The Downsides of DIY Steel Bumpers

Weld it yourself steel bumpers (aka DIY steel bumpers) are increasingly popular, and while we don't mind the idea of consumers building their own bumpers, there are quite a few issues with this concept. Some of the companies selling do-it-yourself bumper kits are addressing these issues, but many are not.

We're obviously a bit biased against weld-it-yourself steel bumper kits, so we think it's important for consumers to be fully informed before they buy one of these kits. They're a great option for some consumers, but they can also be a source of trouble a couple years down the road.

Here's what you need to know.

Welding Is Hard, and Cracks Are Easy

It might sound obvious, but it's hard to make a good weld...and it's particularly difficult to make a good weld every time. At TDK, this is our mantra - we pride ourselves on having the industry's best weld quality. We care about weld quality because we want our bumpers to look top notch but also because weld quality matters in two key areas:

  1. Long-term durability
  2. Crashworthiness
TDK steel bumper

It's difficult to build a heavy-duty steel bumper yourself without a lot of welding experience. This is because welds crack whenever the parts fit poorly, the weld is contaminated, or the welder is inexperienced.

In terms of long-term durability, steel bumpers are most likely to fail at the weld points. That's because a poor quality weld will crack, and once a crack forms, rust will follow. Cracking occurs when the parts don't fit together precisely (an issue with a lot of the cheaper kits), when the weld cools too quickly (an issue when the welder lacks experience), and weld contamination (an issue with welding in dusty or moist environments). If a beginner level welder has a set of poorly fitting parts and welds them together in a dusty old garage, that's a formula for a cracked weld.

Weld Quality Matters In a Crash

In terms of crashworthiness, weld points are the most likely failure points. At TDK, we make sure our welds are extremely strong because we don't want to risk a bumper failure. As a manufacturer, we understand the consequences of a bad weld in a collision.

Many DIY bumper kit manufacturers, on the other hand, have no concerns about what happens in a crash. That's because they put the responsibility on their customer's shoulders. We believe a DIY bumper kit should be designed to be safe, even if the weld quality isn't top-notch. While there are some kits like this on the market, a lot of them are not designed with welder experience in mind. As a result, many of them don't perform in a crash.

DIY Welding Doesn't Save Enough Money

We see lots of the companies who sell DIY bumpers talking about how their $500 kit saves "a lot" of money over a more expensive pre-made bumper. The problem is, the $500 figure (plus shipping, of course) doesn't account for a lot of your other expenses:

  1. Bending and/or filling. Many of the inexpensive DIY weld bumper kits don't fit together perfectly. As a result, building them can take several hours of fighting with bending parts or 'filling' gaps. That's several hours of labor time, at whatever you think your time is worth.
  2. Test fitting. Throughout the DIY bumper build process, it's a good idea to check your progress by putting your bumper on your vehicle, checking how it looks, how it's fitting, etc, and then pulling it off. Each of these test fits takes time and also require a helper - more labor time.
  3. Finish. Most of the DIY kits need to be finished somehow. Powdercoating is a good option, but it can run $200-$400 depending on where you live.
  4. Reinforcement. Many of the DIY kits available suggest that bumpers need additional steel reinforcement (not provided) for heavy-duty use. So, assuming your truck bumper is going to be used for more than just looking tough, you've got to buy some additional steel plate, get it cut, and then weld it in place. Figure another $100-$200, minimum.

As you can see, it doesn't take long for a $500 bumper to turn into a $1,000 bumper (plus labor). Considering that you can buy a real, professional steel bumper for another $500, it's hard to see how these kits save money...especially if you value your free time.

If You're Looking for A "Custom" Bumper, Check Out Our Made-to-Order Bumpers

Last but not least, if you like the idea of building a unique bumper for your truck, check out our build-to-order steel bumpers. Nearly every bumper we offer is customizable, with our new Cyclone bumpers offering more custom options than anything else in our line-up. We've got Cyclone bumpers for all the popular trucks (F-150, Super Duty, RAM 1500 and RAM HD, Chevy Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevy and GMC HD, and the Toyota trucks too), as well as our original bumper, our Mayhem bumpers, our Prerunner bumpers, and rear bumpers for all the same models.

TDK steel bumper 2

Here's our original series bumper with an integrated grille guard - perfect for real-world use, but also customizable for a unique look.

Whatever you decide to do, it's our opinion that most DIY bumper kits are for experienced fabricators only. While many of these kits are marketed as tough and inexpensive, the reality is that they have durability issues and cost quite a bit of cash (plus elbow grease) when it's all said and done. Like a lot of things, it sounds like a good idea until you sit down and put a pencil to it.