As an auto journalist, I get a lot of questions asked of me. "What car should I buy for my ornithologist?" "Why don't cars have good spittoons anymore?" and, the one I get most, "Can I used a canned ham or potted meat to protect my car's bumpers?" Well, friends, I finally set out to answer this question. With science.
Well, by "science" I mean "just trying it out," but I think I got the results so many of us demand. And I probably should give just a touch more background and explanation about this very important question. Essentially, why would I even consider doing something so inane?
Here's why. One of my cars is a pretty rare (for the US, especially) British car, a Reliant Scimitar. For a while when I lived in LA, I used this car as my daily driver, and whenever I'd street park in a congested area, like downtown LA, I was always a bit nervous about getting my little chrome bumperlets dinged up, because getting replacements from the UK is a colossal ass-pain.
The front corner bumpers have no rubber impact strips and, while vulnerable, look good without them. But I often found myself wishing I had a good, cheap, quick way to provide a bit of occasional protection to the car's bumpers. I didn't want to add anything permanent, and there just weren't many good solutions around. That's when I first wondered about canned hams.
The reason I considered canned hams is that, unlike a two-inch thick block of rubber, canned meats are available all over the place. Grocery stores and convenience stores and gas stations all often have them, and you can find those places pretty much anywhere. Canned meat also was generally about the right size and shape for bumper protection work, and seemed to have about the right density and elasticity.
But I never actually tried it. Until now. At this moment, I have a sort of perfect storm of factors that will allow me to strap some ham to my car and run it into another one of my cars: a job that will let me try it on the clock, a pair of cars that, just by chance, need some bumper work anyway, and easy and plentiful access to canned meat. It's glorious.
I decided to use my Beetle as the 'active' car with the meat-bumpers and my wife's Scion xB as the 'passive' car. The Beetle still has a banged-up rear bumper from when it was stolen (I'm going to replace it soon, honest) and, since it's very separate from the body, makes quick mounting of the meats very easy. That was probably a big factor in the design spec. Ease of meat-mounting.
The Scion's bumper took a little damage while towing it across-country, which means that before I get it all back in order it's an ideal test subject for Project Meatbash. The two cars will be simulating a parallel-parking contact situation, which is the most likely kind of contact I think your parked, prized car is likely to get that meat strapped to the bumpers could help with.
I selected two common types of canned meat to test: first, a pair of cans of Treet, which is sort of like Spam without all the glitz, and a one-pound can of DAK 'premium ham.' DAK is an appropriately named product, as the sound that comes out of your mouth when you open the can sounds a lot like "daaakk." I selected Treet because it's finer-grained (and possibly denser?) than Spam; the ham has a more particle-board-like quality that's shared with Spam.
I grabbed two Treet cans because they're much smaller than the ham and I wanted to try them in traditional bumper guard locations, while the ham would be mounted in the center of the bumper. To mount the meats, I kept it simple and cheap, like you'd want if you were doing this on the spot, after you parked: zip ties.
Installation wasn't difficult, but it certainly had its own peculiar challenges. Like the smell. And the shivers of revulsion that roll down your spine when you get that first handful of gelatinous glorp as you slide the Treet-block out of its protective can. At one point, a bit of Treet shrapnel flicked into my mouth and I thought "Ugh! Some got in my mouth!" And then I remembered that that's exactly where this stuff is supposed to go.
The zip ties cut into the Treet-blocks a bit, but not too badly, and the overall mounting was quite secure, all things considered. Here's how the test went:
Holy crap — that worked astoundingly well! I gave the xB several firm impacts, and that last one I even ended up pushing the xB back a few inches — that's a decent amount of force on those wads of horse anuses and pig eyelids or whatever's in Treet there. The Treet kept the bumpers from making direct metal-to-plastic contact, and if my bumper was some pristine expensivee chrome bumper, those blocks of meat would have saved me some expensive scratches and possibly even dents.
Even for plastic bumpers there's advantages. Bumper caps aren't cheap, and, since they're often painted plastic, they're highly vulnerable to scratches and paint chipping and cracking. A couple bricks of Treet take care of this problem and could save you wads of cash.
I'm calling the Treet a success. Next up to test is a single, centrally-mounted one-pound canned ham. This is one of those classic tombstone-shaped canned hams, and I'm just using one because I feel that's a likely use case, and the substantial size is easily as big as both Treets combined.
I secured the ham with a cross-strap as opposed to the vertical strapping of the Treet — this seemed to be less likely to cut through the ham, and it kept it quite stable. Visually, I could see that the ham used much larger particles of pig/chicken/otter/sasquatch than the Treet, which gave me some doubt as to how well it would withstand parking impacts. Here's how the ham test went down:
Woah. That's a disaster. The ham completely collapsed under the pressure of the impact. Now, granted, the mounting location was different and there was only one, but I don't believe the amount of pressure on the ham's mounting point was any greater than the pressure applied to the two slabs of Treet. I think the ham is simply less structurally sound than the Treat.
I do not think a canned ham is well suited to this job at all, and I believe that a warning stating just that needs to be prominently placed on every canned ham, because as motorists, we have a right to know.
Now we know. Canned ham does not make a suitable bumper protection system, but other, higher-density and finer-grained canned meats like Treet do, in fact, make for highly serviceable, if disgusting, bumper protectors. I feel comfortable suggesting this system to someone with a, say, an early Mustang or chrome-bumper MGB (or, really, anyone with expensive, delicate bumpers, plastic or metal) to keep their valuable bumpers/bumper caps nice and unmarred. Well, unmarred after you wipe off all the meat goop.
And, just to calm those of you who feel this was wasteful of food, I let my dog, Abby, go to town on the bumper guards after use. So the meat by-products went to a very good place. Oh, and I know my yard desperately needs raking and I need to fix my reversing lights. Sorry!