You may notice that our builds look a bit different than most vans you see on Instagram, Pinterest, or anywhere else on the internet. Why do we utilize aluminum far more than wood in our builds?
The answer to this question is multi-layered, and it showcases our best strengths as engineers, van-builders, outdoor enthusiasts, and thought-leaders in the industry.
Aluminum is utilized across many different industries for its lightweight properties. The Aerospace industry, the outdoor industry, and the automotive industry primarily use it because the material achieves so much while remaining so extremely lightweight. In a van, this means that we can build out a camper van that achieves everything a wood built out van achieves in a package that puts less overall strain on the transmission, motor, suspension, and chassis of the vehicle. We typically see our builds come in over 1,000lbs lighter than many of our competitors. This helps to maximize the most out of the aftermarket lift kits and suspension we install on the vans, as well as helping with gas mileage efficiency. Increased fuel economy is something all road and off-road warriors can all agree on is a welcomed benefit.
While we do love woodworking and appreciate its beauty (See our countertops and cabinet door covers), we find it far easier to work with Aluminum. The bends and elaborate shapes needed in unique places throughout the van are more easily achieved with Aluminum. We have a range of trustworthy experts and vendors who help take our engineers’ CAD drawings to reality through Aluminum. Similarly, we can add unique features that might not be possible with wood.
Wood is a great material for many different applications. To achieve a certain strength, however, it must grow in thickness, and the fasteners or screws utilized to hold it together must match that increase in thickness and weight. All in all, this means your total volume of storage area decreases. While it may be small, these incremental differences make up huge amounts of room when applied to the inside of a van where space is already at a premium. With aluminum, we’re able to achieve a thinner wall of thickness in a single cabinet, and likewise avoid the use of screws or fasteners in each of the adjoining walls of the cabinet. Again, this means less total weight in your van, and more overall space for your gear.
The use of aluminum in the aerospace, automotive, and outdoor industry alone speaks to its durability. To withstand the rigors of thousands of hours of travel and vibration makes it an incredible building material. At OHV, we utilize 5000 series aluminum throughout the van. This type of aluminum is more resistant to vibration, corrosion, and heat. This makes it ideal in camper vans, and particularly off-road adventure vans where it’s subjected to vibration from gravel roads and trails, as well as the salt, snow, sand, and dirt that gets tracked into the van from your outdoor pursuits that you love. OHV adventure vans in turn become a true base camp capable of taking abuse.
Like all vehicles, even OHV built camper vans need maintenance. The ability to get back behind a cabinet or into the space where your water lines or electrical lines are housed is important for the overall longevity of the van. While rare in instance, unfastening an aluminum cabinet from the floor or wall, and then re-attaching it is a process that can be repeated in nearly an infinite number of times as opposed to wood. A screw can only go into and out of a wood panel screw hole so many times before both the fastener and the wood become no longer useful or are more likely to come detached.
No highway or interstate is perfect - and backcountry gravel roads even less so. Your van is subjected to a lot of vibration. In these instances, wood of any type squeaks. There’s no denying those squeaks can become annoying and irritating. With aluminum, we reduce the instances of those squeaks and can mitigate places where friction areas occur that create unwanted noise.
Overall - There’s a lot of reasons why we use Aluminum. Within a van, it’s a force-multiplier of benefits in use. All in all, it equals a better camper van build that’s ready for wilderness exploration, and that’s why it’s an important OHV build element.