serious and fatal injuries from front crashes are due to ‘small overlap’ crashes like this.
An article from CNN explained, “The passenger compartment on the smaller SuperCab truck got crushed. Parts of the foot well were pushed back about a foot, resulting in a risk of foot and leg injuries. The SuperCab truck earned the Institute’s second-worst rating of ‘Marginal.’”
After reading the results, Brad felt vindicated. “Aluminum is just not designed for the high stress environment to take the abuse like steel,” he explained. “Ford figured that out, unfortunately, the hard way.”
So why do so many consumers still think that aluminum horse trailers are a good idea? “We don’t have a consumer affair division doing these crash tests on horse trailers,” Brad stated. A long-standing public perception has failed to see through marketing ploys and fancy price tags to the truth that aluminum is not a superior material for trailer construction. There is a better option!
In order to understand how the public’s perception was created, let’s take a look at trailer manufacturing over the years. The first horse trailers were produced in the late 1950’s and were made of welded steel. “During that time period, the materials available were basically pieces of angle iron, tubing, cold rolled steel, and bare sheet metal,” explained Brad. “Fabricators would simply weld the entire trailer together, roll it into a paint booth, and apply prime and paint.”
This method resulted in trailers with weak joints where the steel tubing met the thin metal sheets. It was virtually impossible to completely paint over and seal these seams so they became breeding grounds for oxidation. These early trailers tended to rust out very quickly.
By the early 1980’s, companies like Featherlite began to produce very expensive, great looking, and shiny new aluminum trailers. “It cost an arm and a leg above what a steel trailer cost!” exclaimed Brad. There is a public perception that items that are more expensive must automatically be better.
Just think about it. Which would you expect to be better; a cell phone that costs $20 at Wal-Mart, or one that costs $500 from a fancy retailer? Aluminum earned the reputation as a superior product simply because it was new, shiny, and outrageously expensive.
“As new manufacturers entered into the market, they continued to ride the wave that steel is cheap and aluminum is great. They thought that’s what they need to be producing, because that’s what everyone is buying.”
Even in the year 2015, we still see a large majority of manufacturers using technologies that were developed in the 1980s. At this point, many manufacturers would have a hard time changing their business model after a heavy investment in aluminum trailer production techniques.
Luckily, Double D Trailers was never fooled by this popular trend. Brad Heath’s company began building trailers in 1997 with a conventional steel frame and Galvalite skin. This was a galvanized material commonly used in the pick up beds of Ford, Chevy and Dodge trucks. “We solved the issue of thin sheet metal problems that tend to rust out on a steel trailer.”
A 1999 Double D Trailer: 2 horse with dressing room. Photo Credit
Still, the company continued to receive pressure from the consumers. “There was this perception that steel was too heavy, steel will rust, and it costs less than aluminum. We were tired of fighting against the customer that said they didn’t want steel because it would rust.”
By 2009, Brad and Double D Trailers began looking for a better option. “We did build some aluminum trailers for a short period but quickly changed our minds,” he admitted. “We thought ‘Wow, this is NOT a route we as a manufacturer want to go!’”
The reasons were pretty simple. Aluminum was not safe and a poor choice of material for trailer construction. It is a really great conductor of heat so it would transfer a significant amount of heat from the highway to the horse’s feet and legs. The inside of an aluminum trailer is much hotter than a steel trailer because of this conduction, which creates a stressful environment for your horse. In fact, it is even possible to fry an egg on top of a mill-finished aluminum roof on a hot day!
“Another thing that we noticed is that we did have divider failures.” Brad explained that aluminum is a malleable material and very easy to bend. Just think of how easy it is for you to crush an aluminum soda can. In order to make the aluminum dividers stronger, they needed to add thickness. When they put this under stress, the thick aluminum divider tended to crack or break completely.
Aluminum is a malleable metal with much less strength than steel.
“As long as the horses behaved well, we did not see any problems,” Brad said. “But in the case of an accident, when a horse is down or has a leg across a divider, we saw injuries.”
It was back to the drawing board for the Double D Trailers crew. Brad felt that there had to be a material on earth that was very strong, lightweight, rust resistant, and easier to work with than aluminum. “The Z-Frame accomplished all of that for us. It’s a neat material and we don’t have to worry about a tube rusting like with steel.”
Z-Frame material has been impregnated with zinc and chromate to produce an incredibly strong and lightweight metal. It has a stronger tensile rating than steel allowing builders to use lighter weight gauges, thinner materials, and still maintain the strength and safety of the trailer.
Brad spoke of the Z-Frame trailers, “They transfer less heat, noise, and vibration for the horse, and more importantly they’re really safe. If a horse gets a leg across the divider, we don’t see the breaks and splinters in accidents. The chassis holds together really well.”
When new clients approach Brad to design a custom horse trailer, he still needs to work to get around aluminum’s popularity. “I think 99.99% of clients that approach us say they are looking for a certain type of trailer in aluminum.” Brad sees through those statements and understands that the customers are looking for trailers that are lightweight, rust-resistant, and something that is extremely safe.
“We try to educate folks,” he explained. He simply presents Z-Frame as a better option that will meet all of their needs with none of the major disadvantages found with aluminum trailers.
Double D Trailers use Z-Frame technology with superior strength and rust resistance over conventional steel or aluminum designs.
It can be challenging to overcome the opinion of the majority when so many people falsely believe that aluminum is a better option. Make sure you educate yourself on the realities of the situation. The Ford F-150 crash test results highlight this important issue. If you choose a Z-Frame horse trailer you will end up with a safer, stronger, and better-built trailer that will protect your horses in case of an accident.
Brad sums it up well. “Z-Frame will meet those needs much better than any aluminum product does!”
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