May 30/24

Behind the Wheel: A Comprehensive Guide to Automotive Plastic Materials

automotive plastic


Like all machines, vehicles are only as good as their components. That’s why manufacturers are always looking for an edge to increase performance and fuel efficiency, without sacrificing durability.

This is where plastic automotive materials come in. Modern production processes can create very strong, long-lasting, and lightweight plastic parts. And just a 10% reduction in weight can yield a 6 to 8 percent boost in fuel economy.

Below is a comprehensive guide to different automotive plastic materials. This article explains the important roles they play in vehicle manufacturing. Keep reading to learn about their distinct makeups and benefits.

Polyvinyl Chloride

About 40 million tons of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are used in various applications every year. This includes construction, healthcare, and packaging, as well as automotive uses.

PVC is normally very rigid, but you can mix plasticizers with it to make it more malleable, which makes it possible to mold it into different shapes. Due in part to its high level of abrasion resistance, you will find PVC used in car door panels, flooring, and upholstery.


Polypropylene is a synthetic, semi-crystalline thermoplastic polymer. It is quite flexible and impact-resistant. It is also very affordable, even compared to other plastics.

This makes polypropylene a primary material used in automotive interiors. These include dashboards and door trims, as well as consoles.


Polyurethane is a class of synthetic resins made up of joined carbamate, or urethane, links. It can be rigid or flexible, which gives it a wide range of applications.

Common uses include automotive seating. You also will find polyurethane in armrests, seating, and headrests. It also can have excellent cushioning properties.

Polyurethane also has superior insulating and noise-reduction capabilities. For this reason, you will find polyurethane foam used in door panels and dashboards, as well as any number of gaskets and seals.


Polyethylene is the most commonly produced plastic on the planet. It is a homopolymer, meaning it comes from a single type of polymer: ethylene. However, polyethylene can come in many forms depending on the configuration of its molecular chain.

Polyethylene is very lightweight and has low moisture absorption. One of its most lauded characteristics is its ability to hold up well even in the presence of harsh chemicals. For this reason, it is often used in the production of fuel tanks and other automotive containers.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a thermoplastic polymer. It is made by combining styrene with acrylonitrile, in the presence of polybutadiene. Each of these components brings unique qualities to this extremely durable plastic.

ABS is an amorphous solid, which means it has no true melting point, but it is easy to mold. For these reasons, it is often used in automotive exteriors. Common examples include grilles, spoilers, and trim components.

Learn More About Automotive Plastic Material Uses

We hope this article helped you understand the basics of automotive plastic materials. An experienced parts supplier can advise you on the best options for your industry or applications.

At Mayco International, we provide Tier 1 automotive components for the development, validation, tooling, and manufacturing phases of interior and exterior systems. We are headquartered in Michigan but have affiliates throughout the world. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation.