Good or evil: Bull bars, side steps and bumper guards

Bull bars look great on SUVs, multiplying that mean look and adding to road presence. Side steps are immensely practical for the old and infirm to get into a tall vehicle. Rear bumper guards, well, supposedly add to the safety of the vehicle in a rear-end collision. These days even hatchbacks fit bull bars, steps and bumper guards.

However, these are NOT recommended accessories for modern vehicles. Then why do buyers still install them? It’s primarily because of the looks these big chunky guards add to the vehicle and for the false sense of security they provide drivers. They actually do more harm than good. We look at the pros and cons of these much-sought-after accessories. Also read: 12 retrofitted gadgets to upgrade your car with 

Bull bars

There are various kinds of bull bars available in the market. Most are made of steel piping with chrome coating, while some are made of fibre-glass with a thin metal frame for support. Some are just small nudge bars, which are single bars, coming to just about the height of the bumper. Others are proper bull bars with rise up to the height of the vehicle bonnet. And then there are full brush guards, which have grills wrapping around the headlamps and a full bar running the length of the lower bumper. Also read: Some essential tools carmakers don’t give you

Advantages of a bull bar

A bull bar will help if you own an off-road vehicle that you take into the wilderness – the brushguard helps mow down undergrowth as your trudge along. In the city, a bull bar provides protection to your vehicle in minor shunts at parking speeds of less than 5kmph. They also look good in some cases, adding to the aesthetic value of the vehicle. They serve as mounting points for auxillary lamps or winches for SUVs.

Disadvantages of a bull bar

On modern vehicles with monocoque chassis design, a bull bar will prevent the natural crumple zones of the vehicle from performing as designed and will transmit impact directly to the point on the chassis where they are mounted – causing more damage than actually protecting occupants.

Bull bars, especially the full steel ones, add a significant amount of frontal weight to the vehicle (as much as 40kg, and up to 65 Kg with a winch), which can alter the handling and fuel economy drastically of the vehicle.

Most significantly, bull bars will interfere with proper airbag deployment in a front-end crash in vehicles that are equipped with airbags – and hence are not recommended at all.

If you have to install one, opt for the light-weight fibre-glass one that attaches to the bumper and not the chassis, as a cosmetic add-on.

Side steps

Many tall SUVs these days come with built-in side steps, such as the Tata Safari Storme, Toyota Fortuner and Mahindra Scorpio. However, vehicles that are not so tall, like the Toyota Innova and Mahindra XUV500 don’t come with these side steps, and these are available as accessories.

Advantages of a side step

The addition of a step to the side of the vehicle allows people to get in and out of the vehicle relatively easily. They also serve as some form of side protection against other vehicles that come too close or for protection against inadvertent brushes with the kerb.

Disadvantage of a side step

The primary disadvantage of side steps is the additional weight it adds to the vehicle. Aluminium side steps are not that heavy, but the ones made from steel piping are. The other disadvantage is because the mounting brackets for these side steps are fitted below the vehicle, they reduce the ground clearance of the vehicle, and run a risk of hitting stones on unpaved roads or speed-breakers. Also read: Ideas to customize a Mahindra Scorpio

Rear bumper guard

Thanks to our callous attitude toward driving and chronic habit of tail-gating other road users, rear bumper guards are an accessory quite commonly found on all kinds of vehicles in India, from hatchbacks to SUVs.

Advantage of rear bumper guard

The advantage of a rear-bumper guard is obvious – it’s to fend off tail-gating drivers. It also serves as minor protection in tight parking spots.

Disadvantage of rear bumper guard

If your car is equipped with bumper level rear-parking sensors, the addition of a rear bumper guard can interfere with the proper functioning of these parking sensors. Rear-bumper guards also can do more damage in a rear-end collision by transmitting impact directly to the chassis rather than allowing the bumper and fenders to channel the impact through the crumple zones. And, of course, they add weight to the rear. Also read: The most USELESS modifications for your car

Share your thoughts on these accessories – would you or would you not install them?