Those steel alloys known as high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steels provide increased strength-to-weight ratios over conventional low-carbon steels for only a modest price premium. Because HSLA alloys are stronger, they can be used in thinner sections, making them particularly attractive for transportation-equipment components where weight reduction is important. HSLA steels are available in all standard wrought forms -- sheet, strip, plate, structural shapes, bar-size shapes, and special shapes.

Typically, HSLA steels are low-carbon steels with up to 1.5% manganese, strengthened by small additions of elements, such as columbium, copper, vanadium or titanium and sometimes by special rolling and cooling techniques. Improved-formability HSLA steels contain additions such as zirconium, calcium, or rare-earth elements for sulfide-inclusion shape control.

Since parts made from HSLA steels can have thinner cross sections than equivalent parts made from low-carbon steel, corrosion of an HSLA steel can significantly reduce strength by decreasing the load-bearing cross section. While additions of elements such as copper, silicon, nickel, chromium, and phosphorus can improve atmospheric corrosion resistance of these alloys, they also increase cost. Galvanizing, zinc-rich coatings, and other rust-preventive finishes can help protect HSLA-steel parts from corrosion.

Grades known as "improved-formability" HSLA steels (sheet-steel grades designated ASTM A715, and plates designated ASTM A656) have yield strengths up to 80,000 psi, yet cost only about 24% more than a typical 34,000-psi plain-carbon steel. Because these alloys must compete with other structural metals such as AISI 1010 steel and aluminum, they must be as inexpensive as possible. However, formulating and rolling a steel that meets this cost requirement is not easy, and the finished product presents a number of trade-offs. For example, the increase in strength from 35,000 to 80,000 psi may be accompanied by a 30 to 40% loss in ductility.

Improved-formability HSLA steels were developed primarily for the automotive industry to replace low-carbon steel parts with thinner cross-section parts for reduced weight without sacrificing strength and dent resistance. Typical passenger-car applications include door-intrusion beams, chassis members, reinforcing and mounting brackets, steering and suspension parts, bumpers, and wheels.

Trucks, construction equipment, off-highway vehicles, mining equipment, and other heavy-duty vehicles use HSLA sheets or plates for chassis components, buckets, grader blades, and structural members outside the body. For these applications, sheets or light-gage plates are specified. Structural forms (alloys from the family of 45,000 to 50,000-psi minimum yield strength HSLA steels) are specified in applications such as offshore oil and gas rigs, single-pole power-transmission towers, railroad cars, and ship construction.

In equipment such as power cranes, cement mixers, farm machinery, trucks, trailers, and power-transmission towers, HSLA bar, with minimum yield strengths ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 psi is used. Forming, drilling, sawing, and other machining operations on HSLA steels usually require 25 to 30% more power than do structural carbon steels.

Most HSLA alloys have directionally sensitive properties. For some grades, formability and impact strength vary significantly depending on whether the material is tested longitudinally or transversely to the rolled direction. For example, bends parallel to the longitudinal direction are more apt to cause cracking around the outside, tension-bearing surface of the bend. This effect is more pronounced in thick sheets. This directional characteristic is substantially reduced in HSLA steels that have been treated for sulfide shape control.