If you are considering adding a steel front bumper to your Jeep or off-road vehicle, it is important to learn a little more about these bumpers before you go shopping. Some important details to be aware of are the differences between steel and other materials used to make front bumpers, the durability of the different materials, how they might change your driving experience, and what accessories and add-ons are compatible with them.
Steel vs. Factory
Factory-installed bumpers aren’t the best. Oftentimes, factory bumpers have a minimum amount of steel or aluminum bracing underneath a bumper cover, which is sometimes made of ABS plastic. Factory bumpers are also not very convenient to outfit with accessories like winches or lights. When you think about strength and all the cool and useful accessory options, an aftermarket steel bumper just makes more sense.
Steel vs. Aluminum
Properly designed, both steel and aluminum bumpers can hold up to off-road use. However, aluminum is not the best alternative to factory bumpers if you’re into rock climbing with your 4×4, as impacts tend to weak aluminum bumpers by straining rivets or welds. Steel, on the other hand, can be dented without any sort of effect on the strength of bumper. But if you mud ride a lot, aluminum is great, since it won’t rust or corrode like steel can. Aluminum is also lighter than steel, which means it won’t impact your vehicle’s ride quality nearly as much as a heavy steel bumper can.
Still, generally speaking, steel is a good choice for an off-road bumper if you’re not exactly sure how you’ll use your vehicle. Just make sure that you understand that adding steel bumper to your vehicle can change the ride quality, sometimes to the point where you want to upgrade the springs and/or shocks on your vehicle.
The Pros and Cons of Factory Bumpers and Aluminum Bumpers
Factory Bumper Pros
- Factory bumpers won’t rust or degrade from just being outside.
- Factory bumpers are light-weight and therefore won’t add noticeable weight to your vehicle.
- Factory bumpers are usually easy to install and replace yourself, as needed.
Factory Bumper Cons
- Plastic isn’t as durable as steel, at least when you go off-road.
- It’s difficult to install accessories.
Aluminum Bumper Pros
- Will not corrode or rust when wet and muddy
- Lightweight bumper shouldn’t impact ride quality
- Often designed with mounting points for accessories like lighting, winches, etc.
Aluminum Bumper Cons
- Aluminum parts can be damaged by impacts with rocks and boulders
Pros and Cons of Steel Front Bumpers
There are benefits to having steel front bumpers that, for the serious driver, outweigh the benefits of factory and aluminum bumpers.
Steel Front Bumper Pros
- Steel front bumpers are available with pre-drilled holes so you can add additional accessories like off-road lighting, winches, tow hooks and more.
- Steel front bumpers are available in lots of styles, including ones with built-in winches and hooks. You can add accessories to make your vehicle look even cooler than it already does, and more importantly, be even more useful than it already is.
- Steel is extremely strong. Bumps, scratches and hits won’t do much to slow a steel bumper down.
- Steel is made to last a lifetime. Even if it gets old and has surface rust, the body of the bumper will last for years.
- Steel front bumpers come in styles compatible with off-road, 4×4 and Jeep vehicles.
Steel Front Bumper Cons
- Steel is heavy and adds weight to your vehicle, which can impact your vehicle’s ride quality. It is also hard to install a steel bumper by yourself due to the weight.
- The surface of steel can rust and oxidize if not properly cared for. Rust and corrosion can eat away at steel and eventually cause damage over a long period of time.
- If your steel bumper does somehow get dented, it’s difficult to repair (but, the dents show where you’ve been and look cool, like your favorite pair of well-worn jeans).
What Kinds of Steel Bumpers Are Out There?
When you decide to put your money down on a steel front bumper for your Jeep, SUV or truck, it’s good to know all of your options. When it comes to steel front bumpers, there are tons of choices, from complete set-ups right out of the box to simpler bumpers to which you can later add lights, winches and tow hooks. Whatever your off-road desires are, there is a steel bumper out there that will fit your exact needs.
