A bull bar is a pretty important part of setting a 4WD up for touring Australia. Not only does it provide the protection required when you hit a kangaroo, bird or cattle, it allows for a place to mount your winch, UHF aerial and even lights.
Bull bars have changed a lot over the years, and they have had to in order to keep airbag compatibility, crumple zones and safety.Contrary to popular belief, vehicles without bull bars are usually safer in an accident.
However, when one does happen, its often game over and you have to wait for a tow truck. When you are out somewhere remote in Australia, that’s not exactly an option you want to take, and given how often you can hit an animal on the road in Australia its generally considered a good idea to get one.
On our 3 month 4WD adventure from Perth through the Pilbara, Kimberley, Northern Territory and back down the coast we went to some fairly remote places, and although we never hit any animals, we had a few close calls. One decent accident without a bull bar and our holiday would have been over, and I wasn’t prepared to take that sort of risk.
I spent a fair bit of time looking at different bull bars for our Isuzu Dmax. I’ve had ARB bull bars on both of my previous 4WD’s, and had a fantastic run with them. I’d absolutely get another one.
However, on this particular build, I noticed a heap of people were running a brand of bar that I’d never heard of; AFN. These are made in Portugal by a 4WD accessories company has been making military grade gear for some time. I did a heap of research on these, and eventually committed to one with the help of AFN And Ultimate 4WD in Perth.
We’ve been running it now for nearly 2 years, and are pretty happy with it.
Why did I choose the AFN bar?
Its strong and light weight
Steel bull bars are extremely heavy. We are talking anywhere from 35 to 75kg with just the bar itself. Add a winch and a couple of other accessories and you can have over 100kg sitting beyond the front of your axles.
Not only does this remove a heap of your payload, but it increases the front axle weight dramatically, and this can also make your vehicle illegal.
I wanted a bar that was strong, but that didn’t weigh a huge amount, and the AFN bar seemed to be the perfect compromise. I put it on the scales without the wings and plate underneath, and it was about 40kg. Add in a 35kg Runva winch and the plates and it probably weighs about 85kg in total.
If you’ve never paid much attention to the weight of your 4WD, you should. It’s super easy to go over weight, and will make your fuel economy suffer. If you are interested in knowing what the total and individual weight of modifications and gear on our vehicle is, check this out; Our Isuzu Dmax; a look into what it weighs.
It doesn’t stick out too far
When we built our house, I made sure that the garage was a few courses taller to allow a bigger 4WD to park in. One thing I didn’t account for though, was the depth of the garage! With the Isuzu bull bar on our Dmax, and the Bull motor body canopy, there was about 40mm for us to play with in order to park it in the garage.
The AFN bull bar doesn’t stick out much at all, and I knew a lot of other brands do (ARB/TJM etc). I want to be able to keep my car in the garage; its safer, keeps it out of the weather and allows us to pack without our little boy running out onto the road!
I know a few of you will say that you don’t want the bar close to the vehicle as in the event of an accident you will do more damage. This is probably true, but I’m of the mind that if you have a decent accident its going to be an insurance claim anyway, and a bull bar will only determine whether you get to drive away, or you have to wait for a tow. Each to their own though.
Another very important factor for me was reading of failures of the front guards on the Isuzu Dmax’s. I’ve seen several vehicles online that have had nasty cracking occur through the inner guard, and its in the realm of $4000 to have it repaired. While results have been inconclusive, it has been suggested that heavy bar work sticking too far out the front of the Dmax will contribute. This is something I’d rather avoid!
Built in recovery points
There are some insanely engineered recovery points on the market today. Some of them are up to 20mm thick plate, and would rip the chassis apart before one broke. As the demand has increased for these, a number of new ones have come on the market, but they are all fairly expensive. If you fit a bar, and then have to find suitable recovery points it can be another $150 – $500 just for the front of the vehicle.
The AFN bars on the Dmax have two recovery points that are rated to 3500kg each. I will stress that they are no where near as strong as some of the proper recovery points on the market, but they are inbuilt on the bar and work well. If you are applying more than 3500kg of pressure to one side of your 4WD you are asking for something else to go wrong anyway.
A bridle between the two points will provide ample safety for these to be winched and snatch strapped off. With 10 grade 8.8 M10 bolts holding the bar directly to the chassis (and several more attaching it to brackets) its plenty strong enough.
To me, Rated Recovery Points are not an option; they are a critical part of travel, and your general safety.
Excellent entry angle
There’s no doubting the entry angle provided by the AFN bull bar is exceptional; you wont get much better than it. Of course, the major limiting factor is the diff height at the front anyway, but it does give you confidence when approaching bigger rocks or step ups.
It looks great (and different!)
AFN bar work is certainly different. There’s no doubt about it. Bull bars have looked fairly similar for many years, but the AFN ones are an off the shelf unit that looks like its been custom built.
These sit extremely close to the panels of a Dmax, rather than the standard look bars which are much further away. Some people may not like the look of them, and that’s fine. I reckon they are a great step in the right direction.
It replaces the entire bumper
When I purchased the Dmax, it came with a genuine Isuzu Dmax polished aluminium bar. This also replaces the whole bumper, which meant I didn’t have a bumper to use. If I had of wanted to install a number of different bar brands, I would have had to find a second hand bumper and cut it to suit the bar; something I really didn’t want to play with.
That, and I reckon it looks better as a complete bumper replacement anyway.
You’d be mad installing a bull bar on a modern 4WD with all of the fancy electrics and airbags that is not compliant. Custom bars look fantastic, but have not been signed off to work with air bags and as a result put you in a nasty place should things go wrong.
Is your 4WD Legal? If you can’t answer that, you have a problem, and any insurance claims can go very badly.
Fitting the bull bar
It’s been a few years since I last fitted a bull bar, and the difference between my 27 year old 80 Series Land Cruiser and a brand new Dmax has meant bull bar installations have changed a LOT.
I’ll admit to being extremely frustrated installing the AFN bar. This was largely due to instructions that are not very well written. That said, there are some awkward to reach parts of the bar and trying to get it to do up evenly and properly from an engineering perspective is a nightmare.
I did it over two days, with the help of my brother for a couple of hours, but its not something I want to do again. Looking online, you will find a lot of people would rather pay to have these fitted, and I would do the same.
Shortcomings of the AFN Bar
Asides from the poor instructions (which I believe is a common problem even with the bigger accessory manufacturers) there are a few things that AFN could improve upon.
The way these attach to the chassis is not ideal. I’ve been a qualified mechanical fitter for some time now, and know what’s acceptable, and what is pushing the friendship. When you install the bar, there are gaps between the chassis and bar brackets due to wider parts on the chassis.
When you do the bolts up it just squashes the brackets in where the chassis is less wide. Not great. There’s also no crush tubes on bolts that don’t lock up, which means they will eventually break due to fatigue.
There’s also some improvements that could be made to the brackets themselves; you have a M10 x 80mm bolt that goes through an 18mm slot. Do the bolt up and it just bends the washers in as the clearance is simply too large.
They can be hard to get
Being an imported product, these can be extremely difficult to get hold of. The earlier models (pre 2017) had people waiting quite some time to get a bar, and those who had the newer shaped were promised a new version for what ended up being more than a year.
Obviously this isn’t always the case, and you just need to make a phone call to verify, but know that a lot of people did wait a very long time to get their bars.
My overall review
Overall, I’m happy with the AFN bar, and would get it again. It suits my application perfectly, and even though I haven’t hit anything substantial with it yet, I’m glad for the peace of mind it brings. I certainly wouldn’t want to fit one again though.
What Bull Bar do you run? Are you happy with it?