Does GM’s steel vs. aluminum argument hold any water?

When it comes to truck beds, perhaps Chevrolet's jabs at the Ford F-150 aren't so unreasonable after all

One day after Chevrolet released a series of videos that “poked holes” at Ford for using aluminum on the beds of its F-150 pickups, the online jury of pickup owners has ruled Chevrolet in contempt — but a metallurgist and a leading maker of truck beds say General Motors was absolutely right to point out the superiority of steel for truck beds.

“What moron would drop cinder blocks from four feet into a new truck bed just to prove a point?” came one of the more reasoned comments from a discussion on “By the looks of the background, they could have budgeted for a tandem trailer. It’s sounding like Chevy Desperado.”

Hundreds of commenters on other truck forums agreed. Few truck owners would drop materials from any height into a pickup bed the way the ads do — and most owners who spend $50,000 on their trucks, even fleet and commercial users, will add some sort of inexpensive bed liner, even if it’s a sheet of plywood.

“I know a lot of truck owners of all makes and 95 per cent have some sort of bed liner protection,” said one reader. “This test means nothing to most truck buyers. I wonder if GM will compare beds and rocker panels from rust states in three years?”

But David Michaud, an engineer who owns neither a Ford or GM truck and runs 911Metallurgist out of Kamloops, B.C., says “it surprises most mortals” to learn steel is much better for something like a truck bed.

“Well, duh,” he said in response to the ads. “For everyday usage like a pickup bed, it has to resist impact. Being aluminum, it can’t do that.” To resist impacts, the aluminum would have to be thicker, which would make it heavier and negate using it in the first place, he said. “Steel is more elastic. Strain versus stress is the key to what’s happening there. Steel is a sure thing.”

Michaud likes aluminum for its light weight — he recently bought an aluminum trailer. But he said Ford must have decided fuel economy was more important than durability, suggesting they should have done more testing in commercial settings where “these guys are not always wearing pink gloves.”

Marland Pruitt, the technical advisor for sales at CM Truck Beds, a supplier of truck beds across North America, agrees. He says his company, based in Kingston, Oklahoma, often removes the factory aluminum beds on new Ford trucks and replaces them with steel. He said workers have to be extremely careful when removing the box so as not to bend it.

“If you want a bed that you can beat and dent, it’s going to be steel,” he said. Sure, aluminum is lighter and good in coastal climates and places that use salt on the roads because it’s less prone to corrosion, but for sheer strength, “I can tell you from experience — and I tell everybody about the durability of aluminum — steel is the way to go.”