Just some of your choices:
- Steel bumpers with light bars
- Bumpers with pre-drilled holes for accessories
- Bumpers with built-in winches, available with variously-sized winches
- Stubby bumpers for Jeeps
- Front bumpers with a pre-attached stinger
- Steel front bumper with a built-in bull bar
- Steel bumper with a built-in steel grille guard
- Steel bumpers with powder-coated finish
Steel Bumper Technology
Steel front bumpers for off-road vehicles have coatings that are used to influence the corrosion life of the bumper. Steel is often e-coated and then painted or powder-coated. Steel bumpers that are roll-formed can also be made of bare steel and are then e-coated after the forming process. Some steel is coated with zinc, which greatly improves the life of the steel by discouraging or preventing corrosion. Most steel bumpers for off-road applications are powder-coated so they resist corrosion, scratches and minor dings, avoiding damage in many situations.
In the past, steel bumpers were very thick. With new technology, the gauge of the steel is decreasing as the strength of the steel increases. This has allowed the creation of steel bumpers that are lighter and just as strong, or even stronger, than what was available in the past.
Steel Bumpers for Off-Roading
Factory bumpers and aluminum bumpers shouldn’t be out on trails that are likely to impact your bumper…trails with big rocks that are hard to miss are usually a bad idea for aluminum and always a bad idea for factory bumpers. Aluminum often doesn’t hold up as well as steel, and factory bumpers are completely out of the question for that type of hard-core use. Steel, on the other hand, can take several beatings and keep going. Put your steel bumper against a small tree and you may have to worry about the tree! On the off-chance that your steel front bumper is dented, it won’t hurt anything other than its appearance, because steel is just that tough.
What You Need to Know About Adding a Steel Front Bumper
Not all drivers experience unwanted changes after adding a steel front bumper – it depends on the vehicle and the weight of the new steel bumper. But, some drivers, after adding the extra weight of a steel front bumper, have encountered issues.
The front of your vehicle may sag up to a few inches lower after the addition of a steel front bumper. Because of the sag, there is a slight loss of clearance. Drivers should be aware of this difference, however slight, when going over large objects and bumps. The good news is that this sag can be corrected with new springs.
Although changes in handling are minimal, some drivers may notice: a slightly longer braking time, the back-end of the vehicle turning slightly more during a fast or hard swerve, and the front-end responding to steering more quickly, all due to the extra weight at the front end of the vehicle.
Finally, the weight of a steel bumper often changes the ride quality of the vehicle, and the solution may be to upgrade the springs and shocks, or just change out the shocks. It really depends on your specific vehicle, what type of lift kit you have (if you have one), etc. Suffice to say, the factory springs and shocks aren’t always up to the challenge of carrying a heavy front bumper (especially if you mount a winch, lights, etc.).
Steel Front Bumper Prices
Steel bumpers aren’t the cheapest bumpers out there, but you get your value out of them because they can actually outlive your vehicle if maintained properly. Since the steel bumper is bolted right to your frame, it is super strong and tough enough to do a lot more than you ever could with a lesser type of bumper. The reason steel bumpers are made available with winches and tow hooks already built right in is because you can actually use them to pull yourself out of the mud. You don’t have to worry about breaking your bumper, or ripping it off of your vehicle.
Bottom line: steel bumpers are made to be used and abused. Expect to pay hundreds of dollars for them, with higher prices for bumpers that are integrated with other accessories, and lower prices for basic replacement bumpers.
Building Your Off-Road Vehicle
Whether you are designing the build of your dreams or piecing your off-road machine together one part at a time, you want it to look good and perform well. A steel bumper is a great addition to any rig.
And the best way to get access to awesome prices on a new steel bumper and other parts and accessories? Join the Motostew 4×4 Association – we offer a free membership so you can check out our pricing or a premium membership that gets you access to our amazing prices. Sign up today!