Trucks and SUVs are the largest they’ve ever been, growing almost 25% between 1989 and 2019. That makes it increasingly hard just to get in your door if your vehicle didn’t come from the factory with running boards. It’s particularly hard for smaller people, children, and older adults, so much so that according to the most recent data from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), falling while entering or exiting a vehicle is the #1 cause of non-crash injuries. An estimated 146,000 people a year require a trip to the hospital or or a visit from an EMT for injuries caused by getting into and out of vehicles. That’s 400 people a day, every single day. Anything you can do to make that safer, especially installing side steps or running boards, won’t just make your life easier, it could save you a trip to the hospital.

Many trucks and larger vehicles already have specified mounting points in the frame to which to bolt aftermarket running boards. That means you probably won’t have to modify your vehicle to attach them, it’s a project you can do at home. You can still install a set if you don’t have the right holes, but you’ll need to do some drilling, and maybe tap threads into a new hole. Your running boards will have instructions, and sometimes some of the tools, but it is a larger project. Bolt-on aftermarket running boards also won’t void your vehicle’s warranty (see Table of Contents), as long as they don’t cause any damage.

There are three different choices when you want to add running boards: side steps, running boards, and nerf bars. Side steps are a square or U-shaped bracket that bolts on, either under a door, or to give you better access to a truck bed. A running board is longer, often running the length of your truck’s cab, and is there to act as a long step or platform. Nerf bars are usually the length of your cabin, and are intended to protect against damage when offroading. Many also include cutout steps. 

For more information about which ones to get, how to install them, and how to take care of them, see our Table of Contents.

1. Editor's Pick: APS iBoards Running Boards

aps iboard running boards

iBoards take their name from their iPhone inspired styling.

APS iBoard Running Boards are modern-looking (“inspired by iPhone”) full-length running boards that come in a brushed aluminum or powdercoated matte black finish, with full length anti-slip rubber inserts. They’re available in five, six, and seven-inch widths, which is useful for trucks with a lot of curve (“tumblehome”) in the lower bodywork. Not all widths are available for all applications. 

They’re made of 6061 aluminum so they can’t rust and have a 300 pound weight rating, and mounting hardware and brackets are included. The running boards themselves are fairly low profile, but on many applications the brackets hold them fairly far out from the vehicle, and both the brackets and mounting hardware can be visible. Depending on your vehicle, you may need to drill and tap holes. If so, you’ll need your own drill, bits, step bits, and tap wrench, but not taps, which are included. Users say the hardware is good quality, but the included instructions can be vague. Customer satisfaction is overall very high with the running boards, less so with customer service (see below). There are higher quality running boards available with longer warranties, but they can easily cost twice as much as iBoards. Ratings for iBoards are generally in the 90 to 93% positive range, although a few fitments are lower.

APS Warranty and Customer Service

Parent company APS Auto Parts Specialist Inc. offers a one-year limited warranty on iBoards, which is very short for aluminum running boards, most of which have five-year or lifetime warranties. The IPS site has no customer service contact information, so you have to go to the APS website, which has a US toll free and Canadian local number in Vancouver. It was easy to get through to a human being when we called, who immediately volunteered information on some common problems with our example truck, before we even asked a question. The APS site has a semi-useful page listing installation instructions for almost 6,000 different products, which are also generally available on the Amazon page for each part number, and they’re the best we’ve seen, with great drawings and clear steps.

2. Most Premium: Go Rhino RB20 Running Boards

Go Rhino! RB20 running boards

Galvanized and bedliner coated, Go Rhino! RB20 side steps are a premium choice.

If you’re looking for a set of running boards that will hold up for a long time and like a no-nonsense look, Go Rhino’s RB20 series are for you. They’re made of 16-gauge galvanized steel, with another layer of bedliner spayed on top for grip and protection. Go Rhino RB20 side steps come as a pair as complete, usually no-drill kits, with bolts and any hardware. Instructions are good, with color photos.

So why doesn’t everyone use them? The industrial look and matte finish are aimed at work trucks and offroaders, and availability outside pickups and full-size SUVs is limited. They also have a lot of competition from other high-end brands at their high price point. Ratings for the few models with over 100 reviews are over 90% positive. Don’t confuse them with the BR20 series, which are bumpers.

