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Is It Illegal To Drive A Car Without A Bumper? (Explained)

Owning a car comes with all kinds of questions. Many of these can be related to the bumper of a car. For example, if you’re doing some work on your car, and the front or rear bumper has been detached, you may wonder if it’s still legal to drive a car in your state. Here’s a quick answer

Whether driving without a bumper is legal depends heavily on the state that you’re in. Driving without a bumper is illegal in heavily populated states, such as California, New York, or Florida. However, most southern states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi don’t have laws preventing you from doing so.

However, this certainly doesn’t answer the question entirely. In the article below, we’ll first have to look at the three parts that make up a bumper. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of driving without a part that’s considered part of the bumper. Furthermore, we’ll look at the rules for each state and how much you can get fined per state if you don’t follow the law. Read on!

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First, You Need To Understand The Anatomy Of A Bumper

Before we dive into detail about the laws in different states, we have to make sure you know the difference between the bumper, bumper foam, and bumper cover. The reason for this is that what many call the ‘bumper’ is actually the bumper cover.

The bumper cover is the plastic part on the front of the car that easily gets scratched or dented. In the image below, we’ve been able to find a picture that shows you what precisely a bumper cover is. It’s important to know that a bumper cover has an aesthetic purpose and is NOT a safety feature.

Bumper cover

However, the actual bumper of the car is a safety feature. The bumper cover hides the actual bumper from sight. The actual bumper, also called an impact bar, is hidden behind the bumper cover. It’s a structural part of the car that helps mitigate the impacts of a crash. In the image below, the bumper is indicated by the red circle.

Bumper (impact bar)

Between the bumper cover and the impact bar, you’ll often find a piece of styrofoam or other material referred to as bumper foam. The bumper foam also functions in the aspect of safety because it’s the first part of the crumple zone and absorbs the kinetic energy of light impact collisions.

Bumper foam

So, What’s The Actual Bumper?

Often, when people talk about a bumper, they’re either talking about the bumper cover + bumper foam. This is the point where the metal impact bar becomes visible and where it starts to look like you’re doing something illegal. Furthermore, these parts are often integrated, which means taking them off happens at the same time. Therefore, this is the definition we’ll use for this article.

Bumper Requirements According To State

First, let’s have a more in-depth look at the United States and the states where you are and aren’t allowed to drive with a bumper (bumper cover + bumper foam). As you can imagine, driving without a bumper means you’re increasing the risk of injury for yourself as well as others in the event of a possible crash.

In this case, it’s not so much the cover that’s the problem; it’s the fact that you’re also removing the foam, which is officially part of the crumple zone. Furthermore, in modern cars, these pieces contain several sensors and electrical wiring, which means removing them will most likely impact the performance of your whole vehicle.

However, interestingly enough, this doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to drive without a bumper in all states. In the image below, we’ve divided all states into three categories. First, there are the red states where you must drive with both a front and rear bumper.

The orange states indicate that the vehicle must have its factory specifications when driving on public roads. Since most (if not all cars) are equipped with front and rear bumpers, this means it’s illegal in most cases to drive without one.

Finally, it will be no surprise that the green states indicate states where you’re allowed to drive without a front and/or rear bumper. There’s no penalty for doing this in these states.

Courtesy of thedriveradviser.com

What Fee Do You Pay If You Get Caught Driving Without A Bumper?

If you decide to take a bumperless car for a ride in states where this is not allowed, it will come as no surprise you run the risk of getting fined. In the table below, we’ve gathered the maximum ticket fees you can expect to pay in each state if you get caught driving without a bumper.

However, we have to be clear here that the below-mentioned fees are largely based on other traffic infractions mentioned in the laws of each state (yes, we went through the traffic laws of these states).

Most traffic laws don’t specify a fine for driving without a bumper. Instead, it’s often classified as driving with a vehicle that has improper equipment. We noticed that most states don’t penalize this very hard. In most cases, the fine for driving without a bumper is less than speeding 10 – 20 mph.

StatesBumper RequirementsMaximum Ticket
AlaskaFactory design can’t be altered$100 – $150
CaliforniaFront and rear bumpers are required$200 +/-
FloridaFront and rear bumpers are required$125.50 to $151 (excl. court costs)
HawaiiFront and rear bumpers are required$200 +/-
IdahoFront and rear bumpers are required$90.00
IllinoisFront and rear bumpers are required$135
IndianaFactory design can’t be altered$192
IowaFront and rear bumpers are required$210.25
LouisianaFront and rear bumpers are required$150 – $200
MaineFactory design can’t be altered$146
MarylandFront and rear bumpers are required$90 – $130
MassachusettsFront and rear bumpers are required$35, $75 or $150
MichiganFront and rear bumpers are required$130
MinnesotaFront and rear bumpers are required$175
MissouriFront and rear bumpers are required$123
MontanaFront and rear bumpers are required$150 – $200
New HampshireFront and rear bumpers are required$62 or $124
New YorkFront and rear bumpers are required$208
North DakotaFront and rear bumpers are required$100 – $150
OhioFactory design can’t be altered$205
PennsylvaniaFront and rear bumpers are required$200 +/-
Rhode IslandFront and rear bumpers are required$85 – $95
South CarolinaFront and rear bumpers are required$200 +/-
TennesseeFront and rear bumpers are required$100
UtahFactory design can’t be altered$50 – 100
VermontFront and rear bumpers are required$50 – 100
WashingtonFront and rear bumpers are required$48
West VirginiaFactory design can’t be altered$100 – $300
WisconsinFront and rear bumpers are required$162.70

Is It Safe To Drive Without A Bumper

Does driving your vehicle without a bumper (cover + foam) make the car much less safe from a collision point of view? We wouldn’t say so. This is because bumpers are designed according to the ‘bumper standard’ of the Department of Transportation. This means the bumpers are there to withstand a crash of 5 mph.

For this reason, the bumpers are only there to prevent damage to the car’s internals (such as critical sensors, electrical wiring, engine, transmission, etc.). So the bumper serves a purpose, but it’s not like it will prevent lethal crashes in a collision (except when you take off the impact bar, but that’s a different story).

On the other hand, the cover and the foam do serve a purpose for pedestrians. As you have already seen at the beginning of the article, taking off these parts leaves the impact bar and other parts of the car’s metal frame exposed. Hitting a pedestrian with a metal frame without covering will most likely result in much more severe injury than when you would have driven with it.

When Should A Bumper be Repaired Or Replaced?

Bumpers can be damaged or dented in many ways. You may hit something, or others may hit you from behind. However, if your bumper gets damaged, you’ll need to fix it. Some dents can be fixed while keeping your existing bumper. In other cases, you’ll have to replace the bumper. So when should you replace or repair your bumper? Check these out.

Driving With A Damaged, Cracked Bumper

A cracked bumper would need replacement and not repair. Only on rare occasions can you use an epoxy or fiberglass glass kit to repair a cracked bumper. In other cases, it is impossible. Moreover, cracked bumpers tend to lose their structural value (thereby not being able to absorb impacts of 5mph).

Driving With A Bumper That Has Paint Damage

From a legal perspective, bumpers with severe paint damage don’t need to be replaced. This is because the bumper hasn’t lost its structural value. However, if you want to replace the bumper, it’s a balancing act between cost and reward.

This is because replacing bumpers used to be the way to go. Bumpers of older models of cars were designed to be scrapped when damaged. However, modern-day bumpers carry so much technology and electrical wiring that having them fixed can be an option worth considering.

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