Bullbars aren’t just about making your 4×4 look good, here are six reasons why you need a bullbar.
DESPITE THE NAME, a bullbar isn’t about bulls. Here’s six advantages of a bullbar for your 4×4:
1. Animal collisions – if you hit an animal like a kangaroo then the impact can easily disable your car, leaving you stranded, or at least cause some major damage. A bullbar protects the front of the car so if you do collide with an animal then you’ve got a fair chance of driving on. I’ve hit roos at 100km/h but only on cars with bars and aside from the odd broken driving light the car was fine. Ideally, you don’t want to hit anything, but if you do then it’s a bullbar you need. Remember, minimise the chances of animal strikes by trying to travel at times other than dawn and dusk.
2. General protection – driving off-road is a bit of a misnomer, as no driving is actually done off a road. Instead, what we refer to as ‘offroad’ is really very rough roads. These have all sorts of hazards such as rocks, ruts and sticks, and the latter in particular are a real problem. They can get caught up and jammed into odd places – like the time I had a new ute on test and ended up with a stick about 40mm diameter through the front underbody next to the foglight. And that was on a dirt road at night, not even a 4×4 track. Or the time when I was a passenger in a Pajero, and noticed a large log jutting out from the side of the road, pointing straight at us. Unfortunately, the driver didn’t notice the problem and impaled the car on the log, with the end of the log about three-quarters of the way into the engine bay. That was the end of our journey and nearly the end of the car. As part of the repair the driver bought a bullbar, and while we will never know for sure if the bar would have saved us, the fact is that steel or alloy is a lot harder to pierce than plastic.
3. Winch mounting point – there are ways to mount winches without bullbars, but a bar is the easiest. A tip; even if you don’t plan on buying a winch spend the extra for a winch-capable bar anyway just in case, and it’ll also help a bit with resale.
4. Accessory mount point – if you do any serious dune sand driving in the deserts or otherwise you’ll need a sand flag, and the very best place is as far forwards as you can manage, which means a bullbar. Without a bar it’s hard to create a strong enough mount. And then there’s driving light installation too, which also need a much stiffer base than many nudge bars can provide. The bullbar is also a good place to mount UHF antennas too.
5. Approach angle improvement – always good to improve your approach angle so you don’t touch the terrain as much in hard going, and if you do, then you won’t damage a bar as much as the original plastic. Bars scuff, plastic breaks.
6. Potential for recovery points – the days of vehicles with simple chassis rails extending out front are long gone, yet recovery loads are increasing. Some bullbars have recovery points built in, others as an option, and others help expose the chassis so points can be added. Without a bar it may be difficult to fit recovery points.
So, which bar to choose? That’s for another time, as there’s many different styles of bar – simple, deluxe, steel, alloy and even plastic – but they all fundamentally offer the same advantages as above.
Now the world isn’t perfect, so there’s always disadvantages. Aside from the cost, the biggest disadvantage is weight. Depending on the style of bar, you could be adding anywhere 30 to 80kg to the front of the vehicle depending on lots of factors such as vehicle size, bar design and the nature of the vehicle’s front end.
One thing to remember is that the actual weight added with a bullbar install is less than the weight of the bar as there’s always trim to remove, and some bars replace cross-members so the net weight gain needs to account for what comes off as well as what goes on. Still, if you run a bullbar it is a very good idea to upgrade the front suspension to handle the extra weight. I distinctly recall driving around Cape York in an LC200 with stock suspension and a bar/winch combo up front…the vehicle pogo-sticked over bumps, taking forever to damp out bouncing. Don’t make that same mistake of fitting a heavy bar without suspension to suit, as the handling inadequacies will not be apparent until too late.
Another reason to be cautious about bullbars is the loss of advanced features such as the sensors needed for things like adaptive cruise control, although that’s less of a problem with bars from reputable manufacturers. In fact, the modern bullbar is new a complex engineering product; it has to be airbag compatible, be strong enough to handle animal impacts, be able to mount a winch and work with modern vehicles which pack a lot of equipment up front. And it also has to look good… but bullbars are more than about looks, they’re on 4x4s for very good reasons.