It wasn’t until recently that I started thinking about swapping my Jeep’s lightweight plastic bumper for one better suited for the off-road abuse I was likely to experience while wheeling.
I wanted something that looked good, would improve my clearances and allow me to modify my Jeep in the future.
Before we go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear that there is nothing wrong with the stock bumper. A lot of people out there go off-roading with it without issue. You can even equip it with a winch with a little modification.
That being said after a little research I discovered that aftermarket off-road bumpers provide more than a few benefits over the Wrangler’s stock plastic one.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
The biggest disadvantage to wheeling with the stock bumper is durability. It’s not built for the abuse of wheeling.
The plastic bumper that comes standard on most 07-16 Jeep Wranglers is designed to deform in an impact. For most cars this is a good thing. It means that in a two car collision both cars crumple minimizing the damage to anyone vehicle.
Steel bumpers by design don’t crumple the same way. It would take a pretty good impact with a rock or tree to damage a heavy-duty steel bumper. The plastic bumper, on the other hand, is pretty much guaranteed to deform.
At the end of the day, bumpers are designed to protect the vehicle. The Jeep’s stock bumper comes equipped with a plastic skid plate that offers some protection to the vulnerable steering and suspension components.
The plastic skid plate, however, is more likely to be torn off than protect your undercarriage from a big rock.
This is why many aftermarket bumpers come equipped with steel skid plates that provide excellent protection
A solid bumper provides a stable mounting point for a winch or driving lights. Photo Credit: Raúl A.-
Installing an off-road bumper can also improve the Wrangler’s already stellar 42.2-degree approach angle by a few degrees or more. A few degrees might not sound like much but it could mean the difference when descending a steep grade or attempting a climb.
Shorty or stubby bumpers are also a great option for improving the capability of a vehicle. A popular choice among rock crawlers, stubby bumpers allow for better tire clearance, since they don’t block the tire.
Another advantage of stubby bumpers is they tend to weigh less compared to full width bumpers. I’ll discuss why weight can make a big difference a little bit later.
However, because stubby bumpers don’t cover the tire they are more vulnerable in a collision.
Whatever bumper you decide on, most aftermarket bumpers provide plenty of mounting and tow points for everything from D-rings to winches and auxiliary driving lights.
Finding the right off-road bumper
I decided on this E-Autogrilles rock crawler bumper for my Jeep. I liked its simple styling included skid plate and brush guard.
It wasn’t easy to find the right bumper for my needs. I wanted something that looked good, provided adequate protection and wouldn’t add too much weight to the front of the Jeep.
I considered a few stubby bumpers. After all, they do look really cool, and off-road a stubby bumper would serve me well while rock crawling. However, I didn’t want to leave my tires exposed in the case of a collision. Because my Jeep is my daily driver I figured a full width bumper is probably the best choice for me.
I ended up settling on a full width steel bumper from E-Autogrilles with an integrated light bar/brush guard and a steel skid plate for added protection of my vulnerable undercarriage.
The bumper came equipped with adequate mounting points for a winch, which I probably should get after a recent mishap on the trail that nearly left me stranded
A common concern for many upgrading to an off-road bumper is how much the added weight will sag the front suspension.
This is a legitimate concern, especially if you’ve got a vehicle with older or softer springs.
After installing my new off-road bumper, I experienced somewhere between half-an-inch and an inch of sag and there was a noticeable increase to my vehicle’s rake.
I solved this by swapping out the front coil springs for stiffer ones from a Rubicon. Now even with 90 pounds of weight sitting on the front end my Jeep has been effectively leveled.
Since I plan to replace much of the rear suspension components in the near future, I also picked up a 3/4-inch Daystar budget boost spacer kit. If you don’t have the cash to swap in stiffer or longer coil springs, a small leveling kit or boost kit might be answer.
Putting it to the test
Despite a few rocky hill climbs and descents the new aftermarket bumper faired far better than the plastic one might have.
I recently had the opportunity to explore the Iron Range OHV park in Gilbert, Minnesota, where I was able to put the new bumper to the test.
Despite coming close to scraping the bumper on a couple steep descents the Wrangler came away unscathed. The improved approach angle really helped out on some of the steeper hills.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.
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