Which sidewall material is best for your van body trucks — aluminum or fiberglass reinforced plywood (FRP)? Here are six points of comparison to help weigh the pros and cons between truck bodies:
1. Initial Cost
The price difference ranges from $400-$1,200 or more depending on body size and manufacturer with the advantage going to aluminum. Additionally, aluminum is more economical for nonwhite exterior colors because aluminum sheets are available in a variety of standard pre-painted colors. FRP comes standard only in white, requiring extra cost for either a colored gel coat or paint to create color panels.
One trend to watch, however, is the rise in material costs. "In recent years, the escalating cost of aluminum has significantly narrowed the gap in the cost of FRP versus aluminum bodies, resulting in FRP now being only a slight premium to aluminum," says Bob Besse, director of marketing and product planning for Supreme Corp., a nationwide manufacturer of aluminum and FRP van and cutaway bodies.
Aluminum is approximately 8%-10% lighter than FRP. Take, for example, a base 14-foot van body (84 inches high; 96 inches wide) built by Supreme Corp. The aluminum body weighs 2,150 lbs., the FRP 2,328 lbs. In this case, the aluminum body offers just 200 lbs. less additional payload capacity than the FRP. Consult your body manufacturer for precise weight figures for the body size and options you’re considering.
The advantage here goes to FRP, which offers a seamless, clean, bright and smooth surface for eye-catching graphics and lettering. With aluminum, you must work around seams and rivets, which may diminish appearance.
"FRP is composed of four layers — a plywood core, woven fiberglass roving, white pigment resin, and gel coat — that are formed together under intense heat and pressure," Besse explains. "This makes FRP a sturdier and more durable wall construction than aluminum, holding up best against interior cargo and road damage, dings, dents, and scratches from low-hanging tree limbs."
The downside, however, is that a break in the integrity of the FRP coating can allow moisture to seep into the wood core, causing warping and further damage unless repaired quickly.
If the truck sustains significant sidewall damage to the cargo box in a crash, aluminum is usually less expensive to repair. Only the damaged sidewall panels and posts must be replaced. In the same situation with FRP, the entire sidewall is generally replaced.
For minor damage, such as dents, tears, and scratches, FRP is usually less expensive to repair than aluminum. Aluminum requires replacing the sidewall panel, while damage can be patched and sealed directly with FRP.
FRP offers approximately three inches greater interior space than a comparable aluminum body, which requires side posts and interior lining.
Another factor to consider is interior visibility. "FRP provides a bright white interior in the van body, especially when coupled with a translucent roof," says Besse. "This makes working inside the van body much easier."