Car Diapers

Caleb Crain waxes lyrical on a device I’ve found tends to draw blank stares from drivers in other parts of the country: Car diapers (or call them what you will: Coupe Condoms, Grille Guards, or by their actual monikers, Bumper Badgers, etc.)

Another thing I’ve long meant to blog about: car diapers. I wonder whether they exist outside Park Slope. In how many American neighborhoods do parallel parking, overprotectiveness, and automobile vanity co-exist? The car diaper is a large sheet of rubber that is draped over a car’s rear fender in order to protect it from the scratches and scrapes incidental to parallel parking. They aren’t called car diapers, of course, by their purveyors. Indeed they seem to have sort of self-consciously aggressive names, like “Bumper Bully” and “De-Fender.” But car diapers is what they look like. Some are attached by shutting them half in and half out of the trunk, so they flop over the fender, usually with a cut-out so that the license plate remains visible. A driver rarely scrapes up another car’s rear fender while parallel parking, because one always has a clear view of the other car’s rear fender. It’s one’s own rear fender that one scrapes, by misjudging the distance behind. So a car diaper is a responsible and civic thing to own—an admission of one’s incontinence as a driver, or anyway, as a parallel parker. Still.

I often wonder why (most) cars actually lost their extruding bumpers to begin with (look at those big rubber bricks on old Volvos) — some push for imagined aerodynamicism on the part of car drivers I suppose.

But Caleb’s post raises another issue that I’ve long wondered about: Do we need a special word to describe that curious metaphysical condition by which someone purchases a new consumer bauble that is so delightful, so gleaming and unscathed and yet so preciously fragile, that one must subsequently sheath it in protective covering — which often tries itself, a la iPhone, to be itself distinctive or wonderful but always fall short of the original, hidden object — that masks its unscathed delightfulness, which can then only be retrieved in rare fugitive moments when one has unstripped the protection, inhaling the original aura, but with each of these exposures bringing the risk of new blemishes, new forms of decay, that will itself make the process of unsheathing it (and resheathing it) that less special, until eventually the impulse to cover has been lost completely.

[the above image is Dominic Wilcox’ ‘anti-theft’ stickers, which preemptively degrade the consumer object to lessen its value]

This entry was posted on Friday, April 9th, 2010 at 8:18 am and is filed under Traffic Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “Car Diapers”

  1. JamesR Says:

    The Bumper Bullies are pretty common in dense urban neighborhoods with overnight parking. I think the majority of the users buy them because they are leasing their cars and want to be able to avoid any surcharges for body damage at the end of the lease. They do look ridiculous, I’ll give you that. I’ve actually seen cars driving around the city with the contraption still exposed.

  2. Vin Says:

    Other places where those thing exist: Bay Ridge, Astoria, Flushing, Midwood, Jersey City….OK, yeah, they all seem to be in the NYC metro area.

    Somewhat more seriously, those things perplex me. They look a lot sillier than some scratches on a bumper, or even a minor dent. I’d say most cars on the road in NYC have some scratches and dings, especially on the bumper. Even on their own supposed merits, they don’t make sense.

  3. Opus the Poet Says:

    The reason cars no longer have bumpers that protrude from the side is the same reason they no longer have decent door handles, pedestrian safety. In spite of no known incidents of pedestrians getting caught and dragged by door handles, protruding bumpers, or wheel spinners, all of those were outlawed back in the 60s and 70s for new cars. Now I have to fight with the door every time I try to get in an unfamiliar car. And while they were messing with the door handles on the outside you think someone could have noticed that no 2 models of cars have their inside door release in the same place making panicked passengers have to search for a way to escape from a car in an emergency. I have literally had to run my hand over the inside of a car door searching for the door release, because it was the same color as the rest of the door panel and dark inside the car. Why doesn’t somebody do something about that if safety is such a big thing?

  4. Peter Smith Says:

    almost took a picture of one of these weird diaper things on a nice car in SF the other day. so bizarre.

  5. Tony Toews Says:

    “anti-theft’ stickers Ahh, now that’s why I haven’t washed my vehicles in over twenty years. Indeed after a drive in rain on the highway I find a gravel road just to get a layer of dirt on the vehicle.

    After all which is a thief going to smash the window to steal some stuff or the vehicle? My dirty POS (Piece of ****) or your shiny, clean vehicle?

    Also I simply don’t care what I drive so long as it’s functional. And it’s long been paid for. In cash.

  6. Bristol Traffic Team Says:

    A root cause here is probably the adoption of body-coloured bumpers. In the olden days -say 1992 and earlier- your bumpers would be a grey black colour that looked the same after parking as before, no matter how badly you did it. Then the marketing departments realised people would pay more for bumpers that matched the cars paintwork, and presumably that they would pay to have damage repaired more often.

    Amusingly, the SUV trend went the other way -away from single colour and towards “rugged look”. Same with integrated roof bars. Big vehicles: mount points for luggage like bikes and skis on the roof. Small vehicles, the ones with less room inside for bikes and skis: nothing.

  7. KelBel Says:

    I miss my old Volvo (made much later than the 70s, mind you). I backed into cars and things all the time when I was learning to drive, and you could never tell the difference.

Leave a Reply

Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



April 2010
« Mar   May »

No, you probably won be compensated one million dollars; however, with the right blend of negotiating skills and patience, your efforts will be substantially rewarded!I have seen up to forty thousand dollars added to starting compensation through diligent negotiations. It is a way to significantly raise your standard of living and sense of self, simply by