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. During this chat they brought up the topic of smartbars. Before the conversation, I didn’t even know they existed. So I got onto Google to do some research on the products and found a lot of opinion (most of it based on aesthetics and perception rather than utility and fact) but pretty much no factual information. So me and my mates at All Vehicle Accessories dug a little deeper, and this is what we found.
Topic 1. Safety
With frontal protection products, there are 3 general areas of concern regarding safety. These are the ability to protect passengers, the ability to protect pedestrians and the ability to protect your car. Talking about protection generally, I find it starnge how many bullbar exponents out there point out that when you are travelling at 150kms/h, no matter what you hit, its going to be fatal to the object and probably the vehicle. Personally I think such arguments are ridiculous as they suggest all collissions are at excessive speeds and dismiss the relative safety performance of the products at lower speeds. But just to make it clear to everyone, when we are comparing these products along safety lines, we are comparing performance at the fatal margin. This means we are comparing safety performance at the point where an impact will kill a pedestrian, or buckle your chassis to the extent that your vehicle is written off.
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 smart bars 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.
Topic 2. Performance
There is no argument that smartbars are significantly lighter than bullbars. This means better performance for your vehicle. To embellish, if you install a smartbar instead of a bullbar, your vehicle will have less tyre wear, less suspension wear and safer handling, just because it is lighter. They also provide better value for money than the alternatives and are more environmentally friendly. Manufacturing smartbars produces less than 1% of the green house gasses which the manufacture of metal bullbars produce. So performance wise, smartbars are more efficient with your car, your wallet and the environment.
Topic 3. Maintenance
Metal rusts. Metal looses its lustre. Metal reflects. A rusting bullbar requires significant work to clean up. A dull bullbar requires significant polishing to make it shine again. And a reflecting bullbar will effect your vision everytime another set of headlights hit it. This is one of the defining features of the smartbar. Maintenance requires a bucket of soapy water, a sponge and a quick wipe down. Thats it. The plastic parts do not rust, they do not require buffing or polishing and they will never reflect light from another source.
This is a simple presentation of the facts which I’ve found in my research, when looking at viable frontal protection products for my jeep. As always, do your own research and make the best decisions you can. I’m sure if you do do some research and make your decision on the facts rather than someone elses “tuff man” image, the decision won’t be that hard at all.