Go Rhino Warranty and Customer Service

Go Rhino offers a five year limited lifetime on materials and finishes (on products not designed to come into contact with rocks). Their stainless steel running boards have a limited lifetime warranty. Go Rhino pays for shipping both ways on returns, which is a real benefit when a pair side steps can weight 100 pounds. Their site has .pdfs of installation instructions for all current products, and rebate forms. A US based customer service toll-free number is available, along with email and in-person help at their Brea, California, showroom. We called Go Rhino twice with different sample questions and both times we got through to a real person immediately, and both times our questions were answered in under two minutes.

3. Heavy Duty: Tyger Auto Star Armor Kit

tyger auto star armor kit

With capacities up to 500 pounds, Tyger Star Armor are your most heavy duty option.

Most running boards support 250 to 300 pounds, but the beefy Star Armor set of nerf bars with side steps from Tyger Auto is rated at 500 pounds, thanks to a reinforced, truss-like triple tube design. The lower rock-rail style two-inch diameter tubes with 0.120-inch thickness walls help to protect rocker panels from damage while offroading and help to slide over obstacles.

To resist corrosion, Star Armor nerf bars have sealed ends and coated interiors. The exterior is dual-stage powdercoated for a slip-resistant surface, and all have laser-cut star pattern steps for the appropriate number of doors for your vehicle. They’re available for most late model Jeeps and full-size pickups, along with other models popular for offroading. Some applications not available on Amazon are for sale on their site, but equivalent part numbers tend to be cheaper on Amazon. We particularly like that their listings show the specific application for that vehicle, and not a generic photo. Most of them are bolt on to existing step board mounting points, and the including hardware is very high quality and black oxide coated. You’ll want to take extra time and care in installation to be sure they stay attached if you’re offroading.

With heavy duty performance comes heavy weight and a higher price. Models for four door trucks can weigh over 50 pounds each, which both makes them hard to install and contributes to your overall weight. Some people reported that the side steps could use more texturing to provide better grip in slippery conditions. They’re expensive, but generally priced lower than competing premium brands. We didn’t see any models with over 100 reviews that had a less than 90% positive rating, and many are over 95% positive.

Tyger Auto Warranty and Customer Service

Tyger Auto is based in California, and has a US-based toll-free number for customer service. There are additional web forms for technical support, and you can upload photos to help. Tyger advertises no-hassle support for their five-year warranty on materials, workmanship, and finish. They pay shipping for returns if you keep the original packaging. Installation instructions and some videos are available on their website.

4. Ionic Stainless Steel Curved Nerf Bars

ionic stainless steel curved nerf bars

Ionic nerf bars with step pads have an OE look and lifetime warranty.

Ionic’s stainless steel three inch nerf bar running boards have an understated, classic appearance and an original equipment look that’s not out of place on any truck or SUV. They’re constructed from 304L stainless steel, which is less durable than 304 stainless, but can be easier to weld and could result in higher-quality construction. They use a powder-coated drop bracket to place them about three inches below and away from your vehicle’s pinch weld, making the most of a small reinforced step area. If you need a larger platform to stand or climb on, or a step that doesn’t hang down, you’ll probably want a different style of side steps.

The drawback of the bracket mounting system is that there’s more hardware, and it takes more time to install. The instructions have good photos and illustrations, but the written portion could be clearer (see below for some issues we had with instructions).  The stainless steps are rated at a high 500 pounds, which should also make them suitable for at least light duty use as sliders. They are available in larger diameters, as well as a Pro Series which Ionic says is made from “marine grade” stainless steel but is largely priced the same.

Ionic side steps don’t have an extensive review history, but those with over 100 ratings average about 90% positive. There is very confusingly a brand called Iconic made by The AAM Group, which makes similar products but only sells through brick and mortar retailers, not online. If you search for Ionic, you’re likely to end up on the Iconic website, which is the first result. We spent a long time lost and confused before we figured out the difference.

Ionic Warranty and Customer Service

There is a limited lifetime warranty on Ionic  stainless steps, while black powder coated ones have a three year warranty. We don’t know who makes Iconic and the brand doesn’t have it’s own website, but is distributed by RealTruck and may be an in-house brand of theirs. So when we couldn’t find installation instructions for our example 2018 Chevrolet Sierra 1500, we called RealTruck’s toll-free customer service number for help. We navigated to a representative quickly, and the one we spoke to was knowledgeable, helpful, and spent a lot of time talking with us, but wasn’t able to come up with instructions. This may have been a fluke, but make sure your order comes with all the paperwork. RealTruck does have many useful YouTube videos, so a search there is a good idea.

