What do you picture when thinking of automobile manufacturing materials? Images of rubber tires or a vehicle’s metal engine probably come to mind. However, plastics also play a crucial role in the automotive manufacturing industry. In the past decade, the amount of plastics used to manufacture cars has only risen. According to the American Chemistry Council, the amount of plastics in motor vehicles increased by 16% from 2012 to 2021. And the automotive industry accounts for 30% of the plastic industry’s demand. But what makes plastic such a beneficial material for vehicles? We’ll show you the many surprising benefits of plastic parts in automobiles. You’ll also learn about the automotive industry’s most commonly used plastics.
1. Collision Protection
Collisions are something no driver wants to think about. Unfortunately, automobile accidents are realities for the 4.8 million people injured in collisions annually. When collisions happen, plastic vehicle bumpers can help absorb an accident’s impact on drivers and passengers. The durability of bumpers made with polycarbonate and propylene may also prevent vehicle frame damage. Because using plastic lowers a vehicle’s weight, it can also lead to less severe post-collision impacts than automobiles primarily made from steel and other metals.
Unless they work in the automotive manufacturing industry, most people don’t think much about a vehicle’s weight. However, a vehicle’s weight is critically important for automobile manufacturers.
How much a vehicle weighs depends on how much power it requires. When automobile parts power heavy vehicles, they can wear down faster than normal. However, lightweight plastic parts help ensure brakes, engines, and similar components last longer than normal.
Just like other industries, automotive companies must earn revenue to stay in business. That’s why the cost of producing vehicles is a major concern for these companies. Fortunately, plastic offers a low-cost and effective method for manufacturing many automobile parts. Companies choosing low-cost, high-quality manufacturing materials produce reliable automobiles while saving money. Passing these savings onto customers results in lower-priced vehicles.
It’s hard to deny the automobile as one of history’s most important inventions. But vehicles also deal with the effects of wear, time, and a lack of maintenance. One of these problems is corrosion, which occurs when oxidation causes rusting. Rust is something no vehicle owner wants to deal with. This type of corrosion can damage a vehicle’s paint, frame, and engine. Severe rust can also erode metal, leaving holes throughout parts of a car.
Plastic such as polypropylene offers much better corrosion resistance compared to metals. This polymer withstands immense pressure. It’s also resistant to many oils and liquids, making it a great choice to protect more susceptible automobile parts.
5. Fuel and Energy-Efficiency
Whether you prefer a gas-powered, hybrid, or electric automobile, each one needs a fuel source. Of course, gas-powered cars get their power from fuel. Electric vehicles power up after charging from an electrical source. Lastly, hybrid automobiles use a combination of fuel and electricity.
Plastics help gas-powered, hybrid, and electric automobiles become more efficient. The lighter weight of plastics reduces the overall weight of vehicles. Lightweight vehicles typically require less engine power to stay in motion, resulting in less overall fuel consumption. Electric vehicles, while incredibly efficient, depend on heavier-than-normal car batteries. Fortunately, the EV industry’s use of plastics offsets the immense weight of lithium-ion batteries. This lightweight quality lets the batteries power EVs to provide the longest possible ranges.
6. Superior Versatility
Technology continues to allow research and design teams to provide innovative concepts. Sometimes, great ideas require the most flexible and versatile materials. Unfortunately, metal shaping often offers limited opportunities. Since plastic is easier and less expensive to fabricate than metal, this material can help bring innovative ideas to life.
Sustainability is a vital concern in any industry, especially regarding automobile manufacturing. Plastic isn’t the only recyclable material. However, advancements in recycling technology now make it easier than before to recycle plastics. These advancements also mean that companies can now recycle what were once non-recyclable plastics.
The Automotive Industry’s Most Often Used Plastics
It’s understandable to think that plastic comes in one form. However, there is a wide range of plastics made available through fabrication. Here’s more information about some of the most popular plastics used in the automobile industry.
Polycarbonate is well-known for its immense strength and versatility. Since this material allows for color additions during the molding process, it helps save companies time and money. Besides automobiles used for private transportation, public transportation such as trains and buses also heavily rely on polycarbonate.
When automobiles require protection from chemicals and extreme temperatures, polypropylene parts are great options. Polypropylene is also preferable because of its versatility. Companies can form, cut, mold, and laminate polypropylene for almost any use. In the automotive industry, you’ll typically find this thermoplastic used to fabricate seals, gaskets, tanks, and valves.
Polyurethane is a plastic offering superior strength, immense durability, and abrasion resistance. This plastic also rivals the durability of other materials, such as fiberglass and certain metals. Automotive companies often depend on polyurethane for vehicle headliners, steering wheels, and other interior parts.
Common Plastic Vehicle Parts
You learned that plastic is becoming more popular in the vehicle manufacturing process. But where do all these plastics end up? Admittedly, automotive plastic parts don’t typically receive as much spotlight as roaring engines or infotainment displays. But you’ll find plastic parts inside and outside of most vehicles.
Here’s a list of automobile parts made from plastic:
- Front and rear bumpers
- Interior door coverings
- Switches and buttons
- Headlamp and taillamp covers
- Carpet fibers
- Waterproof coatings
- Floor mats
A Critical Component of the Automotive Industry
Without plastic, modern vehicles would likely be heavier, more dangerous, less durable, and more expensive. Many previously mentioned reports and data predict that plastic usage will continue rising, especially in the automotive industry. With plastic’s incredible range of benefits, it’s easy to see why this material remains in such high demand.