Once the off-road bug has bitten you, you will inevitably invest in your own off-road vehicle. Then, once you’ve been off-roading for a while and are adept at navigating even the most difficult off-road trails, you will want to start modifying your vehicle. You will, inevitably, start with the bumper.
Bumpers are designed to protect your vehicle. If you’re off-roading you need a good, solid and strong bumper. Plastic and chrome bumpers just won’t make the cut. You’ll need something strong and durable. The bumpers that come with your vehicle are generally not as rugged as is needed and custom-made bumpers become essential once you start navigating rough terrain.
A bumper made from welded steel will withstand the impact of hitting a large object like a tree or a boulder. Stock bumpers can withstand only minor impacts and will crumble if they had to hit an obstacle like that. They protect the front of your vehicle, the lights, the winch and the undercarriage and prevent damage that is not only costly but could also have your ride off the road for a while.
Most bumpers have anchor points for mounting D-ring shackles or doing winch recoveries. They can push and pull things and provide a protective housing for headlights and your winch. They are the first line of defence for off-road vehicles protecting both you and your vehicle so it is worth investing in quality heavy duty bumpers.
Off-road enthusiasts are often the type of people who like a challenge and getting things done themselves including making modifications to their vehicles themselves. If you are one of them then read on because this article will give you some great tips and ideas on how to build your bumper.
First off, let’s get an idea of what the different types of bumpers you can get for off-road vehicles.
Types of Bumpers
· Tubular Type Bumpers
Tubular bumpers are a common bumper on off-road vehicles. They are made from extremely strong, but lightweight tubular steel. They come in various shapes and sizes and, if you’re customizing your own bumper, using a combination of tubular and shaped steel will provide you with the best protection.
· Stubby Bumpers
Stubby bumpers are only as wide as the length of the grille and not as wide as a normal bumper. They serve a very particular purpose which is to prevent interference between tires and the bumper when you’re traveling over rough terrain.
· Winch Bumpers
Winch bumpers are exactly that, bumpers with winches built onto them. There are a wide range of winch bumpers from full-width to tubular, to stubby and, of course, custom made. A winch is vital on an off-road vehicle as it is the piece of equipment that is going to literally pull you out of a good few tight corners. They are at their strongest when built as part of a winch bumper.
· Stinger Bumpers
Stinger bumpers are designed to stop your off-road vehicle rolling over when descending a steep incline. They look a bit extreme, provide critical leverage support when an off-road vehicle loses balance and tips onto its nose. They come with and without winches and are attached to the main bumper.
· Grille and Brush Guard Bumpers
Grille guard and brush guard bumpers also come in a range of styles are provide protection for the front of the off-road vehicle. They have metal bars or mesh that extends over the front grille which protect the radiator from getting damaged. There are also bars or cages that fit around the headlights to protect them from damage as well.
Selecting which type of bumper is best for you will depend on what types of off-road activities you participate in and which risks you need to mitigate most. That is the beauty of designing your own bumper, you can decide which features you need to provide protection based on your off-roading preferences and combine all of them into one awesome, custom bumper.
Build a Bumper from Scrap
Building a bumper doesn’t need to break the bank. You will find loads of parts that can be used in your local junkyard. Make a point of visiting it regularly so you can build up a collection of useful items. Used parts from junkyards are inexpensive and you may even find a fancy bumper from an old muscle car to modify and use on yours.
Many of the parts you will find in the junkyard are in good working order. Many utility companies, and even individuals, will decide that a part needs to be replaced when it still actually has a lot of life left in it, and take it to the junkyard. You’ll be able to pick it up for a song and build a super-strong customized bumper very inexpensively.
Parts you’ll often find in junkyards are things like towhooks, bumper-mounted tire carriers, receiver hitches, and, yes, old bumpers! You’ll also find loads of metal parts from trucks and other vehicles that you can strip and repurpose to make your bumper.
You can save yourself a pretty penny using items you find in the junkyard and repurposing them.
How to build a bumper step-by-step
The Redneck Bumper Build Instructable provides excellent step by step instructions on how to build your own bumper as well as a load of tips and tricks to make the job easier. Here is a summary of the various steps.
Dump the bumper
The instructable recommends that you remove your existing bumper completely and either scrap it and get some cash to put towards your new bumper or store it in case you want to resell the vehicle in the future and have the original part available for the buyer. So…don’t build your new bumper by modifying your old one.
In this step you measure things up and start designing your new bumper. They use an innovative method of creating a mock-up of your new bumper using cardboard. They also emphasise keeping things simple because the more complex your design the more difficult the fit-up will be.
To winch or not to winch
This is an optional step and you’re encouraged to only incorporate or adapt your winch if you are confident enough with your welding abilities. A winch is a part of your off-road vehicle that can save your life. This means that if it isn’t working properly or strong enough it can also take a life and the last thing you want is to mess with your winch and compromise the safety it offers you.
Create the initial structure
Starting a project like this can be daunting but the best way of overcoming this is to just get to it. Creating this initial structure to work off is easy enough and will kick-start your project. You will build directly onto this platform and it allows you to test-fit as you go along so that you don’t weld directly onto the bumper itself.
Complete the Corners
Corners are the last part of your bumper build and can be really easy or particularly pesky depending on the complexity of your design. The key is to work slowly and methodically and measure and check your angles regularly to maintain symmetry.
Test Fit and Trim
At this point you will have most of your bumper welded together so you can bolt it up, look at your original sketches and you chalk to mark lines where you want to cut and trim. After this step your bumper should be looking more like its final form.
Cutting in the Winch Port and recessed Light Pods
Very straightforward instructions are provided on how to cut in a port for your winch cable/fairlead roller setup as well as how to install recessed light pods. There are lots of tips on how to ensure you align things correctly, how to drill your holes and how to weld so as not to damage the bodywork of your vehicle.
At the end of the process you are given the opportunity to make any final additions or modifications before closing up the welds. Once you have test fitted your bumper for the umpteenth time it will come time to do the final fit before making the heavy tack welds permanent, smoothing them with a grinder and then getting out the paint, painting the bumper and waiting for the paint to dry. Once dry you can bolt up your roller, install your lights and bolt the bumper on.
Voila! You will have made your own custom bumper and all that’s left to be done is to check it out for about a week or so to make sure the bolts are tight and the bumper doesn’t touch the bodywork whilst driving.
If you’re not up for this challenge and would rather get a new bumper fitted and spend your time tackling another off-road trail rather than cutting and welding then you can always look at the fabulous bumpers at Randy Ellis Designs or FabFours. They are well made, fit well, good looking and easy to install. You’ll feel like you’ve had something to do with the build and be on the road ready to put your vehicle and your new bumper to the test on your next off-road adventure.