Unibody vs Body-On-Frame

unibody vs body on frame vehicles - what's the difference?

Finding the Right Vehicle For You

When it comes to vehicle bodies, you have a couple of options. You can go for heavy-duty body-on-frame trucks and SUVs. They’re rugged and meant to tackle the elements, for sure. Or you can go for unibody sedans or crossovers that give you a smoother and safer ride. If you’re on the market for a vehicle, let us help you decide between a unibody vs body-on-frame ride!

Body-on-Frame Vehicles

 let us help you decide between a unibody vs body-on-frame ride!

If you’ve made it to our site, you already know that we’re truck people. They’re symbols of our great nation’s determinism and can-do attitude… how could you not love them? Other than some SUVs and specialty vehicles like limos, trucks are the main bearers of the body-on-frame crown.

What is Body-on-Frame Construction? 

It’s really as simple as it sounds; bodies and ladder-type frames are manufactured separately before they’re attached. This was the most common way to produce vehicles until the 1960s when unibody construction became more accessible. Most trucks are this way, while most other body types have made a significant shift over to unibody construction.

Most pickup trucks are body-on-frame vehicles

Why are Trucks Body-on-Frame Vehicles?

Most pickup trucks are body-on-frame vehicles for two reasons: they have the superior towing ability and they’re cheaper to fix. The two-part nature of their construction means their frame rails handle torsion and twisting forces better than their unibody counterparts. Which means this is ideal for towing heavy loads that put a strain on your truck.

Another benefit of their modular construction is that repairs are usually limited to the part that was damaged. In unibody vehicles where the body and frame are a single piece, a damaged part also immediately affects everything around it, which calls for more extensive repair. 

This also means some truck repairs can be DIY (if you’re handy enough). That saves you money on both parts and labor. A disclaimer for all the DIY dads out there: don’t bite off more than you can chew! If you’re ever unsure, you’re better off bringing it to a shop or to one of your mechanic buddies.

The things that make trucks great workhorses also make them great off-roaders.

Off-Road Prowess

The things that make trucks great workhorses also make them great off-roaders. If you want to do some serious offroading, you have to prepare to take on some incredibly uneven terrain. Crawling over large rocks can bend and twist your truck’s frame. If the frame is too rigid, this could cause serious body damage. 

Additionally, even the most experienced and prepared off-roader will tell you that you’re bound to break something out on those trails. That’s the adventurous nature of the sport. Cheap maintenance and DIY friendly repairs mean quick turnarounds, which can be a godsend if you run into some trouble on the trails.

Unibody Vs Body-On-Frame Differences

Unibody Vs Body-On-Frame Differences

As much as we love lifted trucks and SUVs, some of them just aren’t suited to be all-purpose vehicles. To start, even an unloaded truck is significantly heavier than your average passenger car. When you consider their heavy bodies, powerful engines, and heavy loads, it’s easy to see why truck owners don’t win out in fuel economy.

The torsional flexing that occurs in the frame also presents an issue, hurting their handling and ability to grip the road. Most body-on-frame vehicles have higher ground clearance, especially if you lift your vehicle. This higher center of gravity makes handling rough and makes your vehicle prone to rollover.

While newer models of trucks have significantly improved safety ratings, older trucks are often lacking. This can be chalked up to their lack of crumple zones. This is the region of the vehicle designed to absorb kinetic energy during a crash so that the passengers don’t have to.

Body-on-frame trucks and SUVs are best suited as work-horses or aggressive off-roaders.

Final Thoughts on Body-On-Frame Vehicles

Body-on-frame trucks and SUVs are best suited as work-horses or aggressive off-roaders. They’re extremely capable and durable vehicles. But it comes at the cost of sluggish fuel economy and less than stellar safety ratings. Innovations in automobile technology have improved both those concerns substantially for newer models, but they still fall behind their unibody cousins.

Unibody Vehicles

Body-on-frame vehicles may not be meant for everybody

Body-on-frame vehicles may not be meant for everybody. Let’s examine your other option in the match between unibody vs body-on-frame vehicles.

What is Unibody Construction?

Unibody vehicles have been around since the ’40s, but they exploded in popularity in the ’60s. Modern technology and software have improved manufacturers’ ability to produce unibody designs for consumers. As the name implies, the body and frame are welded, riveted, and screwed together in a way that structurally makes them a single piece.

What Vehicles are Unibody?

Unibody design has been the dominant production method for Sedans for decades. unibody vs body on frame

Unibody design has been the dominant production method for Sedans for decades. But other body types have started to make the transition as well. Jeep produced the first modern unibody SUV in 1984 with the Jeep Cherokee. However, the popularity of crossovers really took off in the ’90s with the production of Toyota’s RAV4.

Trucks are also starting to make the transition into unibody frames, heating up the unibody vs body-on-frame discussion. The Honda Ridgeline went into production in 2004. But it has only just begun to win over truck enthusiasts in recent years. Its success inspired Hyundai to follow suit. They are slated to release a unibody truck sometime in 2021.

Unibody Vs. Body-On-Frame Differences

Unibody Vs. Body-On-Frame Differences

Unibody designs shed a lot of weight off the final product. This is because the body doesn’t have to sit on heavy steel frame rails. This is evident when you compare the fuel economy of a crossover SUV to a body-on-frame SUV. The crossover’s fuel economy more closely resembles that of a sedan.

Body-on-frame designs allow for easier alteration of the suspension. The way unibody designs are created often means the suspension allows for a smoother ride on the road. In addition to a lower center of gravity, unibody vehicles are overall a more comfortable ride and offer better handling.

They’re also more reliable in the safety department. Engineers made space by combining the body and frame for crumple zone design. Thus, giving passengers a much better chance of surviving a serious crash. Just take a look at IIHS Safety Ratings in the Large Truck category. You’ll see that the Ridgeline has won Top Safety Pick for the past three years!

Unibody Vs. Body-On-Frame: Who Wins?

Final Thoughts on Unibody Vehicles

Unibody vehicles are best-suited for daily commuters and general-purpose vehicles. They’re incredibly gas efficient and have the best safety ratings but at the cost expensive repairs and sub-par towing. Many crossover SUV’s come in off-road trim levels, but we don’t recommend charging into the Mojave in one.

Unibody Vs. Body-On-Frame: Who Wins?

The fun things to do with a truck, unibody vs body on frame

Both types of vehicles have their pros and cons, but we’re passionate about our trucks here at Northwest Motorsport. You can find crossovers and sedans in our inventory. But we specialize in heavy-duty workhorses and off-road monsters. Give us a visit! See why we can help you find the best truck for your needs!