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Shopping Guide - Running Boards

What`s the difference between running boards and side bars? This shopping guide provides the details for you to make the best purchase decision. We also cover custom features and installation.
Shopping Guide - Running Boards

Running boards date as far back as the automobile itself, being integrated into car and truck designs until falling out of favor after World War II. With the boom in sport utility vehicles that began in the 1980s, running boards made a comeback due to their sheer practicality. As sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickups have evolved into mainstream transportation choices for carrying families, friends, and limousine customers, running boards have grown in popularity alongside them - serving as literal "stepping stones" that help passengers conquer the challenges of entering and exiting vehicles with high ride heights.

In this guide, we'll look at the key benefits of running boards, clarify different styles that exist, and help you figure out which ones might add the best looks and function to your vehicle. We'll base our discussion around running boards, side steps, rocker bars, and hoop steps that we offer on our website. Within this shopping guide, we may occasionally refer to all of these variations in general as "running boards".

Items we offer are available in various metals and finishes which you'll see after clicking on any "Product Options" drop down box. For example, there are aluminum and stainless steel versions (usually polished to a high metal shine) as well as traditional mild steel ones coated with durable, weather-resistant chrome or powder coat finishes. We're proud to say that all of them are well-made products we've hand-selected, built by manufacturers with proven track records of creating long-term durability and excellent fit-and-finish levels.

1. Why do I Need Running Boards?

1.1 Functionality

Without an extra step in place, climbing into a 4x4 (especially a raised one) might seem as insurmountable a task as jumping from the ground up to a second-story window. If you've ever helped small children, older folks, or maybe a special lady in a summer dress into or out of a truck with high ride height, you know exactly what we mean.

Child Using Running Boards

Running boards and side steps create a safe and easy location for anyone to plant their feet during their climb up or down. Plus, those stepping surfaces are equipped with grooves or raised textures that maximize foot grip in any kind of weather. Once you've got a set of running boards and side steps installed on your truck, you'll eliminate the anxiety and struggle which less agile people face getting in or out, and you'll increase safety and comfort for everyone. That includes you, too!

Running boards will also protect doors and side panels by deflecting road debris kicked up by wheels. This is especially valuable on gravel and unpaved trails. And if you've got oversize tires on your truck that protrude from the wheel wells, running boards will really save your body from sizeable rocks that can be flung from knobby tire treads. Running boards can also protect you from door dings and dents in parking lots. When you consider how much damage they can spare your truck, it's easy to see how running boards can offset the upfront purchase cost. We've even got running boards with built-in vertical sections near wheel openings which double as mudguards.

With textured grip pads, running boards will serve as an effective doormat for wiping mud, snow, oily gunk, leaves, and more off of shoes before entering the vehicle. The floors of your truck will stay much cleaner without any extra effort on your part.

Metal Grip Side Steps

Because most running boards are made of corrosion-resistant materials such as aluminum or stainless steel, installing them on your truck means you've invested in an asset that will hold its value over time. So when you sell your vehicle, running boards you install from us today will still look good - increasing future resale.

1.2 Style

If you have a pickup, SUV, or Jeep, then you probably feel, as we do, that 4x4s are attractive in nature and serve as great canvasses for creating an individual vehicle identity. Because the overall shapes of truck designs are unpretentious, lines tend to designate strength. And bright work (or black work) applied in the right fashion can heighten bold styling, indicate luxury, or both. In this vein, running boards or side steps can make an impact when it comes to looks and flair. They can create just the right custom look, or a look that's more "finished" than what was originally served up by the factory.

Stylish Running Boards

We understand form is just as important as function when it comes to the selection process. For that reason, we've got running boards covered in finely grooved lines that speak of stately pin-striped formality. There are also boards with stylish webbed patterns, and mesh designs that can be taken for modern art. You'll also find running boards with a traditional flat step surrounded by a supporting tubular bar - creating an effectively striking running board/side step hybrid.

We've also got side steps that are available in a large number of bright colors (including black) - some of which are painted, and some of which are powder coated. So if you've got color accents on your vehicle, colored LEDs, or painted custom wheels, why not look for a match with colored side steps? Or, use a color of choice to create a striking contrast.

And if you'd prefer running boards or side steps that exude ruggedness, we've got those too. For example, aluminum running boards with raised diamond tread pattern (available in polished metal or black powder coat) make a nice match with any diamond tread aluminum tool boxes already mounted in your pickup bed. Or, consider heavy gauge steel running boards with a perforated grate pattern designed to scrub big work boots clean. They're not comfortable to step on with bare feet, but they'll definitely butch up the looks and function of any truck.

