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Pickup trucks are immensely popular in the United States due to their remarkable versatility. However, the elevated chassis and ground clearance—meant to enhance durability—can pose challenges when it comes to getting into and out of the vehicle. This issue has led to a growing demand for running boards.
Not only do these running boards simplify access to the truck's cab, they also enhance your vehicle's appearance and provide additional protection while off-roading. Still, a set of running boards can range from under $100 up to nearly $1000 for boards with features like power operation. We spoke with Chris King of RealTruck, a guru on all things truck accessories, to find out which running boards offer the best performance, value, and style.
Things To Consider
To ensure you select the correct running boards for your needs and vehicle, there are some important things to remember.
Ensure the running boards you choose are compatible with your truck's make, model, and year. Different vehicles have different mounting points and styles, so it's crucial to select running boards designed for your specific model of SUV or truck.
Running boards are typically made from materials such as aluminum, steel, or ABS plastic. Aluminum is lightweight and resistant to rust, while steel offers exceptional strength. ABS plastic running boards are durable and resistant to corrosion. Choose a material that suits your preferences and the weather conditions in your area.
Running boards come in different styles, including nerf bars, step bars, and power retractable boards. Nerf bars have a tubular design, step bars have a flat stepping surface, and power retractable boards automatically extend when the door is opened. Consider the style that complements your vehicle's appearance as well as your functional needs.
Check the weight capacity of the running boards to ensure they can support the weight of the individuals who will be using them.
The Best Truck Running Boards
The Podium Steps are essentially an evolution of the old-school hoop step. It's made from heavy-duty stainless steel that's powder-coated for corrosion resistance. The step pads are fairly large at 5 inches wide and feature a serrated non-slip step surface. All the hardware you need for installation is included, and they bolt up easily in two steps.
The Power Step from AMP Research is one of the most popular units on our list, and it's clear why. It is made from lightweight aluminum coated in black teflon and features a slip-resistant step surface and LED courtesy lights. Obviously, the most important feature is its electric motor that allows the boards to deploy and retract automatically.
"These are the best of the best, and their popularity backs that up," Chris King says. "Open the door, and out they come, offering one of the biggest drops in the category. For most applications, the step simply disappears when not in use. Great for lifted trucks!"
The Power Step comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile warranty.
3-inch Nerf Bars
The Ionic Nerf Bar is a simple, straightforward design, perfect if you don't need any fancy features. It is made from 16-gauge carbon steel with a corrosion and abrasion-resistant finish. The step pads are smaller than others at only 3 inches but feature a non-slip composite pad. They come with vehicle-specific mounting hardware and simple instructions.
N-Fab's Growler steps were designed with maximum traction in mind. It features a 7-inch wide step that runs the length of the board with aggressive perforations running. This, in combination with its powder-coated aluminum construction, makes the Growler perfect for those whose trucks are subjected to more demanding conditions.
The Dominator D6 stands out among Chris King's recommendations as the only boards that double as rock rails. "The mounts keep the step tight to the body, and the wide, perforated step pad provides a secure place to step," King notes. He says this helps to maintain your vehicle's standard ground clearance.
They're made from durable steel tubing, powder coated with a black textured finish and featuring a raised hex pattern on the 6-inch-wide stepping area. Go Rhino also offers a bolt-on 4-inch drop-step kit, which lowers the height of the step and makes it easier to enter your truck (but at the expense of ground clearance).
Retractable Rockguard Steps
The Retractable Rockguard Step is sort of a hybrid. It can function as either a step in its extended position or a rock rail in its retracted position. The dual function is achieved via the use of high-pressure gas shocks that pull and hold the bar in its retracted position. It can be lowered into its step position by stepping down onto the bar. It's made from powder-coated steel tubing and includes all necessary mounting hardware.
Note: Be sure to check for fitment for your specific year, make, and model.
Aluminum Side Hoop Steps
These Side Hoop Steps from DNA Motoring are as simple as they come. It's an old-school bolt-on hoop step made from powder-coated aluminum with a textured step area for traction. It fits a wide range of pre-2000's trucks and even a few newer models. If you want a simple affordable solution for getting in and out of your truck, these are the answer.
Are running boards model-specific?
While there are some universal options out there, most are made for a specific year, make, and model. Chris King explains, "The brackets are designed to fit your vehicle's rocker panel and minimize or eliminate drilling, making installation much easier."
For those with more obscure models or older vehicles that no longer receive as much aftermarket support, there are universal steps and running boards that may require some modification.
Are other tools or specific knowledge required to install running boards?
Chris King says, "Generally, simple hand tools (pliers, wrench, or socket set) are all that's required. Some do require some drilling and wiring, so tools and knowledge to complete that is necessary."
Can running boards be used for off-road driving?
While running boards are not primarily designed for off-road use, there are specialized off-road steps available that provide both functionality and ground clearance. These steps are designed to withstand rough terrain and harsh conditions.
What are rock rails?
Rock rails, also known as rock sliders or rocker guards, are protective metal bars or panels that can be installed on the sides of your truck or SUV. They are designed to protect your vehicle's rocker panels (the area below the doors) from damage when driving over rough, rocky terrain as they would be the first thing that scrapes, rather than the underside of your vehicle.
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Hearst Autos combines the talent, resources, and expertise of three of the largest, most influential automotive publications in the world. The Gear Team has tested a wide variety of automotive products, parts, accessories, and gear, such as Hitch Mounted Cargo Carriers, Truck Tool Boxes, and Car Phone Mounts. We get our hands on each and every product we test. Most are purchased; some are supplied by manufacturers.
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Why Trust RealTruck?
With over 5,000 employees and 35 locations across North America, RealTruck is one of the premier truck, Jeep, and off-road parts and accessories companies in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It's headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. RealTruck designs, develops, manufactures, and sells truck, Jeep, and off-road products with more than 570 patents and growing.
RealTruck employees are made up of truck and off-road lovers, and its RealSource blog is a fantastic destination for information and insight into products, parts, modifications, and fun.
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