5. N-FAB EpYx Nerf Steps

N-FAB EpYx nerf steps

N-FAB nerf steps are angular and close fitting with drop down steps.

N-FAB EpYx nerf steps are full-length bolt-on nerf bars with step cutouts for late-model trucks and SUVs. N-FAB makes a big line of step bars, and the EpYx stands out for its square bar construction and distinctive chevron cutouts. 

A drop-down step at each door provides a solid surface, but isn’t good for offroading, where it would catch on terrain. The bars themselves hug a truck’s rocker panels tightly, which is a clean look and means the only thing sticking out is the step. Construction is all steel with a black powdercoat. They’re designed for bolt on installation with modular, adjustable brackets so you can fine tune the fit.

We looked instructions for several models and they were clear and easy to understand, if brief. Ratings across different models of EpYx steps are consistently 89% positive, which is very good. Users complained about damage in shipping, and some inconsistent manufacturing quality.

N-FAB Warranty and Customer Service

N-FAB is part of the Truck Hero family of brands, which includes names like Husky Liner, ARE, Lund, and Superlift. N-FAB and Truck Hero have separate toll-free numbers, which gives you more ways to contact them if you need to. N-FAB has installation instructions online and we were able to find the ones we looked for easily. N-FAB offers a five year warranty on powdercoat finishes, and a limited lifetime warranty on materials and workmanship, which includes welds and brackets.

6. Westin Pro Traxx 4 Oval Nerf Step Bars

Westin Pro Traxx 4 nerf bar side steps

Pro Traxx 4 nerf bar side steps are simple and strong, and have a good warranty.

Westin Automotive makes 30 different assorted designs of running boards, step bars, and nerf bars. We picked their four-inch diameter Pro Traxx 4 model as one of the simpler and more affordable options in their lineup. 

Pro Traxx 4 nerf step bars are saddle-mounted in included triple two-piece bolt-on brackets, and feature a wide injection-molded polymer step pad with grooves to drain water, provide traction, and catch mud. OE-style 30-degree ends are fully welded, and the brackets are covered with injection-molded polymer caps on most applications.

You’ll have to decide if you like the look and expense of the stainless steel version, or black e-coated mild steel. If you’re in a coastal area or expecting heavy use, we’d choose the stainless, as rust is a common issue on all brands of step bars. Coatings are also susceptible to being blasted off by grit and rocks as miles of driving accumulate.

Almost all truck and SUV applications are bolt on, with triple brackets on each side. Even the longest versions for a full-size double cab pickup don’t weight much more than 25 pounds, which is half what a comparable set of running boards might be, making one one-person installation much simpler. Westin does not list a weight capacity, but users report they do not flex when installed with all three brackets.

Westin Warranty and Customer Service

Westin stainless steel nerf steps have a limited lifetime warranty on materials defects, versus five years for black finishes. We aggregated over 1,000 reviews of different fitments, and the Pro Traxx 4 scored a very good 87% positive. The Westin site has a toll-free number to the California headquarters for customer service, as well as an email, web form, and rebate forms where applicable. Buyers report that customer service is responsive and knowledgeable. We looked for a variety of installation instructions on the Westin site, and they are easy to find and more complete than some other step bars, but aren’t very easy to follow, with a lot of information packed into a small area.

7. Bully Universal Truck Coated Side Step Set

Bully AS200 universal side steps

Universal side steps are very affordable and can require some work to install.

If all you need is a leg up and you’re willing to trade some time and effort to save money, you can install a set of universal cast aluminum side steps from Bully. They call them stirrups and they are about the size of that piece of horse tack, a 3.5-inch deep textured hoop step that looks great and only weighs 3.25 pounds each. They’re sold in sets of two or four and are by far the most affordable option on our list.

Achieving the 350 pound weight rating will depend in part on the quality of your installation. As you’d expect for something that weighs less than a two-liter bottle of soda, these side steps are going to have some flex under heavier loads. There are 56 pieces of hardware and 11 pages of instructions to work through. You’ll also need a basic tool kit including a drill and good bits, punches, files, screwdrivers, wrenches and sockets. Bully recommends twist drills, but it would be worth having a high-quality set of step drill bits on hand, too. Some installations also require bending the universal bracket

At 12.25 x 10.75 x 6 inches, these side steps don’t have a lot of clearance for some modern vehicles with the frame deep inboard, specifically 2009-2018 Dodge Rams, which require an additional installation kit. The advantage of the universal installation is these step bars are usable on older SUVs and trucks for which there are no custom parts.