2. For Which Types of Vehicles are These Products Made?

Because running boards and side steps are made primarily for function's sake, they're useful only on vehicles with raised ride heights. If affixed to a standard passenger car, running boards would sit at a height that actually gets in the way of your feet. They'd also be easy to bang your shins on! Consequentially, you'll find boards and steps made specifically for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, Jeeps, and select vans. You will not find them for sedans, coupes, hatchbacks, or traditional station wagons.

3. What's Best for Me?

The first choice to make is deciding between a true running board (flat and flush-mounted), a step bar (tubular in shape), or other variations.

3.1 How Do I Use My Vehicle?

Before you make your decision, it's important to consider how you'll be using the vehicle with running boards attached. Think about what your priorities are, and whether you need a bar or board that leans toward serving passengers, or the vehicle itself. For example, will you be using your truck to shuttle paid passengers regularly for Uber or Lyft? If so, running boards will serve passengers well because they protrude out to the side to create larger stepping areas.

Rocker Bars
Rocker Bars
Running Boards
Running Boards
Step Bars
Step Bars

Generally, running boards don't reduce ground clearance, but they can become damaged from side impacts when a 4x4 pitches from left to right on the trails. They also provide minimal protection for the vehicle body itself. Likewise, step bars offer passengers an easy-to-use tubular stepping area that juts down and/or to the side. But while they tend to be beefier, step bars can also become damaged on trails. If you're more focused on rock crawling than passenger convenience, rocker bars may be your best bet. More details are below.

If you're simply looking for bling, you'll find plenty of attractive choices in all styles that let you make a statement. If other exterior accessories are installed on your truck, a browse through various sub-sections (listed below) will likely produce some great ideas for matching or contrasting with what you've already got.

3.2 Running Boards

Running Boards Close Up

Running Boards (also known as "step boards") are wide, flat, and mounted almost flush with the body or rocker panel - leaving little or no gap between the vehicle and the board. With step widths ranging from 2" all the way up to 10", these are typically the easiest to get a footing on. Textured grip strips also add style and safety.

In our "Running Boards" section, check boxes allow you to search among flat, tubular/oval, and powered ones (which retract via electric motors). For length, choose from "wheel-to-wheel", "cab length" (only under doors of pickup trucks), or "bed section" (again, for pickups). Other check boxes let you see various finish choices that include chrome/polished metal, powdercoated/painted, brushed, diamond-tread aluminum, and unpainted ones that are primed for you to paint.

3.3 Bar Side Steps

Bar side steps (also known as "side steps" or "nerf bars") feature round or oval tubular construction. Usually, a single beefy steel bar sticks out along the side - leaving a gap between the bar and vehicle rocker panel. Depending on which product you choose, the top horizontal surface may have flat depressions for stepping areas. Grippy pads are often positioned along horizontal areas to boost traction.

In our "Bar Side Steps" section, you'll see check boxes under the SHAPE heading which allow you to narrow your search to bars that are round, oval, rectangular (4 sides), triangular (3 sides), or trapezoidal (with beveled edges). You can also choose tube diameter, and select whether you want to see bars that run from wheel-to-wheel or just the length of a pickup cab. Under COLOR, choose "chrome" or make a choice among solid colors such as black, silver, and gray.

3.4 Rocker Bars

Rocker Bars Close Up

"Rocker bars" are high-strength tubular side bars designed mainly to protect vulnerable vehicle rocker panel areas against damage during off-roading and rock crawling. Because these are meant to serve the vehicle rather than passengers, rocker bars run close alongside the vehicle's body and have minimal, if any, stepping surfaces. However, some can double as step bars to varying degrees - albeit with a smaller stepping area best suited to agile climbers. We've even got some for Jeep Wranglers and other 4x4s designed for body reinforcement only, without any stepping areas whatsoever.

We also offer rocker bars positioned farther from the vehicle for easier step-up. Some feature 2 (or even 3) parallel-running bars instead of just one. For example, one tube may project fully out to the side as a useful step bar, with a second tube pointing down to protect against clearance issues, while a third section runs close alongside the vehicle's rocker panel for extra strength.

Others offer a separate top bar that pivots down into position for easy use as a step. When you prefer it out of the way, simply release a latch and swing it up. A lower bar is fixed in place to protect rocker panels at all times.

In our "Custom Rocker Bars" section, check boxes allow you to narrow your choices to weight ratings, available colors (black, red, and white, among many others), and finishes such as chrome/painted, powdercoated, or unfinished.

3.5 Hoop Steps

Hoop Step Close Up

Hoop Steps are small side steps designed to allow room for only one foot at a time. They are mounted directly under a door opening to assist with entry and exit of the vehicle. Since they only cover a limited amount of space and don't run continuously along the vehicle side, they won't create much visual change when it comes to your vehicle's overall lines. Hoop steps should be considered by anyone who prefers to avoid full-length running boards, but needs solid functionality.

