The magic thing that keeps you safe on the road. Yes, we’re talking about steel


Not your fairy godmother, but it could be. 

A friend remarked recently that in buying a used car for his teenage daughter, he is shopping for a 20 year old Mercedes-Benz because he wants her in a tank made of solid steel.

As classic and gorgeous as a Mercedes Benz of that era might be, it’s not as fuel efficient or safe as new cars on the road with half its weight.

He’s right about the role of steel in keeping us safe. If a tractor-trailer truck is headed your way, you want steel surrounding you.

But the reality is, we want safety in all circumstances, to be fuel efficient and to be kind to our environment, too. Safety technologies like blind spot monitors and rear view cameras help us to be safer, they are nothing without the core strength that steel provides our cars.

Here’s what you need to know that will make you feel better about the solid shield of safety surrounding you in your car.

9 reasons why you’re safer on the road than ever

1. Cars are safer than ever

SteelSteel works in conjunction with safety technology to continually improve safety on the road. As cars have gotten safer, the number of deaths in crashes has dropped by a third even though the number of cars on the road has gone up by 38% since 1975 (and that’s just passenger cars) according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

2. This is not your granddaddy’s steel


Not all steel is created equal: Some is super high strength, other grades are designed to be light weight or flexible. It’s the combination of grades in the right places that work together for ultimate safety and performance.

Steel, like many of us, has evolved over its lifetime to be leaner and meaner than ever. In fact, in the 1950’s, steel was just that: steel. Now, there are hundreds of different grades and strengths of steel, giving auto manufacturers tons of options when it comes to the types of steel they can use and lets them use the most appropriate grade  of steel. For instance, ultra high strength steel is ideal for a car’s frame, but thinner, lighter weight steel can be used for hood or trunk panels.

3. Good-bye guys in welding masks, hello modern adhesives

Well, not totally good-bye; they are still part of the process, but the industry has had to get smarter about how they bond steel together. Why should you care? Because adhesives can increase both the strength of the steel in your car AND the flexibility. This means you can hit those potholes, your car is fine and you might not even notice all that much.

4. Hello quiet, comfortable ride

This might be my favorite thing about steel: the different grades and options available to manufacturers allows them to more finely design car parts for an exact fit. Better fitting parts eliminate seams or pockets where air can get in, thus eliminating vibration and noise. If your car seems quieter and more luxurious, this is one of the reasons why.

5. Some steel structures crush, and that’s a good thing

Have you heard this? Some areas on cars are considered ‘crush zones’ designed to absorb impact by crushing in a crash. That’s great because the impact is not absorbed by passengers. Crush zones also allow high strength steel to better protect passengers by not having to absorb the impact of a crash.

6. We love our first responders and mechanics, don’t we?

And we want them to be able to do their jobs well. Steel is a known entity that they have experience with and one that they are learning more about all the time. When it comes to rescue, first responders have the training and tools to work with steel. So do bodyshops, which have been repairing steel frames and parts for eons. So hopefully they can fix that door panel rather than replacing the whole darn thing when it was dented by a rogue shopping cart at Costco.

7. Steel is completely 100% recyclable and reliable

If I could recycle 100% of everything in my kitchen, I’d be thrilled. And if I could turn all those carrot shavings into full-fledged carrots again, I’d be rich. Sadly, I can’t do that, but the steel industry can: steel can be melted down and completely recycled and reused with no waste and few byproducts.

8. The best steel is from the US (and used here, too)

This one surprised me, but knowing that most automakers have gravitated toward sourcing the majority of parts for a car within a few (or a few hundred) miles of the assembly plant, it makes sense. According to Jody Hall of the Steel Market Development Institute, it’s more cost efficient for US auto makers to source high quality steel at home than it is to import it. Also, US steel is of the highest quality, which of course, automakers want. And even though cars built in other countries are likely using steel sourced there, quality and standards are higher than ever everywhere.

9. Steel improves your fuel efficiency

OK, this is totally counterintuitive so I had to ask: How? A small amount of steel provides more strength than ever. Essentially, it’s lighter and stronger, therefore allowing better fuel economy. But it goes deeper than that: Stronger steel at a car’s core allows for light weight materials on the bumpers, fenders, door panels and more, so it adds even more efficiency to your drive.

So I had to tell my friend to keep looking; a classic Mercedes-Benz sedan is great, but isn’t having the whole package best?

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Steel Market Development Institute which helps the industry develop technologies, information and applications to make our cars stronger and more fuel efficient. Any opinions expressed are all my own

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss