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Wall Panel Materials Matter: ACM vs. MDF


Off Highway Van High Quality Construction

Each and every Off Highway Van build starts with materials that make a difference. Every product is intentional and contributes to our mission of curating the best possible travel and adventure experience. One product that’s never failed us and separates our builds from the industry is our aluminum composite material (ACM).


As its name indicates, ACM is a mixture - part polyethylene (flexible plastic), part aluminum structure. When bonded together these materials create heavy duty, lightweight sheets which provide the perfect base for our fabric covered wall panels. We use this approach for the variety of benefits they bring to our builds.



Off Highway Van High Quality Materials

Lightweight/Better Gas Mileage

Weight is one of the biggest factors to consider when seeking a custom campervan. ACM is extremely lightweight weighing less than a quarter as much as MDF or wood which is commonly used across the camper van industry. This means that your overall build is much lighter than most custom campervans out on the road. As a result, you get a boost to your gas mileage and for those who frequent difficult terrain, less wear and tear on your vehicle’s suspension, engine, and driveline components or even just wheel bearings.


It may surprise you, but wall paneling is the most abundant material in any van build and while there’s no way to reduce the weight of other needed products/features such as your batteries, slimming down on other areas becomes a no-brainer. Speaking of slimming down, ACM is also a fraction of the thickness of MDF. This means the material is flexible and contributes to increased interior space which, in a custom van, every inch (or sometimes even fractions of an inch) counts.



Off Highway Van High Quality Build

Longer Lifespan

Wood finishes, MDF, and the like can bring a cozy, comfortable look to any camper van, however these materials are subject to some serious downsides. In addition to wanting a beautiful aesthetic, you also want to ensure the longevity and integrity of your build. ACM is incredibly durable and workable with a unique composition that remains tight, flush, and serviceable for years to come.


Think of it this way, as you travel (especially through various terrains) parts and panels wear out overtime. Wood-based materials are naturally more prone to split, crack, and loosen causing noise and damage to other components. In addition, every custom van (regardless of the builder) will need servicing and some general maintenance due to usage. Removal and reinstall can have a big impact on the materials used in the build. A screw can only go in and out of wood so many times before it's rendered not functional. ACM remains honest and retains its quality through numerous trips and reinstalls contributing to a well-fitting and long-lasting lifespan.


Noise Reduction

While being lightweight and unobstructive to the interior space of the van, another benefit to ACM’s durability is sound reduction. Even the most beautiful builds can quickly lose their appeal once things begin to rattle and squeak only a few thousand miles in. Unlike wood and MDF, ACM mounts easily and remains firmly in place through all the ups and downs that come with constant travel. While it may be slightly more expensive to produce, ACM’s benefits far exceed its cost.



Off Highway Van Interior
Cracking/Splintering

ACM does neither of these things. In fact - it actually flexes with the factory sheet metal in the van, and can bear the loads and stresses that the van feels when it's on off-road trails or those never-ending washboard gravel roads we often find ourselves on. Similarly, it isn't affected by humidity or moisture as wood is and can be destroyed by. We want to take our vans right from cold and wet environments straight into hot and dry environments - that's where all of the best adventure and wilderness spots are, right? Why limit your van adventures to what the interior construction pieces can handle? We think there's a better way with better materials.



Many of these aspects can easily be overlooked during your search for the best custom camper van. As people who design, engineer, and use these products regularly, Off Highway Van understands how crucial the smallest details can be. Leave the extensive research and heavy lifting to us while you enjoy the ride. Contact us today to learn more about why our builds stand out from the rest.


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