This question comes up often — because there are not many good plans for aluminum trailers out there. We have great trailer plans, but none for aluminum. Why? As one of our Frequently Asked Questions, this one deserves a good answer. And yet, it’s not a simple answer. So, if this is of interest, please read to know why.
First, let’s get on the same page with Aluminum trailers. I believe they are awesome (in the right situations), but they have some less apparent complexities. This article is a follow-up to a previous post on advantages, disadvantages and misnomers of aluminum with trailers. Please read that first, because that’s where this discussion starts.
Are There Problems With Aluminum?
Why not have plans for aluminum trailers? The short answer: Time, and a bunch of little reasons. Aluminum is a wonderful material and when done right, aluminum trailers are great.
Yes, aluminum requires some added attention and a higher skill when building, if you do the things noted in the Aluminum Trailer Frame Value article, then it’s not a problem. However, for a lot of DIY’ers, the detail within those items creates the issues.
We don’t currently have plans for aluminum trailers, but it’s not because we don’t like the material.
So, Where Are The Plans?
I’ve wondered that myself. Yet, the main reason we don’t offer plans for aluminum trailers boils down to one word: Time.
- We have a pretty long list of new trailers to design. As you might guess, it takes a lot of time to design, analyze and document a new trailer to our high standards, so the focus is on trailers we don’t yet have in the line — as compared to duplicates in aluminum. Maybe this site will support a full-time effort someday, but not yet, so earning a living still comes first.
That’s the main reason, but I’ll also throw in a few others that temper the priority.
- Our research shows the market for DIY plans of aluminum trailers is much smaller . . . which brings us back to reason #1 above. With limited time, trades have to be made.
- Every time I really think about it, I pause and ask myself “Why?” In my mind, for many circumstances, the justification for aluminum is really hard.
Experiencing The “Why”
Last time I built a trailer for myself, I seriously considered aluminum. I priced it out and considered the benefits. On my 12′ trailer, it would save 280-ish lbs, but cost more than twice as much. The axle and other parts are steel anyway, so I can’t get the full benefits.
Will the trailer perform better? 280 lbs is something, but not huge. I live near the mountains going up hills all the time, and I still can’t justify it. Even if it saves 1 mpg (which is a big stretch), it’s a very long time to pay for itself.
With a 4K capacity, if we’re talking max load, 280 lbs isn’t much off the total. Just 7%. Yet, at max load, then I probably want steel anyway for peace of mind. (Fatigue and stress resistance.)
A good powdercoat finish or paint job on steel looks sharp. While not the same look as raw aluminum, it protects quite well from the elements. Since you have to protect aluminum too, again it loses some of the appeal. And, aluminum is easier to damage with scratches and the like.
The scenario for myself leaves me thinking the same for customers. Of course, you have different circumstances, so who am I to make your decisions? NOT AT ALL !! In a perfect world, we’d have them all, but we’re not perfect, yet. Which brings us right back to #1, tempered by #2.
So that’s the story on plans for aluminum trailers. Could it happen at some point? I won’t say no. Now, let’s go on because there’s more to talk about.
How To Get Plans For Aluminum Trailers
If you’re looking for plans to build aluminum trailers, then the reasons above don’t help. They certainly don’t solve the problem of getting trailer plans for aluminum. And, I don’t know where to send you. There are a few scattered on the internet, but no one that has a full line (that I know about).
Well, the expensive way to get your perfect plans is to hire Synthesis to design a full custom trailer. I throw it out not as a sales pitch, because most DIY’ers are not willing to pay $3000+ for plans. However, if you really need something specific (steel, aluminum, stainless, special function, or whatever), it’s an option.
Aluminum Trailers and DIY Plans
OK, I understand the above, and I read your other article. I know how to weld aluminum, but I still don’t understand why you don’t have Plans For Aluminum Trailers? Can I just build one of your regular trailer designs in Aluminum?
I am a DIY’er, and I hear you. I also like to experiment and that’s something I’d ask too. That said, the differences in the material require some extra design detail. Our plans for trailers in steel are designed for steel, and don’t accommodate the necessary details for aluminum. In a nutshell, no. Please don’t build one of our regular trailer designs in Aluminum. Thank you.
