Complete Install Guide & First Impressions of the First Hybrid Steel & Aluminum Bumper Design for 3rd Gen Tacoma
Bumper installs on the Tacoma can be super cumbersome and outright annoying with the extremely heavy steel bumpers that most companies are making. While steel bumpers are awesome for strength, they are insanely heavy and require more lift and/or preload on your suspension to accommodate. In addition, steel bumper installs are a 2-3 man job that will still end with a lot of crushed fingers and toes.
Backwoods Adventure Mods set out to solve these, and other known issues by creating a hybrid steel and aluminum bumper that is light enough to install solo. Seriously, I installed this all by myself in my garage without issue. As far as I’m aware, this is the only bumper on the market that offers this kind of dual material option.
The bumper is a two-piece construction with the shell being made of aluminum and the winch cradle being made of steel. This provides a super lightweight bumper that is strong where it’s needed and light where it matters most.
This article will be focused on the installation process, with a follow-up article that covers my longer-term experiences. I’ll also cover the Backwoods lighting division, Pathfinder Lighting. I’ll be adding a couple of their amber pods to the bumper as you can see above. That said, let’s get right into this install. You’ll be surprised how easy it is.
Find It Online
- 2016+ (3rd Gen) Toyota Tacoma Hi-Lite Overland Front Bumper
You will need a few key tools to make this install go smoothly.
Tools and Materials
- Socket Set
- Wrench Set
- 14mm Ratcheting Wrench – optional, but highly recommended
- Impact Driver (optional)
- Oscillating Multi-Tool (recommended)
- Trim removal tool(s)
- Dry-Erase Marker
- PB Blaster/WD-40
- H11 to Deutsch Connector (optional)
- Allen Wrench Set
Step 1. Remove Grille Assembly
The first step in this install is to remove the grille assembly. This will give us easy access to the stock bumper which we will ultimately be removing and chopping up.
The grille is held onto the engine bay with two 10mm bolts (closer to the middle of the grille) and two clips (closer to the end of the grille, near headlights). Simply remove the 10mm bolts and use a trim removal tool to lift up the middle of each clip to loosen and remove.
Note: Those with Toyota Safety Sense (TSS)
With the bolts and clips undone, you’ll need to unplug the TSS sensor (if applicable) before pulling the grille off of the truck. On my truck, the TSS harness is attached to the grille via two tabs/clips so once you pop those out it is a little easier to access the plug to unplug it.
With the TSS sensor unplugged, you can now carefully pull out and slightly up to remove the grille from the truck.
Set it aside carefully. Now we can move onto removing the stock bumper.
Step 2. Remove Stock Bumper
The stock bumper is held onto the truck in a similar manner as the grille. There are six clips holding the bumper down on the top as well as four 10mm bolts holding it on the bottom.
Start by removing the six clips on the top of the bumper the same way you did for the grille assembly. Next, use an impact or wrench to remove the four 10mm bolts on the bottom of the bumper.
Before proceeding to take off the bumper, you will want to unplug the fog lights. If you’re wondering where this is, it’s the harness that runs along the top of the bumper. Unplug this and pop out the clip holding the harness to the bumper.
There are two more 10mm bolts in the wheel well that will need to be removed. Because I have the high clearance/viper cut on my truck, I don’t exactly remember, but there are a couple more bolts and/or clips that I am missing that will need to be removed on an unmodified bumper.
Now you will need to pop out the bumper corners and remove the bumper. You’ll first want to carefully pull the fender flares out from the bumper. They take a little bit of force but they will pop out, just take your time. I’d recommend reaching under the bumper and pushing the flare tabs within the fender itself to avoid breaking them.
Finally, you can reach under the bumper and push out to pop the bumper corner out. This may take a few tries and takes quite a bit of pressure, so just be careful when doing it. With that done, the bumper should be free from the truck and set aside until it’s ready to be cut.
Step 3. Remove Inner Bumper Components
The next step is to remove the plastic and aluminum inner bumper components. The black plastic is held on with some clips so simply undo them and it should come off without issue.
There are two ways you can go about removing the aluminum bumper from the truck. The first way would be to remove the cross member by removing the two outer bolts. This will give you easier access to the remaining 6 bolts holding the aluminum bumper to the frame. Otherwise, you can simply remove the 6 bolts holding it to the frame and remove it all as one piece.
I opted for the latter because my impact wasn’t strong enough to break the bolts free, so I ended up using a socket wrench. I would highly recommend hitting the bolts with some PB blaster before trying to remove them. Also, keep these six bolts because you will use them for installing the new bumper.
Fully remove the aluminum crash bars before moving on to the next step. I ended up needing to use a mallet to break the aluminum bumper free from the truck.
Step 4. Install Steel Winch Cradle
The steel winch cradle part of the Backwoods Adventure Mods Hi-Lite bumper is around 50lbs and it’s also the heaviest part of the bumper. That said, it’s light enough for most people to be able to install alone.
