Horse Trailers: Steel vs. Aluminum

Choose your next – or first – horse trailer based on quality construction and a design and configuration that meets your needs, then consider whether budget friendly steel or rust proof aluminum is right for you and your equine passengers.

Steel, aluminum, and composite horse trailers each have advantages – and disadvantages to factor into the horse trailer purchasing decision. Each construction material also has its fans and detractors.

Steel Horse Trailers

Steel has many advantages. It’s an affordable and easy to work with material for manufacturers. For horse owners, steel is durable and can withstand the rigors of constant use and the abuse from balky passengers.

Steel yields and flexes as you travel making it less likely to suffer stress fractures or structural cracks than other materials. A steel-framed trailer can support heavy loads and withstand years of travel. Steel conducts heat more slowly than aluminum, keeping the trailer cooler longer than aluminum and some composite models.

Steel has been in used in the manufacture of horse trailers for many years and new, and quality used steel horse trailers. are readily available. For many years, a steel, two-horse trailer with tack storage under the manger was one of the most popular trailers sold, and the model remains a popular affordable choice for many horse owners.

In a head-to-head comparison of trailers, a steel trailer of the same design and quality will cost less than a comparable aluminum trailer.

While many horse owners stand by durable, dependable, and affordable steel horse trailers, foes cite rusted out frames and shells, and the excess weight of a steel trailer, making it harder to tow a loaded model without special equipment.

Look for steel horse trailers made with galvanized steel — steel coated with zinc that is heated to provide a protective coating – or a trailer made with powder coating — paint baked on to create a water-tight seal. The quality of the steel used in the trailer’s construction and quality of the galvanization or powder coating will be reflected in the price of the trailer.

Aluminum Horse Trailers

All aluminum horse trailers “weigh the least, cost the most and last the longest,” according to the book, “Equipping Your Horse Farm: Tractors, Trailers, Trucks & More” by Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh.  More than half of all horse trailers purchased today are aluminum for many reasons, according to the book. Most famously, aluminum trailers do not rust.

Also, all-aluminum trailers are 20 to 30 percent lighter than their steel counterparts, require less maintenance. Aluminum trailers hold resale value better than comparable steel trailers.

Since the early days of aluminum trailer manufacturing, improvements have led to strong aluminum alloy materials for increased durability. However, an aluminum trailer is still much more likely to dent from a misplaced kick. In the event of an accident, an all-aluminum trailer may not offer the same level of protection as a steel trailer.

While aluminum trailers will not rust, aluminum is prone to corrode, especially when doused in horse urine and manure, according to the Horse Journal.

Additionally, while steel trailers have some “give” aluminum horse trailers offer less structural flex, are more brittle, and more likely to crack than an all-steel trailer. Aluminum conducts heat faster than steel, perhaps making for a hotter ride for your horses.

Composite Trailers

Many high-end trailers combine the strength of steel, the non-rusting properties of aluminum, with cool light-weight fiberglass to create composite horse trailers.

Composite horse trailers are usually constructed on a steel or steel-pipe frame, with aluminum clad sides and a fiberglass roof and exterior panels and fenders. Aluminum diamond plate is often installed at the front of the trailer to prevent damage from road gravel. Steel gates and dividers inside the trailers add strength and safety.

Many horse trailer experts report that composite horse trailers are comparable in weight to all-aluminum models, but are stronger, according to Horse Journal.  A concern with composite horse trailers is galvanic corrosion caused by direct contact of steel and aluminum. Look for trailers constructed with Mylar padding or protective coatings in places where steel and aluminum come in direct contact

Aluminum or Steel Horse Trailer

Whether steel, aluminum or a combination, choose a trailer that is configured to meet your equine transportation needs and that is built with quality construction and safety features. Sample horse trailers to meet every need and budget at Crossroads Trailer Sales, in Newfield, N.J.

Horse trailer professionals can help you find the trailer – steel, aluminum or composite – that fits your needs.