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  1. #1
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    Default Aluminum vs. Stainless

    I am currently spec'ing a new engine. I have had four vendors in and each of them is trying to sell me something different. They all say their's is the best. All Aluminum, aluminum cab / stainless body, all stainless. Looking for unbiased opinions.


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    Forum Member islandfire03's Avatar
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    A lot of these decisions will depend on the expected life cycle and usage of the engine.
    Aluminum is lighter and structurally sound for construction of both fire bodies and cabs, easily formed, welded and machined. It should give a 20 year life cycle without problems and is reasonably simple to repair damage to components. There is the issue of "white rust" corrosion when you join dissimilar metals, i.e. stainless hinges and fasteners not isolated from contact by barrier tape. All of our engines and rescue trucks have aluminum bodies and we are in the northeast with lots of ice treatment to the roads in winter. We have not had corrosion problems with the aluminum
    bodies , but the steel chassis components sure do catch h@ll from the road salts. writing a good spec that requires isolation materials will solve most of this problem.

    We run commercial cabover chassis's which are steel cabs and see a 20+ year life cycle with minor corrosion problems after 15 years or so. Keeping them washed underneath to remove road crap help greatly and so does the warm station.

    Stainless is the premium material for corrosion protection and can be formed ,welded, and machined well. it is much more expensive and can be harder to get paint to stay put on. It is less flexible and a welded stainless can have cracking issues if the welds are not annealed properly

    Galvaneal is the least desirable material for fire service use with the shortest life cycle. rust & corrosion are a definite problem with this material.

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    Stainless comes in different grades. Do some research and you'll find not every manufacturer uses the same grade. I believe that series 300 is the best for use in fire apparatus. It gives very good resistance to surface corrosion, thus does not have to be painted. The builders that offer the option to leave parts of their bodies/trim unpainted are using 300 grade stainless. Other guys have to paint their stainless because they're using grade 400. Grade 400 is much more susceptible to surface corrosion, thus must be painted. If the bare 400 grade stainless is left exposed, it will eventually display surface corrosion.

    Exposed aluminum is also subject to surface corrosion. Chlorides being added to road salt are really doing a number on the exposed areas of aluminum. Painting the underside of aluminum bodies and undercoating subframes/body undersides can help with this issue. No matter how much you clean, there will be areas you just can't get to.

    Stainless cabs - As far as I know only HME offers a true all stainless cab. This means that not only the "skin", but the cab framework is also stainless. Other manufacturers that offer stainless cabs only replace the galvanneal steel "skin" with grade 400 stainless steel. The cab framework remains galvanneal. So really, they're just trying to make their steel cabs more corrosion resistent while maintaining the strength of the steel cab. What you choose to use really should depend on who is building the cab and what degree of corrosion resistence you need. If you can get the cab in aluminum, the corrosion resistence will be there for a much more reasonable cost than stainless.

    Aluminum body vs. steel vs. stainless - Again. how much corrosion resistence do you need? Galvanneal bodies work just fine in dry climates. Stainless works best in highly corrosive environments. But really, how the body is built, prepared, and painted will determine corrosion resistence alot more then the material used.

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    Quote Originally Posted by retiredguy1 View Post
    Stainless comes in different grades. Do some research and you'll find not every manufacturer uses the same grade. I believe that series 300 is the best for use in fire apparatus. It gives very good resistance to surface corrosion, thus does not have to be painted. The builders that offer the option to leave parts of their bodies/trim unpainted are using 300 grade stainless. Other guys have to paint their stainless because they're using grade 400. Grade 400 is much more susceptible to surface corrosion, thus must be painted. If the bare 400 grade stainless is left exposed, it will eventually display surface corrosion.

    Exposed aluminum is also subject to surface corrosion. Chlorides being added to road salt are really doing a number on the exposed areas of aluminum. Painting the underside of aluminum bodies and undercoating subframes/body undersides can help with this issue. No matter how much you clean, there will be areas you just can't get to.

    Stainless cabs - As far as I know only HME offers a true all stainless cab. This means that not only the "skin", but the cab framework is also stainless. Other manufacturers that offer stainless cabs only replace the galvanneal steel "skin" with grade 400 stainless steel. The cab framework remains galvanneal. So really, they're just trying to make their steel cabs more corrosion resistent while maintaining the strength of the steel cab. What you choose to use really should depend on who is building the cab and what degree of corrosion resistence you need. If you can get the cab in aluminum, the corrosion resistence will be there for a much more reasonable cost than stainless.

    Aluminum body vs. steel vs. stainless - Again. how much corrosion resistence do you need? Galvanneal bodies work just fine in dry climates. Stainless works best in highly corrosive environments. But really, how the body is built, prepared, and painted will determine corrosion resistence alot more then the material used.
    Seagrave's cab is TOTALLY stainless including the structure.

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    Forum Member Fyrtrks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrackPipe View Post
    Seagrave's cab is TOTALLY stainless including the structure.

    Crack Pipe....I hope you don't use it for the Clintonville stuff... just teasing.

    I was under the impression that Seagrave was using a Stainless Skin and mild steel framework, now mind you this was many years ago so I could and have been wrong. The second point on the Seagrave Stainless Cab was that it was not a true stainless steel but a different grade.

    No throwing stones just stirring a disscussion for the troops.

    I bid against an all stainless Seagrave once and was a considerable ammount less than they were on thier specification, doesn't matter because I didn't sell the truck.
    Fyrtrks

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    Stainless tends to be very brittle. I'd rather have aluminum for the body.
    The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. --Norman Mattoon Thomas, 6 time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America

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    Quote Originally Posted by txgp17 View Post
    Stainless tends to be very brittle. I'd rather have aluminum for the body.
    If this is true you need to have a unit engineered to flex and one that has independent modules for pump and body. I have seen more cracked aluminum than I have stainless, now that's not to say it can't happen but it is just my experience.
    Fyrtrks

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    Just remember while you're sorting through all of this info that you probably never heard a Huckster holler "rotten fish".

