How to Replace a Car Bumper

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How to Replace a Car Bumper

A car's bumpers serve both cosmetic and practical purposes. On the cosmetic level, the bumpers are part of the car body's design, finishing off both ends of the car. On the practical level, bumpers serve to protect the rest of the car in low-speed impacts. Unfortunately for the bumpers, they often get damaged in the process of protecting the car.

Auto body repair shops charge a pretty penny for the replacement of a bumper; however, bumpers are not all that hard to replace. This is the type of job that even a novice home auto repair person can do in a couple of hours. While it is possible for one person to replace a bumper alone, due to their size and weight, bumpers can be a little awkward to handle. Having help to replace the bumper is advisable. Read on to learn more details about how to replace a car bumper.

Differences in Bumper Styles

The basic design of bumpers has changed over the years. Old-style bumpers were chrome-plated metal stampings that extended the full width of the vehicle. The bumper mounted to the front of the frame, via four bolts that went through the bumper and into flanges welded to the frame.

Newer-style bumpers are made of a flexible plastic skin, painted to match the vehicle and mounted over a shock-absorbing foam (Styrofoam) that is attached to the bumper structure itself. In most cases, the only part that needs to be replaced is the skin. However, if the structure is damaged, replacing the skin is not enough.

A Note About Safety

Whenever working underneath a vehicle, it is important to have the vehicle properly supported. A jack cannot do this. Jacks are meant for lifting a vehicle, not supporting it once it is lifted. Any movement of the vehicle, which may occur in the process of replacing a bumper, can cause the vehicle to fall off the jack.

For safety, the vehicle should be supported by jack stands once it has been lifted. These need to be placed under the vehicle in locations where a solid part of the vehicle is resting on the stands. The car's floorpan is not strong enough to support the vehicle, nor are the various body parts. Suspension members or structural members should be used. Almost all modern cars have jacking points located under the car, directly behind the front wheels and directly in front of the rear wheels. These will appear as a bump (2 to 4 inches across) underneath the car, often with a hole in the middle. The floorpan is reinforced in these places to support a jack or jack stand.

In addition to properly supporting the vehicle, safety goggles should be worn to prevent dirt and debris from falling in the eyes.

Investigating the Extent of the Repair

Before buying parts, it is a good idea to determine exactly what is needed. Assuming that just the bumper skin is damaged or that the whole bumper needs to be replaced will only guarantee frustration when it is time to do the work.

To examine the extent of the damage, one needs to lie on their back, under the front of the car, with a flashlight. If the car is too low to the ground to fit under, jack it up and properly support it before inspecting.

The purpose of this inspection is to determine the extent of the damage, and specifically, to identify all damaged parts. Is just the bumper skin damaged, or is the bumper's structure damaged as well? Look to see if the bumper's structure is bent back on one side or the other. Are any other components damaged as well? If unsure about a part, it can be compared to its mirror image part on the other side of the vehicle.

Replacing New-Style Bumper Skins

For newer cars, with the new-style bumper, the only part that will usually need to be replaced is the skin. Depending on the vehicle's design, the skin can be only the bumper itself, or it may go as high as the top of the grille, with the grille inset into it. The skin is held in place by a series of fasteners around its perimeter.

Before replacing the bumper skin, it is a good idea to paint it. It is much easier to paint the skin while it is off the vehicle than it is to paint it on the vehicle. While it is possible to paint it with touch-up paint in spray cans, it is impossible to get a good finish that way. Unless a paint spray gun and air compressor are available, it is best to take the bumper skin to an auto body shop for painting.

The factory paint color will be imprinted on the vehicle information label, which is located on the edge of the driver's door. This is the same label that has the recommended tire pressure on it. With this code, the auto body shop can buy or mix the correct paint color to match the car.

Removing the Old Bumper

There are two types of fasteners used to hold bumper skins in place. The first type is standard Phillips-head screws. These are easily removed with a screwdriver. The second type is a pop-in fastener, which is something like a plastic rivet. There is a button in the middle of the fastener, which can be pried up with a small flat-bladed screwdriver. Once popped up, the pressure is removed from the back of the fastener, allowing it to be removed.

Fasteners will be located all around the bumper, in the wheel wells, underneath the car, and along the top of the bumper. For front bumpers, the upper fasteners will be located under the hood. For rear bumpers, the plastic edge trim and liner will have to be removed from the trunk to locate where they go through the vehicle's body along the back edge of the trunk.

Fasteners in the wheel wells may be hidden by the wheel well itself or a splash guard. In most cases, the bumper overlaps the wheel well, but in some cases, the wheel well or a splash guard may overlap the fastener's heads. In those cases, the plastic can be pushed aside to gain access to the fastener.

If the bumper had molded-in lights, they will need to be disconnected before the skin is removed. Automotive electrical connectors usually have a locking tab and rubber seals. To disconnect them, pop the tab loose with a flat-bladed screwdriver.

