Text: Mark Stephens
Photos: Mark Stephens, Brooke Stephens, and Andy Keels

Part 4: The Nose Job
Shrockworks winch bumper, Warn M8000, and Lightforce 170 Strikers

Shrockworks Winch bumper bull bar for Nissan FRontier truck D40 navara with Warn winch, Lightforce 170 lights, expedition vehicle

With special thanks to:


At the beginning of this vehicle project, Graham Jackson remarked, “Should be a fun build. All that chrome is kinda freakin' me out though. You'll have to do something about that!” 

Be freaked out no more, Graham and friends.  The front end chrome is gone, and replaced with a finely crafted steel-blood-n-guts winch bumper that’s been powdercoated matte black.  It's a monolithic beast and I think I heard it growl as we – my friend Andy and I  - unbolted it from the shipping pallet.


Photo credit: Shrockworks
Incredible welds and the control switch plug

Shrockworks uses a series of 3D computer aided design, laser cutting, and CNC bending to create a precision-made, bomb-proof winch bumper. In the end, you'd think that it has a personality of its own.  The key features of this bumper are:

  • Concealed winch mounting
  • ½” and 3/16” thick steel construction
  • Clevis mounts bolt straight to the frame and through the bumper body
  • Significant approach angle (59 degrees w/ 32" tires)
  • Heavy radiator skid plate
  • Oil filter access door in the skid plate
  • Bolt-on installation 

Why a 138 lbs steel winch bumper (AKA bull bar)?

I’ll admit two reasons why I chose this bumper:  I wanted a winch on this truck, and I thought a big bumper would look cool.  However, several practical reasons exist for having a bull bar style bumper: protection, recovery, and accessory mounting.

1. Protection

Coming upon a herd of cattle in the middle of the highway in MexicoOur favorite encyclopedia on the web, Wikipedia, says this: 

“A bull bar (also roo bar or nudge bar in Australia) is a device fitted to the front of a vehicle to protect it and its passengers from damage in a collision with an animal. They vary considerably in size and form, and are usually made out of welded steel or aluminium [sic] tubing, and, more recently, moulded [sic] polycarbonate and polyethylene materials. While many pedestrian groups claim that bull bars are dangerous to pedestrians, some modern designs are actually safer than the same vehicle without a bull bar.” 

I can testify that around any corner or bend in rural Mexico you’ll find roaming cattle.  One time in the northern Sierra Madre, on a curvy two-lane road, a woman guided a herd of 10-15 cattle.  She was using a short tree branch as a switch to keep control of the herd, but they wandered on and off the road.  We rounded a curve at 40 MPH, and suddenly Brooke slammed the brakes when she saw the herd.  If she’d been less attentive, we could have clobbered several cows in one blink. 

Bull head skull on the grill of the Nissan FRontier navara D40 expedition off road vehicleAccording to Iowa State University, an average beef cow weighs upwards of 1,200 lbs – even Graham would admit that all that front end chrome is less freaky than putting one of these cows into said chrome at 40 MPH in a foreign country . . . 

After this event: a little celebration.  While negotiating with a street vendor in Nogales, I managed to get him to toss in a free bull skull (with beautiful long horns).  We had to buy a set of drinking glasses for about $40 US, but I think it was a great package deal.  I named the skull Marcello in honor of a Peruvian friend, and decided Marcello The Bull Skull would be our grill guard on future road trips. 

While a rustic bull skull is cool, Marcello would be destroyed in a collision; thus, a real bull bar provides real protection. After we installed the bumper, my wife told me, "I feel like I'm driving a tank now." That's a secure feeling. Hitting a tree, animal, boulder, etc. while on a remote road could possibly damage the radiator and ultimately strand a team. So having the protection of a tank is akin to stacking the odds in your favor.

What about air bag compliance? This is a common question about aftermarket bumpers. Air bags are triggered by sensors and inflation happens when there is a collision force equal to running into a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour (16 to 24 km per hour). The sensors receive information from an accelerometer built into a microchip. Air bag sensors - which are most often inside the steering column and dash - do not detect frontal impact, but when the vehicle experiences a severly abrupt stop. An aftermarket bumper doesn't pose any problem that interferes with the air bag sensors - however, this conclusion is not definitive for all makes and models.

2. Vehicle Recovery and Extraction

If this truck needs to give or take a yank, the Shrockworks bumper provides two options:

  1. The large clevis mounts or
  2. An installed winch.

Wil Kuhns, the Expedition Portal Equipment Editor, helped me with some recovery simulations:

Tow strap recovery: click photo for larger
Tow strap connected to Shrockworks winch bumper bull bar roo bar for extraction recovery
Tow strap connected to Shrockworks winch bumper bull bar roo bar for extraction recovery
Wil connects a tow strap with a shackle. Nice Expedition Portal shirt.
Bumper can give or take a snatch with the frame-connected clevis mounts
Winch recovery: click photo for larger
Tow strap connected to Shrockworks winch bumper bull bar roo bar for extraction recovery
Tow strap connected to Shrockworks winch bumper bull bar roo bar for extraction recovery
Wil and I hook the winch line to an anchor to simulate an extraction
The M8000 pulled the truck up this incline, and the bumper didn't budge.

3. Accessory mounting

A number of items can be mounted to a front winch bumper, or bull bar. Hi-Lift jacks, lighting, winches, radio antennas, air chucks, limb risers, and - why not? - bull skulls are some of the common items.

