Protecting your Asset
Your 4WD is a big investment, regardless of whether it is a brand new top-of-the-line SUV or a second hand ute, and properly protecting it is something that should be built into your budget from the start.  
Whether it is protecting the bodywork from dents and scratches or simply ensuring you will make it home after a hard day off the beaten track, protection equipment is a vital part of preparing your 4WD. 
Even if you are not planning on tackling the deepest, darkest reaches of New Zealand’s bushlands, you have bought a 4WD for a reason and that reason will no doubt involve the possibility of damage, no matter how careful you are.  
By way of example, let me relate the story of an event that happened to a bloke I know.  
Les was driving his late model Toyota Hilux along a graveled track down the back of his farm one day. It was a track he knew well and was, therefore, not hanging around. Les was not a man known for his patience when it came to getting from A to B. Or C, for that matter and it was not uncommon for him to bypass B altogether and simply careen sideways straight into C.  
So he was, as he put it, “fair honking along” this flat, straight track that, as I mentioned before, he knew like the back of his knotted, scarred hand (his lack of patience also extended to power tools) when, from out of nowhere, a thoroughly unexpected stray dog darted out of the bushes and threw itself recklessly in front of his ute.  
The dog was, as Les succinctly put it, a “solid, nuggety little bastard with a low centre of gravity and a massive head” and made a noise “like a rock in the wife’s clothes dryer” as it tumbled down the underside of his Hilux. Quite how he knew what a rock in a clothes dryer sounded like I am not sure, but you never knew with Les. He was the sort of bloke who was always up for trying something simply for the sheer hell of it and his wife had a long-suffering look in her eyes that suggested she had encountered all manner of unexpected foreign objects in her domestic appliances during the course of their marriage. 
Anyway, while Les may have snuffed out the dog’s flame fairly comprehensively, the dog was equally thorough in taking apart the underside of his near-new Hilux. The front bumper was raggedly split down the middle and the sump now boasted a worryingly large dog-sized dent. A number of components Les couldn’t immediately identify, but which “looked fairly important” dangled down for the underside in almost exactly the way they shouldn’t and the exhaust now had a number of exciting new bends and outlets along its length.  
While Les placed the blame squarely on the dog, it was painfully obvious that even just the basic protection equipment would have stopped a lot of the damage and probably would have cost less to install in the fist place than the subsequent bill he faced to stick back on all the bits the dog tore off.  
It was a lesson not lost on Les however, and he vowed from that day forward that he would shoot any dog he saw on his property. Okay, so maybe it was lost on him, but the fact remains that had Les invested in a bit of protection equipment for his ute, he wouldn’t have been standing there looking at bits of his near-new Hilux that he simply shouldn’t have been able to see.  
There are generally four main types of protection for your 4WD vehicle, most of which would have saved Les a lot of greif: bull bars, side bars, rear bars and underbody protection.  
Unlike Les and his dog, off-road impacts are generally low-speed, but without a bull bar substantial panel damage can occur as these impacts are often due to the front of the vehicle sliding away in difficult conditions. Without a bull bar the front bumper, bonnet or guards wear the damage, usually with expensive consequences, not only to the panels, but also possibly to the many vulnerable components behind the panels, such as the radiator.  
However these days a bull bar does more than just protect from damage. Often they replace the entire front bumper and are generally designed so that ground clearance is improved and the corners are angled up giving even more clearance at the vehicle’s front corners – great for crossing angled hazards.  
In many cases they also have recovery hooks built-in or provide a good mounting point for a recovery hook. However beware - don’t be tempted to add one yourself if the bar is not designed for it as this can put loads on to the bar that it was not designed to handle, often with unfortunate and expensive results.  

Also note that the holes fitted to the base of some bars are not intended for fitting shackles for snatch recoveries, they are there for static recovery such as the hook of the winch when doing a double line pull. The bar must also be correctly mounted to the vehicle chassis using the supplied brackets, plates and the correct sized high tensile bolts.  
Bull bars generally come in two main materials and two main designs, with major suppliers often having several choices available for the more popular models.  
Steel is still the classic choice of material and is still hard to beat for serious, heavy off-road use - it is strong, rugged and easy to repair if damaged, and it can also easily be painted to match or contrast your 4WD’s body colour. 
Aluminium alloy is also popular as it is lighter than steel but still strong, and the polished finish nicely contrasts the vehicle. For less rugged off-road use it is a good option, the main downsides being higher cost and difficulty of repair.  
Several manufacturers have done extensive research to design and crash test their airbag compatible bars to ensure they do not alter the airbag triggering, and these airbag certified bars are acceptable for pre-October 2003 airbag equipped vehicles and all airbag fitted utilities.  
Side bars come in many forms and protect the vehicle’s sills - and sometimes front guards - from damage.  The sill protection often incorporates a step to assist entry into the vehicle, and where front mudguard protection is available the outer part of this step has a bar attached that then bends up to follow the profile of the wheel aperture in the guard and connects to the outer edge of the bull bar.  
A basic side bar comprises a metal pipe or box structure that bolts to the chassis at the inner end and provides an extended side step just below the vehicle’s sill, usually as high as possible to still allow maximum ground clearance. They look similar to, but are substantially more robust, than the more decorative alloy steps fitted new to many vehicles which also tend to compromise ground clearance as appearance rather than practicality seems to be the goal.  
The decorative side steps often have light panel steel brackets that will bend when scraped along the ground, but a well designed protective bar/step will be designed with a smooth lower surface to also act as a rock slider, letting the vehicle scrape over rocks.  
The true rock sliders are steel sections that bolt under the sills. They don’t protect the side or make a step, but are designed purely to allow the vehicle to slide over rocks. As well as protection side bars can provide good jacking points for a high lift or other jack if suitably manufactured. 
While for normal off-roading the standard rear bumper will usually suffice, more extreme work may require a special aftermarket bar. Usually the rear departure angle is worse than the front approach angle, meaning the rear bumper can cop a bit of abuse, especially if the vehicle has a long rear overhang.   
While a  tow bar can often supply a fair bit of protection, a replacement rear bumper will not only be stronger but, like a front bull bar, the corners can often angle up improving clearance and will nearly always incorporate a towing hitch and or recovery hook.  There are generally four main areas that require underbody protection. Some types of underbody guards will protect two, three or all four areas in one design.   The radiator guard is designed to protect the front of the vehicle against potential damage to vital cooling components like radiators and intercoolers. Where possible guards are designed to slope at specific angles to act as a deflecting tool also to help push any objects downwards under the vehicle away from further damage.   The steering guard is often incorporated into the front section guards and is useful for vehicles where the steering rack and tie rods are susceptible to frontal impact damage.   The sump guard has the vital task of protecting one of the most important aspects of the vehicle’s engine,  reducing the risk of losing oil and potentially causing severe engine damage. 
While the transmission guard is mounted beneath the transmission and protects it against potentially damaging impacts.

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