Once all fasteners are removed, the bumper skin can be removed. Start by prying the skin loose around one wheel well. It will be necessary to "unhook" the bumper skin from the wheel well so that it is free to move forward. Repeat for the other wheel well. With the bumper free at both wheel wells, the bumper should lift off freely.

Replacing the Bumper Structure

With the bumper skin removed, it is easier to more fully inspect the bumper structure and the shock-absorbing foam. If damaged, they may need to be replaced as well.

The bumper structure is held to the vehicle's structure with four bolts. To see these bolts, it is necessary to lie on one's back and slide under the vehicle far enough to see the back side of the bumper structure. They will probably go through angle brackets that are welded to the vehicle's structure and thread directly into the bumper's structure.

These bolts can be removed with a ratchet and the appropriate-sized socket. Before removing them, spray the bolt's threads (if they are visible) with WD-40 or another light lubricating oil. This will make it easier to remove the bolts.

The new bumper structure goes in exactly the opposite of how the old one came out, placing it over the brackets and putting the bolts back in. Do not tighten any of the bolts until all of them are in place, as a slight displacement of the bumper can make it impossible to start some of the bolts in.

Installing the New Bumper Skin

Before installing the new skin, remove any lights (fog lights) from the old one and install them on the new one.

The new bumper skin is placed over the bumper structure, in exactly the same position as the old skin. Set it in place, and then pull the ends of it over the wheel wells. Ensure that the bumper is properly aligned with the car's other body panels.

Most bumper skins have slotted holes for the fasteners. This allows the installer to adjust the position of the bumper skin slightly so that it aligns with the other body panels. Ideally, the surface of the bumper skin and any adjacent body panels (such as the fender) should be at exactly the same level; neither should stick out farther than the other.

It may take a little bit of jockeying of the bumper skin's position to get all the fasteners started. To make this easier, do not fully tighten any of the fasteners until they are all started. The pop-in plastic fasteners allow for some amount of jockeying, but tightened screws do not. Once all fasteners are in, they can be tightened. Pushing in the plunger on the pop-in plastic fasteners tightens them.

Once installed, reconnect any lights that were disconnected.

Replacing an Old-Style Bumper

The old-style chrome-plated metal bumpers are much simpler to replace than the newer-style ones are, but are much heavier. An assistant may be needed to hold the bumper in place while starting the fasteners.

These bumpers are held in place by four carriage bolts. The heads of these bolts are kept from rotating by a square cutout in the metal of the bumper. Immediately behind the head of the bolt is a square area on the shaft that fits this cutout exactly.

Before trying to loosen the bolts, spray them with WD-40 or another light lubricating oil. If the threads of the bolts are rusted, use a drill-mounted wire brush to clean off as much of the rust as possible. The nuts can be removed from these bolts with a ratchet and socket. A breaker bar may be necessary to start loosening the nuts. Be sure to keep the head of the bolt flush up against the metal of the bumper so that it will not turn.

Once the four bolts are removed, the bumper should fall off. The new bumper can be placed onto the mounting brackets and the hardware re-installed. If the hardware is rusty, it is recommended to replace it with new hardware.

Buying Car Bumpers and Skins on eBay

Bumper replacements are fairly common, so there is an extensive selection of them available for excellent prices on eBay. The easiest way to find the right bumper for a particular vehicle is to do a search for the bumper using the vehicle's model and year, such as "2002 Toyota Camry front bumper." This will provide only the appropriate parts for that vehicle.

Another option is to search for "car bumper" from the search bar on any eBay Motors page. Search results can then be narrowed by the vehicle's make, model, year, and other parameters, including whether you need a front or back bumper.

The plastic clips used to install the bumper are also available on eBay. They will be listed as either fender clips or body rivets. There are several sizes and styles of these, so it is important to visually match the picture in the eBay listing with a sample from the vehicle.

Conclusion

Replacing a car bumper is a fairly easy task, which can be successfully undertaken by even a novice auto repair buff, with a minimal number of tools. Modern bumpers are molded, flexible, plastic skins, which are placed over a shock-absorbing foam and the bumper's structure. In most cases, only the skin needs to be replaced.

It is a good idea to paint the bumper before installing it. The process of installation will damage the paint job if a little caution is used. It is much easier to paint a bumper while it is off the vehicle than it is to paint it on the vehicle. If proper paint spray equipment is not available, an auto body shop can paint it for a reasonable fee. They will need the vehicle's paint code number, which is located on the vehicle information label attached to the edge of the driver's door.

To replace the bumper skin, simply remove the fasteners and pull off the old skin. Fasteners will be located all around the skin, including in the wheel wells, under the car, and either inside the engine compartment or inside the trunk. The new skin goes on the opposite of how the old skin was taken off.

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