Have you ever been in a fender bender? If you’ve been driving long enough, the odds are good that you’ve been hit while backing out of a parking space, or rear-ended after stopping or slowing too suddenly. For the most part, these low-speed accidents don’t result in serious injuries (thank goodness) — but even if your car remains in driveable shape, you probably don’t want to be steering a dented car around town. A trending TikTok hack suggests a simple method to remove a car dent from your bumpers sans any specialized equipment: using a toilet plunger and some hot water. But does this hack really work? Keep reading to find out. 

Why do car dents happen?

According to The Family Handyman, cars have been designed to “crumple” under impact since the ‘70s — meaning they absorb as much energy as possible in the event of an accident. When the car itself absorbs this force, there’s a better chance of the passengers inside remaining unharmed. However, as a result of this design, many parts of modern day vehicles are more fragile, particularly front and rear bumpers. These are easily dented and typically made out of thin molded plastic. 

How does this hack work?

Since dents are so easily made in our fragile bumpers, it can be a pain to get a professional repair job every time; it’s likely both time-consuming and expensive. If the dent is severe, an auto shop will probably want to order you a replacement part rather than repair your dented bumper themselves. 

This TikTok hack aims to prevent the need for a professional repair job altogether. Instead, you’ll fix the dent yourself, using some boiling water and a toilet plunger. Find the steps, courtesy of The Family Handyman and Car Hop, below. 

  1. Boil a full kettle of water. Be sure your vehicle is parked somewhere that won’t be affected by lots of hot water on the ground.
  2. Slowly pour all the boiling water over the dent in your car. (This softens the material.) Then stick your toilet plunger (after you have cleaned it thoroughly — or purchased a new one for the job) into the dent and try to make it seal against the plastic surface.
  3. Simultaneously pull gently with the plunger while reaching under your vehicle and pushing out the dent from the inside of the plastic. (This is much easier with a helper.) Be careful not to burn yourself on the dripping water. Ideally, your dent should pop out.
  4. Repeat as needed until the dented area is flattened out.

According to Car Hop, you’ll have the best luck if you try this hack in warmer weather. That’s when the plastic surfaces of your vehicle are more pliable, so you have less risk of damaging your finish. Watch the hack in action in the TikTok video below.

When won’t this hack work?

According to The Family Handyman, there’s a good chance this hack won’t work for everyone. The people in the viral videos got lucky: their bumper plastic was thin enough that the boiling water softened it sufficiently; the dent location was such that they could slide a hand behind the bumper to push on the dent from the inside while the plunger worked on the outside; and the size of the dent happened to be the right size for the plunger. 

Robert Maxwell, who reported on the hack for The Family Handyman, noted that he had eventual success by amending the hack: He waved a heat gun on its highest setting over the dented plastic on his car for about five minutes, which finally softened the plastic enough for him to reach behind the bumper and pop out the dent. (Still, you must be careful not to hold a heat gun too close to your car, or you’ll melt off the paint.)

The Bottom Line

If you’ve got a moderate dent on your plastic car bumper, this hack is worth a try. After all, it’s free and doesn’t require too much effort. For more severe body damage to your car, though, you should schedule a visit to your local service center.