4x4Car Advice

Six reasons why you need a bullbar

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.

UHF antenna, driving lights and winch on a bullbar. It is a good idea to have two mount points on the top of the bar, one for a UHF antenna and the other for a sand flag. This bar has been colour-coded to match the rest of the vehicle, but other people prefer a contrast colour.

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.

Sometimes bullbars don’t increase the overall approach angle by much, but they do help with the angle out to the sides.

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.

Bullbar with brush rails connecting sidesteps to bar.

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. 


  • trackdaze

    Some steel bars and winch combos have been known to exceed the front axle load limits of some very popular vehicles when passengers were included so much so that fleet operators stipulated the car couldn’t be operated with a passenger onboard. Not the best feeling.

    • Very true Trackdaze. That is the sort of thing we will cover in a buyer’s guide. Some vehicles (ahem, Hilux N70) exceed their front axle limit even with nobody else in the car.

      Makes you wonder about some of those cow catchers with double siderails!

  • Chris

    90% of 4wd spend 90% of their time on sealed roads in our cities. There these bullbars pose an unacceptable risk to other road users and serve no purpose other than styling. Manufacturers of modern 4wd generally do not recommend bullbars as it may affect the safety rating of the vehicle. I reckon that it would be best to introduce a permit system to mount a bullbar.

    • Hello Chris. Please cite your source for your 90/90 statistic. You will need to define ‘4WD’ before you do so; some CR-Vs are all wheel drive, but I don’t think anyone makes a bullbar for them. Maybe restrict 4WD to vehicles that are MC-categorised.

      Then, please also cite sources for the ‘unacceptable risk’. Then, please read the article carefully so you understand there are reasons other than styling. Finally, please provide sources for manufacturers recommending bullbars not be fitted. Generally, I find manufacturers warn that the bar must be airbag-compatible and approved for the vehicle.

      • Juliette Remfrey

        Definitely not add to my car for styling reasons. It’s there for protection and better approach angle.

        • Ziggy

          Got any evidence that the protection will be greater?
          The only comparative test I’ve seen showed it was less. Done by Crashlabs for BHP with HiLuxes with and without bars in the ANCAP frontal offset collision.

          • Juliette Remfrey

            Plastic bumper versus obstacle on a track, are you really suggesting the bullbar doesn’t offer better protection for critical parts like the radiator?

          • Ziggy

            That test was focussed on occupant safety. For the driver it was worse with cp without.

            As for protecting the radiator and trans cooler, go and do an internet image search on 4WD crash bull bar, particularly in forums. A decent central impact will stove the bar in and trash either or both and probably set the airbags off.

            Driving off with blown airbags either isn’t possible or isn’t advisable. (Up to a 23 kmh collision with an immovable object, or around 45 kmh with a movable one, will fire the air bags acc to the NHTSA in the US).

          • Ziggy, there comes a point when nothing will help. Thinking here of cattle collisions in FNQ. A bullbar mitigates risk, doesn’t eliminate it.

            Testing has been done with and without bullbars which shows the airbags still function. ARB did this a while back. However, bullbar manufacturers do not typically crash test their vehicles with bars fitted due to cost.

          • Ziggy

            Good to see some data.
            I’d be interested to see the result of a central impact or with an adult male (viz up to 90 kgs) Eg: this Prado hit a roo and cooler damage prevented driving off.
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e9622654bb7ff054e54ef862986fdd43e118cc316e5a01d1193ccdb6789ef0d4.jpg

          • Ziggy

            This is the result of the Crashlabs ANCAP test. So that’s 64 kmh, a triple loop steel bar and frontal offset collision:
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/eb5bd3078d6bbc477328806dac4db25d92cf3eb9e2d6abd635e3180d4bbef4a1.jpg

          • Ziggy

            This is the result at the front.
            Slides from David Jenkins of BHP.
            Given these outcomes BHP will only have light vehicles on site that meet ANCAP 5 from the factory.
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ab02a8a0e3c00777eaa489c8cb666ece5bc1f560eb95ae4f50f04b9da545e903.jpg

  • Ziggy

    Good luck asking a bar manufacturer either the weight of the bar or what force it’s been designed to resist before contacting the body. And whether they have the high speed collision airbag deployment specs from the vehicle manufacturer.

    Last time I searched only a couple of bars had passed ANCAP 5 – Smartbar and an ARB steel unit, both on Rangers. Any others out there? If untested, your swish 5 star rated wagon becomes unrated when the bar goes on.

    No, buying a bar is buying a pig in a poke for the most part. A lot of money and a lot of hopes.

  • Rob Logie

    Nearest area where there are problems with roo strikes is unfortunately about 200 M from where I live. I agree that bull bars are not much help with heavy impacts.. But I have been driving vehicles that have had roo strikes where the well designed bull bar made the different between the vehicle being driveable and not being driveable. In the case i am thinking of hitting a adult male roo at 100 KM /hr

    • Juliette Remfrey

      Very common scenario too.

  • Alan

    The thing which annoys is that they drive them in city areas, making the already quite long vehicle even longer. They then park them so they overhang carparks, often both ends.

  • The Vicroads site takes a sensible approach saying don’t fit a bar if you don’t need one. We agree with that.

    The site also says:

    “In rural areas, bullbars are used to protect vehicles in a collision with an animal (e.g. a kangaroo) or trees.

    A bullbar protects the cooling system of the vehicle and reduces the chances of a driver and any passengers being stranded.

    It also protects the vehicle from scrub and bushes when driven off-road or on overgrown tracks.

    A bullbar can be used with winches to recover other vehicles, animals or equipment.”

    which agrees with the six reasons above.

    • Ziggy

      I would say that a bull bar *may* protect the radiator and transmission cooler.
      A major impact in the bumper section centre will drive it into the radiator.
      The thing is that manufacturers don’t publish the impacts their bar will sustain without connecting with the vehicle, so we don’t know what we’re getting.
      Why don’t you write to a few asking them to Robert?
      The other thing is that airbag deployment has become much more complex. In 2004 Toyota said they didn’t release deployment specs and aftermarket bar makers were guessing about this in the case of high speed collisions. ARB for one wasn’t around that time doing high speed collision testing.
      Has anything changed? Why not add this query to the first Robert?
      Maybe you’ll carry more weight than I do – a mere consumer of a two grand product.

    • Safetymaven

      Which leads back to the original question – what are they doing on city-based vehicles? My family are 3rd/4th gen farmers and we’ve never had a bullbar on any of our vehicles.

  • Yes, there was a kerfuffle with those bars a while back. Very clearly not legal, but an exemption was claimed. I wrote about it at the time.

  • Kosher Ayatollah

    Bullbars only belong on ladder-frame chassis vehicles, and even then, only if needed for winches. On monocoques (Pajero, Kia Sorento, Forester), they are merely a way to bugger up the car and pedestrians more completely in the event of a collision.
    The risk of injuring and killing a pedestrian because you fitted a bulbar and hence ruin any pedestrian protection rating your vehicle had is not worth the risk – or the years of regret.

  • Steve Bekkers

    seriously, the TJM “test” involved a ford ranger with a bull bar, a LC200 with a bull bar and an old Excel with no bull bar, hardly a fair comparison is it. Note all vehicles incurred damage, so its only the towing cost that will be the difference.
    I’ll take my chances without a bull bar cause I rarely drive on country roads at night.

    How about pedestrian safety? I rather get hit by a car without a bar, especially if it has those rod holder things bolted to it, sometimes called sausage makers.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/