So why is Aluminum any different than steel?
By its nature, steel is a lot more forgiving and doesn’t tend to fail in the same ways as aluminum. Also, welds for Steel don’t have the same heat distress character as do welds with aluminum. It’s just different, and you can see it — especially when stress causes fatigue. See the photos below.
For a good example of what happens when a trailer is made of aluminum without accommodating the needed design differences, read this article about an aluminum trailer tongue fracture. The manufacturer didn’t understand one small detail, and the result is just sad.
What if I use thicker aluminum than what you show for Steel? Since they are about the same strength, shouldn’t that make it strong enough?
As mentioned in the previous article, it’s not just about strength. Static strength of aluminum is similar to steel (for these applications), but trailers are not static. Yes, in general you are correct, but read this comparison about deflection, then the article about aluminum trailer frames.
Also, before embarking on building aluminum trailers from plans, make sure you have both the skill and the experience. Unfortunately, those are not so common.
I hear from many customers with these kinds of questions. And, some share their great welding projects — like building a trailer for school. Excellent, I applaud you !!! That’s totally awesome.
However, even with great plans for aluminum trailers . . . . A trailer is a poor choice as a first big project for welding aluminum simply because of the risk and potential liability. As mentioned in the other article, it’s more than making a pretty weld. With aluminum: 1. Welds need to be really good on the inside. (Something we can’t know without destructive testing, or a lot of aluminum welding experience. 2. Welders must know how to mitigate potential fatigue, and support welded joints for longevity. There’s a skill involved, and experience as well, to get it “right”.
Am I just making this up? After several email exchanges with a customer, like the above, he said this about his experience with welding shops that build trailers:
“And that also matches with my findings so far that 3 out of 3 welders I contacted do only steel. Thank you.”
Of course there are many that do aluminum, but it’s not the norm, partly because of the increased difficulty and therefore increased liability. If many professionals won’t do it, that says something. That makes me ask: If I produce plans for aluminum trailers, am I inviting a catastrophe into your life?
That’s not the reason we don’t have them, but it is certainly something to think about.
More Reasons Why Aluminum Trailer Plans Are Low Priority
Need more? If you’re still reading, then think about these too.
- Who am I to tell you what you can or can’t / should or shouldn’t do? I don’t know your skills. Who am I to judge your welding? I’m not a certified welder. While I know enough to laugh at garbage in YouTube videos, that doesn’t make my opinion right.
- Even if we put a disclaimer and reasons, people will buy plans and build them without the prerequisite skill. That’s a worry.
- Our plans get modified, all the time. In fact, we encourage customization. Yet, if I put in the detail needed for a good aluminum joint, I am certain people will look at the extra work and say “I don’t need that”. Yes, that’s on them, but it’s a concern just the same.
- In welding, the appearance does not tell the story of the strength for the weld. That is even more true in aluminum. It takes skill, and practice, and testing. Let’s just say IMHO, building an aluminum trailer is not a good first welding project, and having plans for aluminum trailers just temps that paradigm.
I explained this to one fellow and he responded: “So you don’t trust me!” Well, that’s kind of harsh, but I guess it is partly true.
Please remember, it’s not about aluminum strength. It’s partly about stiffness, because it deflects more with the same force. (Read comparing aluminum and steel for deflection.) It’s more about the nature of aluminum. It fatigues easily, especially near the welds. Combine more bending with easier fatigue, and aluminum needs careful attention. Doing it wrong CAN lead to failures — especially by the welds.
Not What You Want To Hear?
If you’re looking for trailer plans for aluminum trailers, the above is probably not what you want to hear. I’m sorry. Perhaps some day we’ll have plans for aluminum trailers, but unfortunately, not right now.
Honestly, the big reason for not doing plans in aluminum is time. The little details above are a factor, but mostly, I’d rather spend the time on expanding our trailer plans offerings.
So, where can I send you for aluminum trailer plans? I don’t know. Good luck in your search.