Click for Coverage
Exclusive Content
Original Shows, Motorsports and Live Events
Try it free for 14 days
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

Junkyard Bumper Building Tips for the Cheapskate

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on June 30, 2015
Share this

Bumpers and body armor are the first line of defense for our off-road vehicles, but that is just one of many jobs they perform. Bumpers provide anchors for spare tire mounts and hold extra fluids and maybe even a cooler, a winch, or a Hi-Lift jack. They also provide tow points for trailers and for extracting your buddies when they get stuck (we’re sure you never get stuck). In short, these areas of your rig do many important jobs, and it’s not a good idea to cheap out on them. Or is it?

If you’re like us, you like saving a dollar and gaining the knowledge and sense of accomplishment that comes from doing things yourself. Shiny new parts with installation instructions fresh out of the package are nice, but everything old is not garbage. One place that is full of still-usable parts and ideas that could add utility and strength to your 4x4’s bumpers is the junkyard. Used parts are inexpensive, and you never know what you might find in the yard. Always keep your eyes peeled while at the dirt-head wonderland that is the junkyard.

We love pick-a-part junkyards because you never know what you might find there. Not to mention that when you pull your own part you save some money and get a chance to see how the part fits on a vehicle that’s already junked. One end or side of a junkyard vehicle in a junkyard may be damaged, but there are still plenty of usable parts on the other end. Reusing a stylish bumper and front end from some old muscle car that has seen better days could be awesome—or not. We like the idea. Now we want to see what you all can come up with.

One of our buddies drives a truck for a utility company. He’s a gearhead and knows the guys who do truck maintenance for his company. Occasionally the utility company will decide that a part is worn out and needs to be replaced. When that happens our pal will grab the part, assuming it still has some life left. We’re not sure what we will use this trailer end of a pintle hitch assembly for yet, but we bet we can come up with something. It would make one hell of a good tow point. Another day our pal had a free pintle hitch when the company decided to remove them from some of its trucks. We got a like-new hitch for yarn and a few beers.

A benefit of the popularity of SUVs over the past 15 years is that the junkyards are now full of them. Towhooks and other usable parts are there for the taking—er, buying. Need a six-lug bumper-mounted tire carrier for your Toyota? How about parts from one of the thousands of Isuzu Rodeos/Honda Passports littering junkyards around the country? We bet you could retrofit the carrier to the tube work on the back of a trail rig. All the engineering is there for you to use.

If you don’t want the tire rack, the latch assembly is pretty cool and could be modified for use in any number of projects on a trail rig.

Need to flat-mount a tire in the back of your wheeler? This junkyard-fresh mount (from an Isuzu/Honda, hence its 6-on-5 1/2 bolt pattern) would be easy to modify into a flat surface mount. This could hold a wheel and tire for any fullsize Jeep, Toyota, Nissan, GM half-ton, and so on. What if you run a 5-on-5 1/2 bolt pattern? Look for parts off of a Kia Sportage or Suzuki/Geo of sorts. For eight-lug tire rack parts, you’re going to have to look to an H2 Hummer.

This towhook is off a 2000-2010ish Toyota 4Runner (although Yotas back to the ’80s have similar hooks). The hook itself is going to be more than adequate for most 1/4- to 1/2-ton trail rigs. It is mounted using two bolts and has a stamped anchor plate made out of 1/4-inch plate. You could use the hook on your bumper and the stamped plate mount to hold down a spare tire, a jack, a cooler, or what have you.

We can’t wait till the old road-driven H2s and H3s start to trickle into the pick-a-part yards. They have lots of cool beefy towhooks and mounts on the bumpers (not to mention Gen III engines and heavy-duty drivetrain parts). Until then, ’90s GMs, Toyota, and newer Fords all have pretty decent tow points. These huge eyelets are from a Ford Super Duty and mount inside the framerail via three large bolts. It would be easy to add one or two of these mounts to a flat surface at the front or rear of any off-road rig.

A receiver hitch is another part that’s easy to grab from junkyards and may already fit your vehicle. Some have seen almost no use and, with secure mounting to the frame, can be a great place to start fabbing a front or rear bumper. You can then add a receiver-mounted winch and towhooks, or use a front-mounted receiver to help back large trailers into tight spots.

Some yards will have medium-duty flatbed trucks on site. These can be a great place to grab cool parts, racks, and usable steel (if you’re a dedicated cheapskate). We always look at the back of these trucks for pintle hitches, usable recessed signal lights, towhooks, straps, and toolboxes. Pintle hitches add a bit of military style to the back of a trail rig. Plus they are a functional place to connect a towstrap and can cost more than $100 new. At the junkyard expect to pay $15-$20.

The rear bumper on this old camper is 2x4x0.188-wall rectangular tubing. That’s a great platform for just about any bumper.

An old rental van could provide your tow rig or overland rig with a heavy-duty rear step bumper. It’s even dimple-died for extra traction and has a heavy-duty hitch. Just trim down the ends to match your truck’s width and come up with a durable mounting solution, and you have a bumper with easy camper/bed access.

Lots of medium- to heavy-duty trucks have long lengths of straight channel or tube in their frames or bed that you can repurpose to make bumpers. Cut off a few feet of this truck’s frame, lay it flat, and you’ve got a great channel to build a custom winch mount. Who cares if it’s got extra holes or a little patina? We’re betting you can get it for less than having channel cut at the steel store.

Ew! Booger welds that look like they are about to break under the weight of a chrome towhook are not adding utility to any truck. Mounting this hook with graded hardware would have been easy and much less likely to fail when those crappy welds let go. Some parts at the junkyard are better left to the steel smelter. If you’re not a qualified welder, always bolt on your new towhooks.

If you’re a low-budget home fabricator, you can save a dime or two if you have the time, tools, and knowhow. But if you’re better at making money at your day job and you need something that’s functional, fast, and guaranteed to work, then rely on the professionals. We love the bumpers that Randy Ellis builds at Randy Ellis Designs. They look effortless, work well for all their duties, are custom made to fit your 4x4, and border on art—but you’ll have to visit Phoenix to get one built.


Randy Ellis Design
Phoenix, AZ 85017

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results