Before putting the winch cradle on, I realized that I need to trim the plastic lining that sits behind the grille. I made a cut with the oscillating multi-tool right above the bumper line which cleared enough room for the new bumper.
With that cut, you can go ahead and install the winch cradle. To install, I squatted down and used my knee to hold the weight while I guided the cradle onto the frame bolts. Once it was lined up, I loosely installed a bolt on each side to hold it onto the truck while installing the remaining bolts.
Make sure the winch mount is centered on the frame before moving on.
The winch cradle has a little bit of play horizontally, so I made sure to line it up centered as best I could before tightening it down. However, I ended up needing to adjust this slightly at the end.
Once I got all four of the outer bolts tightened, it was time to do the inner two bolts. This is where a 14mm ratcheting wrench could save you a solid 15 minutes or so. It’s tough to angle a regular wrench in and you don’t have much of a range of motion, so tightening takes a while.
With all six of the bolts tightened down, you can move on to the bumper cut.
Step 5. Prep Stock Bumper
Before making the cut on the stock bumper, you will first want to remove your fog lights, fog light harness, and the black bumper insert. The fog lights are both held on with only one screw, so it’s easy enough to unplug them and get them unscrewed. Remove the outer fog light covers as well, which can be popped out quite easily.
For the fog light wiring harness, you can simply use the trim removal tool to pop out the tabs holding it to the bumper. Finally, use a trim removal tool to undo all of the tabs holding the black bumper grille part on.
With those removed, your bumper is ready to be cut!
Step 6. Cut Front Bumper Cover
This is undoubtedly the most nerve-wracking part of the install. For my viper cut, I used a rotary tool with a metal wheel. It sucked, and honestly, it was pretty difficult. This time around, I decided to try an oscillating multi-tool and it was WAY easier and smoother. I highly recommend going this route.
The recommended line to cut is from the lower radius of the fog light opening to the bottom of the fender flare tab hole across. This gives you a little wiggle room for the cut so you can fix it if you mess it up.
To draw this line, I used a piece of cardboard with a straight edge. Mine ended up being slightly crooked after the cut, but I was able to touch it up. I also recommend using a dry-erase marker since you might not be able to get the line drawn nicely on the first go.
The Point of No Return.
With the cut lines drawn, it’s time to get cutting.
I used a bucket to prop up the bumper while cutting so it wasn’t rubbing on the ground and getting scratched up.
To cut, you really just hold the bumper still with one hand and press the oscillating tool into the plastic. From there, push lightly down onto the bumper and up along your line. Once you have the cut along the line you traced, you’ll need to flip the bumper over and fully cut out the fog light opening.
With the hardest part out of the way, we can move on to the test fit.
Step 7. Loosley Install Trimmed Bumper Cover
With the bumper cut, you can now put it back on the truck so that you can test fit the new bumper.
With the freshly cut bumper loosely installed back on the truck, you can now put the Backwoods Adventure Mods aluminum bumper shell on. To do that, you’ll want to get two of the bumper bolts ready to hold up the bumper.
Next, slide the bumper over the tow points on the winch cradle, which lines up with two holes in the aluminum bumper shell. The bumper is going to angle down towards the ground and won’t be completely held up on the winch cradle, so you’ll need to put the two bolts in to hold the bumper shell up properly on the winch cradle.
Step 8. Test Fit Backwoods Bumper
From here, you should be able to tell if you will need to bring the bumper cut up a little more. Keep in mind that you will be putting some auto edge trim on the cut, which will add around 1/4” to 1/2”. I’d recommend making sure the cut is at least ½” above the Backwoods Adventure Mods bumper since the Tacoma frame flexes a lot, especially when off-road.
At this point, I ended up needing to cut a little more off the bumper. In addition, I used a rotary tool with a sanding wheel to smooth out and straighten the line.
Step 9. Properly Reinstall Previously Cut Bumper
Once you are happy with the cut, you can remove the bumper shell. At this point, you should cut or bend the inner wheel liner to your liking. You will also need to cut the small plastic bracket that the stock bumper clips onto. The Backwoods Adventure Mods guys marked a line on it and removed it off the truck to cut it but I decided to cut it while it was on the truck and it worked out fine for me.
With that done, you’re good to get the cut bumper back onto the truck. Make sure to secure the bumper by popping back in the corner and returning the 6 clips back to the top of the bumper to secure it to the truck. Once the bumper is secured onto the truck, you can add the auto edge trim to the cut to smooth it out.
Step 9. Install Bumper Shell
It’s finally time to install the bumper shell onto the truck. This attaches using three bolts on each side, for a total of 6 bolts.
For this, you’ll need both a socket/ratcheting wrench and a regular wrench to secure the bolt while tightening the nuts. The order for the bolt assembly is washer, washer, locking nut, nut. See the photo above for reference.
