Bull Bars, Rails & Steps

Bull Bars, Rails & Steps
A vehicle's bull bar, sides steps and rails are known as its "bar work". Some critics might suggest that bar work is not necessary but for people actually using their vehicles for offroad touring, the bar work provides critical strength and protection and should therefore be considered as essentials.
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Article By: Michelle Martin (June 2008)
Latest Feedback: 13 Mar 2014

Go to top Bull Bars

Road sign warning that camels - kangaroos and wombats may be up ahead
A true bumper replacement VFPS (bull bar) is designed to protect against animal strike and replaces the front bumper. All bull bars are not created equal, with different designs and construction materials suited to various applications.

Animal strike is more likely when travelling in offroad situations where grazing or wild animails are not conditioned to regular traffic, but in any part of Australia and even on bitumen highways, there is an increased risk of collision between sunset to sunrise.

As anyone who has seen the damage caused to a vehicle by an animal strike, even a small kangaroo or emu can do a lot of damage. A bullbar at the front of the vehicle can protect from headlight and radiator damage and should deflect an animal before it strikes the windscreen.

Unfortunately, the issue of pedestrian safety has raised recent concerns with the anti-4WD lobby groups suggesting that bull bars pose serious danger in urban environments. The best response to these concerns is to accept that the bull bar is not an item that is easily removed from the vehicle after trips, so be sure that you select a bull bar for your vehicle that best suits your driving environment. This means that if you are driving an AWD, or 4WD vehicle but only using for urban use, then avoid fitting a serious bull bar for looks, that really only belongs on a vehicle that is used offroad. There are plenty of softer options for bull bars as we will outline below.

Go to top Roo Bars

According to statistics, kangaroos account for over 60% of animal collisions in Australia with dogs coming in next at around 12%. Roo bars are designed to adequately sustain the impact of these animals. Many vehicles and especially sedans in the Australian outback have been fitted with roo bars due to the unfortunate high collision rate with animals.

Roo bar on a 4WD

Go to top Nudge Bars

Nudge bars are generally fitted to soft-roaders and sedans and are sometimes included in a vehicle package or optional extra from the car manufacturer. Nudge bars are constructed from either light aluminium or polycarbonate tubing. They are designed to only protect the radiator grille areas without replacing the bumper bar and are strong enough to withstand minor front-end bumps.
Nudge guard for a Grand Cherokee Nudge bar on a Nissan X-Trail

Go to top Choosing a Bull Bar for OffRoad Use

There are some car manufacturers and car dealerships that may include a bull bar as part of their vehicle package deal or as an after market extra. Additionally, you can purchase one from many quality bull bar manufacturers around the country with prices starting from as low as $800 to around $1600 for a high quality upmarket model. If your vehicle has an SRS setup however, you'll need to ensure you buy a bull bar that is SRS air-bag-compatible.

Unfortunatley, most vehicles will not come fitted from the dealer with an adequate bull bar for serious offroad use so there are a few features to look out for:

What to Look For in a Bull Bar:

  • Low bar height - for reduced reflection/visual interference

  • Shaped to give maximum ground clearance

  • Integrated indicator lights

  • Driving light mounts

  • Aerial mounts

  • Strong construction

  • Offers Australian Standard compliance for VFPS and air bag compatibility
Other advantages of purchasing a bull bar that have specific uses for offroad driving and touring include providing a convenient place to mount HF radio or UHF radio aerials and a place to mount extra halogen or HID spotlights.

Go to top Bull Bar Construction

A steel bull bar on a Hilux from TJM

Steel

Bull bars that are constructed from steel, although rigid and reasonably heavy, will offer very strong protection for your vehicle. Consequently, steel bull bars are chosen by the majority of serious offroad travellers. Steel bull bars are also preferable for those wanting to mount a winch, which require a very strong support frame to carry the weight and strain exerted by a winch. Steel bull bars are painted to provide a protection barrier against corrosion such as rust, which could eventually weaken the structure of the frame-work.

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A alloy bull bar on a Hilux from TJM

Alloy and Aluminium

These materials are lighter than steel and are not prone to rusting. Many car manufacturers offer genuine bull bars that comply with Australian design standards and regulations and are usually provided in a vehicle package or sold as optional extras. With advances in construction methods and the utilisation of thicker materials, these bull bars are quite strong with some being designed to withstand winching activities of relatively large loads.

Hilux with a new Smartbar

Polymer

Polymer bull bars, which are made from high grade polyethylene, are very light weight and are designed to lesson the impact in an accident. These bull bars provide a good compromise for people looking for front end protection but with respect to pedestrian safety. Polymer has a natural memory so after most medium speed impacts and animal strikes the bar takes back its original shape. They are designed to suit many vehicle types, including sedans, 2WDs and 4WDs. Most Polymer bars offer Australian Standard compliance for VFPS and air bag compatibility and apparently most of the new 4WD bars are designed for winch installation. Manufacturers claim that a polymer bull bar can sustain less damage than metal bull bars following an animal strike and the cost for repairs is therefore less. The light weight construction certainly assists with a reduction in overall vehicle weight, hence the savings can be also be measured by less tyre and suspension wear and general safer handling. Safety lobby groups suggest that they are a better alternative to metal bull bars.

Go to top Side Steps

Nissan Navara Integra side steps
Side steps are designed to provide easier access to your vehicle and are mostly seen on large 4WD vehicles, or those with high-lift suspension. A side step will also minimise mud and road debris from flicking up onto the doors and windows. However, if used on lower height vehicles to be taken offroad, be sure that you don't impact upon the ground clearance - side steps will scrape if mounted too low and can be torn off the vehicle causing more damage than they were designed to protect!

What to look for:
  • Look for full support beneath the step - welded, zinc plated support brackets which extend the full width of the step will give the most strength to last the distance.

  • Choose steps that are extremely solid. Galvanised chequer plate is ideal as it helps to take dirt and mud off your soles whilst providing protection against dents from rock steps, etc.
Side steps on a Toyota Landcruiser Side steps protecting the side of a Toyota Hilux

Go to top Rails

Rails, which are also known as side bars, are practical for vehicles with flared guards that are to be used for touring offroad where additional body protection from scratches caused by scrub and overhanging branches is needed. Although rails add overall protection to the vehicle, you should also consider they will add extra weight so they are generally only used on large 4WDs such as Landcruisers and Patrols.

If you decide to mount rails to your vehicle, it should be mounted to the chassis instead of the vehicle’s body because the chassis provides much stronger support.

Most bull bar manufacturers also construct rails and some can tailor make rails to your specifications. Rails are usually connected to the side step and mounted to the chassis with proprietary mountings.

Side rail installation on a Toyota Landcruiser Side rail installation on a Toyota Landcruiser Side rails protecting a 100 Series Landcruiser

Go to top Rear Bar

A rear bar will add protection to the rear of your 4WD and can provide easy access to the roof rack or rear of the vehicle. Manufacturers design rear bars to be extremely solid and the design also allows easy to fit 'stop', 'tail' and 'indicator' lights with wiring looms for easy connection.

Some rear bars may also incorporate:
  • A Class 4 towbar into the design

  • Non-slip rear step (usually of galvanised or powdercoated chequer plate)

  • Single or double swing-away tyre carriers

  • High-lift jack points

Rear Steps

These are built or incorporated into the rear bar and are usually constructed from steel with galvanised or powdercoated chequer plate.
A rear step from TJM

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