How to pick the perfect bumper

There are a huge variety of options. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed and not know where to begin the search. In this article we’ll break down the varying bumper options, explain their positive/negative points and hopefully help clarify the decision when you’re ready to upgrade your bumper.

Regarding stock bumpers

Bumpers come in all shape and sizes. Depending on specific needs, some designs are better suited than others. They also differ in terms of build material and weight. As a starting point, the standard front factory bumper is usually an aluminum plate over the factory rails with plastic end caps. The rear is usually entirely made of plastic with the metal mounting plates. Needless to say, neither offer much in terms of protection and both are susceptible to damage from even slight impacts, often requiring total replacement.

Why should you change your bumpers?

Aftermarket bumpers are generally made of heavy steel. Sometimes they come in a stamped design, like the kind found on special edition from the factory. Often they are made of flat heavy gauged plates that are welded together. Aftermarket bumpers can also come in aluminum, providing a better level of protection than the factory and a lighter alternative to steel. Aluminum bumpers are also significantly more expensive than steel, so it’s important to keep that in mind during your research. Lighter materials also help with gas mileage. Aluminum, if dense enough, can be used for tougher terrain as well.

On-Road Use

A great big, heavy bumper on the front of a truck may not seem like a practical deal for on road use. They stress the suspension and can have negative effects on fuel economy and response considering its more weight for the truck to overcome. The negative impacts can be greatly outweighed by the positives though. Work trucks can take advantage of an aftermarket bumper considering they may take blasts that would otherwise cripple the stock bumper.

Also, there are the unfortunate accidents that may happen where the front of the car comes in contact with an animal or an object. Of course, the added strength of the aftermarket bumper will help protect the front end or even rear end of your vehicle.

If weight is of concern, tubular bumpers may be an option for street trucks too, but this would ultimately be more appearance and economy driven considering they leave a lot exposed.

Benefits of an aftermarket bumper on a street truck:

  • Added protection on job site
  • Added protection in an accident
  • Off-road use

Off the beaten path, it makes a lot of sense to reach for an aftermarket bumper. The first thing to take into consideration is the relentless beating bumpers take off-road. Some impacts may be strong enough on their own to rip the plastic bumper cover off in one swoop.

Use of a large steel bumper can be used as a battering ram to blow right through these obstacles. Use of a tubular bumper or a low profile thick gauged bumper can help avoid the impact. The design of the bumpers can also be taken advantage of during rock crawling situations.

Whether it’s crawling upwards or in a departure angle, the design of the bumper will make it harder for the truck to get hung up on a rock and easier for the tires to roll over them. The aftermarket bumpers can also be fitted with aftermarket accessories ideal for off-road use.

Benefits of an aftermarket bumper off-road:

  • Added protection during impact
  • Added clearance for rock crawling
  • Allows for mounting of aftermarket equipment

Light weight vs heavy weight bumpers: what are the pros and cons?

This is a matter of fuel consumption and performance. Having a lighter bumper increases fuel mileage, but isn’t ideal for off-roading. Having a heavy bumper is great for off-roading, but the heavier the bumper the worst your gas mileage. You really have to balance on what you’ll be using your 4×4 for, what your future plans are and what’s important for you.

Types of Aftermarket Bumpers

Just like all aftermarket product, there are variances in the styles of aftermarket bumpers. It is important to identify the intended use of your particular 4wd in order to select a practical aftermarket bumper. If you’re looking to crawl over obstacles freely, you don’t want a big heavy duty bumper that can get hung up on things. You also don’t want to subject your vehicle to the limitations of a small, tubular bumper if you intend to utilize the bashing capabilities or mount a winch in a protected area.

Heavy Duty: Heavy duty bumpers bring a lot to the table and are likely the most versatile choice. This type of bumper uses heavy gauge metal for construction making them a great choice for added protection. The metal used is usually metal or aluminum and budget will come into play when deciding between the two. These bumpers are typically designed to accept aftermarket lighting, tow hooks, and winches.

These options aren’t always present so you will have to pay attention while shopping. They can also feature additional protection with the use of built-in bull bars or grille guards. They may also be built as modular units so one can add on these features as desired.

Tubular: Tubular bumpers are excellent for applications where additional clearance is a must. Some heavy-duty bumpers can be designed to avoid obstacles but for the most clearance, tubular is the best choice.

These bumpers make it easy for 4×4’s to crawl over obstacles considering the bumpers are tucked up toward the grille, leaving more of the tires exposed. With that said, they don’t always have as many mounting options for aftermarket parts like heavy duty bumpers may. There are always means of mounting winches to trucks though and lighting options for tubular bars with lighting is always abundant.

Weight Issues

With the use of a heavy duty bumper, the front end will sag due to the weight. This can prove to be a drawback considering the stance is thrown off and this isn’t an attractive look for many. Also, off-road, the loss of ground clearance is never a good thing. But some suspension kits like Old Man Emu have a heavy duty option for steel bumpers and bull bars.