We don’t know that much about Bully Truck Accessories, but they’ve been selling these steps for 17 years, and they have a fair 80% positive rating with over 1,500 reviews. It is worth noting that universal side steps universally do not have very good reviews, largely due to problems with installation, and 80% is very good for the category.

Bully Warranty and Customer Service

There is a toll-free customer service number and email for parent company Pilot Automotive both in the instructions and on the website, but we called and ended up on hold. No one picked up. We could not find any warranty information, but the side steps are covered by Amazon’s 30-day return policy.

8. TAC 3" Tubular Side Steps

TAC 3" tubular stainless steel side steps

TAC side steps are great quality, but we have concerns about customer service.

TAC (Truck Accessories Company) makes side steps and running boards in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials, including three-inch tubular side steps in stainless steel. They’re available for most full-size, late-model domestic pickups, and a handful of other models. They feature what TAC describes as “marine-grade” CNC-bent polished stainless steel, (which isn’t an official standard, but generally refers to 316 or 304 stainless alloys), with custom-made brackets, and UV-resistant step inserts. Replacement pads can be ordered through the TAC Auto Parts website, although see our caution below. Many of TAC’s side steps also come in powder-coated black mild steel, which are otherwise identical.

Users report the included hardware and installation instructions are good, and installation is straightforward. In areas exposed to salt, whether coastal or in the snow belt, we recommend the stainless option. These are hollow step bars and include a drain plug, so moisture inside can rust them out. We suggest adding an O-ring or rubber washer to the steel drain plug.

TAC Warranty and Customer Service

We calculated a proportional review score for almost 4,000 ratings of TAC side steps, and they averaged a great 92%. This used to be our #2 pick, but when we called their toll-free customer service number, we were sent to voicemail. We called at noon on a Friday, and almost two weeks later no one had called us back. TAC offers a three-year “no hassle” warranty, but we question how easy it would be to make a warranty claim. They state there is a one-day turnaround for email requests, so we emailed them at the same time, but never received a response there, either. If you have a problem, we’d recommend going through social media channels, but you shouldn’t have to. This is a good product let down by customer service.

What Are Nerf Bars and Running Boards For?

Nerf bars and running boards simply help you get in and out of a high-up vehicle easier.

While running boards are most often affixed to tall vehicles such as full-size trucks and SUVs, sometimes shorter people or those with limited range of movement will install them on crossovers and small trucks as they may still have trouble getting into these vehicles.

Many truck or SUV owners also appreciate aftermarket running boards for the tough, rugged look it gives their vehicle. As such, many running boards are designed to enhance the exterior appearance of a truck or SUV and come in multiple finishes such as chrome, black or brushed metal.

What Types of Running Boards Are There?

There are three types aftermarket steps for vehicles: running boards, nerf bars and side steps.

A running board is a completely flat step that mounts to the side of a truck or SUV underneath the doors.

A nerf bar, meanwhile, also mounts to the side of a truck or SUV underneath the doors, but feature cutout sections for the passengers’ feet. These sections usually feature rubber grips or a textured surface, giving the user extra grip when getting in and out of the vehicle.

Side steps are a narrow, single step that serve the same purpose as a running board. These can be installed on the side of a truck or SUV underneath the passenger doors, or behind the rear axle on a truck to help the user access the bed more easily.

How Do I Install Running Boards?

Installing running boards is usually a simple process, although you may want to have a friend help you out, as a second set of hands can be extremely useful if your running boards are heavy.

Many aftermarket running boards, nerf bars or side steps will come with instructions on how to install them. Many vehicles will have factory-drilled mounting points in the frame for mounting running boards, so all you’ll have to do is fit them in place and fasten them down with the hardware included with your running boards.

If your vehicle does not have pre-drilled holes, you’ll need to drill them yourself. We’d suggest getting a professional to install them if the holes aren’t pre-drilled, however, as you don’t want to compromise your vehicle’s frame.

In short, follow the instructions provided with your running boards for details on how to install them. You can also look online for how-to videos, such as the YouTube clip below.

How Much Weight Can Running Boards Hold?

