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Several Facts About Plastic Bumpers

Cool new developments in materials for automotives can help make cars lightweight, energy efficient, and safe while adding value in comfort, noise control, and performance. Plastic bumpers being one of them.

What is the purpose of bumpers?

The car bumper is designed to prevent or reduce physical damage to the front and rear ends of passenger motor vehicles in low-speed collisions. Automobile bumpers are not typically designed to be structural components that would significantly contribute to vehicle crashworthiness or occupant protection during front or rear collisions. It is not a safety feature intended to prevent or mitigate injury severity to occupants in the passenger cars. Bumpers are designed to protect the hood, trunk, grille, fuel, exhaust and cooling system as well as safety related equipment such as parking lights, headlamps and taillights in low speed collisions.

What are the Federal regulations for bumpers?

49 CFR Part 581, "The bumper standard," prescribes performance requirements for passenger cars in low-speed front and rear collisions. It applies to front and rear bumpers on passenger cars to prevent the damage to the car body and safety related equipment at barrier impact speeds of 2 mph across the full width and 1 mph on the corners.

This is equivalent to a 5 mph crash into a parked vehicle of the same weight. The standard requires protection in the region 16 to 20 inches above the road surface, and the manufacturer can provide the protection by any means it wants. For example, some vehicles do not have a solid bumper across the vehicle, but meet the standard by strategically placed bumper guards and corner guards.

The most common impact zones on vehicles today are the front and rear bumpers. Most bumpers today are constructed of a painted plastic. When plastic bumpers are damaged and taken to a traditional body shop, normal procedure is to replace the bumper. This costs the consumer anywhere from $650 to $1500 for replacement parts, refinishing, and installation. Not to mention your car being in the repair shop for 2-4 days.

Bumpers play a significant role in insurance costs because so many physical damage claims are for relatively small amounts of damage involving the front or rear of vehicles -- damage that a well designed bumper could prevent.  For example, half of all collision claims for new model cars are $1,500 or less. Repair costs for these minor incidents are a major factor in overall collision coverage insurance costs.

The use of plastic in auto bumpers and fascias gives designers a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to styling a prototype vehicle, or improving an existing model. Plastic can be styled for both aesthetic and functional reasons in many ways without greatly affecting the cost of production. Plastic bumpers contain reinforcements that allow them to be as impact-resistant as metals while being less expensive to replace than their metal equivalents. Plastic car bumpers generally expand at the same rate as metal bumpers under normal driving temperatures and do not usually require special fixtures to keep them in place.

Some of the plastic products used in making auto bumpers and fascias can be recycled. This enables the manufacturer to reuse scrap material in a cost-effective manner. A new recycling program uses painted TPO scrap to produce new bumper fascias through an innovative and major recycling breakthrough process that removes paint from salvage yard plastic. Tests reveal post-industrial recycled TPO performs exactly like virgin material, converting hundreds of thousands of pounds of material destined for landfills into workable grade-A material, and reducing material costs for manufacturers.


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