What’s the difference between a rollcage and a sport bar? Which do I want for my weekend wheeler that’s also a daily driver?
There’s no hard and fast “official” definition, which is partially why the terms are confusing. Generally speaking a rollcage is a weld-together or sometimes bolt-in piece that was designed as one unit, while a sport bar is an add-on piece to an existing roll bar. But people also use the term sport bar (including Jeep) to refer to a factory roll bar with a single B-pillar hoop and spreaders that go front, or back, or sometimes both. To further muddy the waters, sport bar is also a marketing term intended to deflect liability, as roll bar implies rollover protection. Many years ago we purchased a weld-in cage kit from a very well-known brand that had a sticker noting that the “light bar” was not intended for rollover protection. In our highly litigious society, roll bar and rollcage carry a lot of liability with them for the manufacturer, which is why many avoid using the terms.
No matter the term, there are lots of options on the market, particularly for Jeep vehicles. Some of them are very good and some are pretty sketchy, so it’s up to each wheeler to do the research and make a decision based on needs, usage, and budget.
But whether you go with an add-on piece or a full cage, the same principles apply. In the case of Jeeps, we like to operate on the assumption that any addition to the factory stuff is better than nothing, especially pre-TJ. We generally prefer weld-in cages over bolt-in systems, but that’s not to say there aren’t a couple of manufacturers making pretty good bolt-in kits, including Rockhard 4x4 (rockhard4x4.com) and Rusty’s Off-Road (rustysoffroad.com). The integrity of weld-in kits is also largely dependent on the skills of the person doing the welding and the equipment used, so unless you or a buddy of yours is a qualified welder it’s best to have any roll bar welding done by a professional. That’s why a bolt-in cage might make more sense (and be safer) for do-it-yourselfers.
As for what to look for, 1.75x0.120-wall DOM tubing is suitable for most noncompetitive rollcages. Crossbars and triangulation is important, so the more of that you see, the better. Bolting a cage to a floor is better than no cage at all, but whenever possible tie the rollcage directly to the frame, or at least to other body armor, to help spread the loads encountered during a roll.
So why would you want a cage for your weekend wheeler/daily driver? Accidents can happen just as easily with a weekend wheeler as they can with a hardcore trail rig. Just try and go with the best cage you can afford, regardless of what it might be called.