Custom Rear YJ Bumper with Tow Hooks

I wanted rear tow hooks for my YJ, but couldn't figure out where in the world to attach them. I asked the Jeep-L mailing list, and Dave Moulton came to the rescue with a custom rear bumper design, complete with tow hooks and a 2" receiver hitch. Dave said his rendition cost about US$60.

There weren't many choices for welders in Lincoln, NE. I talked to three of them. One of them sounded too incompetent to do the job. One of them (actually recommended by several people) claimed he'd do it for $100, but swore that a good yank would rip the rear end to shreds, and made it very clear that he didn't want to do it. The third guy (Rob at AAA Welding) sounded nice, looked competent, and quoted me $125. Guess who I went with.

I used 3.5" x 3.5" x 3/8" thick angle iron for the body of the bumper. Any depth from 3.0" to 4.5" would probably work well, but 4" would probably be ideal. The 52" width I chose is a bit narrower than the body, so it doesn't stick out too far on the corners, especially with the rounded ends. The rear frame cross-member, which the stock bumperettes are mounted to, is not strong enough to support tow hooks during a good yank, which is why the bumper must be tied into the frame. There are already threaded holes in the frame for this purpose. I wanted a single piece of steel tied between the tow hook bolts and the frame bolts so that the bumper itself didn't have to absorb the shock of a good yank. My welder didn't do this initially, which is why the final product is a big mess of welds down near the frame mounts.

The receiver hitch ends up being the limiting factor in my departure angle. This isn't really so bad, because it protects the tail pipe, which is a close second. If I were doing it again, I'd probably want the receiver shoved back (toward the front of the vehicle) as far as possible to increase clearance. To do this, you must make sure the bottom of your bumper hangs low enough to clear the bottom of the rear frame cross-member. Better yet, you could mount the receiver to a plate which was in turn bolted to the underside of the bumper. This would allow you to attach the receiver hitch when needed and remove it when you wanted a better departure angle.

Grade 8 bolts hold the tow hooks to the bumper, and grade 5 bolts (the metric size just larger than 3/8" -- probably 10mm) hold the bumper to the frame. Several coats of primer and rust-oleum paint protect it from the elements (but not tall rocks, I found). I'm considering painting the top of the horizontal ledge with a rubberized, non-slip coating of some sort.

The final cost of the raw bumper ended up being about US$160. I had the guy use a higher quality receiver tube, and he took a little more time than he initially expected. Rob also said that since he didn't do the frame mounts just like I wanted, if they ever broke, he'd fix it at no cost. The total cost including tow hooks, clips, mounting hardware, and paint was about US$180. I was a little annoyed with Rob for changing his quote, something he did to me again on a second project. I'll never go back to him again, and I'd advise other Lincolnites to stay away from him as well.

If properly implemented, the design has several good features:

  • Rear tow hooks on each corner are tied directly into the frame.
  • A 2" receiver which allows all sorts of attachments (like storage and bike racks) to be plugged into your rig, at the price of a bit of clearance.
  • The 3.5" deep horizontal ledge makes for an convenient step stool when working in your garage or anywhere else you can back your Jeep up to. On a stock YJ, the ledge is about 20" tall.

Here's some pictures of the finished product:
upper view lower view
(click on pictures for a larger version)

Update

The above was written in December 1998. In the years that I've had this bumper, I've formed a few opinions about it for which I periodically get asked. To save both you and me the hassle of answering via direct email, here they are:

The bumper still works great. The only towing I've done with my YJ was a very small trailer holding some luggage that probably weighed only a few hundred pounds. It towed it just fine for a couple thousand miles (to Colorado and Halsey. Not exactly a stress test, I realize. I'd be comfortable towing up to 2000 lbs with it, which is the max tow rating for a YJ.

In December 2000, I got rear ended by a Chevy 1/2 ton pickup at 45 mph. The bumper came through unscathed, but the pickup was totaled. For three weeks afterward, I drove around with a piece of the pickup's front marker light stuck to my bumper as a warning to others to back off.

I do love having the rear step that the angle iron provides. Putting the step at the bottom edge of the bumper rather than the top (as you'd get with a boxed bumper) allows you to mount a spare tire lower and farther forward for better balance and visibility. I can clear a 33x9.50" tire on the stock tailgate mount with no trouble. A 35" tire would probably clear the bumper, but the tailgate wouldn't hold up to that much weight for very long.

I do have a few complaints with the bumper. The first is that the attachment points to the frame are not as secure as I'd like. It only has a single 3/8" bolt on each side. When trying in vain to extract a fullsize pickup from deep mud, the bolt on one side was pulled partially from its hole, and the threads on that hole are now stripped. In order to do serious extraction, you really want two 1/2" bolts on each frame rail. I've considered extending the bumper's frame-mounting tab forward a few inches and connecting it to a U-channel that would allow me to put a bolt horizontally through the frame in much the same way that the shackle is attached.

Before I did my 6" SOA lift, another complaint was that the low-hanging receiver hitch was constantly banging on rocks. I still hit it on rare occasion. If I was doing it again, I'd have welded the receiver to a plate that was separate from the bumper. That plate could then be bolted to the bottom of the bumper when I wanted to use the receiver or left at home when I wanted the additional clearance.

While thinking about making my own spare tire rack, I've found that this bumper (specifically, the right tow hook location) isn't terribly conducive to adding such a rack. I've not found a good way around that. This probably isn't as much a fault of the bumper design as it is my own pickiness.

I'd also like to extend some rear quarter panel protectors forward of the bumper under the body. Not sure what the best way to do this is.

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last updated 8 Jul 2002
Obi-Wan (obiwan@jedi.com)




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