For many years, roll bars have been offered as an aftermarket accessory and a standard feature on some pickup trucks.
However, off-roaders and those who use their trucks for work have devised different ways to make roll bars work for more than rollover protection. They have also learned they make great attachment points for light bars, fog lights, emergency lights, spotlights, and speakers.
Roll bars were used on open cockpit automobiles for safety and still are today on BMW Z4s, Mazda Miata’s, Fiat 124s, and other similar open roadsters. First invented by Louis Chevrolet, roll bars became mandatory on racecars in 1959.
Adding them to pickup trucks didn’t begin until, well, it’s hard to say. Still, they were standard equipment on the 1972 Chevrolet K5 Blazer, and the Jeep CJ5 led the pack with a roll bar as an option as early as 1969 on the “462” model, and the trend began.
Off-roading became prominent in the 1970s. When you put people and machines together, they will find ways to make them safer and more functional, because we love our toys.
For example, roll bars are located on pickup trucks and other off-road vehicles. Some are legitimate safety devices, while others are for their appearance and cargo carrying.
Types of Roll Bars for Trucks
1. Truck Roll bars
The ability to carry every possible thing you might need when the shop is an hour away is a big motivator for roll bars adapted for particular uses.
As a result, an entire industry sprang up from off-roading in the era of the K5 and CJ5. That industry continues today and provides parts for those two icons and every truck that has been sold since then.
That trend continues today, with roll bars, chase racks, bed racks, sports bars, and pack racks. Even though some of these automotive vestiges are not exactly rollbars, that is their roots, and their uses are the same, and then some.
2. Single Bar Roll Bars
The most basic of these truck-mounted accessories is the simple single pipe roll bar, like the original designs used on the K5 and CJ5. Today, the roll bars you see on many pickup trucks are derived from the initial design.
Constructed of mild steel or Chromoly, other accessories like chase racks and overland racks may be made of aluminum, lighter yet strong. The single roll bar was all there was until the 1980s when accessorizing vehicles became the thing to do for everyone.
Some of the results will never be seen again, thankfully. Still, the appeal of roll bars has carried on because they are more than just an accessory. They are a safety feature that has functionality.
3. Double and Triple Roll Bars
Double roll bars arrived in the 1980s as more of a stylistic statement than an accessory that adds more protection than a single roll bar. However, they looked cool and gave the truck owner plenty of space to place half a dozen KC headlights.
The three-tube roll bar also appeared at about the same time; however, it is not as common, for a good reason. A three-tube roll bar has two tubes that extend into the bed of a pickup truck.
Those extensions take up bed space, and there is no real reason for them. Today, the double roll bar is the most common for the very reason I mentioned; the second tube provides a lot of room to attach LED light bars, spotlights, grab handles, and racks.
As a result, the roll bar becomes a truck chase rack when fitted with a rack and may be called a roll bar, but may not.
Roll bars are made from round and square tubes
Departing from using a round tube, Armour makes a line of roll bars from square tube steel. It offers a rugged look, and the flat surfaces make attaching light bars and other accessories easier.
1. Truck Chase Racks
It may look like a roll bar, but you may see grab handles, a rack, and a toolbox affixed to this rig upon closer inspection. Chase racks look like rollbars but are designed with racks to hold your off-roading gear.
It may be horizontal, like a shelf, or sit at an angle and be given the sole job of carrying a spare tire. These roll bars are much like any other two-tube unit.
However, you will be adding weight to your truck with every addition, so keep that in mind. Mounting a high rack leaves the bed of our truck clear for other equipment and enables pickup trucks to carry even more when on or off-road.
2. Overland Bed Rack
The Jeep Gladiator is a unique pickup truck and the only open-air truck of its type currently on the market. It can be fitted with a single roll bar, like other trucks, or an Overland bed rack, which also works on other pickups.
An overland bed rack offers rollover protection and four to six posts instead of two at all the corners of the truck bed and down the sides, making it a strong structure.
Like basic one tube roll bars, bed racks are usually bolted on. However, they can provide additional stiffness to your truck, you can use it as a frame for a tent, and it is a secure mount for you to attach gear.
