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Ford's aluminum F-Series gets mixed reviews

The results of new crash tests involving Ford's F-Series pickup trucks raised some concerns about the cost of repairs. But more importantly, they dismissed warnings from skeptics who have suggested the first pickup featuring aluminum panels is not strong enough to protect passengers.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a series of crash tests on Ford's F-150 SuperCrew pickup and the extended-cab version of the new F-150. The SuperCrew earned top "good" ratings from the IIHS in all five crash tests, while the extended-cab model scored that same rating in four of the five tests.

"Consumers who wondered whether the aluminum-body F-150 would be as crashworthy as its steel-body predecessor can consider the question answered," said David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS.

The one area in which there was a difference in performance between the two versions of the truck involved the small overlap crash test, where the front driver side of the pickup slammed into a barrier at 40 mph.

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While the SuperCrew passed the test with a "good" rating, the extended-cab F-150 was given a "marginal" performance grade. IIHS said measurements on the crash test dummy indicated there would be a moderate risk of injury to drivers involved in a similar accident in the real world.

"The extended cab is still a safe vehicle, but for those people shopping for the safest vehicle, they should put their emphasis on the crew cab," Zuby said. "It clearly provides better protection in [a] wider variety of frontal crashes than the extended-cab version."

Ford says the extended cab F150 was in the midst of development when requirements to improve the safety of vehicles involved in small overlap crashes were passed, so the 2015 model could not include the necessary design changes. But the company says that is changing.

"We're moving to add... counter measures for the super cab and regular cab for the 2016 model year," said Ford spokesman Mike Levine.

Ford F-150 super crew
John Leyba | The Denver Post | Getty Images
Ford F-150 super crew

The F-Series is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Ford has already declared the new, lighter version a hit based on strong sales since it rolled out late last year.

Ford's arch rival, General Motors, has been running a series of commercials where people have to choose between a steel cage or an aluminum one to get away from a grizzly bear.

Read MoreFord's aluminum F-Series gets top safety rating

In the ads, the people go to the steel cage, delivering a message that steel is safer. As of now, GM's pickup trucks are still made with steel panels.

Although the crash tests alleviate concerns about the safety of a pickup with aluminum panels, they also point out that repairing a truck after a crash could be more expensive than it was in the old F-Series.

IIHS estimates repairing damage on the aluminum F-Series will cost about 25 percent more than a similar repair on the previous edition of the pickup. That's because the process took longer and was more involved, requiring an entire panel to be replaced, Zuby said.

"It is potentially a financial issue for people who choose an aluminum-body vehicle over a steel-bodied one," Zuby said. "They may end up paying a slightly higher insurance rate because the data would suggest that it is going to cost more to repair their vehicle when they are in a crash."

Ford disagrees with the IIHS findings.

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"When you look at real world repair costs, not staged repair costs, for the 2015 F-150, they are comparable to, or less than, other full-size pickups," said Levine.

He added that independent analysis shows 2015 F-150 repairs are $869 less than last year's F-Series.

Back in April, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the F-150's SuperCrew edition a five-star rating—the highest safety designation it awards.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.