There are so many options when buying a horse trailer, straight load, slant load, bumper pull, gooseneck, tack room, living quarters, drop down windows, slats. The list goes on and on and on. Most of these are a preference but what about the construction? Steel, Aluminum, Galvanneal? Let’s think back to our Sesame Street roots “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things are not quite the same, one of these things are not like the other so now it’s time to play a game” So which one of these is not like the other 2? “Galvanneal, everyone knows what steel and aluminum are, so what is galvanneal?” Well actually Aluminum is the correct answer. Galvanneal is steel with a coating on it. We will get more into it below. “Dirty trick.”
First I want to start with a little material science. “Hold on, let me get my pillow so I can nap during this snooze fest.” Well I can stir it up with a little controversy. “Ooo will there be drama?” Could be. So there is a lot of rumor, voodoo, whatever you want to call it out there about how “aluminum crushes like a beer can” and “You see how easy it is to tear apart a Dr. Pepper can, that could be your horse inside an aluminum trailer if you have a wreck.” Well my friends, I am here to dispel the rumors and tell you it’s a load of crock. Why would Ford*, a company leading in truck sales decide to make the F-150 aluminum (yes the truck is made of aluminum**) if it’s going to crumple like a soda can. Unlike horse trailers, trucks have to survive crash test ratings. “Well I saw an article that the 2015 aluminum trucks failed bad in a crash test, so why should I believe you?” You are correct, they made a new crash test in 2015 to simulate you driving off the road and hitting a pole or tree with your driver side headlight. The Ford crew cab did not do a good job and in that situation you would have some broken legs and would get squished. “Told you!” However, Ford went back to the drawing board and just 1 year later their aluminum truck outperformed all the other trucks. “Wait wat? I need a source! I demand a source!” See your source here from IIHS who is the testing company that gives the star ratings for safety. So, how is it that in a year, they were able to fix this issue and become safer than the steel trucks?
It’s all about the design and the type of metal used. One other thing to consider is that trucks have a lot more stuff going on, there is literally a spinning rod running from your engine to your back axle, this is putting torsion on the frame of your truck. The bigger the truck the more the horsepower the more that rod can spin. If you used straight aluminum it’s soft, and easy to tear, however if you mix a few other metals in it, aluminum becomes just as strong as vehicle grade steel. You can put it through the same tests and it will perform exactly the same. “Yeah but it’s really easy to rip apart a soda can, I can’t rip apart a beans can.” It’s all about the thickness of the metal, a soda can is less than 0.1mm where as a food can is between 0.16-0.3mm. It’s a lot easier to rip 5 sheets of paper than it is to rip a phone book. Plus, a fair number of beans cans these days are aluminum with some coating on it. It’s all in the mixture of metals.
“Well I have read bad reviews about aluminum trailers over the years.” Sure, we have been building steel trailers since the early 1900s maybe even earlier, there is a lot of experience behind over 100 years of building steel trailers. Here is an interesting article on trailer history I found. Aluminum trailers have really only been around in the last 40 years so there is less experience working with it. At this point, aluminum has made strides enough to be safe to build vehicles out of, and possibly because of all the work done with horse trailers. As a final point on this, I saw pictures of a very bad wreck in an aluminum trailer, including the trailer breaking lose and ending up in the median, luckily upright. Other than some scrapes, the horse was fine. It was a slant and it was in the first of the 2 stalls, had it been in the back, it may have suffered something worse, so back to my original comment, “it’s all about design”. Maybe trailers need rear bumpers or crumple zones… as it turns out they do have some crumple zones.
So with that out of the way, let’s dive in with the tried and true Steel trailer. Most of us have had one somewhere along the way or still do. My first trailer was a steel 2 horse bumper pull you know the kind, with the rounded fronts and the little head doors with the vents and wood floors. I believe it was a 1994, bought used in 2008, it was glorious, with mangers and a small tack space underneath, I paid a whole $1850 for it. A fair price for such a treasure, the outside had recently been blasted and painted white but the inside was still dark brown, until it got attacked with about 10 cans of white spray paint. I was pretty high that night. Soo what are the pros and what are the cons, first of all, steel is cheap, easy to paint, easy to repair, and if you want to add stuff, any joe with a welding machine can help. The cons, it’s heavy, like almost twice the weight of aluminum. When you live in humid places like Houston, or places where it snows and they “salt” the road, you are going to get rust. So part of your maintenance plan needs to include “blasting and painting” every 8-10 years in a place where it will get “as-salted”. “Really, that is a terrible pun, is that the best you can do?” Sadly yes. Wood floors, they are more forgiving than metal but they rot and need to be replaced.
