Get Crystal Clear on Canopies: Aluminum vs Fibreglass Canopies
If you’re trying to decide between an aluminum canopy and a fibreglass canopy, your head is probably swimming from all the opinions that you’ve heard, from salespeople and online 4×4 forums to all your mates giving their two-cents of advice around the braai. The only conclusion you’ve probably come to is that you – and only you – will be able to identify the right type of canopy for your bakkie, that will meet your needs and cater to your lifestyle.
And you’re not wrong.
We’ve also done the market research and have been fascinated to find the near 50/50 split on votes between aluminum and fibreglass. But we’d like to shed some light on the differences between these two products to help you to make a decision that will stand you in good stead, with no regrets.
The Big Differences: Aluminum vs Fibreglass Canopy
Here in South Africa, fibreglass canopies monopolized the market for decades until innovation in canopy design and production, as well as a progression in how we travel, , began to make way for newer canopies in stainless steel and aluminum. These alternatives have gradually gained popularity on the market, with aluminum canopies being a great option for those who have historically favoured fibreglass.
By far the most common comment made about a fibreglass canopy is that it is notoriously heavier than aluminum. The average fibreglass canopy weighs in at 85kg, with older designs weighing even more, while the Rhinoman aluminum canopy ranges weighs as little as 65kg.
Although a difference of 20kg seems minimal when compared to the overall weight of your entire vehicle, it’s worth remembering that as you add more and more load to your bakkie, every little bit starts to count. Also consider the difficulty you may have trying to remove or reassemble your canopy, if it’s too heavy to lift on your own.
Resistance to Corrosion
On the bright side, neither aluminum nor fibreglass are prone to corrosion, such as rust. Uncoated aluminum does oxidize, which presents as a fine white powder that wipes off easily, but most aluminum canopies, such as the Rhinoman range, are powder-coated and protected against oxidization.
Fibreglass does not rust or oxidize, but do be aware that if it comes into contact with harsh cleaning materials the gel coating that protects the fibreglass may be adversely affected. Over time and general wear and team, this gel coating may also need to be re-applied.
Both types of canopies make for sturdy additions to a work bakkie or a 4×4 to be used on the open road for camping or rugged off-roading. It does need to be noted that an alloy canopy is generally stronger than a fibreglass one, with many reports of fibreglass canopies collapsing under the weight of rooftop tents, even with roof racks installed.
So, for the intrepid outdoor explorer, aluminum canopies are robust and can withstand weights that exceed 250kg, while driving – it’s the ideal camping setup, to cart along your adventure gear and your rooftop tent.
As already mentioned, aluminum is stronger than fibreglass. Aluminum is made up of different alloys that have been specially selected for their qualities, be it strength, resilience, elasticity, malleability – manufacturers put a whole of thought into fabricating a final alloy that’s just right for the job.
On the other hand, while fibreglass is incredibly strong, it’s known to be brittle and can crack or collapse under extreme pressure. Fibreglass is also known to require periodic re-coating to maintain its overall lifespan. These are the exception rather than the norm, and many fibreglass canopies last for decades without showing this level of wear or tear. However, if you’re considering it, be sure to get your canopy from a highly reputable manufacturer.
If you’re installing a canopy onto a work bakkie that will be used for transporting workers to site, it’s important to put some thought into the safest setup for your crew. While we don’t ever want to consider the worst, accidents do happen.
In high-speed collisions, like highway incidents, fibreglass doesn’t fare quite as well as aluminum, as it breaks easier, exposing your staff to the dangers of being tossed into the road.
Just a helpful side note: be sure to understand the current laws around transportation of staff. At this time of discussion, companies are allowed to transport staff on the back of a bakkie with a permit, to a maximum of 5 people, and as long as no tools or equipment are in the bin with the people. The staff may not be charged a transportation fee.
We’re going to admit that, historically, this may be where fibreglass has had an urban advantage for many years. Fibreglass canopies are more streamlined in design. They sit snug against the cab of most bakkies, and match the height of the cab, giving the vehicle an attractive sleek look.
Aluminium canopies, however, have been known to be more ‘boxy’ in fashion – designed to be practical and sturdy and especially reliable for the outdoor lifestyle. Their robust design is ideal for roof rack fitment and for rooftop tents. And so, aluminium may not match metro style if that’s what you’re looking for on your urban bakkie, but it will deliver rugged strength absolutely everywhere else.
We know what we like – do you?
As mentioned before, few people can tell you what is going to work for your bakkie and your lifestyle. We know what we prefer and can be crystal clear on what we’d recommend – it’s up to you alone to decide what bakkie canopy you want, and what qualities are most important to you.
We can answer your questions, though, we welcome your call at any time – send us an email, a message, or pick up the phone.