I decided to put the bolts facing out from the inside of the winch cradle. This allows for a larger range of motion using the socket or ratcheting wrench to tighten down the bolts. However, it is a little tight and awkward to get the wrench on the inside of the bumper to hold the bolt while tightening down the nut.
Fortunately, the Backwoods Adventure Mods aluminum bumper shell has large winch access gaps that make the job a bit easier. There are two bolts towards the back of the bumper and one towards the front. Once you have the bumper tightened down, check it to make sure you don’t need to recenter or adjust it.
Step 10. Install Frame Support Brackets
If you plan to install and use a winch on your bumper, you will need to install the frame support brackets. These brackets attach to both the frame and the bumper to add some strength for winching.
The frame support bracket should work with the stock sway bar, no sway bar, and most remote reservoir brackets on the market. In my case, I am using a sway bar relocation bracket and it still works since Backwoods Adventure Mods provides extended bolts.
The first thing you will need to do to install the winch support bracket is to remove the two outer bolts on each side of the winch cradle. You don’t need to worry about the bumper falling off because it still has the inner bolt holding it on each side.
Next, you will need to remove the two 14mm bolts holding your sway bar to the frame. I found that it was best to do this on both sides before proceeding to the next step so you can move the sway bar out of the way more easily.
With all of the bolts removed, we can now install the frame support bracket.
To install, simply slide the two bumper bolts through the slots on the frame support bracket. You may need to go back and trim the inner fender liner a bit more to fit the bracket.
Loosely install the bolts to hold the bracket in place. Now you can line up the support bracket with the frame holes for the sway bar. Loosely reinstall the sway bar using the longer 14mm bolts provided by Backwoods Adventure Mods.
Finally, adjust the frame support bracket to line up with the frame and snug down the two sway bar bolts. With those tight, you can now tighten the winch cradle bolts you had loosely installed.
At this point, the frame support brackets should be securely installed on the truck and you are ready to move on to the light install.
Step 11. Install Pathfinder Fog Light
The final step in this install is to install the Pathfinder LED fog lights. Pathfinder is a sister brand to Backwoods Adventure Mods so the LED pods fit really well with the bumper.
These lights come with a full wiring harness with a switch if you want to install them that way, but I decided to buy an H11 to Deutsch connector to plug them into the factory fog light connector. This way I retain the fog light controls near the steering wheel.
The first step here is actually going to be to flip the brackets on the lights. The brackets are set up to be used as ditch lights, so the bracket is a little too tall to fit in the bumper. To do this, simply remove the bolt with an allen wrench and flip the brackets.
Because the bracket is now low profile, you’ll want to insert the bolt into the bracket before tightening it down. Once you have the bracket situation sorted, you can insert the lights into the bumper and bolt them down to the pre-drilled mounting area on the bumper.
Finally, you can reinstall the stock fog light wiring harness onto the bumper. There are a couple of slots on the top of the stock bumper where you secure the harness. Because the Backwoods bumper is high clearance, the fog light wiring harness is a little long so you’ll want to zip tie it up to secure it. Once everything is installed properly, test the fog lights to ensure they are working.
Congrats, you’ve now completed the install!
The Hi-Lite Overland Front Bumper from Backwoods Adventure Mods is going to make moves in the 3rd Gen Tacoma market. Its hybrid design with the steel winch cradle and the aluminum bumper shell is an absolute game-changer in the overland Tacoma market.
Weighing only 80lbs total, with the 54lb winch cradle and 26lb bumper shell, it’s one of the lightest full front bumpers on the market that retains the ability to safely winch.
My favorite part about this bumper is that its lightweight, modular design made installation extremely easy and free of major struggles.
I have both heard and seen the problems people have installing extremely heavy steel bumpers, and I wanted no part in that business. This design also allows for easier install and maintenance of a winch, which I will be installing pretty soon.
Other than that, it’s pretty obvious how good-looking this bumper is. It’s somehow beefy, yet sleek at the same time. The design is eye-catching and provides the perfect angles for a high clearance Tacoma bumper.
My first time out on the trail with this bumper, I met another Tacoma owner who had recently installed a brand new, full steel bumper from a top competitor in the Tacoma bumper market. When I was telling him about the Hi-Lite bumper, he couldn’t stop talking about how nice it looked and how cool the hybrid design sounded. This was the point at which I truly realized how impressive this bumper is.
This Backwoods Adventure Mods Hi-Lite bumper is a super easy install. It’s really nice that it is a manageable install for one person, but it would definitely be easier with a second set of hands.
I really like the two-piece construction of the bumper. I think generally speaking an aluminum bumper is enough protection, but it’s really nice that they make the winch cradle steel to accommodate the stress of winching.
I truly believe this bumper brings a unique and innovative design to the market and will do really well in the months and years to come.