Countering weight with leveling kits: To counter the sag, one doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. All that will be needed is a simple leveling kit to raise the front end back into position. This is nothing new considering leveling kits have been used on trucks to correct factory sag in the first place.

With a lift kit, the front end is typically raised more than the front in most cases meaning that one should be in good shape with the appropriate kit. Though, stiffer shocks may be of consideration as an additional measure to avoid this issue.

What are the different “off-road angles” associated with off-roading?

There are 3 main angles that any off-roader should know about: approach, breakover, and departure.

The approach: this is the angle between the line from your front wheels and the furthest point of your bumper to the ground. This angle dictates the steepest incline you can start while only having the wheels touching the obstacle.

The breakover: This is the angle that dictates the sharpest arch you can travel over. This is the angle between the rear wheel ground tire contact patch, to the undercarriage at the midpoint of the wheelbase, to the line from the front wheel ground tire contact patch, to the same spot on the undercarriage that should be the midpoint of the wheel base. Not the chassis.

The departure: This is the line between the rear tire and furthest point of the 4wd rear bumper. This is the largest angle your rig could take when coming down from an obstacle to flat ground or the next challenge.

The approach and departure angles are affected by the bumpers. The further out the bumper, the less angle you can obtain unless your rig is lifted.

Front Bumper Overview

Front bumpers can be divided into two main categories: winching and non-winch bumpers. Most bumpers have a winch plate option, but if you’re the highway cruiser, a lighter bumper option might be more your style. Off-roaders will want to consider approach angles when considering a new front bumper. The sharper the angle, the more clearance you’ll need to tackle the obstacle. Some bumpers stay out of the way altogether while others limit your approach angle.

Rear Bumper Overview

Rear bumpers can make or break your 4×4’s limits for off-roading. Specifically, with the change of the departure angle. There are many bumper types to choose from that may affect the angle, but many bumpers offer great features like tire carriers, D-ring hookups, and hitch receivers. We’ll discuss all the different types and features in another blog post.

Full Width Bumpers

Both the front and rear factory bumpers are considered “full width” because they encompass the entire width of the rig, fender to fender. Aside from the added level of protection of a steel bumper, most aftermarket designs offer greater clearance and approach angles. The major drawback of a full width bumper is weight. Full width front bumpers are designed to protect rigs in wooded environments. Full widths keep stubborn branches and brush from puncturing your tires and bruising your 4×4’s fenders and body. More often than not, full width bumpers have pre-molded cut outs so you can keep your factory fog lights. However, sometimes extending the wiring is necessary to make them compatible. Another common feature for full widths are winch plates and D-ring mounts for easy recovery.

  • All round protection
  • Usually has OE fog light cut outs
  • Winching and D-ring options
  • Subtle to aggressive styles

Pro: Full width bumpers offer the most protection. Spanning the entire width of the rig, they not only protect the top front face of the tire, but considering it’s the outmost point of contact, it also provides a complete level of protection from direct front or rear collisions. Aesthetically you can make the argument they fit within the lines of the 4wd better.

Con: If you are considering a full steel replacement, full width bumpers are the heaviest choice. Weight is a big point to consider, especially since the factory bumpers are so light to begin with. The additional weight is often substantial and will have an impact on gas mileage and handling. Weight will also affect the 4×4’s height. Most aftermarket suspensions take this additional weight into consideration and always estimate their lift heights based on a fully loaded car with the heaviest bumper options. Full width bumpers are also the most expensive option out of all three options.

Tubular bumpers

  • Classic look
  • Some rears have oversized wheel cutouts
  • Some have the ability to house winches
  • Cost-effective
  • Fully welded

Some have a built in bull bar/grille guard

Tubular bumpers are a great way to add a different look on your rig. The design comes from the 80’s to provide a retro look. Tubular bumpers can come in many forms due to its low cost, but high quality construction. The front bumpers are usually full width, and the rears can come in the full width design. They may also wrap around the corners for extra protection for the rear quarter panels. Both front and rear bumpers are fully welded for maximum strength.
Unlike their steel plate cousins, off-roading isn’t a tubular bumper’s strong suit. One of the main issues with tubular bumpers are their hollow designs, and they wish they were fish tanks. Water loves to collect inside. Weld on end caps, or buy one with welded ends to prevent premature rusting. Tubular bumpers will be able to handle the concrete jungle just fine but won’t last long against rocky terrain.
Even though tubular bumpers are lightweight in comparison, they are able to take a light bruising from brush. Some of the front bumpers are able to house a winch which lets them have a small advantage in the off-road department. Some rear bumpers have a center cut out design that is able to accommodate oversized wheels. Some front bumpers have a welded on grille guard or bull bar for a two in one special. Tubular bumpers also allow for a slew of lighting options.

Mid width bumpers

Slightly narrower, mid width bumpers can still offer a better level of protection over the stock bumper. A mid-width bumper looks to achieve the same level of protection of full-width, but save on some of the weight and offer a slightly better level of clearance and approach angle.

Pro: Steel mid width bumpers offer a better level of protection over the stock bumper. They are also lighter than a steel full width bumper and generally less expensive. They are also slightly better when going off-road by allowing more space for tire articulation. They are a great mid-level option that still offers a good level of protection without the additional weight and expense.

