By Bob Blake

The first cars had none…then they became accessories…cars of the 1950s sported them as massive chrome appendages, and now… they are a molded plastic shape that blends with the car. . What are they? Bumpers! With age, this lowly automobile attachment has lost its “chrome appeal” and now hides imperceptibly under a plastic shroud.37Chryslers 1949 and 2015

A bumper should live up to its name and be a protector in collisions. A recent insurance study reveals 15% of all claims involve low speed parking lot bump-ups and these metal bulwarks absorb some of the crash energy and protect the occupants.

Collision forces relate to the speed and weight of the vehicle. Only a 10 mph increase greatly magnifies the impact.  The present design uses collapsible polypropylene foam or honeycomb behind the steel to absorb crash energy. Early car builders, however, thought the opposite – “stronger was better”- and rigidly attached these massive chrome guards directly to the frame.

We pay a price, however, for the flexible decorative fascia that hides all the protection!  The blend of headlights, grill and fenders improves the car’s esthetic appearance and aerodynamics, but even a low impact collision can be expensive!

The tragic 1967 death of movie star Jayne Mansfield spurred the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to hang metal bars from the rear of large trailers.  The serious mismatch of height caused her vehicle to go underneath the truck. These safety barriers are often referred to as “ICC bars” or Mansfield bars.”

Other legislation followed. During the 1970s, the federal government imposed crash impact standards for front and rear 5 mph collisions. A property damage regulation followed a few years later.  The mandates continue to change and are a big reason all new cars look pretty much alike!  (A dealer recently admitted he even had trouble identifying Chevrolets from Fords in a parking lot!)


Are these new bumpers better? It depends on how you read the crash results.  The 5 mph speed is a benchmark. Certainly they absorb some of the impact and even lessen the damage of collisions at 10 and 15 mph.


A lady in Brazil recently discovered the covers have another use. While walking to her car in a monsoon rain, she observed a six-foot snake crawling under her car and…not out the other side!  Fearful it was inside, she called 911. The authorities, completely soaked, poked and prodded the entire car. Finally, one of them came face to face with the reptile…snuggled up in the bumper cover! They removed it – fate unknown – and everyone left happy…but drenched!