Weight ratings aren’t always listed, but run between 300 and 500 pounds. Some side steps give you the option of using two or three brackets, which can help stiffen up a set if they’re sagging. There isn’t any standard for weights, and no manufacturer is testing every different model. As a rule of thumb, more brackets attaching your step bars to the frame will hold more, although you probably won’t be able to, or need to, fit triple brackets under a single cab truck or two-door Jeep. Even with extra brackets, a long run as in a full-size crew cab pickup may flex no matter what, especially if you put two big people on it at the same time. Breakage from overloading is very rare, but if you do it repeatedly, you’re likely to make small cracks or other wear that can lead to rust.

What Are Running Boards Made From?

Step bars are universally made from either stainless steel, coated mild steel, or aluminum. There are a few off-brand carbon fiber running boards, but we didn’t find any from major manufacturers. They all have advantages and disadvantages. 

Stainless steel side steps are top-of-the-line products. They often have weight ratings up to 500 pounds and lifetime warranties against materials defects. The high strength of stainless steel means they can be thinner and lighter, making them easier to install. Stainless steel is very resistant to rust, although it will still happen with time, and brackets and fasteners are not usually made of stainless. Both materials and manufacturing are more expensive, so stainless steel nerf bars are generally more expensive than a comparable set of mild steel step bars. Stainless steel is also harder to weld than mild steel, so you won’t find complicated designs, usually just simple bends in tubes, or rectangular bars. 

Mild steel refers to unhardened steel. It has more flex and is less likely to crack than hardened steel, which might be used in the high strength application of mounting brackets. Without a coating, it will begin to rust immediately. The best steel running boards are galvanized, which electrically bonds a rustproof zinc coating to the steel, then coated with further layers of protection to protect the galvanized finish. They must be coated inside and out. All these coatings can wear off, either chipped off by debris spraying up from the road, or where fasteners or steps attach. Mild steel is relatively simple to weld and repair. Look for coated steel running boards with a five year warranty.

Aluminum step bars cannot rust, but they will corrode with time. Like stainless steel, aluminum is challenging to weld, so these often come in simple extruded and bent designs like ovals, tubes, and rectangular bars. When they are produced in more complicated shapes, they tend to be more expensive. Aluminum needs to be thicker than steel to achieve the same strength but is much lighter, so they weigh about the same or even less than as stainless, making installation easier for one person. Aluminum can be polished to a bright sheen, brushed, or coated. When aluminum and steel come into direct contact, galvanic corrosion can happen, weakening the aluminum and rusting the steel.

Will Installing Running Boards Void my Vehicle's Warranty?

No. There’s a Federal regulation in the United States called the Magnuson Moss Warranty-Federal Trade Commission Improvements Act, which states that a dealership or manufacturer must prove that an aftermarket part is responsible for a failure. The burden of proof is on them. This doesn’t mean that a shady dealership won’t give you a hard time, and if your running boards do cause damage, it won’t be covered under warranty. But they can’t claim that your step bars damaged the transmission, for instance.

This does mean that it makes sense to take some precautions, especially where you’re connecting to the frame. Make sure all the surfaces are clean and try not to scratch any protective coatings. We would give any contact areas a spray of rust preventive like Cosmoline or Fluid Film after installation, wash it regularly, and touch up the spray coating a couple of times a year. Checking your bolts at the same time to make sure they haven’t loosened is a great idea, and make sure you don’t have steel hardware in contact with an aluminum frame or step bar, or vice versa, which can cause galvanic corrosion.

 

Recent Updates:

February 28, 2022: Replaced black Bully side steps with a Aluminum model due to reviews. Removed Westin HDX Drop Steps due to poor reviews. Updated customer service experience with iBoards.

February 25, 2022: Updated information for Westin Pro Taxx 4 nerf bar side steps. Updated FAQs. Updated customer service experience with Go Rhino brand.

February 24, 2022: Updated information for Westin Pro Taxx 4 nerf bar side steps.

February 18, 2022: Moved TAC to last place due to poor customer service. Removed Tyger Riser running boards, added N-FAB nerf steps.

February 15, 2022: Updated product information for APS iBoard, Ionic, and Tyger Auto nerf bar side steps. Updated our customer service experience with Ionic and TAC, and disambiguated Ionic and Iconic. 

February 14, 2022: Updated and expanded FAQs. Removed Westin Sure Grip side steps due to poor reviews. Added Go Rhino! RB20 series.

February 11, 2022: Moved TAC brand from 2nd to 6th place due to lack of customer support. Removed Lund nerf bars because of lack of review history.

February 9, 2022: Updated introduction and FAQs. Updated information and product link for APS iBoard.


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