Aluminum vs. UHMW Skid Plate Debate
by Kary Doughty
Owners of UTVs often have the debate about skid plates and which product is better for off-road activities. Aluminum and UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight) plastic have become the two materials that have allowed UTV owners to have the advantage of light weight skid plates but also rugged protection of vulnerable places on the undercarriage.
Both have pros and cons concerning protection, weight, and shear strength but which one comes out on top?
UHMW is light weight and can match aluminum in that department. Aluminum was revolutionary in replacing steel on UTVs because of its light weight but also its durability. UHMW does have an advantage, though, because of its continuing advancements in plastics and comes out on top in terms of weight. Can Am racers, like Kyle Chaney, Marc Burnett and Monster Matt Burroughs, use UHMW skid plates on their UTVs during races.
In terms of protection, UHMW and aluminum have some advantages and disadvantages. Aluminum does have a structural efficiency much greater than steel. It also has shear strength, or the strength of the material to withstand being torn apart. Aluminum also doesn’t rust the way that steel can when scratched or gouged and moisture gets into the scratch or gouge. Aluminum also has good impact strength.
However, when compared to UHMW there are disadvantages. To begin with, UHMW has the ability to move and retain its strength, called memory. In other words, flexibility when going over boulders and rocks is a necessity because it allows the material to return to its original shape without damage. It also allows it to glide over the obstacle at the same time. Aluminum does not have this advantage. Aluminum will bend after the skid plate has a big impact with obstacles on a trail or off road. This causes kinks and creases that can get caught up on something if a kink catches on it. UHMW does not crease or kink and even if it scratches it doesn’t rust like steel. It also does not catch on obstacles.
The next issue is the gliding factor. Aluminum does do well on gliding but UHMW actually fares better and here’s the reason why. UHMW is self-lubricating so it will always glide better over obstacles on a trail or off road than aluminum. Because aluminum can kink and crease on large impacts, its glide will be impaired over time. UHMW does win this durability fight.
Even compared to steel, UHMW has amazing impact strength and will outwear carbon steel 10 to 1.
Aluminum and UHMW both protect the vulnerable parts of the undercarriage from damage that can happen on the trail or off-road. The engine and transmission on a Can AM X3 is precariously close to the skid place and it needs a durable material to shield it from harm. Unfortunately, aluminum is affected by the vibration from the engine and this can wear down the integrity over time.
The one advantage that aluminum has over UHMW is price. Aluminum is cheaper than UHMW at this point because, if an impact should damage the UHMW, it has to be replaced. Aluminum however can be welded back together.
Most UTV owners have their preference about the material on a skid plate they like. For those who are trying to decided hopefully this clears up the benefits and drawbacks of each material.