Like other truck racks, an Overland Bed rack may or may not offer rollover protection. Whether or not it will depend on the unit you buy, how it’s attached, and if that is even its purpose.
3. Truck Bed Sport Bars
Sports bars attach to your truck’s rails and are an extension of some rollbars. They can protect your rail tops and provide more attachment points for tying down gear. When installing a roll bar, they are often part of the package but are not a requirement.
Instead, they were designed to add the legs of the roll bar where they fit against the truck rail and make the whole unit look like it is part of the truck, Chevrolet Avalanche style.
When installed, they continue down the top of the rail either halfway or fully down the truck. Sports bars are not a necessary addition to a roll bar installation.
However, they will give you additional attachment points and a finished appearance on a roll bar when mounted on your truck.
4. Off-road Pack Racks for Trucks
You have seen these racks on trucks. Tradespeople use them to carry ladders, lumber, and other long objects. This ability allows them to keep the bed of their vehicle clear for different items.
Off-road pack racks function much like a truck with a full rack for tires. However, they serve a different purpose than a work truck’s rack. They are designed to take your gear into the wilds of the country, not the wilds of the city.
Designed and built a little differently from their ladder-carrying counterparts, they can still carry a ladder. Still, a better use would be to throw a couple of kayaks up there and find some water.
These look like tire racks used for service trucks to move tires from one location to the next.
However, their purpose is not to contain a load of tires. Instead, they are used much like an overland bed rack. They may offer rollover protection or may not, depending on their design and construction.
5. Truck Sports Bars
The term roll bar doesn’t fully describe new products that are roll bars on steroids. However, by adding racks and rail extenders, today’s selection of roll bars is as extensive as the kind of truck you will put one on.
Like chase racks, which are a type of sports bar, other roll bar models have a built-in brake light and access points for additional wiring, are easy to install and are priced from less than $500 to well over $1000.
Since every manufacturer seems to have a pet name for each of these roll bars, the best thing to do when searching is to look at what everyone offers. Some roll bar styles are easy to install and only require a few bolts, a little wiring, and you’re good to go.
However, other roll bars and some of the racks listed here will require more work, but most roll bars can be installed in an hour or less if you have the right tools.
No roll bar, sports bar, or any other accessory mentioned here is universal. You will need to order the right unit for your truck, or it won’t fit.
Headache racks are not rolled bars
A headache rack is an accessory made of light steel or aluminum that you mount behind the cab to your truck bed. However, it does not offer rollover protection.
The purpose of a headache rack is to prevent the load in your truck from coming through the back window. That means some are equipped with wire mesh, which you can see through, but acts as a net if items in the bed of your truck slide forward.
A headache rack may be better than a roll bar for carrying tools, building materials, or other heavy objects in your truck. Unless you can find a roll bar that will do double duty as a headache rack or have one modified using wire mesh or crossbars.
Although a headache rack is not a roll bar, a roll bar can function as a headache rack. For example, suppose it has wire mesh or rods attached to cover the rear window of your truck to stop any items in the bed from entering the cab in case of a sudden stop.
In that case, it will perform the same as a headache rack and offer rollover protection, too.
A roll bar and a roll cage are not the same things!
A roll bar keeps the cab of your truck’s cab from being crushed in the event of a rollover.
On the other hand, a roll cage also protects the driver in a rollover. A roll cage is a structural part of a vehicle. It will add stiffness to the chassis because it is welded to the car instead of bolted down.
Racecars are mandated to have roll cages for the safety of the driver. Roll bars on trucks, however, are often accessories added for looks.
If you use your truck for off-road activities, roll bars, overland bed racks, a chase rack, or pack rack may be called for as an addition to your pickup. It will add rollover protection and a way to haul the gear you need to get into the wilderness and back out again.
There is a wide variety of roll bars
Roll bars have come a long way since the first jeep owner welded steel tubing to the top of a jeep to make it safer and carry gear. The number of ways to add rollover protection and cargo-carrying ability is impressive.
In addition, the designs will give your truck a unique appearance. This list should have given you some ideas for adding a roll bar, bed rails, or other bed accessories to your truck.