Planning a few days in the bush with family or friends? Then a vehicle that can get you thick and thin, and come back in one piece will do the job nicely. Most Aussies will pick a 4×4 ute and one that’s generously accessorized with quite a few goodies. Front-end protection and bull bars are the starting point for mounting necessary gear like winches, driving lights as well as side brush bars. This covers most off-roading basics – safety, visibility and recovering your ute if you get stuck in deep, loose soil. Other extras, like suspension lift kits and beadlock rims, help with grip and ground clearance, and general drivability on uneven ground.
Why Have Brush Bars?
While a full triple hoop bull bar can nudge almost anything that gets in the way of your ute, it won’t protect the sides of the car. Brush bars (or side rails) extend from either side of the bull bar, in line with the wheel arches or flares, and often connect to the chassis rails just below the door line. Paired with side steps, this is the combo that you’d want in protecting the bodywork, suspension, steering, wheels, and tyres from side impact.
The majority of animal strikes happen from the side, and not head-on. And in that case, you risk damaging the vehicle or losing steering control. The same can be said of larger branches and boulders that can dent bodywork or puncture tyres or brake lines. A physical barrier, in the form of a durable metal brush bar fixed on either side of the ute prevents incidents like these from happening. Bolt-on a pair of equally strong side steps, and you can handle just about anything the Outback can throw at you.
What to Look for in Side Brush Bars?
Each brush bar needs to comply with the vehicle in terms of overall length, shape, and diameter in order to fit snugly with the bull bar and chassis. This means you’ll be shopping for bars exclusively for your ute make and model so it meets OEM requirements. Brush bars must also be ADR compliant, meaning limits as to how wide they protrude (as this affects overall vehicle width) and not interfere with safety systems, such as airbag activation and vehicle cameras.
With fitting and safety issues sorted, you’d want something that matches your bull bar in strength and durability. Look for high-grade steel piping with a diameter of roughly 50mm (or the exact diameter of the bull bar for a neater appearance) and internal walls of at least 2.5mm thick. The steel should also be powder coated to avoid staining or rusting.
How are They Installed?
Generally, you’ll be looking at two slightly different designs – brush bars that are meant to function on their own, or together with a set of side steps or running boards. The first type is either welded or bolted onto the bull bar hoops with a clamping system and the opposing end is affixed to the chassis rails with the appropriate brackets and fittings.
When sourced with side steps you’d want a brush bar that melds seamlessly into the side steps. This allows for cleaner looks, while not forsaking durability. This too is a chassis-mounted system. For the best fit and to maintain the main purpose of the brush bars, consider a pro installation at the shop.
How do Side Steps Help?
Side steps and running boards are accessories that are the logical extension of brush bars. They are placed under the sills, run the length of the wheelbase, and help to protect the doors, side panels, and underbody from larger obstacles as well as spraying gravel and rocks that can easily chip paint or cause more serious damage.
Most people buy them for the easy access they provide, allowing faster and safer entry and exit in and out of the ute. An underrated and often overlooked use is that they also help protect the car from the sides. This can be in everyday city driving, and keep the bodywork intact in parking lots, or in more obvious cases when out on the trials. That’s the reason why you’ll often find them packaged with brush bars.
Here too some research pays off when looking for the right side steps. Those for street use are usually made of lighter aluminium, but are still durable and rust-proof, come with varying finishes (go with a chromed or polished look for an upmarket appearance), and won’t look out of place on more expensive utes or 4WDs. For off-road use though, go with steel, and in the same high-grade variant as your brush bars. They are tougher and can handle more weight and even more abuse, with the only downside by the extra weight. Both variants can be optioned with either rubberised non-slip steps or a fully perforated top surface that’s good for added grip while letting water and mud escape. And like brush bars, side steps and wider running boards are fairly easy to install, bolting onto the chassis rails.
Bull bars may be all the hype and the first accessory that you’ll consider for more serious off-roading. But parts that shield the ute or 4WD from the sides, such as brush bars and side steps, should in no way be overlooked. All options sold in Australia have been thoroughly tested, are made to a high standard using quality materials, and can spare you the headache of expensive repair bills if you’re considering more technical terrain. Pair both parts in the same materials and colours and add a more purposeful look to your ride.