A well-designed aftermarket steel bumper can immediately transform the appearance of your truck. It gives the vehicle more presence and is designed to improve your vehicle’s off-road capabilities by increasing approach and departure angles. But like most vehicle modifications, it comes at a price. There are other factors to consider and other important modifications that need to be done before a heavy-duty steel bumper can be installed.
What are the benefits of a steel bumper? To find out continue reading!
Steel off-road bumpers increase your vehicle’s approach and departure angles and protect your vehicle’s lights, radiator, and vital engine components from damage in the event of an animal strike. They also provide secure mounting points for a winch, recovery points, and other accessories like LED lights and CB antennas. Most reputable brands include parking sensors and airbag compatibility.
So in essence the answer is yes, steel off-road bumpers are well worth their weight in gold. But there is more to consider.
Off Road Bumpers
Off-road bumpers are a fantastic modification to any 4 wheel drive, irrespective if it is used for driving mild gravel roads in the outback or conquering hardcore 4×4 trails. It makes no difference of the kind of off-roading or over-landing you engage in since you still need to drive to your destination. It is usually during this phase that your steel bumper could mean the difference between life or death as animal strikes are always a threat at any time of day.
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Irrespective of which country you live in, there is always free game roaming about once you venture deeper into the outback, and so the risk of animal strikes becomes more of a reality the more remote you travel. In this instance, your steel bumper will protect all the vital components situated in the front of your vehicle, as well as the occupants inside in the unfortunate event of this occurrence happening. A good quality steel bumper will minimize vehicle damage and allow you to “limp” or even drive normally to the nearest town for medical or mechanical assistance if needed.
The steel framework protects vital components like the headlights, radiator, and viscous fan, which if damaged in the event of an animal strike could start leaking coolant, causing your vehicle to overheat, which could mark the end of your excursion or family vacation. Not Good!
Good aftermarket steel bumpers have shorter overhangs, are more compact, and are tucked higher up than the factory standard plastic bumpers. This provides superior ground and wheel clearance combined with improved approach angles when off-roading. The approach angle of a vehicle is the angle between the ground and the front tire and the lowest-hanging part of the vehicle at the front overhang. An off-road bumper increases that angle thus allowing your vehicle to climb up steeper slopes, rocks, and hills without making contact with the obstacle.
The advantage of a rear steel bumper is, it provides your vehicle with improved departure angles as you exit the obstacle. This prevents your rear bumper from being hung up or bashed against the obstacle as you exit the rock, boulder, or ditch. Departure angle, like approach angle, is the maximum angle of clearance on a vehicle when exiting an obstacle or descending a hill.
If you would like to read more about ground clearance as well as approach and departure angles, I wrote an article about it which you can read here.
The radiator is usually situated in the front of a vehicle and when a steel bumper is fitted it drastically improves the protection of this vital component. Without a functioning radiator, your vehicle will not travel very far as it will quickly overheat thus causing serious and expensive damage to your engine. In the event of an animal strike or collision with a second vehicle or obstacle, your radiator will be better protected, minimizing repair costs and the risk of being left stranded.
Most established brands of steel bumpers come equipped with mounting points for safe recoveries. These mounting points are safety-rated and allow you to use a D-shackle for snatching other vehicles or yourself out of a tight spot.
Not all steel bumpers are winch compatible, however, you would be wise to opt for the winch compatible version as this affords you the option to mount a winch later on if you decide to do so. Good brands of winch-compatible bumpers incorporate a winch plate which is necessary to securely fix your winch in position.
Upgraded lights are essential for night travel in rural and remote locations. Steel bumpers offer you a secure place to mount aftermarket lights. These bumpers usually include mounting brackets that are incorporated into the bumper, usually on the top loop of the bumper. This negates the need to drill additional holes in your body or framework to mount aftermarket LED bars or off-road spotlights.
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The mounting brackets found on most steel bumpers can either be used for aftermarket LED lights or for a decent spring aerial for CB communication. CB Radio communication is practical to have when traveling in convoy or with a few mates to always keep communication lines open. Communication is also vital when doing serious rock crawling where at times you rely 100% on your spotter as driver visibility becomes seriously limited.
Rear Wheel Swing Arms
Rear steel bumpers afford you the option to carry a few more essentials. Additional supplies can be mounted on the rear of the vehicle and offer a few advantages. You can add an extra tire when doing extended expeditions and multi-day trips into the unknown or you could relocate your existing spare wheel from the bottom of your vehicle for easier access in time of emergency. This affords your the option of mounting a long-range fuel tank or water tank in the spare wheel space.
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Extra fuel can also be carried safely at the rear of your vehicle if you have a rear steel bumper with a Jerry can bracket. This is an advantage as it keeps the center of gravity low. Fuel tanks are quite heavy once they are filled and you want to keep the additional weight as low as possible. It also offers you a level of convenience since you no longer need to climb onto your roof rack to get your Jerry cans down.
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Steel bumpers look purposeful and greatly improves the aesthetics of your vehicle. The standard bumpers might be more streamlined and offer improved aerodynamics resulting in better MPG, but an aggressive and functional look of an off-road bumper is worth the extra fuel. Steel bumpers are superbly engineered and manufactured to not only maintain maximum functionality but also to ensure they complement the look of the vehicle. Many of them follow the original lines of the vehicle and can even be color-coded for a more stylish finish.