Con: Mid width bumpers leave you with an exposed area in both direct or quarter impacts.

Stubby bumpers

Stubby bumpers are one of the most sought after bumpers by offroad enthusiasts due to their variable designs and increased approach and departure angle clearances. Another thing that makes stubby bumpers great is the number of different accessories you can apply to the main bumper which can increase lighting, armor, or even storage. You can also leave it bare with small end caps for a minimalistic, almost crawling type bumper. Most stubby bumpers can house a winch as well, and most do not need permanent modifications. Even use of OEM fog lights are an available option. There are two main types, modular and tubular. The modular is more popular and provides more strength and rigidity. Stubby bumpers are great and highly functional bumper that, with the right parts, will do exactly what you and your rig require. But unfortunately in most countries they are not allowed on the road, but no worries, some brands have add ons to make them a full width bumper for when you’re not off-roading.

Stubby Bumper Highlights:

  • Best clearance
  • Commonly house winches
  • OE fog light compatible occasionally
  • Aggressive styling
  • Tube style or Modular style
  • End caps can be purchased separately
  • Customizable

Pro: These are the lightest and least expensive aftermarket steel option. They also provide the greatest level of tire clearance when off-road.

Con: Stubby bumpers are just a horizontal plane for the 4×4 frame; they don’t offer any real level of protection to the wheels or fenders. Although they still offer a better level of protection when compared to the factory bumper.

What are the advantages of having a rock crawler bumper?

  • Minimalist design
  • Excellent clearance
  • Fronts protect oversized fenders
  • Spacious for add-ons
  • Rears frequently have tire carriers

Rock crawler style bumpers are all about traversing boulders with minimal to no interference. Similar to stubbies, they allow oversized tires and provide excellent approach and departure angles, but they tend to offer more protection to your 4×4’s body. The front rock crawlers come in either tubular or straight steel plate constructions. The tube designs extend out in front of your 4×4’s grille, so you’ll have plenty of room to use your winch and to provide oversized fenders. On the other hand, straight steel bumpers will be able to take repeated abuse. Front bumpers commonly accept winches, and the tubes provide places for aftermarket lighting. The rear bumpers often have tire carrier add-on options.

How brutish are the bull bar add-ons?

  • Reinforced protection
  • Supports Hi-Lift jacks
  • Added lighting space
  • Aggressive styling

Bull bars are made to push through thick brush and brambles, and the skid plates keep fragile engine parts from bursting and leaving you stranded. Available in a variety of finishes, bull bars also give your 4wd an aggressive attitude. All the bull bars offered at ExtremeTerrain are made from 3in round tubing, so if you decide to install aftermarket lights, you’ll want to make sure they have 3in clamps. Bull bars are also a convenient way of storing a Hi-Lift jack. After all, they’re built for it.

What is a stinger & what does it do?

  • Prevents deadly roof rollovers
  • Adds a menacing and aggressive look
  • Can be used as a ramp or guide
  • Protects front end components

The stinger front bumper add-on provides safety, appeal, and function to off-roaders. The stinger is primarily designed to protect the passengers from severe downhill roll overs when your rear end wants to go over the front to get down faster. When the stinger contacts the ground in a rollover scenario, your stinger causes your rig’s momentum to shift to a side rather than continue to roll forward. The high arch that pokes at your field of driving vision adds a very aggressive and mean look that’ll make other cars want to move on over. When off-roading, the stinger can be used to thrust your rig up a large rock in order for the front wheels to make contact. Another ‘double duty’ of this add-on is the increased protection against branches and rocks to protect your radiator, winch, and grille. Stingers are for a serious off-roader, but can be used to terrify other cars on the road.

What about grille guards?

  • Various styling options
  • Space for aftermarket lights
  • Protects engine components

Grille guards can be complex in design, or as simple as a single hoop attachment to your current bumper. Both protect your radiator and other engine components from stray branches and other debris. The single hoop attachments are ideal for adding aftermarket lights since the more complex setups don’t make the option convenient. However, the more complex designs offer more all-around protection.

Where to go from here?

If you’re new to the 4×4 scene you might still be surprised at this slew of choices. As you can see, each bumper type serves a unique purpose, so you can customize your rig’s recovery options, off-road lighting specs, approach and departure angles, and bushwhacking potential. 

Like most aftermarket equipment for your rig, your intended purpose will dictate the type of bumper you will need. If you mostly do light over-landing or beach off-roading, a lighter aluminum full width option might be a good choice. If you mostly do aggressive rock crawling and need the added tire clearance, a stubby bumper might be a better option. Some aftermarket companies allow you the flexibility of interchangeable end caps and bolt on tubing to customize a bumper based on your particular needs at the moment. In theory you can drive a full width bumper during the week and un-blot the components to run a stripped down stubby version on the weekend. Overall the world of bumpers is quite extensive and can add another level of character to the look of your 4×4. There is no set rule that states you need to run the same brand on the front and back, so have fun and enjoy the large variety of options.