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Monday, July 9, 2012

Camper siding: Aluminum or fiberglass?

Not long ago, a prospective truck camper owner popped a perennial favorite question: Which is better for siding, fiberglass or aluminum? There are no simple answers, but there are considerations.
First, both materials are used in both low and high end rigs; price points don't really spell out help. Both aluminum and fiberglass have advantages--and disadvantages. Let's talk about the metal first. The most common of aluminum siding is corrugated, sometimes called "Yoder panels." These panels interlock together, and they can be replaced easily if damaged.

Corrugated fiberglass
On some high-end RVs, manufacturers have taken a shine to flat aluminum.  Flat aluminum can either be really shiny (think "Airstream") or painted. The latter is more easily repaired, but look out for the polished stuff. A small bit of damage can easily require the replacement of the entire panel.

And then there's fiberglass. Our last truck camper had corrugated aluminum siding, which proved to be a blessing when we (oops!) forgot to retract a jack and drove off--tearing off the jack and tearing up a siding panel. Replacing the damaged panel was quick and easy. On the other hand, smooth surfaced fiberglass is also quite popular. Back into something, poke a hole, and yes, it can be repaired much like a fiberglass boat.

Aluminum sided classic
Some RVers have complained about sunlight fading graphics on fiberglass rigs. It can be a problem, and it seems that painted on graphics and color schemes last better than those that are molded into the glass.

Not too long ago there was a concern about smooth fiberglass RV sidewall delamination. Layers of composite materials could start to--well--"come unglued" as it were. Repairs to delaminated rigs can be hugely expensive. Industry folk say that the quality of fiberglass construction has improved and delamination shouldn't be an issue. Time will tell.

Smooth fiberglass
Regardless of what you chose, be sure to follow manufacturer recommendations on how to maintain your outer skin, both for integrity and "curb appeal."