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How bull bars make your airbag ineffective, and why they’re banned

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Bullbars or steel bumpers are one of the most common modifications that are often seen on SUVs. Mahindra launched the Thar last year and already there are a plethora of aftermarket bumpers and bull bars available for the SUV. Adding a bull bar enhances the SUV quotient of the vehicle immediately and the vehicle starts looking more butch instantly. However, they do hamper the safety aspects of a vehicle too. More importantly, they can prevent the airbags of your vehicle to perform correctly.

How an airbag is deployed?

An airbag takes its command from an accelerometer sensor that is also found in our smartphones nowadays. However, the sensor in an airbag sensor is a bit different. It features a ball in a tube that is held by a magnet. In case of a crash, the ball is forced to disconnect from the magnet and roll forward to the tube where the circuit completes and the airbags are deployed. These airbag sensors are placed in the impact zones of the vehicles. So, they are in the front so that they can respond as quickly as possible. They can be placed behind the front bumper, behind the radiator or even the headlamps.

How does a steel bumper/bullbar interfere?

When you install a steel bumper or a bull bar, you are installing a strong piece of metal in front of your crumple zones or the airbag sensor. The steel bumpers/bull bars are much solid than the plastic bumpers that are usually used on vehicles. Because of this, the front impact will take more time to reach the sensors, delaying the deployment of the airbag. It might also happen that because of these after-market modifications, the sensors are not triggered because the impact never reached these sensors. However, this does not mean that the vehicle did not meet an accident.

The airbags are meant to deploy at the correct time. If they deploy late, the airbag won’t be able to protect the driver from a head injury and the driver’s head will hit the steering wheel or the windshield. If the airbag is deployed early, then the impact from the airbag would snap the neck of the person by pushing it behind at a very high speed.

Can bull bars/steel bumpers be made airbag friendly?

Yes, there are some aftermarket bumpers that are designed in such a way that they do not hinder the airbag sensors. Some manufacturers also have their own certified after-market bumpers. Then there are some people who reposition the airbag sensors so that they work correctly.

Should you install bull bars/steel bumpers?

No, you should not install bull bars or steel bumpers on your vehicles. Not only they hamper the deployment of the airbag but they are also very dangerous for pedestrian safety. The stock bumpers are made up of fibre which is not so rigid and can be bent easily on impact whereas steel bumpers of bullbars are solid metal and would badly hurt the person that gets hit with it.

Also, these types of modifications are illegal in India. According to section 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act, “No owner of a motor vehicle shall so alter the vehicle that the particulars contained in the certificate of registration are at variance with those originally specified by the manufacturer”. Car manufacturers do not homologate their vehicles with bull bars or steel bumpers so they are illegal. In fact, RTO has already once started cracking down the bull bars placed on vehicles. You can read more about that story by clicking here. If you get in an accident and you have an aftermarket bumper, there is a high chance that your insurance would be denied because you would have modified your vehicle.