Minor bumps and knocks are no problem for heavy-duty steel bumpers as they can easily handle a series of knocks and dings off-road before it even begins to show signs of damage. Most steel bumpers are designed to accommodate your vehicle’s impact sensors which will trigger the airbags in the event of a collision.
With that being said, a vehicle might suffer more visible damage with the standard plastic bumper in the event of a mild impact, however, at a greater speed, the steel bumper will transfer more impact to the frame and other parts of the suspension and undercarriage which could be worse.
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Unfortunately, there is not enough data or substantial evidence available to support the above theory.
Are Steel Aftermarket Bumpers Safe?
Decades of research and millions of dollars have gone into the advancement and development of aftermarket bumpers. Steel bumper designs have drastically improved over the years and they have become safer and very close to the vehicles factory standard bumpers, arguably so. Most reputable companies have incorporated the vehicle’s crumple zones and airbag sensors when designing these bumpers, increasing the safety of the vehicle occupants.
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Steel bumpers are vital for remote and rural exploring due to the high risk of animal strikes. Factors such as vehicle design, crush rate, airbag deployment, strength, weight, and aesthetics are incorporated into aftermarket bumpers before they even go into production.
Fitting an aftermarket steel bumper should be one of the first upgrades you make to any 4 wheel drive. This gives you added confidence to venture off-road as well as improved vehicle protection. It also provides you with an excellent platform to mount aftermarket accessories that are essential for off-road traveling, such as, upgraded light bars, LED spots, winch, fishing rod bracket, and CB antenna whips.
Weight Effects of Steel Bumpers
Standard vehicle bumpers are usually molded from plastic and reinforced with steel and aluminum brackets. This gives your vehicle a decent amount of protection against dings. It makes your vehicle aerodynamic as well as aesthetically pleasing to the eye with flowing lines and curves. It also makes the bumper extremely light so there is no need for manufacturers to incorporate heavy-duty dampers and springs upfront to compensate for the additional weight.
Enter the aftermarket steel bumper and the picture changes drastically. before you can even attempt to mount a steel bumper you need to make sure your front suspension can handle the additional weight. If you plan on fitting a winch, later on, this will complicate matters even further as your upgraded shock/damper will need to be able to carry the extra load. The spring rate of the upgraded suspension needs to be higher since the heavier steel bumper will affect the way the vehicle handles on and off-road. The extra weight will also impact your fuel consumption.
Most steel bumpers can weigh in excess of 60 kg which can dramatically alter your vehicle’s cornering, weight carrying capacity, and stopping ability. Hence the need for an upgraded suspension first.
Are Steel Bumpers Legal?
For the most part, steel bumpers are legal in most states in the US. It remains a controversial topic in other states and the legality around them. Most states do however accept them. Off-road vehicle owners should ensure they are always street legal and that all their off-road modifications, including the steel truck bumpers, are legal in their state to prevent being cited.
In some countries, aftermarket bumpers are legal, provided you do not have LED light bars mounted on them which run across the front of your vehicle.
Other countries allow after-market bumpers, however, accessories such as fishing pole holders are prohibited on the city streets. These are commonly known as “sausage makers” as that is the effect it has when impacting animal or human flesh.
What Is A Winch Bumper?
A winch bumper is a heavy-duty steel bumper that is winch compatible. It replaces the factory standard bumper allowing you to mount a winch inside. Most premium steel bumpers include a winch bracket fixed inside, which allows most of the popular winch models to be easily installed. Universal winch mount brackets are inexpensive and most will fit popular winch models without any hassle.
I’ve written a more detailed article about winches and brackets – you can read it here.
What Is The Purpose Of A Bull Bar?
A bull-bar or nudge bar is a thick rigid pipe structure, usually constructed from steel and then powder-coated black or chrome plated. They are roughly 3″ (76mm) thick pipe curved to fit your vehicle’s front contours. Bullbars are different from steel off-road bumpers and are fixed to the front of a vehicle over your existing standard plastic bumper.
It is designed to protect a vehicle from light bumps, nudges, and impacts at very low speeds. It also offers protection against damage to key items such as the radiator and headlights. Some also offer mounting points for lights and CB antennas.
Most aftermarket steel bumpers are specifically designed to complement the unique contours of individual vehicle models by following the design lines of the vehicle. This offers the best possible fit, look, and functionality for the vehicle.
The most important aspect of off-road steel bumpers is their build quality. The welding quality and finish make a huge difference to not only the functionality but also the safety of the occupants in the event of an impact. The most obvious reason why you need steel bumpers on your off-road vehicle is that they are built more rugged and durable than any stock bumpers.
Off-road bumpers protect the front and rear of your off-roading truck while out on 4×4 tracks. Most include strong anchor points for mounting shackles and doing snatch recoveries.
All bumpers are not created equal and always ensure you are investing in a trusted brand with decent build quality steel and one that incorporates all your vehicle’s existing safety features. Steel bumpers are one modification that could save you many headaches and unnecessary repairs down the road. Possibly even your life!
Happy 4 Wheeling and remember, Safety first!!!