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If you're thinking about fitting a bullbar to your vehicle, you need to read this factsheet first. It explains the safety issues and legal requirements for bullbars on cars, four-wheel-drive vehicles (4WDs), vans, utes and pick-up trucks (class MA, MB, MC and NA vehicles).

Fitting a bullbar can affect your safety, the safety of other road users and your wallet. In many cases it's illegal to fit a bullbar, and removing it later could make fitting one a waste of time and money.

Bullbars in crashes

In a low-speed crash, a bullbar can protect your vehicle from light panel damage. In a higher-speed crash, however, a bullbar can lead to more serious injuries for people inside the vehicle.

Bullbars can be very dangerous for other road users, particularly pedestrians.

These are some of the concerns NZ Transport Agency has about bullbars:

  • If a bullbar is an 'after-market add-on' (eg added later, and not part of the vehicle's original design), your vehicle may not crumple to absorb energy in the way it was designed to do in a crash. This means more crash energy may reach you inside the vehicle and increase your risk of injury.

  • A bullbar may reduce the effectiveness of airbags.

  • Bullbars can cause more serious injuries for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, as the bars tend to be stiff and concentrate crash forces in a smaller area.

  • If a vehicle with a bullbar crashes into another vehicle, people in the other vehicle may not be as well protected. Because a bullbar tends to be stiff and unyielding, the other vehicle will have to absorb more crash energy and the risk of injury to its occupants will be higher.

The safety of different types of bullbar

Tubular metal bullbars without deformable padding can be very dangerous in crashes involving pedestrians. Further research may show that tubular metal bullbars are simply too dangerous – if you fit them to your vehicle, please note that you may have to remove them at some point in the future.

Some manufacturers now produce bullbars made from plastic, or from composite metal/plastic materials. Tests in Europe and Australia have shown these bullbars do protect the vehicle adequately. In many cases they're a lower risk to pedestrians than the vehicle without bullbars fitted.

Bullbars and airbags

Vehicles with airbags have a control system to ensure the airbags inflate at the right time to protect you (and make sure the airbags aren't set off by minor crashes).

If a vehicle has been designed and manufactured with both an airbag and a bullbar, then the controls of the airbag will be designed to work properly for the whole vehicle, with the bullbar fitted.

If you add a bullbar later to a vehicle with airbags, you might be placing yourself and your passengers at risk:

  • There's some evidence that a bullbar may affect the airbag's timing in a high-speed crash, making the airbag inflate too soon or too late to protect you fully. In extreme cases, the driver or passenger may be injured by the inflating airbag.
  • Bullbars can cause airbags to inflate during minor frontal-impact crashes that wouldn't normally have activated the airbags. The airbags can, in these situations, cause more injury than the impact. Having the airbags replaced once they've been activated can be expensive, too.

Some bullbar manufacturers in Australia have designed and tested their bullbars to make them compatible with airbag control systems in low speed collisions. Bullbars tested in this way are safer than those that haven't been tested, and are also less likely to affect the performance of other safety features (eg crumple zones).

What's the safest option?

The safest option is to not fit a bullbar to a vehicle, especially if the vehicle has airbags. Usually there's no need for a bullbar. There are also legal restrictions that can prevent you from having a bullbar fitted.

If, however, you think a bullbar is necessary for your occupational or off-road driving, you might be able to find one that has been tested and certified by the vehicle manufacturer as compatible with the airbag system in your make and model of vehicle.

What are the legal restrictions?

There are regulations against fitting bullbars to vehicles where they affect safety systems. Under the Frontal Impact Rule you can't fit a bullbar to a vehicle if the bullbar would adversely affect the performance of any frontal impact protection features (eg airbags or crumple zones).

  • Class MA vehicles: It is generally illegal for a bullbar to be fitted as an after-market add-on to a modern class MA vehicle (eg, a passenger car). Bullbars are only allowed on class MA vehicles if the vehicle has been crash tested and has met the requirements of the relevant frontal impact standard with the specific bullbar already fitted. You'll need to get this confirmed by the vehicle manufacturer.

  • Class MB and MC vehicles: From October 2003 it has been generally illegal to fit bullbars to class MB and MC vehicles manufactured after that date. As with class MA vehicles, bullbars are only allowed if the vehicle has been crash tested and has met the requirements of the relevant frontal impact standard with the specific bullbar already fitted. You'll need to get this confirmed by the vehicle manufacturer.

  • Class NA vehicles: A bullbar may be fitted as an after-market add-on to a class NA vehicle if – and only if – it doesn't adversely affect the safety performance of the vehicle. You are advised to ask the vehicle or bullbar manufacturer for some evidence that the bullbar won't compromise the original frontal impact performance of the vehicle.

If a bullbar is fitted, it must minimise the risk of injury to others.

How do I know what class my vehicle is?

See definitions of vehicle classes. If you're in any doubt, ask the vehicle manufacturer.

As a general guideline, most passenger cars are class MA. Most passenger vans are class MB, most 4WDs are class MC and most vans and utes (primarily designed for carrying goods, not passengers) are class NA.

What other restrictions are there?

Warrant of fitness inspectors have guidelines on bullbar designs (in their Vehicle inspection requirements manual(external link)) that are based on the External Projections Rule. An inspector may refuse to issue a warrant of fitness if, in their opinion, a bullbar:

  • slopes forward (unless the shape is necessary to fit closely to the vehicle's structure)

  • has sharp corners or edges

  • is more than 100 mm wider than the vehicle on either side

  • was attached as an after-market add-on to the vehicle's chassis or body by welding

  • has an unnecessarily wide gap between the bullbar and the shape of the vehicle

  • is excessively strong and rigid given the purpose it was fitted for.

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