November 18, 2020
$1,900 – is what you’ll pay for some carbon fibre wing mirrors. Suddenly the $400-or-so price tag for an original pair doesn’t seem so bad.
OnlineLoans finds out why carbon fibre car parts cost so much:
Carbon fiber is five times as strong as steel
Carbon fibre strands are 2% the thickness of human hair
Manufacturing costs time, energy and the environment
Some high-end car bodies are made entirely from carbon fibre
Firstly, some carbon fibre car parts background
Carbon fibre is made from thin strands of carbon. How thin? 1/50th the thickness of a human hair.
Pound for pound, carbon fibers are twice as stiff as steel and five times as strong as steel. This means a lot less of the material is required to equal steel’s strength, making carbon fibre car parts ultra-lightweight.
How is it made?
In a nutshell, precursor chemicals containing carbon are heated to extreme temperatures. Non-carbon atoms are ‘shaken out’ in the high heat, leaving a long strand of mainly carbon atoms.
The fibres are woven into sheets that are bonded together and moulded into car parts or other objects.
Time and Energy Cost
Large amounts of these two valuable commodities go into making carbon fibre car parts.
When you’re dealing with fibres 2% the thickness of hair, nothing is going to be fast. These tiny fibres are spun together – up to 24,000 of them in one strand. These thicker strands are woven into sheets then bonded together and shaped into the required car parts. Paying someone to do all that isn’t cheap – neither is the machinery.
Heating the raw materials to a high enough temperature to burn off non-carbon atoms costs money. This process is aptly named ‘carbonisation’.
The average home oven maxes out at around 260℃ at which carbon barely breaks a sweat.
You’ll need up to 3000℃ for the precursor materials to sweat out the non-carbon atoms. This leaves about 50% of waste product.
Furthermore, the weaving or braiding machines that stitch together thousands of strands of carbon fibre need more time and energy (and money).
“All the strands must be parallel and stretched evenly – one mistake and all the other strands can break.”
(Carbon fibre weaving. Source: rothbiz.co.uk)
Carbon fibre car parts may be strong, lightweight, profitable and look cool but they have a secret. A dirty one. Up 50% of the raw materials end up as non-carbon waste. Of the useful 50%, after trimming and fitting, around 30% winds up as offcuts on factory floors.
Recycling carbon fibre isn’t easy. It can’t be melted down and reformed like most metals as carbon fibre gets its ‘powers’ from aligned strands. It can be chemically dissolved but this results in shorter and more jumbled fibres than new ones, reducing strength.
They should just make fake carbon fibre.
They do. Car parts look cool when in carbon-fibre form – manufacturers know this. Wraps and coatings are available to make surfaces look like the popular charcoal-grey woven pattern.
Carbon fibre highlights can make certain car types, like performance cars, stand out from their base models.
They should make cars completely out of carbon fibre.
They do. From just car parts to whole car bodies. Cars like the McLaren Senna and the Koenigsegg Agera RS have bodies and as many car parts as possible made from carbon fibre.
The problem for most is the price tag. The McLaren Senna; yours for $1.7 million and $2.5 million for the Koenigsegg Agera RS to be in your driveway.
(Carbon fibre McLaren Senna body. Source: autonxt.net)
Carbon Fibre Car Parts Conclusion
The automotive industry is a champion of unique features and methods. Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve car parts – carbon fibre is just one of them. With recycling and manufacturing processes constantly improving, the price – both dollar-wise and to the environment is getting cheaper.
Find out why headlights cost so much to discover more about the quirks and curiosities of the auto industry.