Aluminum is like that cool kid you knew in High School. It seems to do everything really well, and always looks good doing it. Sure, other kids were stronger, taller, maybe smarter even, but none offered quite the all-round package of mister, or miss, Cool. Of course, not everyone’s popularity lasted into adulthood, but despite being around forever, aluminum is becoming more sought after than ever.

One of the growing application areas is aluminum RV parts. To explain why we’ll start by addressing what makes aluminum so versatile. Then we’ll dive into some of the many applications for it, old and new, in RVs.

Aluminum Metallurgy

Although aluminum is an element, (you’ll find it towards the top right of the periodic table,) it doesn’t occur naturally. It’s actually mined as bauxite. That goes through a two-step refining process to produce pure aluminum. This is too soft to have much practical use, so it’s alloyed with other elements that give it a range of interesting properties.

Those alloys are described in a series of grades – 1000, 3000, 5000 and so on. In very general terms, the higher the number the stronger the alloy, The 7000’s for instance are generally thought of as aerospace grades. For less demanding applications alloys are often chosen from the 3000, 5000 or 6000 series, (usually written as 3xxx, 5xxx and 6xxx.)

The 3xxx series aluminum alloys have manganese as their primary addition. This gives good strength while also leaving the metal easily worked. Magnesium is the main alloying element in the 5xxx series and imparts strength and corrosion-resistance. It’s also one of the more easily welded aluminum series. Then the 6xxx series contains silicon and magnesium that combine to form magnesium silicide. These alloys are popular in structural and architectural applications.

Aluminum Properties

Properties like tensile strength, density and fatigue resistance vary across the series. It would get rather boring to go into the specifics here, but if you want more detail call or email and we’ll be glad to help. In general terms though, we can all agree that aluminum alloys are:

  • Lightweight. About 1/3rd the weight of steel, for a given volume.
  • Strong, for their weight. “Strength” is a complicated topic, but aluminum alloys have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel and better fatigue resistance thanks to superior ductility.
  • Corrosion-resistant. Aluminum has a kind of self-healing oxide layer on the surface that stops it from rusting like steel.
  • Immune to UV degradation. Plastics, sometimes used as an alternative to aluminum, break down over time when exposed to UV light.
  • Available in a wide range of finishes. It can be painted, textured, have a lacquer applied, or be anodized, all of which can create a very attractive and durable appearance.
  • Readily extruded and formed. Aluminum extrusion is used in a tremendous variety of structural and decorative applications.
  • Easily machined. Need a hole for a rivet or screw? A cordless drill is usually up to the job.
  • Non-magnetic
  • Excellent thermal conductivity
  • Fully recyclable

As this list shows, aluminum has a lot going for it. Now let’s talk about what makes it so good in RV applications.

The Aluminum RV Parts Environment

First, a note of clarification. We’re not going to talk about RV outer skins. Yes, we can all agree Airstream trailers look really cool, but our focus here is more on why and how aluminum is used inside an RV.

The top two priorities are weight and strength. Less weight means more payload available for hauling the traveler’s stuff in the RV, and less fuel consumed per mile traveled. However, the RV must endure high wind forces, vibration, potholes and so on, hence also the importance of strength plus fatigue resistance.

Corrosion-resistance is another important attribute. There’s no knowing where an RV might be taken, but a steamy swamp in Louisiana or salt spray in Maine will be a problem for many materials. Not aluminum though. And the same applies to UV resistance: aluminum RV parts can handle multiple drives through the desert but most plastics can’t.

Next on the list: appearance. Exposed surfaces must look attractive, and aluminum acquits itself well in this regard. Whether polished to a shine, textured, painted or anodized, aluminum is always easy on the eye.

Last, but still important: cost. RV parts must be affordable, and despite costing more per pound than mild steel, aluminum can meet this goal too. To begin with, it’s often cheaper than stainless steel, with which it competes on appearance and corrosion-resistance. Then second, it’s easily extruded. Extrusion is a very cost-effective way of creating complex profiles that can be used in many different areas of an RV.

Applications for Aluminum RV Parts

Pick a component and we’ll explain how it can be made in aluminum. The frame itself is an obvious application, and an alternative to the traditional “stick and tin” construction. Then there are parts like window and door frames, plus steps, gutters and awning components.

Inside, aluminum works for just about everything from door hinges and table legs to brackets and table edge and countertop trim. Polish it enough, (like our firetruck bumpers) and it even works as a mirror, (and weighs less than a glass one too!)

Popular for a Reason

Aluminum is an extraordinarily versatile material. It’s used extensively in aircraft because it’s strong yet light, and the same rational applies to RVs. Aluminum is just an excellent material to use for a very long list of RV parts.

If you’re in the RV industry and need parts, talk to us. If this TikiTalk post hasn’t given you enough detail we’ll be very happy to discuss how to make the parts you need in aluminum. As for what became of that kid voted, “Most Popular” in my year at High School? Well that’s a story for another time, maybe best told in our Tiki bar.