Should You Repair or Replace Your Busted Bumper?

Updated: Apr. 01, 2024

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.

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.

Fix #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. Costs typically vary from $50 to $200. You can also buff yourself using an electric automotive polisher along with the finest grade of auto polishing compound. A variable speed 6-in. random orbit woodworking sander fitted with a buffing pad also works great as a polisher. 

Fix #2: Replace the Bumper Cover

If you’ve got a crack or puncture in your bumper that’s more than a few inches long you’re going to want to replace it entirely. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Getting the old bumper cover off without damaging the surrounding bodywork isn’t easy because all the fasteners and clips are hidden.
  3. Even with an economical aftermarket bumper cover, it’s not that easy to create your own matching paint job.

Fix #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 the final steps to complete a bumper patching job.

Next: Find out the cost to wrap a car.