ARB Bumpers (or Bull Bars as we call them in Australia) are by far the most common form of protection for the front of your vehicle. They have built up a solid reputation for being strong and of high quality, and they look great too. ARB make a range of bumpers that can be purchased off the shelf for most four wheel drives on the market. Generally it takes them a while to make a suitable bar when a new vehicle comes out, but they eventually develop something that works well. These are one of the first 4x4 Accessories that many people add to their vehicles.
ARB is an international four wheel drive company that sells anything from Front and Rear Tire Carriers through to compressors, suspension and recovery equipment. They are very well known and make some of the best quality four wheel driving and camping products on the market. Of course, this comes at a cost and there are plenty of other brands that are similar and as a result competitive.
What is the point of a Bull Bar?
A Bumper (or Bull Bar) is designed to protect the front of your vehicle against rocks, wild animals and other accidents. They are also used to mount a winch on, recovery points and support fishing rod holders, aerials and spot lights. In many countries hitting a wild animal is a serious danger, and if you don’t have any protection then you will usually do some major damage to your vehicle.
If you have a good quality Bumper though, the damage is significantly minimized. In most cases, a Bumper is designed to get you home after an accident. For example, if you run into a kangaroo or a deer going at a high speed with a good quality steel Bumper you should be able to get home without too much of an issue. However, if you didn’t have a Bumper there is a good chance that your radiator or worse gets damaged and then you can’t drive at all. When you are a long way around from the nearest town then this can be quite dangerous (or at the very least a pain!).
Asides from protection from wild animals, a Bumper will also protect the front of your vehicle from trees, rocks and other things that could do damage to the front of your car. A good Bull Bar will stop most damage from happening to the front of your car if you slide out of some ruts and into a tree. On top of this, mounting spotlights on a Bumper is one of the best locations, along with radio antennas and a winch. It is difficult to mount a winch without a Steel Bumper; so bear that in mind.
Aluminum vs Steel Bumpers
Bumpers are usually made of Steel, Aluminum or Plastic. Plastic Bull Bars are designed to pop back into shape and to absorb the impact. Many farmers like these, but it comes down to personal preference. Aluminum is not as strong, but it is much lighter. Steel weighs the most of all (around 25 – 35kg) for a good Bumper but it is the strongest by far and will often be useable even after several accidents (depending on how serious they are!). They are also the most common for four wheel driving because they will put up with years of abuse.
If you want to mount 4x4 Winches then a Steel Bumper is the way to go. If you want some basic protection then an aluminum one is a good idea, and these don’t affect your suspension much at all. Plastic Bumpers are a breed of their own, and are only just becoming more popular throughout the world but are raved about by a number of people in the four wheel drive industry (and not just those trying to sell them!)
Recovery Points on a bumper
ARB Bumpers usually come with recovery points already there. Generally this is just a hole that is cut out of the bottom of the Bumper for a shackle to go through. Of course, they are engineered to be able to take some serious pulling! The shackle is then connected to a Snatch Strap, Winch, or an extension strap. Many cars have the recovery points attached to the chassis, which is just as good (but make sure that they are rated recovery points and not tie down points!
Winches in your Bumper
Most winches on a four wheel drive are mounted in the bull bar. Fitting a winch inside of an aluminum Bumper is not very common as you need to strengthen it quite a bit. Winches are either high mount or low mount (and they are named that way for very obvious reasons!). A Winch is a great accessory to have on your four wheel drive, but you need to service them from time to time and use them safely. They are, however, one of the easiest ways to get your vehicle out of trouble even if you have no other car to winch off.
Types of Bumpers
The shape of a Bumper varies considerably, depending on what you want it for. A generic Bumper is designed with hoops that cover the lights, a location for indicators (and fog lights on some) and then plate that protects the radiator and the side of the car. You can also get brush bars which connect the side steps or rock sliders to the Bull Bar. This is basically a piece of pipe that runs up from the side steps, around the front guard and bolts onto the Bumper. These are handy because they often protect your vehicle from side panel damage, but they can be a pain too.
A lot of people will make their own Custom Bumpers, which often suit the vehicle better and function specifically to their requirements. To do this though you need to be able to use a grinder and welder quite well! In saying this, thousands of Commercial Vehicles in Australia are fitted with standard ARB Bumpers through, meaning they are well trusted. In terms of Competition four wheel drive trucks you will rarely see ARB Bumpers used because they need a better approach angle and more strength (but for 99% of the four wheel driving population the ARB Bumpers do fine!)
ARB Bumpers are probably the most common ones found on four wheel drives today. There are plenty of other brands that are competing with them, but the fact that they are so popular says something. ARB Bumpers are made to a very high standard and other businesses simply would not fit them to their vehicles if that was not the case. The standard four wheel drive used in mines in Australia is fitted with ARB Bumpers, which is a good sign.
In terms of reviews from people who have used the bars, you won’t find much that says they aren’t any good. The only thing you will find people complaining about is the price, which is where other brands may look attractive. Regardless of this, do your research, get the pricing and then make your decision. Remember that you can fit the Bull Bar in only a few hours with a mate and save yourself a considerable amount of money (in most cases!)
Fitting an ARB Bumper
Older Four Wheel Drives tend to be quite easy to fit a Bumper to. However, if you are using a modern four wheel drive that has Air Bags and other Electronics, along with serious crumple zones then it can be more difficult to do. ARB manufactures several Bumpers that are Air Bag compatible, but you need to know how to fit them correctly. In either case, you need someone to help lift the bar up whilst you put a bolt through. If you are not confident in what to do, have a look on some of the four wheel driving sites and you should find a guide for your model vehicle without too much of an issue.
Other brands like ARB
TJM, Cheezy Racing, and Ironman are brands that are similar to ARB. All of those companies are big, but they aren’t anywhere near as big as ARB. For every product that you purchase you really need to look online for the reviews. Often it pays off to spend the extra money on something that you are sure is going to be top quality. A lot of the decision making comes down to what you want to do with the Bumper anyway.
Other ARB Products
Asides from ARB Bumpers, you can get Compressors, Suspension, Rock Sliders, Rear Bumpers, Air Lockers, Rear Drawer Systems, Canopies, Fridges, Spotlights, Recovery gear, Roof Racks, Winches and Snorkels at most ARB Stores. Some will fit these for you whilst you wait, and others just sell the products. Regardless of what you want to get, ARB is well worth looking into because of their solid reputation.