Steel/Aluminium versus Wood Framed Off/dirt road caravans

Submitted: Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 20:39
ThreadID: 45855 Views:16221 Replies:8 FollowUps:6
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Would be interested in other member views on the pro's & cons of wood versus aluminium framed off/dirt road vans.

I have heard all the views of the dealers, however would like to know what others with experience think.

When I say off road I mean anything other than bitumen as I have difficulty investing $50k plus and then attempting to damage/destroy it in the first week.
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Reply By: Hairy - Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 21:13

Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 21:13
No personal experience in off road vans but as a boilermaker who has worked as a carpenter for a lot of years I wouldn't have thought it was even fair to compare.
I would think aluminium would leave timber for dead and except for the weight factor steel would be better again.
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Reply By: pprass - Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 21:19

Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 21:19
I reckon you will lucky to get a proper analysis of the two materials from anyone - unless someone has actually owned and traveled off-road in extreme conditions with both.

I have asked the same questions and came up with - it depends on who makes the vans. From my understanding Bushtracker and Coromal are very pro aluminium and Trackmaster is pro merbu. All excellent vans. Take your pick.
AnswerID: 242156

Reply By: Member - Doug T (W.A) - Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 21:26

Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 21:26
aluminium framed won't rot if it gets wet .Termites don't go for it either
still going strong with 836,179 K's

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Follow Up By: Member No 1- Friday, May 25, 2007 at 07:31

Friday, May 25, 2007 at 07:31
but it is prone to electrolysis....and fatigue from movement
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Reply By: Member - Barry (NT) - Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 22:45

Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 22:45
Interesting subject,,, we've just ordered a wooden frame van after having been convinced for 2 years to go alloy.

Primary deciding factor for us,,,,,, went to factory production line,,,,,,,,,,,,alloy was good cross section material in horizontal and vertical sections and through jointed, ie one section bigger than the other and the smaller inserted inside the larger,, make sense I hope,, problem was a very small rivet held it all together at each joint,, when rivet lets go what holds it??? It still has flex as does wood frame so outcome likely to be very similar in terms of rigidity overall.

Anothe rissue is the quality of the chassis and flex ie fairly rigid chassis to support the monocoque section on top.

Ours is now ordered so one day I'll be able to provide feedback. we'll probable pick it up and go to Birsville races. We will be inspecting on the production line as well.

Every material has its + and - 's ie wood, fibreglass and steel boats,, owned one of each and each needed its own level of care to suit applicaction.

I would suggest that fully welded alloy frames could have high stress areas also and this is evidenced by cracks in aircraft alloys that cost millions of $ to produce.

One key decision we made quite recently is " if we encounter a situation that is likely to cause significant damage to van" we'll back off, but we don't anticpate major problems if we act smart and don't "flog it".

Another 2 cents worth as I don't usually write this much, but I hope there is some logic here.

AnswerID: 242182

Reply By: Go-N-Grey (WA) - Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 23:03

Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 23:03
I expected the above responses, that is why I posted the thread. There from what I can gather is no significant and definitive advantage of one method of construction over the other. It depends entirely upon who you listen to.

I would of course go for a welded steel frame every time except for the weight problem and the issue of join failures behind the scenes, and as an former airline pilot would never fly in an aeroplane made with a wood frame. Steel framed aeroplanes never get off the ground.

I hope I am never in one place long enough for white ants to get above the wheel arches, but have seen a van bought by my new by my old man in 1962 collapse in a heap of wood dust and aluminium sheeting in Karratha in 1982. I was to say at the time quite shocked at how a perfectly functional van with good interior fittings could turn into a pile of junk so quickly. I lived in that van for well over a year and it was rented out in Dixon's Caravan park (Port Hedland) for several years before it finally collapsed.

