Modern Car Construction Materials

September 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Automotive, Technical


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Modern Car Construction Materials

Once upon a time, cars and trucks were made of heavy steel. That changed decades ago, leading to the use of aluminum and lighter metal alloys. Other materials that have been used are fiberglass and even plastic (ala Saturn and even some Hondas). However, carbon fiber is rapidly becoming the material of choice for both automakers and tuners alike. Will we see cars with carbon fiber body panels rolling off the assembly line? While that is not likely (the costs would be somewhat prohibitive), it has not stopped automakers from using the material in other places.

While most tuners focus on replacing their OEM hoods and trunk lids with carbon fiber accessories, OEMs have focused on trim and accessory parts, (you can find a carbon fiber hood or trunk lid for your ride at AndysAutoSport.com). OEMs cite the increased cost that would be associated with manufacturing body panels from carbon fiber, as well as the need to pass those costs along to the customer. In their view, it would reduce owner loyalty, simply due to price.

So, that leaves the trim and accessories. You’ll find many new vehicles rolling up to the dealership with carbon fiber shifter panels, door trim and even side-view mirror housings. Some automakers have used the material for door handle trim on the exterior, or for trim around the stereo and navigation system. However, the true benefit of this material will not be realized until automakers begin using it on a wider scale.

The aftermarket has already discovered the incredible strength and versatility of carbon fiber. Hoods of carbon fiber weigh substantially less than metal or fiberglass hoods, yet provide better strength and durability than their more traditional cousins. Carbon fiber trunk lids also offer strength and durability. Perhaps the single best aspect of the material is the fact that it is extremely lightweight. This allows vehicles to shed unnecessary pounds with ease. The less weight the engine must pull, the more available power that engine has for acceleration.

Shedding excess weight also helps improve fuel economy in any vehicle. Under normal driving conditions, a lighter car can go farther than a heavier car on the same amount of fuel. Of course, that’s basic physics, but it is a vital application in today’s world of skyrocketing gas prices. While adding carbon fiber accessories may not save you tons of cash immediately, the costs can be offset by savings over time.

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