23 Reasons Cars Not Made of Aluminium

Patrick Oziegbe
Published On:

You might be wondering why cars aren’t made entirely of aluminium, considering its many benefits such as being lighter and more fuel-efficient. Well, there are several reasons for this choice in automotive manufacturing.

Despite the advantages of using aluminium, it poses challenges related to strength, production costs, and durability. As you dive into the topic, you’ll soon discover twenty reasons why cars aren’t typically made of aluminium. Keep reading to gain insight into why automakers continue to choose other materials for their vehicles.

Low Melting Point

Car Steel Aluminium Melting
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Cars are not made of aluminum due to its low melting point compared to other metals like iron and steel. Aluminum becomes weak at high temperatures, risking engine damage and compromising your vehicle’s safety.

To give you a better idea:

  • Aluminum: 660°C
  • Iron: 1530°C
  • Cast Iron: 1260°C
  • High Carbon Steel: 1353°C

The lower melting point of aluminum makes it a poor choice for car manufacturing.

Cost Implications

Cost implications
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Aluminum is more expensive than steel, which can lead to higher production costs. This expense may then be passed on to you, the consumer. Additionally, the process of joining aluminum parts can be more complex and expensive.

Overall, it’s essential to weigh the financial impact of choosing aluminum-based vehicles before making a decision.

Strength and Durability

Strength and Durability
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Steel is known for its superior strength and energy absorption, which makes it a better choice for long-lasting cars that can withstand accidents. Additionally, steel is less prone to damage from daily wear and tear than aluminium.

Nevertheless, aluminium has its advantages in certain applications. For instance, it’s lighter, allowing for improved fuel efficiency and overall performance. In a battery-powered world, lightweighting becomes increasingly important.

Energy Absorption

Car accidents
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In the event of a collision, steel can sometimes absorb more energy compared to aluminum, though modern engineering has improved aluminum’s performance in this area.

According to research published by SaeMobilus, “steel absorbed up to 20 times more total energy than did the reinforced plastics and over twice that absorbed by aluminum for the same thickness. Aluminum absorbed more energy per unit weight than the other materials, but steel was considerably more cost-effective.”

Engineering Challenges

A car made of various materials
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There are certain engineering challenges associated with using aluminum in car manufacturing, such as joining aluminum parts together, which can be more complex than steel.

Another challenge is the increased complexity in manufacturing processes. Working with aluminum can require different techniques and equipment than steel.

Despite these challenges, many vehicle manufacturers are increasingly using aluminum for its lightweight properties and potential fuel efficiency improvements. As a result, the aluminum industry and automakers need to work together to overcome these engineering obstacles and create better vehicles for you in the future.

Thermal Expansion

Thermal Expansion
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Aluminum has a higher coefficient of thermal expansion, which can lead to dimensional stability issues in varied temperature conditions

Aluminum’s thermal expansion coefficient is higher than steel’s, which means it expands more when heated. This difference in thermal expansion can lead to misalignments in car components, affecting its safety and performance over time.

Manufacturing Complexity

Robotic arms assemble car parts
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Aluminum parts often require different manufacturing techniques, such as forging or extrusion, which can complicate the production process.

As vehicles incorporate a mix of materials like steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber, the number of gauge/grade combinations can increase substantially. This blend of different materials adds to the intricacy of both design and manufacturing processes.

Working with aluminum, you’ll need to manage the variety of alloys available, ensuring they are used in appropriate parts of the car. For example, Tesla has implemented a 8-mm extruded aluminum alloy sheet to encompass the battery compartment.

Noise and Vibration

Car Noise With Man Driving
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Aluminum may not dampen noise and vibration as effectively as steel, potentially leading to a noisier ride. You might hear more road noise, and feel vibrations from the engine or suspension while driving.

Market Demand

Car Market Demand
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Consumer demand for steel-bodied cars remains strong, and manufacturers cater to this market preference. One primary driver is the search for more cost-effective materials. You might be aware that aluminum prices increased recently. Thus, automakers often opt for other materials to maintain affordability.

Additionally, some buyers prefer cars with a traditional feel, which metals like steel can provide. Don’t forget environmental concerns, as producing aluminum generates emissions.

Material Sourcing

Material Sourcing
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Although aluminum is abundant, the process of refining and preparing aluminum for automotive use is more energy-intensive than steel production.

While aluminum is deemed a suitable choice for electric vehicles, manufacturers commonly use new aluminum due to issues like scrap contamination and material downcycling. This leads to higher embodied GHG emissions.

Repair and Maintenance

A mechanic is using a wrench to tighten a bolt
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Aluminum can be more difficult and expensive to repair than steel, which can affect the car’s total cost of ownership. It’s a fact that, Aluminum is a more sensitive material, especially when exposed to heat. This means repair shops need to use specialized tools and techniques to avoid causing additional damage or corrosion.

As aluminum has a different pliability compared to steel, simple dent repairs could involve a more involved process. This may lead you to invest in preventive maintenance to avoid substantial repair costs.

Rust Resistance

Rust Resistance Car
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Aluminium offers excellent rust resistance for your car. This lightweight metal forms a protective layer, called aluminium oxide, when exposed to air. This layer acts as a barrier, preventing corrosive substances from reaching the car’s surface.