    When you make up your mind be sure to go back and read the warranty forward, backwards and inside out.

    Remember that if it's not written, regardless what myself and my sales bretheren tell you, it doesn't count!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fyrtrks View Post
    If this is true you need to have a unit engineered to flex and one that has independent modules for pump and body. I have seen more cracked aluminum than I have stainless, now that's not to say it can't happen but it is just my experience.
    I don't doubt you've seen more cracks in aluminum, but that's because there are more aluminums out there to crack.

    Brittleness was one of the problems with producing the De Lorean DMC-12.
    The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. --Norman Mattoon Thomas, 6 time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America

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    Just thinking about airplanes again!

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    Quote Originally Posted by txgp17 View Post
    I don't doubt you've seen more cracks in aluminum, but that's because there are more aluminums out there to crack.

    Brittleness was one of the problems with producing the De Lorean DMC-12.
    Umm, the De Lorean was made out of stainless steel, and not aluminum.

    Quote Originally Posted by RedBaronl32 View Post
    Just thinking about airplanes again!
    Ummm, actually the De Lorean DMC-12 is a car.
    Try watching "Back to the Future".

    Seriously though. All our cabs are aluminum, with stainless bodies. And we ended up buying a seperate gas welder just for aluminum, because of the broken welds, or cracks, on it. As for the stainless steel bodies, they have held up fine, with no cracks or breaks on the main supports, or the body it's self.

    FM1
    Last edited by FIREMECH1; 05-20-2008 at 03:58 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FIREMECH1 View Post
    Umm, the De Lorean was made out of stainless steel, and not aluminum.
    I don't recall saying it was aluminum. Where did you read that?
    The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. --Norman Mattoon Thomas, 6 time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America

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    Quote Originally Posted by FIREMECH1 View Post
    Seriously though. All our cabs are aluminum, with stainless bodies. And we ended up buying a seperate gas welder just for aluminum, because of the broken welds, or cracks, on it. As for the stainless steel bodies, they have held up fine, with no cracks or breaks on the main supports, or the body it's self.

    FM1

    If the body is designed and mounted correctly it won't crack. That said, aluminum, stainless steel, and galvanneal all have their place.

    The person who said galvanneal was total crap was wrong. There are plenty of antique Mercedes Benzes rolling around that are made of it. As with any material, it is a matter of design and execution.

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    Quote Originally Posted by firepundit View Post
    The person who said galvanneal was total crap was wrong. There are plenty of antique Mercedes Benzes rolling around that are made of it. As with any material, it is a matter of design and execution.
    Valid point. We're just taking a 1978 Peirce galvaneal pumper out of service and the body is not in bad shape. We also have a 1999 Central States galvaneal pumper that has had major rust work and is a total POS.

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    I support that in the Northeast,Galvaneal is junk.Most of the stuff gave way because it was welded with wrong wire or not properly retreated afterwards.PERSONALLY,I wouldn't take the gift of a galvanneal firetruck and I'm not much fonder of 'Benzes. T.C.
    Last edited by Rescue101; 05-20-2008 at 02:44 PM.

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    Forum Member islandfire03's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by firepundit View Post
    If the body is designed and mounted correctly it won't crack. That said, aluminum, stainless steel, and galvanneal all have their place.

    The person who said galvanneal was total crap was wrong. There are plenty of antique Mercedes Benzes rolling around that are made of it. As with any material, it is a matter of design and execution.
    If you care to read my post above it said

    "Galvaneal is the least desirable material for fire service use, with the shortest life cycle. rust & corrosion are a definite problem with this material."

    When I worked in a heavy truck repair facility doing body and paint repair,
    I have seen 3-5 year old firetrucks with galvaneal bodies from several different manufacturers that have rust so bad that panels needed to be cut out and replaced. It may work well in the dry desert southwest , but it doesn't do well where there is winter snow and ice control used on the roads. I never used the term total crap in reference to this material.

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    But I might,hehe T.C.

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    OK, can't pass up a comment on this one:

    1) Galvanneal - We still build using this product and surprisingly, cities like Yonkers, NY and Milford, CT have pumpers designed using this material and little to no problems. Just need to take some extra steps to keep the corrosion down. It is by far the least expensive option.

    2) Aluminum - We offer 1/8" break and bend style. Option for 3/16" in some cases. I have heard stories of extruded bodies cracking and corroding, but someone else can comment on that.

    3) Stainless - We offer a 304 BOLTED stainless body. We found out a few years back that welding and bonding were very difficuly processes to work with and could not be assembled efficiently. Therefore, bolted stainless works very well and we place a 20 year structural warranty on this product.

    4) Poly Bodies - Such as Darley is an option that has not been discussed here. There are limited builders of Poly Bodies.

    5) Fiberglass Bodies - Like the Plastisol is another excellent alternative and chances for corrosion on a poly or fiberglass would not be an issue. Plastisol is the only company I know of offering this product and it is widely accepted in the European market, and may catch on in the U.S. someday as well.

    We could go into great length and discussion on each of these options. Each of these materials has it's advantages and disadvantages. I will let everyone else jump in on what they think of each product.

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    Wink Body Material

    Years ago while visiting some of our brothers in the Chicago Fire Department I inquired about how their aluminum bodied apparatus were holding up vs. the earlier galvanealed bodies. Their response was that the tool boxes started falling out of the galvanealed body compartments around eight years or so old and that the aluminum bodies would make 12 to 15 years before problems appeared. They also were buying stainless bodies. don't know if they still are?

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