I've elected to start with the basics: a winch, and a pair of driving lights:


Warn M8000

Lightforce 170 Striker

Installing the winch was quite involved (which is covered below) but the lights were a snap. Though the benefits of an electric winch have been discussed many times over, benefits of auxiliary lighting had always escaped me. That is until I used these Lightforce units on a recent trip into the Baja Peninsula where I had to locate a place to camp in the dark several times. They've proved their value.

The basic truth about expedition travel is that you will rarely roll into camp before dark, and you will almost always make three wrong turns for every correct one. Get some lights.

Installation of the Shrockworks Winch Bumper/Bull Bar
Click any image for a larger version in a new window

1. Knock down the laser cut edges in preparation for powdercoating
Since the bumper comes as raw steel, I chose to have it powdercoated locally. A major issue with laser cut steel is that powdercoating does not adhere to the sharp edges and corners - rust will get underneath the coating if the edges aren't slightly eased. Andy and I employed a grinder with a wire wheel to get inside the tight areas (like the laser cut logo), and used a basic grinding wheel for the more exposed edges. This took about 30 minutes.

Coating required a week, and then we were ready to install.

2. Remove the front bumper "shell"
Dozens of bolts and screws hold the shell to the body, and it is necessary to remove the grill (simple process) to gain access to some. If you have the OEM fog lights, these will need to be removed but not discarded; the Shrockworks bumper utilizes these lights.

It's easiest to remove the lower plastic air dam from the bumper shell first.

3. Remove tow hook and bumper frame crossmember
Here, the shell is removed and the bumper frame is exposed.

Impact tools are your friend . . . Just a few a bolts and this part comes right off.

4. Clean and paint the freshly exposed frame section
A few short minutes with a wire wheel on a grinder clears the frame of any rust or crud build up for a flush fit of the mounting brackets (as supplied by Shrockworks). And a couple coats of spray paint help protect the frame from rust intrusion.

The mounting brackets will bolt on here.

5. Bolt on the mounting brackets
This is one of the best features to this bumper. Shrockworks designs the bumpers to bolt to a manufactured bracket that bolts directly to the frame. The mounting holes are elongated to allow adjustment and an easy fit. No drilling required.

Brackets use 4 bolts each. Here is a close up of the passenger side bracket in place.

6. Install the skidplate
Another fantastic feature of the bumper is the included skidplate. 3/16" thick and with an access hole for the oil filter.

Be aware that the skid plate bolts in place with the lower two bolts on the mounting brackets.

We left these bolts a little loose to afford us some latitude when it came time to fit the bumper.

7. Test fit the bumper and . . . adjust
After test fitting the bumper, we needed to use a 20 lbs sledge to adjust the brackets a little bit. Piece of cake.
8. Bolt in the winch
Now that we know the bumper will fit on well, it's time to prepare it for final installation.

The winch goes straight in on a 1/2" thick mounting plate, and another plate to the right holds the conrol box. Due to the way the bumper hugs closely to the body, Shrockworks incorporated a plug mount on top of the bumper. The wiring of the Warn M8000 was too short to allow the control switch plug to go into the provided hole. We had no choice but to dismantle the control box and elongate the wires to the plug. In turn, the entire solenoid assembly needed to be un-wired . . .

9. Splice in longer wires to mount the switch plug
Shoot a picture of the solenoid assembly before taking it apart. This is key. After mounting the solenoid assembly and re-wiring it, attach power to the winch and test it for proper spooling. If the winch runs backwards (or not at all), you still have the chance to fix the problem before putting this sucker into place.

On the right is the completed control box in place after re-wiring. The black wire loom coming out of the top of the box (in the middle of the red "W") houses the new longer wires to the switch plug.

11. Affix the lights, then mount the bumper
The Lightforce 170s need to be bolted on first, but the wiring can be done afterwards if necessary.

Getting the bumper into place requires some hands, but a floor jack makes the process easier. Use the jack to hold the bumper and steady it by hand while a helper tightens the bolts.

12. Connect accessories to power source
We've connected the winch to the auxiliary battery in the tool box; a yellow top Optima. 2-guage welding cable wrapped in wire loom runs from the winch to the battery, and is secured to the inside of the passenger side frame rails.

The wire loom - as shown in the picture here - has a 2"-3" wrap of electrical tape about every 12" or so along the length.

Finished . . .
And she loves it!
Nissan Frontier Navara D40 expedition vehicle with shrockworks winch bumper bull bar

Final Evaluation

With the added security, lights, and the improved looks, this project is more fun than ever. There's no doubt the the Shrockworks bumper is intricately designed and crafted. Again, the best features are the included skid plate, bolt-on installation, clevis mounts, beefy plate steel construction, and tight incorporation of the winch.

I find that all of these details improve the Frontier.

However, some downsides come with this bumper that I've accepted or dealt with:

  • Sacrifice of payload and economy due to added weight
  • Concealed winch is difficult to service
  • Must dismantle M8000 solenoid control box and re-wire
  • Front suspension compression

The numbers
New approach angle: 59 degrees
Loss in fender-tire distance: 1/2" (7" before, 6.5" after installation)

Hang on tight for the next installments, which will include a truck bed organization system, new mounting configuration for the Eezi-Awn tent, mountain bike mounts, on-board air, and a re-assessment of the suspension.

It's getting better with age.

Lightforce 170 lights nissan frontier bull bar bumper winch

Expedition Portal 2006-2007 Project Vehicle: Nissan Frontier D40
Read the other parts in the series:
Intro Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

 
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