4X4 Unlimited's Winch Bumper
|By removing the support tube between the frame rails, the winch can be dropped to improve air-flow.
Photo by author
|The brackets bolted on to the frame. Noticed the front frame tube has been removed
Photo by author
|The finished product on Project Money Pit.
Photo by author
I've been looking for a new front bumper for a while now. Many of you are familiar with the cooling challenges I've been having with my 1994 Jeep Wrangler (see my Wrangler cooling article for more information). Jeeps have never been known for having large grills to help with cooling. Add to this a winch mounted to the front bumper, and you can run into some real problems.
Building a better bumper
I've seen a couple of different bumper manufacturers who lower the winch into the bumper. This helps with the airflow, but usually at the cost of approach angle. Tom Steiger from 4X4 Unlimited in Elgin, Minnesota, have been discussing this style of bumper since early this spring. 4X4 Unlimited produces front and rear bumpers for Jeeps and many other off-road vehicles. I had seen some of the other bumpers he had built, and I was impressed with their quality and affordable price. Tom had also experimented with lowering the winch between the frame rails on other Jeeps. He didn't think mine would be a problem, but warned me frame modifications would have to be made.
My Jeep Wrangler YJ came from the factory with a 3" diameter support tube welded between the frame rails just behind the front bumper. This tube can be removed safely if it is replaced by a heavy front bumper. 4X4 Unlimited uses 2" x 4" x 1/4" wall tubing for all of their bumpers. The ends of the tubing are capped and are cut on an angle for improved approach angle. The winch plate is welded to the bumper and is 3/8" steel plate. The winch cable passes through the bumper in a boxed section and the roller fairlead is mounted on the front of the bumper. The roller fairlead's mounting bolts pass all the way through the bumper for added strength.
One of the major off-roading events here in Minnesota has recently upgraded it's inspection policy and will not allow any welded-on tow points. This may sound excessive, but accidents have happened in the past from equipment built by inexperienced welders. 4X4 Unlimited has designed their bumpers to pass the most rigorous inspections. Brackets are installed onto the frame ends which bolt to existing weld-nuts on the top and bottom of the frame. Bolts then go through the front of the bumper into these brackets. By mounting the bumper this way, the stress is put on mounting bolts instead of welds. Receiver mounts can also be added with custom hitch pins mounted from the top of the bumper. 4X4 Unlimited also produces 2" machined shackle mounts to fit in their receivers.
All of 4X4 Unlimited's bumpers are made to order, so custom configurations are possible. I wanted to give some protection to my fenders, so I ordered the bumper 54" long. I also added 2 receivers with shackle mounts and a set of mounting tabs for my off-road lights.
The first thing I noticed is this thing is heavy. Don't plan on mounting it yourself without some type of stand to set one side on. The first thing I had to do was cut out the frame tube with a reciprocal saw. The front body mount also attaches to the tube, but the new winch plate had a new body mounting hole in it. A spacer was also included to be used with my 2" body lift. Once the tube was out of the way I could attach the brackets and then mount the bumper. Everything fit perfectly and only took a matter of minutes. Next came the body mount and spacer. The bolts for the winch came through the plate and I could then mount the roller fairlead. I bolted on my lights and it was ready to go. Total installation took less than an hour.
The finished product has a super clean look and I've received a lot of positive feedback from other people who have seen it. By the weight of the bumper I'm sure it can handle anything I can throw at it. My winch is about 5" lower than it used to be, which will surely help my cooling. Plus the design doesn't sacrifice any approach angle. The price was also about half of the other winch bumpers I've seen. I can't wait to bang it against some rocks in the near future.