Your Busted Bumper: Repair or Replace?

That broken car bumper of yours looks terrible, but there are different ways to repair it. Deciding which approach is best is your first step.

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Cracked, dented, punctured and scratched. These are all ugly things that can happen to your car bumper. More accurately called a “bumper cover,” these decorative plastic components hide the metal structural bumper components underneath. Bumper covers are easily damaged (whatever happened to those chrome bumpers that really could take some bumps?), and the best way to fix yours depends on your situation, your abilities and the kind of bumper damage you’ve got.

Bumper Fix No. 1: Repair the Scratch

Scratches happen, but shallow ones that don’t go all the way through the paint are easily eliminated with buffing. This goes for shallow scratches anywhere on your car, not just bumper covers. Any auto body shop or detailing center can buff out scratches for you, and this often works well. Cost typically varies from $50 to $200. You can also buff yourself using an electric automotive polisher ($70) along with the finest grade of auto polishing compound ($20). A variable speed 6-in. random orbit woodworking sander ($125) fitted with a buffing pad also works great as a polisher. 

Bumper Fix No. 2: Replace the Bumper Cover

If you’ve got a crack or puncture in your bumper that’s more than a few inches long, replacement is considered the proper approach. The damaged bumper cover comes off by releasing hidden fasteners and clips around fenders and neighboring parts. Once the cover is removed, then a pre-painted new cover can be snapped on. Sounds simple, but there are three challenges you need to know about.

First, replacement bumper covers aren’t cheap, especially if you go with a cover made by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and factory pre-painted to match your vehicle. You can certainly find aftermarket bumper covers for less money, but you’ll almost certainly have to have it painted to match your car, boosting the final cost.

Second, getting the old bumper cover off without damaging the surrounding body work isn’t easy because all the fasteners and clips are hidden.

And third, even with an economical aftermarket bumper cover, it’s not that easy to create your own matching paint job.

Bumper Fix No. 3: Patch the Bumper Cover

Although bumper covers are typically made of semi-flexible plastic, you can fill, sand, paint and buff bumper dings and dents the same way as any steel auto body part. Patching can save you money, compared with complete bumper cover replacement, and it’s an approach that’s DIY friendly, too.

There are two prerequisites to keep in mind as you decide if patching is for you. First, there should be no damage to the underlying metal bumper structure. If damage to the cover is small, then patching with conventional, catalyzed auto body compound is an option. That should even work on a big puncture localized in one place.

The second thing: Bumper covers need to be stabilized before they can be patched, sanded and made to look like new. Bumper covers are flexible enough to bend inwards when you push them. If movement like that happens after patching, it will cause the auto body filler to crack and fall out.

Stabilizing the cover by injecting expanding polyurethane foam inside is a great way to make the cover firm in the area where a repair is required. Just be sure to inject only a small amount of foam at first, let it harden, then add more and let it harden. Filling the area behind the bumper cover with foam in one go will cause too much pressure and an outward bulging of the plastic. Painting and buffing are final steps to complete a bumper patching job.

Steve Maxwell
Steve Maxwell is an award-winning content creator who has published more than 5,000 articles, shot countless photos and produced video since 1988. Using his experience as a carpenter, builder, stone mason and cabinetmaker, he has created content for Mother Earth News, Reader's Digest, Family Handyman, Cottage Life, Canadian Contractor, Canadian Home Workshop, and many more. Steve lives on Manitoulin Island, Canada with his wife and children in a stone house he built himself. His website gets 180,000+ views each month, his YouTube channel has 58,000+ subscribers and his weekly newsletter is received by 31,000 subscribers each Saturday morning.