There are so many accessories for off-road and remote vehicles that are completely unnecessary and you should never waste your money on. There are others I consider essential, and a bullbar is definitely one of the latter.
While they receive a bad rap around town for pedestrian safety (or lack thereof) I think you’d be mad to go bush without one. Here’s why:
Remote areas are full of wildlife.
On a trip we did through the Simpson Desert back in 2016 we had a group of four emus emerge from out of nowhere and dart across in front of the car. Somehow we didn’t hit any of them, but even at the 50-60km/h we were doing at the time an emu would have still done a bunch of damage to the front end.
This occurred in broad daylight in an area with thin vegetation but the emus still appeared without warning. If you’re driving at dawn or dusk the risk of animal collisions is greater and you can’t rely on light bars and spotlights to warn you of animals, especially if they emerge from the sides suddenly.
Unexpected collisions do happen.
On another camping trip through a muddy Victorian forest my wife managed to lock up the brakes and skid our old Patrol into a tree. It was low speed and the bullbar was undamaged but a plastic bumper would not have fared anywhere near as well.
This occurred on a tight, winding track where gaps between trees were minimal.
Also, on steep or rocky tracks a bullbar can prevent damage as you navigate obstacles.
Where else are you going to mount your CB antenna? Your spotlights?
Antennas on the roof are popular and often recommended for best reception, but overhead clearance becomes an issue.
Also, mounting a winch to anything but a bullbar is nigh on impossible.
Plastic factory bumpers look soft.
They might look tough in the showroom or at soccer practice but the standard front bar is weak as water and completely useless offroad. It offers almost no protection and impedes your front clearance, diminishing approach angles massively.
Plus, compared to the cars with kitted-out bullbars you look completely out of your depth.
Now, bullbars do have their downsides. Steel bars offer the best protection but they add a lot of weight. Alloy bars are lighter but less durable. Any damage to an alloy bar usually means the whole bar must be replaced, as was the case with mine.
My current Patrol still had the factory-fitted alloy bullbar with Nissan’s OEM halogen spot lights when I purchased it second-hand. The bar was in pretty good shape but the beam on the spotlights was horrible.
Luckily for me, some idiot reversed into my car, damaging the bar and shredding the thread on one of the spotlight mounts. The resulted in my insurance company replacing the alloy bullbar with a brand new Opposite Lock steel bar and Raptor LED spotlights, both of which are an enormous improvement over the original items.
The spotties in particular were the biggest surprise. I’d never even heard of the brand but they seem to be rock solid and the beam they project is (pardon the pun) light years ahead of the crappy halogens. They don’t get a heap of use but I’ve still been very happy with them.
Modern bullbars are properly engineered for modern cars, so you don’t need to worry about your airbags or other occupant safety systems.
However, they aren’t cheap and will drastically change the appearance of your vehicle for better or for worse.
All that said, for remote travel and serious off-roading I think you’d be mad to go without a bullbar. The full loop bars offer the best protection to the radiator, headlights and bonnet, but even the smaller bullbars are better than nothing. They improve ground clearance and offer decent front end protection.
While you’re at it, consider a bash plate for your car. This is a steel plate mounted under and to the rear of the bullbar. Depending on the vehicle and the size of the plate, these may offer protection for your radiator, steering arms and front axle and the engine sump.
Shop around because bash plates come in varying thicknesses. While thicker is better to protect your car it will also mean a slightly heavier plate, however any impact on fuel economy should be unnoticeable.
If you want to get really carried away with underbody protection, many aftermarket manufacturers make protective plates and covers for diff housings, transmissions and fuel tanks.
It all adds weight and it all costs money but it could be worth it if you’re keen to drive the really tough stuff.
Don’t skimp on your bullbar, either. I’ve had both ARB and Opposite Lock bullbars on my Patrol’s and have been very happy with both. I know of others who have used TJM bars without any problems. Any reputable manufacturer (including factory-fitted bullbars) should offer a rock solid bullbar with mounts and welds that will last for years.