by Damian Papworth

I love the outdoors. The more remote the better. I just love packing my jeep with all the gear (including my wife and child :)) and heading offroad to somewhere unreachable by road or foot.

On a recent trip, I hit a kangaroo at a low speed. Thankfully the kangaroo bounded off with little more than a fright and there was basically no damage to the vehicle. The incident got me thinking about frontal protection though. If I were going any faster, the damage to the jeep could have been significant, leaving us stranded and putting my family in harms way.

So I called my mates at All Vehicle Accessories in Melbourne. They told me about these innovative new “plastic bullbars”. Having not heard about them before and being a bit bewildered by the chat (I mean, how can plastic protect my jeep?) I decided to do some research. This is what I found out.

There are 3 things a bullbar (or frontal protection device) is supposed to protect. These are the vehicle, the passengers in the vehicle, and the object being struck in a collision.

Talking about protection generally, I find it strange how many bullbar exponents out there point out that when you are travelling at 150kms/h, no matter what you hit, its going to be fatal to the object and probably the vehicle. Personally I think such arguments are ridiculous as they suggest all collissions are at excessive speeds and dismiss the relative safety performance of the products at lower speeds. But just to make it clear to everyone, when we are comparing these products along safety lines, we are comparing performance at the fatal margin. This means we are comparing safety performance at the point where an impact will kill a pedestrian, or buckle your chassis to the extent that your vehicle is written off.

The difference in performance of the two products comes about due to the relative rigidity which is a result of their make up. In a nutshell, bullbars are designed to be solid, rigid and inflexible. The immovable object protecting your car. Smartbars are designed to absorb, cushion and decelerate the forces of an impact. There are many independent studies on the two, all showing the same thing. The simple fact is that smartbars work better to protect everyone. Do some research, the facts are clear and available.

To paint a picture, imagine you fall over in the street and strike your head on an iron postal letter box. Its going to hurt like crazy and probably leave you concussed. Now imagine in the same fall, you knock over one of those big wheelie bins, your head hitting the middle. The wheelie bin will collapse on itself somewhat, cushioning the impact, leaving you a little bemused and with a good story for your mates. The smartbars work in the same fashion.

If you enjoy your vehicle, performance will always be a topic on your mind. The cost of fuel, tyre wear, suspension wear, handling in extreme weather. They are all issues for regular drivers. One thing that no-one questions, is that smartbars are significantly lighter than bullbars. Do you know what this means? Better fuel efficiency, longer tyre and suspension wear, easier and safer handling. Smartbars by their lighter composition allow your vehicle to perform better. Simple.

Topic 3. Maintenance – Metal rusts. Metal looses its lustre. Metal reflects. A rusting bullbar requires significant work to clean up. A dull bullbar requires significant polishing to make it shine again. And a reflecting bullbar will effect your vision everytime another set of headlights hit it. This is one of the defining features of the smartbar. Maintenance requires a bucket of soapy water, a sponge and a quick wipe down. Thats it. The plastic parts do not rust, they do not require buffing or polishing and they will never reflect light from another source.

This is a simple presentation of the facts which I’ve found in my research, when looking at viable frontal protection products for my jeep. As always, do your own research and make the best decisions you can. I’m sure if you do do some research and make your decision on the facts rather than someone elses “tuff man” image, the decision won’t be that hard at all.

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