Vellum Venom Vignette: A Primer on Black Plastic?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette a primer on black plastic

Joe writes:

Can you explain black plastic on cars? I saw an Audi Q7 with black plastic all over the bottom, but then a Q5 doesn’t have it. Sometimes the plastic isn’t black but color coded like an Eddie Bauer Ford or something else.

I may just want some back story or history lesson or someone to help me learn to enjoy this crap on my car.

Sajeev answers:

Scientific American has an impressive overview of cellulose, bakelite, etc. development leading to the creation of our modern plastic world. Such relevance naturally leads to a discussion of why plastic bumpers are so awesome.

Pontiac excellently touted the (body color) Endura nose of the ’68 GTO, but the first of the breed is probably the Lotus Elan. The Ford Sierra’s strikingly integrated plastic bumpers were part of my tribute to Uwe Bahnsen, but the Renault 5 was the first everyman’s car with them. It’s not perfectly integrated, but the 5’s shape is pure 1970s “aerodynamic wedge” fantasy.

The benefits of plastic bumpers are both clear and muddy. Today’s cheaper, sleeker, more integrated plastic parts are a significant safety and collision repair improvement, thanks to cars like the wonderfully engineered 1973 Mercedes ESF 22. But they also weigh less (even older implementations with metal reinforcements) in a crucial location: less weight at the corners has less rotational inertia for more poised transitions requiring less torque in handling maneuvers.

So you better love these things. But love them in black plastic? Not as much.

Like my experience with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome after taking a seemingly benign medication, with every car design benefit comes a risky side effect.

The ever-lowering cost of plastics means beancounters can over-reach with abandon. Think of the 2001 Pontiac Aztek, before the modest smattering of extra paint to mask the ugly. Fleet-spec truck grilles aside, a base model vehicle with black bumpers has gone by the wayside: try finding a 1990s Explorer, Accord or Camry on the road with ‘em.

And today’s black (trimmed) bumpers likely imply you own a premium spec motor: the Audi All-Road and Ford Raptor come to mind.

Oh, the irony. Did this sufficiently “help you learn to enjoy this crap on your car?” Fill in the gaps, Best and Brightest.

[Images: Ford, Audi]

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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2 of 45 comments
  • DenverMike DenverMike on Jun 02, 2016

    A 'heat gun' brings the black back. The bed rail 'cladding' on my F-150 had turned a hideous, light grey with ribbing stripes. Very good results, like new.

  • 415s30 415s30 on Jun 05, 2016

    I DD a 2006 CRV and it's surrounded with black plastic, great for when the Golden Gate divider was askew couldn't avoid without hitting someone else and bumped it, cheap to fix.

  • Jeffrey An all electric entry level vehicle is needed and as a second car I'm interested. Though I will wait for it to be manufactured in the states with US components eligible for the EV credit.
  • Bob65688581 Small by American standards, this car is just right for Europe, and probably China, although I don't really know, there. Upscale small cars don't exist in the US because Americans associate size and luxury, so it will have a tough time in the States... but again Europe is used to such cars. Audi has been making "small, upscale" since forever. As usual, Americans will miss an opportunity. I'll buy one, though!Contrary to your text, the EX30 has nothing whatsoever to do with the XC40 or C40, being built on a dedicated chassis.
  • Tassos Chinese owned Vollvo-Geely must have the best PR department of all automakers. A TINY maker with only 0.5-0.8% market share in the US, it is in the news every day.I have lost count how many different models Volvo has, and it is shocking how FEW of each miserable one it sells in the US market.Approximately, it sells as many units (TOTAL) as is the total number of loser models it offers.
  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.