However, it can still corrode or experience galvanic corrosion when in contact with other metals, which can lead to maintenance issues.

Recycling Infrastructure

A recycling facility
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The existing recycling infrastructure is more optimized for steel than for aluminum, which can affect the end-of-life vehicle processing.

The REALCAR project made significant strides in recycling aluminium in cars. However, many other materials commonly used in vehicles may not have as efficient recycling processes.

Material Stiffness

Material Stiffness
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Steel generally offers greater stiffness, which is important for the structural integrity of the vehicle. This means aluminum has a lower amount of resistance to deformation when force is applied.

You may wonder why stiffness matters in cars. A stiffer material like steel provides better structural integrity, essential for maintaining vehicle safety and performance. Additionally, stiffer materials can better withstand the wear and tear that occurs over time, making them more durable.

Supply Chain

Car Parts, Materials Supply Chain
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The supply chain for steel is well-established and may offer more stability and predictability than the aluminum supply chain.

Though aluminum is a popular choice for its lightweight properties, there are certain concerns. Firstly, there have been reports of human rights abuses in aluminum production, including forced labor.

You need to be aware of these ethical considerations. Furthermore, the complexity of the aluminum supply chain can pose challenges in terms of sourcing and managing materials.

Design Flexibility

Design Flexibility
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Steel allows for a wide range of design options, which can be advantageous for car manufacturers. With aluminum, you may find it more challenging to achieve complex shapes compared to steel. Moreover, aluminum’s versatility in joining methods is limited compared to steel, making it harder to assemble.

In addition, aluminum-intensive vehicles require more gauge/grade combinations, making the process more intricate. All these aspects contribute to why cars aren’t typically made entirely of aluminum.

Painting and Coating

A car being painted and coated
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Applying paint and coatings to aluminum can be more challenging due to its surface properties, which can have a significant impact on their longevity. Properly applied paint adds a layer of protection, preventing moisture from reaching the metal and causing rust.

Impact on Tooling

Impact on Tooling
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The use of aluminum can require specialized tooling in manufacturing plants, leading to additional investments.

One factor to consider is the need for specialized tools and dies. Aluminum tends to wear them out faster, which means you’ll be replacing them more often. Moreover, selecting the proper lubricants and coolants is essential to reduce tool wear and achieve the desired results.

Combustion Engine Vehicles

Combustion Engine
©Photo Credit: Unlimphotos

For traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, the weight savings from aluminum might not justify the cost, though this is changing with the rise of electric vehicles.

Traditional ICE cars rely on heavy steel frames, making them heavier than electric vehicles (EVs). In contrast, aluminium is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly material that can help to make vehicles lighter and more efficient.

Industry Standards

Industry Standards
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The automotive industry has developed around the use of steel, and changes to aluminum would require a shift in standards and regulations.

You might wonder why cars aren’t mostly made of aluminum. There are a few reasons:

  • Cost: Aluminum can be more expensive than steel, making it less desirable for wide-scale adoption.
  • Fabrication: Manufacturing with aluminum sometimes requires new techniques and equipment, which can be a barrier.

Despite these challenges, aluminum’s use in vehicles continues to grow. So, stay tuned for future developments in industry standards!

Availability of Skilled Labor

Skilled workers assembling cars
©Photo Credit: MiramarSpeedCircuit

Manufacturers may face challenges in finding skilled workers proficient in aluminum fabrication techniques, as skilled labor plays a crucial role in determining the materials used in car production.

Luckily, various alternatives to aluminum exist, like steel or carbon fiber, that require different sets of skills. It’s essential to explore these options and invest in training your workforce, ensuring a smooth and sustainable production process.

Weight Distribution

Car Weight Distribution
©Photo Credit: Unlimphotos

While aluminum is lighter than steel, achieving optimal weight distribution in a car made entirely of aluminum can be challenging and may require additional engineering. In a car, the weight distribution plays a crucial role in its handling and performance.

A proper balance helps in achieving stability and control while driving. One reason cars are not made entirely of aluminum is to maintain weight distribution.

Tradition and Heritage

A vintage car show with classic models
©Photo Credit: MiramarSpeedCircuit

Steel has been the dominant material in automotive construction for decades, and manufacturers may be hesitant to depart from traditional practices and materials without clear performance or cost advantages.

Steel has long been the go-to material for building cars. It’s strong, durable, and carries a certain feeling of solidity. For many, this is part of the charm of owning and driving a classic car. Switching to aluminum could fundamentally change that experience, which might be a dealbreaker for some enthusiasts.

Electric Vehicles and Aluminum Use

Electric vehicles surrounded by discarded aluminum parts
©Photo Credit: MiramarSpeedCircuit

Battery Technology

Aluminum is expected to play a significant role in electric vehicles (EVs), particularly in battery technology. As batteries become more advanced, aluminum components can help reduce their weight. This makes your EV more energy-efficient and extends its range.

Sustainability in EVs

When it comes to sustainability, aluminum offers advantages for EV manufacturing. Not only is it lightweight and durable, but it’s also highly recyclable, helping minimize waste and promote a greener, more eco-friendly car industry. So, you can enjoy driving your EV even more, knowing its impact on the environment is reduced.

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