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Bumper (automobile): Wikis


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A BMW front bumper (highlighted in red)

An automobile's bumper is the front-most or rear-most part, ostensibly designed to allow the car to sustain an impact without damage to the vehicle's safety systems. They are not capable of reducing injury to vehicle occupants in high speed impacts, but are increasingly being designed to mitigate injury to pedestrians struck by cars.



In most jurisdictions, bumpers are legally required on all vehicles. The height and placement of bumpers may be legally specified as well, to ensure that when vehicles of different heights are in an accident, the smaller vehicle will not slide under the larger vehicle.

North America

71 Dart Front Bumper L.jpg 74 Valiant Front Bumper.jpg
71 Dart Rear Bumper.jpg 74 Valiant Rear Bumper.jpg
Front and rear bumpers on Chrysler A platform cars before (left, 1971) and after (right, 1974) the U.S. 5-mph bumper standard took effect. The 1974 bumpers are larger, heavier, and mounted farther away from the body, and they no longer contain the taillamps.


First standards

In 1971, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the country's first regulation applicable to passenger car bumpers. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 215 (FMVSS 215), "Exterior Protection," took effect on 1 September 1972 — when most automakers would begin producing their model year 1973 vehicles. The standard prohibited functional damage to specified safety-related components such as headlamps and fuel system components when the vehicle is subjected to barrier crash tests at 5 miles per hour (8 km/h) for front and 2.5 miles per hour (4 km/h) for rear bumper systems.[1] In October 1972, the U.S. Congress enacted the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Saving Act (MVICS), which required NHTSA to issue a bumper standard that yields the "maximum feasible reduction of cost to the public and to the consumer".[2] Factors considered included the costs and benefits of implementation, the standard's effect on insurance costs and legal fees, savings in consumer time and inconvenience, and health and safety considerations.

Strengthening standards

The requirements promulgated under MVICS were consolidated with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Number 215 (FMVSS 215, "Exterior Protection of Vehicles") and promulgated in March 1976. This new bumper standard was placed in the United States Code of Federal Regulations at 49CFR581, separate from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards at 49CFR571. The new requirements, applicable to 1979-model passenger cars, were called the Phase I standard. At the same time, a zero-damage requirement, Phase II, was enacted for bumper systems on 1980 and newer cars. The most rigorous requirements applied to 1980 through 1982 model vehicles; 5 miles per hour (8 km/h) front and rear barrier and pendulum crash tests were required, and no damage was allowed to the bumper beyond a 38 in (10 mm) dent and 34 in (19 mm) displacement from the bumper's original position.[3]

Weakening standards

Facing pressure from automakers, and operating under the Reagan administration's pledge to reduce regulatory burdens on industry, NHTSA most recently amended the bumper standard in May 1982, halving the front and rear crash test speeds for 1983 and newer car bumpers from 5 miles per hour (8 km/h) to 2.5 miles per hour (4 km/h), and the corner crash test speeds from 3 miles per hour (5 km/h) to 1.5 miles per hour (2 km/h). In addition, the zero-damage Phase II requirement was rolled back to the damage allowances of Phase I. At the same time, a passenger car bumper height requirements of 16 to 20 inches (41–51 cm) was established for passenger cars.[3] At that time, NHTSA promised to conduct research and testing to provide consumers with accurate information on the quality of new car bumpers, but no such information has been provided.

Consumer and insurance groups have decried the weakened bumper standard, saying it has increased consumer costs without any attendant benefits except to automakers.[2][4][5][6]

In 1986, Consumers Union petitioned NHTSA to return to the Phase II standard and disclose bumper strength information to consumers. In 1990, NHTSA rejected that petition.[7]

The weakened regulations permitted automakers to design bumpers with emphasis on style and low cost; protection dropped substantially and repair costs rose. In 1990, IIHS conducted four crash tests on three different-year examples of the Plymouth Horizon. The results illustrated the effect of the changes to the U.S. bumper regulations (repair costs quoted in 1990 dollars):[7]

  • 1983 Horizon with Phase-II 5-mph bumpers: $287
  • 1983 Horizon with Phase-I 2.5-mph bumpers: $918
  • 1990 Horizon: $1,476


Canada's bumper standard, first enacted at the same time as that of the United States, was generally similar to the U.S. regulation. However, the Canadian standard was not weakened from 8 km/h (5 mph) to 4 km/h (2.5 mph) in accord with the weakened U.S. standard of 1983. Some automakers chose to provide stronger Canadian-specification bumpers throughout the North American market, while others chose to provide weaker bumpers in the U.S. market, which hampered private importation of vehicles from the U.S. to Canada.

In early 2009, Canada's regulation shifted to harmonize with U.S. Federal standards and international ECE regulations.[8] Consumer groups are upset with the change,[9] but Canadian regulators assert that the 4 km/h (2.5 mph) test speed is used worldwide and is more compatible with improved pedestrian protection in vehicle-pedestrian crashes.

Effect on design

Cars were equipped with bulky, massive, heavy, protruding bumpers to comply with the bumper standards of the 1970s and early 1980s.[10] By the late 1980s most bumpers were concealed by a painted thermoplastic fascia.

See also



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