Body Panels, Highlights, Accessories: Stainless Steel in the Auto Industry
Stainless steel has been a silent yet consistent player in different industries for decades. Its inherent beauty and strong resistance to corrosion – which gave it the name – have ensured its role in history as one of the most important materials ever manufactured.
Stainless Steel in the Automotive IndustryIn automotive design and manufacturing, stainless steel has enjoyed a cult following by both original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and aftermarket makers alike for a long time, and its applications in this industry are showing no signs of slowing down.
Most people probably believe that stainless is used mostly for accessories designed for vehicles, but the beginnings of this alloy in the automotive industry were far loftier, as a matter of fact.
Building Car BodiesRealizing perhaps the potential of this special type of steel, Ford worked with the Allegheny Ludlum Corporation as early as the 1930s to tinker with the possibility of using it to build automobile bodies. They were mildly successful. The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham of 1957 and 1958 featured a roof made with the alloy.
The DeLorean DMC-12, which you'll probably recognize as the car in "Back to the Future", sported body panels made with stainless steel type 304 covering the glass-reinforced plastic monocoque. Even the Porsche Cayman uses this steel for its aft body panel because its curves make it impossible for conventional steel to maintain its integrity during formation.
Manufacturing Highlights and AccessoriesWhatever level of success stainless steel may have achieved in car manufacturing, its place in the creation of highlights and accessories is set in, well, steel.
SUVs and pickup trucks usually sport nudge bars and bull bars made with stainless alloys. Side steps, rear steps (for pickups), and running boards are commonly built using this strong steel. Some vans and RVs have small ladders leading to the roof made of stainless. In some cases, clients ask for a stainless replacement for their vehicle's bumpers. Some vehicle highlights — such as door handles, grilles, and mag wheels — are also made of stainless steel.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to some accessories and highlights: one supporting stainless steel, and the other chrome. Stainless typically costs more, but it will retain its beauty and integrity far longer with minimal care, and won't chip or deteriorate easily, which is the problem with the cheaper, chromed steel alternatives. As always, stainless steel's resistance to corrosion wins it brownie points.
Whether you're working in a large company operating in the automotive industry, or a tinkerer in a garage who's adept at using different materials for customizing rides, the good news is it's not difficult to find stainless steel suppliers for your needs.
A word of warning, though: there is such a thing as knockoff stainless steel, and you know what that means. Stay away from material that's unreliable, no matter how low the prices may be. The history of stainless steel in the automotive industry deserves far more respect than that.