High performance plastics are playing an important role in the automotive industry these days.

The light weight of plastics makes for more fuel efficient vehicles.

It is estimated that every 10% reduction in vehicle weight results in a 5% to 7% reduction in fuel usage. Current economic and environmental concerns make the creation of more fuel efficient cars a top priority in the automotive industry. The use of modern materials like aluminum and carbon fiber are helpful, but the wise allocation of plastics are making an increasing difference.

Some other advantages of high performance plastics used in transport vehicles include:

  • minimal corrosion, allowing for longer vehicle life
  • substantial design freedom, allowing advanced creativity and innovation
  • flexibility in integrating components
  • safety, comfort and economy
  • recyclability.

Here are the top 13 high performance plastics used in automotive hardware.  While all 13 may easily be used in a single vehicle, just three types of plastic make up approximately 66% of the total high performance plastics used in a car: polypropylene (32%), polyurethane (17%) and PVC (16%).

1)      Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide variety of applications.  A saturated addition polymer made from the monomer propylene, it is rugged and unusually resistant to many chemical solvents, bases and acids.

Application: automotive bumpers, chemical tanks, cable insulation, gas cans, carpet fibers.

2)      Polyurethane (PUR)

Solid Polyurethane is an elastomeric material of exceptional physical properties including toughness, flexibility, and resistance to abrasion and temperature.  Polyurethane has a broad hardness range, from eraser soft to bowling ball hard.  Other polyurethane characteristics include extremely high flex-life, high load-bearing capacity and outstanding resistance to weather, ozone, radiation, oil, gasoline and most solvents.

Application: flexible foam seating, foam insulation panels, elastomeric wheels and tires, automotive suspension bushings, cushions, electrical potting compounds, hard plastic parts.

3)      Poly-Vinyl-Chloride (PVC)

PVC has good flexibility, is flame retardant, and has good thermal stability, a high gloss, and low (to no) lead content.   Polyvinyl chloride molding compounds can be extruded, injection molded, compression molded, calendered, and blow molded to form a huge variety of products, either rigid or flexible depending on the amount and type of plasticizers used.

Application: automobile instruments panels, sheathing of electrical cables, pipes, doors.

4)      ABS

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a copolymer made by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. The styrene gives the plastic a shiny, impervious surface. The butadiene, a rubbery substance, provides resilience even at low temperatures. A variety of modifications can be made to improve impact resistance, toughness, and heat resistance.

Application: automotive body parts, dashboards, wheel covers.

5)      Polyamide (PA, Nylon 6/6, Nylon 6)

Nylon 6/6 is a general-purpose nylon that can be both molded and extruded. Nylon 6/6 has good mechanical properties and wear resistance.  It is frequently used when a low cost, high mechanical strength, rigid and stable material is required.  Nylon is highly water absorbent and will swell in watery environments.

Application: gears, bushes, cams, bearings, weather proof coatings.

6)      Polystyrene (PS)

Naturally clear, polystyrene exhibits excellent chemical and electrical resistance.  Special high gloss and high impact grades are widely available.  This easy to manufacture plastic has poor resistance to UV light.

Application: equipment housings, buttons, car fittings, display bases.

7)      Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene has high impact resistant, low density, and exhibits good toughness. It can be used in a wide variety of thermoplastics processing methods and is particularly useful where moisture resistance and low cost are required.

Application: car bodies (glass reinforced), electrical insulation.

8)      POM (polyoxymethylene)

POM has excellent stiffness, rigidity, and yield strength.  These properties are stable in low temperatures.  POM also is highly chemical and fuel resistant.

Application: interior and exterior trims, fuel systems, small gears.

9)      Polycarbonate (PC)

Amorphous polycarbonate polymer offers a unique combination of stiffness, hardness and toughness. It exhibits excellent weathering, creep, impact, optical, electrical and thermal properties.  Because of its extraordinary impact strength, it is the material for car bumpers, helmets of all kinds and bullet-proof glass substitutes.

Application: bumpers, headlamp lenses.

10)   Acrylic (PMMA)

A transparent thermoplastic, PMMA is often used as a lightweight or shatter-resistant alternative to glass.  It’s cheaper than PC but is also more prone to scratching and shattering.

Application: windows, displays, screens.

11)   PBT (polybutylene terephthalate)

The thermoplastic PBT is used as an insulator in the electrical and electronics industries.  It is highly chemical and heat resistant.  Flame-retardant grades are available.

Application: door handles, bumpers, carburetor components.

12)   Polyethylene Teraphthalate (PET)

PET is mostly used to create synthetic fibers and plastic bottles.  You may recognize it on clothing labels under the name “polyester.”

Application: wiper arm and gear housings, headlamp retainer, engine cover, connector housings.

13)   ASA (acrylonitrile styrene acrylate)

Similar to ABS, ASA has great toughness and rigidity, good chemical resistance and thermal stability, outstanding resistance to weather, aging and yellowing, and high gloss.  Be careful not to burn this material.  It will cause a toxic smoke.

