Bumpercar Basics

Finally, I’ve been able to put some thoughts on PHPBenelux online.

As conferences come, PHPBenelux 2014 simply is the one to beat out there. Previous editions were amazing. This year, however, the PHPBenelux team decided to celebrate their 5th anniversary by having a bumper car ride for their attendees. As I put a lot of effort into bumping the proverbial life out of a lot of aforementioned attendees and conference organisers, I’d like to share with you some basics on bumper care driving.



Make sure to protect your left knee and lower leg from bruises. You could, for example, wrap your knee in a blanket. At PHPBenelux, this blanket was provided for by the conference organisers in the goodie bag. As though they knew what was going to happen.

Basic operation

When first getting into the car, note that the accelerator is positioned at the left-hand side. This makes sense when carpooling, so that the driver can have the left seat. As soon as the bumper car ride starts, press in the gas pedal and try and turn the wheel in a randomly chosen direction. The first part of the turn of the wheel will get you going into the direction you’re turning. When turning the wheel further, you will notice that the car will start driving backwards. This is a very useful feature in the case you get stuck nose-first in a pile-up during your ride.

And remember: such a pile-up of cars will definitely happen. More than once.


Getting to know each other

Watch your fellows constantly and carefully. They will share their tactics with you even without them noticing. There are different types of bumper car drivers.

  • First, there are the die-hards. They will bump into every single car that comes close enough, even though they did not gain enough velocity to really make a reasonable impact.
  • Second, there are the backers. Whatever may be driving them, they try to avoid most collisions (and occasionally build up to one huge bump).
  • Third, there’s the type of bumper car driver that you want to become: the maximizer. You want to deal a maximum amount of damage with the minimum amount of effort. You want to back out of a confrontation, only to return when you have the clear advantage.

Maximizing impact

There are two main types of impact. The obvious physical impact will daze the opponent for a short while, as he tries to reorient himself or inspects the damage you inflicted. There are a number of ways to inflict physical damage.

  1. Bump into the side of the opponents car towards the rear end. The impact will turn their car in a direction they don’t expect.
  2. Sandwich the opponent between your own car and the side of the floor. As the side rail is fixed, your opponent will feel all the impact instead of passing half the energy on by sliding away.

The less obvious type of impact is the psychological one. The psychological impact will get your opponent off the hook for a little bit longer than the physical impact. Furthermore, the opponent will be intimidated by your bumping prowess and will be less inclined to attack you again every time you deal successful psychological damage. You can drain their battle spirit in the following ways.

  1. Impose a head-on bump, preferably at full speed. They will see you coming and they know they can’t do anything about it.
  2. Bump them from behind, without them noticing until you finally hit. Half of the time, they will not know what (or who) hit them.

Teaming up (for senior level bumpers)

When you’re getting the hang of the whole bumping thingy, it’s time for the next step: teaming up with other players. There is one important rule to observe before considering this, however: alliances do not last long. The moment your mutual target is hit, consider the buddy as an opponent again. They will do the same.


"Why would I work together if my buddy is going to betray me anyway?", you will ask. The one and only answer to that is simple: when teaming up, you can deal more damage to others. And as dealing damage is the single objective of the game, or war if you like, finding buddies can be quite rewarding.

For example, when doing the head-on bump I taught you in the previous paragraph, have a buddy hit the target from behind, milliseconds after you hit them. This makes for an unexpected extra impact. Of course, the most fun part is to have two buddies and corner target so that you can easily slam him onto the side rail for maximum physical and psychological damage.

In short, communicate with your fellow drivers to form short-living alliances but never trust them completely.

Final tips ‘n tricks

  • Constantly look for free parts of the floor, so you can gain speed and make your bumps even more worthwhile.
  • Make sure to have a clear overview of the arena. Know what is coming for you, even from behind. This minimizes the impact a sudden attack from the rear can do to you.
  • Make sure not to have your thumbs inside the wheel, as it will hurt a lot on impact. (Thanks Stefan)
  • Take an inflatable hammer or club for your navigator to make themselves useful. (Thanks Mike)

Closing remarks

I would very much like to thank the organisational committee of PHPBenelux: Thijs, Paul, Jeroen, Richard, Martin, Michelangelo and Leon! Thank you, sirs, for the conference you continue to give back to the community!

Of course, Mike and Stefan, my Ingewikkeld colleagues: thanks for the company in Antwerpen. Thanks to Jordi for the use of the photo’s in this post. And as a final word: Thanks David and Kana for the awesome bumper car madness ;-).