Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Pros & Cons: Aluminum vs. FRP Van Bodies

November 2008, by Sean Lyden - Also by this author


Which sidewall material is best for your van body trucks — aluminum or fiberglass reinforced plywood (FRP)? Here are six points of comparison to help weigh the pros and cons.

1. Initial Cost

The price difference ranges from $400-$1,200 or more depending on body size and manufacturer with the advantage going to aluminum. Additionally, aluminum is more economical for nonwhite exterior colors because aluminum sheets are available in a variety of standard pre-painted colors. FRP comes standard only in white, requiring extra cost for either a colored gel coat or paint to create color panels.

One trend to watch, however, is the rise in material costs. "In recent years, the escalating cost of aluminum has significantly narrowed the gap in the cost of FRP versus aluminum bodies, resulting in FRP now being only a slight premium to aluminum," says Bob Besse, director of marketing and product planning for Supreme Corp., a nationwide manufacturer of aluminum and FRP van and cutaway bodies.

2. Weight

Aluminum is approximately 8-10 percent lighter than FRP. Take, for example, a base 14-foot van body (84 inches high; 96 inches wide) built by Supreme Corp. The aluminum body weighs 2,150 lbs., the FRP 2,328 lbs. In this case, the aluminum body offers just 200 lbs. less additional payload capacity than the FRP. Consult your body manufacturer for precise weight figures for the body size and options you’re considering.

3. Appearance

The advantage here goes to FRP, which offers a seamless, clean, bright and smooth surface for eye-catching graphics and lettering. With aluminum, you must work around seams and rivets, which may diminish appearance.

4. Durability

"FRP is composed of four layers — a plywood core, woven fiberglass roving, white pigment resin, and gel coat — that are formed together under intense heat and pressure," Besse explains. "This makes FRP a sturdier and more durable wall construction than aluminum, holding up best against interior cargo and road damage, dings, dents, and scratches from low-hanging tree limbs."

The downside, however, is that a break in the integrity of the FRP coating can allow moisture to seep into the wood core, causing warping and further damage unless repaired quickly.

5. Reparability

If the truck sustains significant sidewall damage to the cargo box in a crash, aluminum is usually less expensive to repair. Only the damaged sidewall panels and posts must be replaced. In the same situation with FRP, the entire sidewall is generally replaced.

For minor damage, such as dents, tears, and scratches, FRP is usually less expensive to repair than aluminum. Aluminum requires replacing the sidewall panel, while damage can be patched and sealed directly with FRP.

6. Interior

FRP offers approximately three inches greater interior space than a comparable aluminum body, which requires side posts and interior lining.

Another factor to consider is interior visibility. "FRP provides a bright white interior in the van body, especially when coupled with a translucent roof," says Besse. "This makes working inside the van body much easier." WT

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  1. 1. Brad Worthington [ March 25, 2013 @ 08:07AM ]

    There is one other alternative to the Aluminum vs FRP debate. An all fiberglass constructed body by Unicell Body Company. It has similar advantages over the aluminum body that the FRP construction offers but is a one piece design (similar to a boat) that eliminates any leaking into the cargo area through the seams that are present in aluminum & FRP bodies. Its strength characteristics are 4x greater than aluminum and 3x greater than FRP. The design capabilities of our Unicell lineup enables the user to realize a substantial savings in fuel consumption without sacrificing space, strength or durability. Overall, the fiberglass construction is a unique process that increases the performance of the van body market.

  2. 2. John Marsh [ December 18, 2013 @ 08:11PM ]

    We own two one ton cutaway vans with supreme bodies and they are coming apart by the back doors ! very unhappy with the beds

  3. 3. Tim Cobb [ July 28, 2014 @ 04:04PM ]

    I own two 12' spartan boxes and the rear of the body came apart a long time ago , as well as the body itself loosing durability , I would still buy a supreme product just not meant for heavy weights ,

  4. 4. Barbara [ September 21, 2014 @ 08:04PM ]

    I have a 2004 used budget truck that I converted to a camper. It has FRP walls that I would like to repaint white because of the small cracks on the exterior from wear. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I've talked to paint specialist without much help.


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