Application: housings, profiles, interior parts and outdoor applications.

Did I miss one?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Looking to see some of these materials in action?  Request a free catalog! 

51 responses to “13 High Performance Plastics Used in the Automotive Industry

  1. I have 2 plastic injection molding machine one is horizontal (120gm) and another is vertical ( 60gm),any work for those machine ?

    1. Darwin – I responded to you once before. We can help with small plastic part design and material selection. Can you tell me more about your idea?

  2. I need ABS and Polyethelene for make outer body of Chassis.
    So from which website can, I get these?

    1. Michael – Do you plan to cut a piece from plastic sheet material? What are the exposures (heat, UV, etc.)?

  3. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am inspired!

    Extremely useful information specifocally the final part 🙂 I take
    care of such information a lot. I used to be looking for this
    particular information for a long time. Thank you and
    good luck.

  4. Wanting to setup a recycling small scale industry to recycle plastic wastes n produce plastic that can be supplied to automobile industry.. could you please guide me.. thanks

    1. There are quite a few businesses involved with this market currently. Each buys and picks up reground plastic, or parts to grind, from plastic parts makers. The materials, which must be strictly segregated, can then be sold to molders who’s part requirements allow them to use regrind materials to make product. Many customers require use of virgin materials, as grinding weakens material. Some also re-pelletize and certify the materials to certain specs. Both your supply and demand would come from companies who supply the auto industry with parts.

  5. The automotive industry is fueled by manufacturing innovations. The industry is always searching for new ways to make their lives easier. Thank you very much for sharing a unique article. I have learned the tips.

    1. Jeff – Thanks for reading Craftech Industries’ blogs. Many automotive parts have color specs – determined when the part is initially designed. Some are colored so they can be easily identified, some for safety reasons, and some for aesthetics. I couldn’t give you a percentage, but its the vast majority of them.

    2. Jeff – Thanks for reading Craftech Industries’ posts. The majority of plastic automotive parts have a list of specs – color being one of them. Surface finish is normally one of them as well.

  6. What polymer is used in today’s cars for the front seats “back cushion finish panel”? Are there any glues that can be used to fix injected clip points?

    1. We have no way of knowing what polymer is being used in this application, or whether it varies by car maker. The adhesive will depend on the polymer. I suggest you contact one of the car makers for this information.

    1. Rajan – The plastic used probably varies by car maker. I would contact a local dealer of the appropriate car maker and see if they could help. Craftech Industries doesn’t mold these particular parts.

    1. Leonardo – Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ blogs. Calcium carbonate was originally used as a low cost filler for plastic resins which also improved impact strength and stiffness. We use very little of it in our business – instead utilizing glass fiber when added strength is needed. Calcium carbonate is commonly used with polypropylene and PVC, and is less often used with other resins. The percentage used varies.

  7. It surprises me to hear about the use of PP in automotive. Pricing of the material is attractive being a comity material, however the very poor strength in cold weather would seem to disqualify from automotive use.

    1. Hi KJ,

      Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ blogs. You’re right, polypropylene gets brittle below the freezing mark. The automotive designers must have factored this into their thinking when choosing it. Perhaps part thickness compensates for the material weakness….

  8. The global automotive plastics market was valued at $27909 million in 2018 & is estimated to generate net revenue of approximately $64164 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 9.78%.

    1. Clive – Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ blogs. This would be great for the world economy!

    1. I would guess the exact material used depends on the car maker – we’re not privy to this information. Keep in mind that durability depends not only on the material, but also the part design. Thanks for reading the Craftech posts!

  9. High performance plastics are playing an important role in the automotive industry these days. The light weight of plastics makes for more fuel efficient vehicles. This article States a lot of information about this topic. Thanks a lot. One must check this bandzcar.co.nz it gives us more info on this topic.

  10. The blend door on the heater in my car could be glued but not if it is made of polypropylene or polyethylene? If you can, thanks, Ed

    1. Ed,
      Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries blogs. The door could be potentially be made from a variety of plastics – depending on its maker. Perhaps a local car dealership could help you find out?

  11. This blog is about the best of listing on things on 13 high performance plastic used in the automotive industry. In order to get better information and guidance can be taken from this blog specifically. It plays a vital role in taking us through. It can be really great for people like me who are looking for grabbing more knowledge about. They offer same information here Scauto.co.nz one must check them also.

  12. Petrochemical company INEOS is developing a heavy-duty 4×4 vehicle for the outback, documenting the whole process on a YouTube channel, “INEOS Automotive”. Their engine and transmission reveal elicited lots of negative comments over BMW’s use of plastic parts. Have you seen that episode? Would love to hear the counter argument.

    1. Patricia,
      Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ posts. Were the negative comments about environmental concerns? Quality concerns? There are a variety of plastics that can handle the heat and wear of this type of application – cost can become a factor. Plastic generally weighs less than metal, so a lighter vehicle can operate more efficiently.

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