Smartbars Vs Bullbars, A Critical Comparison

Posted on February 8, 2009 @ 2:29 am
by Damian Papworth

I own a jeep. I’ve always owned jeeps. From the old 70s CJ models to the newer, way more comfy (or so my wife tells me) cherokees. I don’t know why I do, but I’ve always loved them.

Recently on an outback excursion I hit a kangaroo. I was only doing about 10km/h so the damage was minimal, but this incident got me thinking about frontal protection. So I called my mates at All Vehicle Accessories in Melbourne to have a chat about bullbars.

So I rang the guys at All Vehicle Accessories in Melbourne to get a bullbar installed. While chatting, they told me about these new pastic bullbars. Intrigued (as I’d never heard about them before) I jumped onto Google to do some research. Smartbars vs bullbars, what would protect us the best. Initially I found a lot of opinion and little fact, but digging a little deeper, a pretty clear picture emerged.

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.

Its pretty funny when you look around for information on the relative safety performance of bullbars and smartbars. People who love bullbars keep pointing out that at 150kms/h a collision will be fatal. So to be clear, we are not looking at the 150kms/h collission. Rather we are comparing performance of these products at speeds up to and including fatal impact, but not exceeding it. That means at speeds which are less than and equal to the point where a collision becomes fatal to the vehicle, passengers or pedestrian.

The difference between the performance of bullbars and smartbars comes about because bullbars are rigid (Ie they have no give in them) while smartbars are not. (Ie. they are made from polyethylene with a hollow internal structure so they have some give) Despite all the opinion to the contrary, at speeds leading up to fatal impact, smartbars work better than bullbars in protecting you, the car and the person you hit. The manner in which they absorb impact minimises the force of the collision and thereby reduces injury and damage. The cushioning effect of this absorbtion actually acts to decelerate the colliding forces at the point of impact. This has been proven by independent child head-form impact tests. You just have to do a little research to find the studies.

To paint a picture though of how this works, imagine the pain caused if you fell and bumped your head on a metal telephone pole. It would hurt right? Now imagine in the same fall, it was one of those big plastic wheelie bins that you hit and your head impacted in the middle of the bin where it had most give. It would not nearly be so painful. Thats how the smartbars work. The impact that smartbars absorb, is impact that is not transferred to your vehicle, you or your passengers, or the pedestrian you just hit.

Beyond protection, there is the matter of performance. Given smartbars are significantly lighter than bullbars, its not hard to see that this equates to better fuel consumption, better tyre wear, better suspension wear and safer handling for your vehicle. Vehicles just drive better with a smartbar. Did you also know that the construction of a smartbar creates about 1% of the greenhouse emissions that bullbar construction creates? Better performance on the road, better performance for the environment.

And I have one final point to make on the subject. I love taking the jeep out bush but I’m pretty lazy about it when I come home. I don’t want to spend hours polishing, buffing or scrubbing my bullbar because its rusting a bit (especially after those ocean fishing trips) or has lost its shine. A quick wipedown with a soapy sponge is all the smartbar takes to clean. Which means I can spend my time planning the next trip.

These are the facts I’ve found when comparing the traditional bullbar against the newer smartbar alternative. I encourage you to do your own research when considering frontal protection, I’m sure new information about these products will come up in the future, but currently to my mind, there is no choice. I know which product my front fender will be sporting tomorrow.

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