BTW I have just purchased a new Meranti framed van. On the above record I will be in my 80's before it too collapses :-)
AnswerID: 242190

Follow Up By: Member No 1- Friday, May 25, 2007 at 07:36

Friday, May 25, 2007 at 07:36
"BTW I have just purchased a new Meranti framed van. On the above record I will be in my 80's before it too collapses"...keep on rolling along.....termites wont be able to catch ya when moving
FollowupID: 503199

Follow Up By: phil - Friday, May 25, 2007 at 20:12

Friday, May 25, 2007 at 20:12
Actually, wood framed aeroplanes are by far the longest lived. Wood has no fatigue life limit, as opposed to aluminium and steel. Look at planes such as the Tiger Moth which have been flying for over 60 years. I would be quite happy to fly an old plane made of wood if it has been properly maintained. You will also find a lot of steel framing in most aircraft in areas requiring a lot of strength. Light, high strength, steel alloy tubing usually.

Phil I
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Follow Up By: Go-N-Grey (WA) - Friday, May 25, 2007 at 22:44

Friday, May 25, 2007 at 22:44
Depends upon whether you are talking chronological age or hours of usage. I doubt you will find a single Tiger Moth anywhere in the world that has as many flying hours as any DC3 still flying. Both 60+ years.

I agree there is steel in most aircraft, but as you say it is limited. I have never seen a steel wing, but plenty of steel tubing as you say in areas requiring high strength.

I agree with aluminium and steel fatiguing, I spent some very anxious moments flying some 70's model twin engine Cessnas when the main spar used to start "talking" after a couple of thousand hours flying around in the turbulence in the Pilbara. We took it in our stride but the passengers used to sh.. themselves.

Serious fatigue cracks were later found and the wings were replaced. Thats why I purchased a high quality wooden framed van. Flexible, and no fatigue failures. I keep it in a shed when not in use.
FollowupID: 503401

Follow Up By: Member - JohnR (Vic)&Moses - Sunday, May 27, 2007 at 22:46

Sunday, May 27, 2007 at 22:46
I wonder guys which of the aircraft you are talking of actually has original airframes? I know of the wooden framed cars where the body is pretty original but not the timber subframes. Timber was all made to be replacible. I agree that monocoque isn't easy though in things like, well LCs........

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Follow Up By: phil - Monday, May 28, 2007 at 09:11

Monday, May 28, 2007 at 09:11
With old wooden frame aircraft, such as Tiger Moth, it is usually the glue joints which start to fail. Casein glue was commonly used before the advent of resin glue such as Urea Formaldahyde and Resorsinal.
I remember seeing a Tiger Moth being rebuilt. At that stage it was just an incredible collection of little pieces of wood. Any new wood was usually the result of physical damage.

Phil I
FollowupID: 503874

Reply By: Neil & Pauline - Friday, May 25, 2007 at 13:33

Friday, May 25, 2007 at 13:33
I thought aluminium until I had a Coromal for 6 mths and the rivets started to give way. I now have a timber frame and no problems.
I agree that aluminium wont rot but then the aluminium leaks and needs to be rot proof. Personally I prefere a van that doesn't leak.

AnswerID: 242304

Reply By: CLC50 - Friday, May 25, 2007 at 21:19

Friday, May 25, 2007 at 21:19
Well all this was my fathers old all wood caravan,On a trip to Brisbane from Sydney 1942-43 was mostly all dirt ,It fell to pieces @ Taree. End of Trip .
As the rest wood is out it moves to much

AnswerID: 242410

Reply By: Trevor R (QLD) - Sunday, May 27, 2007 at 20:43

Sunday, May 27, 2007 at 20:43
Try and get the best suspension setup available to minimise the vans (accomadation part of) need to soak up the rough stuff. All vans taken off road will shake rattle and roll but the suspension system on each van will determine to what extent that van will shake to bits.

I chose the Supreme Getaway for it's steel floor and timber frame. The steel belly gives a good platform for the independantly sprung axles to do their job before the shaking starts up top. So far so good and mine has done 250-300 thousand k's (no exaggeration).

Happy trails.
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