4WD’s in Australia have been fitted with Bull Bars for years. Not only the ones that never leave the bitumen roads of the city, but those that head bush exploring this amazing country. The thing is though, have you ever really stopped to think about what they do, and whether they are actually necessary?
There seems to be a trend where 4WD’s all get modified in the same way, but if you actually consider each accessory in detail, it might not be for you. If you are looking for a bull bar, we wrote a comprehensive guide covering what you should consider; What to look for in a 4WD Bull Bar. If you are wondering whether you actually need a Bull bar we cover that too, and in more detail below.
What’s the downsides of a bull bar?
Reduced Safety ANCAP rating
Yep, I am deadly serious. On some vehicles, when you fit a bull bar the safety rating is decreased due to the impact it has in hindering crumple zones to do their job.
In some instances, you might be safer with a bull bar on the front, but some crash tests done by private companies have shown that occupants are less safe when a bull bar is fitted than if you allow the factory engineering and crumple zones to do their thing.
This is not always the case, but in general a Bull Bar will limit the damage done to the vehicle and make it more likely you’ll be able to drive home. It does this by protecting the front of the vehicle and stopping it from crumpling. This is good for the vehicle, but not good for the occupants, as they have a more abrupt stop instead of the vehicle taking some of this inertia.
Bull bars aren’t light. This means more stress on your suspension and chassis, more fuel consumed to move it around and often modifications required to support the extra weight (heavier duty springs are super common).
The average steel bull bar on a modern 4WD is somewhere between 45 and 90kg. That comes off your available payload, hurts at the fuel pump and isn’t always good for the vehicle.
Even worse, a heavy bull bar can easily put your 4WD over its maximum front axle weight, effectively making it illegal. Not too many people know this, and if you take your 4WD over a weigh bridge you might get a bit of a surprise.
We had a mobile weighing service come out and do our Isuzu Dmax, and it was extremely close to the front axle capacity, and that’s with a light weight bar and winch.
Reduced air flow and decreased aerodynamics
In many cases, the fitting of a bull bar will reduce air flow through the radiator and intercooler (where fitted). This in turn makes your engine work harder, especially the cooling side. Simply making the change from nice round, curved bumpers to sharp edges that stick out further will cost you more in fuel too.
There are not too many Bull Bar manufacturers who test this either, so you won’t know what effect it has until you do it. Reduced air flow combined with worse aerodynamics, a heavier vehicle and all of the other modifications can make your vehicles motor work substantially harder than it did from the factory.
A cheap steel bull bar is going to set you back about $800. A more expensive one around $2200. That’s a fair chunk of cash – you could do an 11,000km trip in our Dmax in terms of fuel for that sort of money!
So, what’s the purpose of a Bull Bar?
For many, the primary reason for a Bull Bar is to have somewhere to mount things to. UHF antennas, spotlights, light bars and most importantly winches. Some of these can be fitted without the use of a bull bar, but not always very easily. Also, some come with rated recovery point incorporated too.
On older 4WD’s without air bags and crumple zones, a solid bull bar was fantastic for animals. You could hit even bigger kangaroos with a solid bar and not have any damage at all.
Today though, modern cars have fantastic crumple zones designed to protect the occupants, and a big hit will do damage. For me, its the difference between whether you can limp back into town, or you are stuck metres from what you’ve hit.
There is a pretty high chance of knocking the front or sides of your 4WD when off road. Whether its a tree branch to one side, a rut that you slip into or a bush that you collect whilst turning around, having a bull bar on the front does offer a fair bit of protection.
If you do happen to knock it, the worst thing that happens is usually some paint scarring. If you knock your front bumper, or catch it on anything its pretty easy to crack or rip it off, which means you are up for a fair chunk to replace it, or you can just get a Bull Bar in its place.
You’ll find a lot of people fit Bull Bars because they like the way it looks. Lets be honest, some new 4WD’s look pretty average from the factory, and a nice Bull Bar can make a big difference. However, if you are just doing it for aesthetics, maybe its not worth the cost, and downsides?
Improved entry angle
From the factory, often bumpers are a limitation on entry angle, meaning they limit how much of an angle you can get when entering a steep slope, or a rocky incline.
Bull bars in general give you better, or sometimes the same entry angle which a lot of people value, as if the front of your car hits first, you aren’t going anywhere.
Is it worth fitting a bull bar?
If you are aware of the downsides of a bull bar, and still feel the need to have one, by all means. However, a lot of people fit them without understanding what they actually do. Do you really need a Bull Bar? That depends on how you want to use the 4WD.