The opposite extreme is aluminum, this is what I have now. No joke, it’s expensive, like twice the price if you go buy a chunk of it verses a similar chunk of steel. I paid over $17k for a new aluminum bumper pull 2 horse straight load with tack room. I love it but we also paid that much for our new Chevy Cruze. “Which one, you dorks have 2, NERD ALERT!” It won’t rust, the floor is aluminum so no replacing but the aluminum can get corroded by urine. Also my trailer weighs nothing, literally 3,200 lbs empty, my steel one weighed about that. A few more cons, the shiny aluminum gets oxidized over time and doesn’t look shiny anymore so you have to acid wash it, you can’t paint it, and because they are light, they can rattle a bit when empty.
“So what about steel frame, and aluminum skin?” I have also had this, I really enjoyed that trailer, although lighter than an all steel trailer, it is still quite heavy, this one is heavier than my Sundowner and considerably smaller. On our annual trip to Colorado, we noticed that we stopped for gas fewer times with the all aluminum trailer. Also, a huge benefit of aluminum is that it doesn’t rust, BUT, when you pair it with steel they “contaminate” each other and next thing you know, you have holes in your aluminum trailer walls. I know this because it happened to me. The trailer was about 10 years old when I started seeing “rusted out” holes in my back doors (that is all the dark dots on the right most edge of the door and around some of the screws too). And you still have the problem of not being able to paint it, or weld in a patch.
A note about floors: All floors need to be checked regularly and I suggest rubber mats on all floors to prevent slip. Wood will rot and you may not be able to see it it, thus you have to stab it with a knife to make sure it’s not rotted. “It’s ok, I have some leftover rage from last night’s lesson that went south.” Urine can corrode aluminum so if you have a horse that likes to pee in the trailer, Emma, make sure you rinse it out or clean per manufacturer’s instructions. There is WERM flooring and similar which is a rubber coating put onto the existing trailer floor, kind of like Rhino lining in your truck bed and it eliminates the need for mats and can help (but can also hide if not careful) with rotting and corroding.
“I heard about galvanneal from a trailer dealer, what is that?” Well a gal drives a van with a guy named Neal. “Let me guess, you put the horse in the van and the gal is me? But I don’t have a friend named Neal though.” Well good news for your galvanneal has nothing to do with any of those things and can be explained using Peeps! “Wat? Peeps? Like that stupid Easter candy that no one likes?” Well I love Peeps so what then. “Like I said, no one…” Well fine, those that hate Peeps may get a particular joy out of this, and those that like Peeps may get a snack idea. So for those that don’t know what a Peep is, it’s a marshmallow shaped chick, coated in brightly colored sugar. “What does this have to do with horse trailers?” Well assume the marshmallow part is steel, when you galvanize steel, you coat it in usually a liquid, but in the Peeps case we are coating it in sugar. This helps prevent the marshmallow from going stale as quickly by not letting the air get directly to the marshmallow. When you galvanize steel, like the Peep, it limits the exposure to air by coating the steel which keeps it from rusting. “Is galvanneal just coated steel?” Well sort of, but let’s say you take your Peep, put it on a stick and roast it over a campfire. All the sugar on the outside starts to melt and makes a hard crust, this is what the galvanneal process does, basically you put a coating on, and heat it up and it makes it harder. Now, if you have a kicker and he kicks a hole in that coating, your metal underneath can still rust, but this provides a much stronger coating to the steel somewhat similar to what is on steel vehicles. As far as weight goes, its comparable to steel, and you still risk rust, also welding things right onto this is a no-go as the heat will damage the coating and give off some pretty terrible fumes. “Who cut the cheese?” Good news though, it can be painted!
I had planned on discussing straight vs slant but lets be honest, this post is LOOOONG enough, and I have a few experiments planned. Send me further questions and I can address them then.
*I don’t work for Ford, as a matter of fact it’s a 4 letter F-word in my house, but I cannot ignore the strides they are making with an Aluminum body.
**For clarity, they still have steel, but the majority of the framing and body panels are aluminum. The main ladder frame is still steel, the main base frame around the drive train, most cars don’t have a ladder frame, mainly full size trucks and large SUVs, because its stronger for towing and its easier to bolt different “tops” to. The Chevy 1500s and the Suburban used to use the same ladder frame, not sure anymore though. “This one is a suburban Fred, but the next one is a truck.”
Final note, if you ever want to get your heart pounding and your palms sweating, google horse trailer accident photos and articles. Wading through the stories as part of my digging for this article was tough, really tough.