Many of our customers who have installed our hoop steps feel quality materials and polished designs allow them to look right at home the way original equipment would. And they appreciated that hoop steps provided convenience without the extra bulk running boards add to a vehicle. If you have a pickup, hoop steps can also be placed underneath the side of the bed in order to make climbing up and reaching in easy.

For those who appreciate clean vehicle lines, we've got retractable hoop steps that swing up and completely out of sight. When you need them, simply unlock hinges at the top of the assembly, pivot each hoop step assembly downward, then lock things in place./p>

Most hoop steps are fixed in place, however, you'll find a number of designs made from powder-coated traditional steel, polished aluminum, and stainless steel. If you like the look of tubular bars, you can choose hoop steps with a horizontal section that's an actual tubular bar. If you need maximum mud-scrubbing ability, we've got them with grated step areas designed to dig the most gunk out from between shoe treads (hint: they're not for bare feet though).

We've even got a stirrup-shaped hoop step that features straps and hooks designed to hang temporarily from the lip that runs along the top of Jeep Wrangler rocker panels. When you don't need the step, just detach it and stash it under the seat. And if your truck's equipped with diamond plate mud flaps, bedliner, or toolbox, we've got hoop steps to match.

In The "Hoop Steps" section of our website, our checkbox-driven menu choices allow you to narrow your search by a wide selection of colors or finishes such as chrome/painted, powdercoated, or unfinished.

4. I Do Extreme Off-Roading - Should I Worry About Running Board Damage?

If you purchased your 4x4 because you value high ground clearance for off-roading, traditional running boards and side steps can get in the way when you're crawling over rocks - reducing your clearance and possibly becoming damaged in the process. For this reason, you need to pay particular attention to the boards or steps you fit on your vehicle. Because many of us at CARiD have bounced 4x4s off of boulders in our free time, we understand the needs of the off-roading enthusiast. So we've got you covered with side steps that are ideal for the trails.

Rocker Bars In Use On Rocks

First, we've got beefy, rocker bars designed specifically to protect your rocker panel edges from damage - without protruding a great deal downward or to the side of the vehicle. Depending on vehicle application, some even fit over the door opening lip and envelop the rocker panel completely. Keep in mind that rocker bars offer reduced, if any, stepping surfaces. These can be found in our "Rocker Bars" section.

If rocker panel protection is important but you need a firm surface for stepping up, we also have rocker bars built with multiple horizontal bars instead of just one. While the main bar hugs the rocker panel, additional bars may be placed outward or downward from that main bar to serve as a step. We've also got off-road step bars with a second step bar that retracts out of the way when you want it to.

5. I Don't Like the Look of Running Boards and Bars That Stick Out. Do I Have Any Other Options?

For those who desire the usefulness of a convenient stepping surface but want to avoid the projection of running boards and bars, we've got some options you're going to like. First, there are power-operated running boards that retract when doors are closed. You'll find them by going to our "Step Boards" section, then clicking on the check box marked "Powered".

Powered Running Boards Operation Scheme

Typically, installation of powered running boards isn't overly complicated because mounting brackets with a pivoting design fit easily onto vehicle body mount bolts or existing frame holes. A centralized control module is placed under hood and comes with heavy grade wiring that connects to power motors on the bracket ends. To ensure moving parts do not become compromised by mud and grit buildup, motors and pivot points are sealed with internal lubrication - making them virtually maintenance-free.

Powered Running Board Installed

In our "Hoop Steps" section, we've also got smaller steps that can be folded up underneath the vehicle by hand, then locked in place. Because these don't span a wide length underneath the vehicle, they're far less noticeable and tend not to change the lines of your truck - even when they're folded down for use.

6. What are Some Custom Features of Running Boards?

6.1 Running Boards With Built-in Lights

Running Boards With Built-in Lights

6.2 Aluminum 'Diamond Plate' Pattern Running Boards

Aluminum Diamond Plate Pattern Running Boards

If you need high-strength running boards that match the big-scale style of your pickup truck or sport utility, we've got heavy-duty aluminum running boards with textured diamond plate pattern. These create a look that's strong enough for an 18-wheeler, yet smoothly finished enough for any compact luxury SUV. Even if covered with water, slush, or snow, raised diamond patterns provide a textured running board surface for safe, sure footing.

6.3 Retractable Power Running Boards

Retractable Power Running Boards

How about adding a touch of luxury to your pickup truck or sport utility vehicle? We've got stylish, power-operated running boards that extend outward when you need them, then retract neatly out of sight when you don't. These are perfect for 4x4 owners who need maximum ground clearance during off-roading and for those who prefer not to alter the original lines of their vehicle with fixed running boards.

6.4 Running Boards for Maximum Grip & Removal of Muck

Running Boards For Maximum Grip Removal Of Muck

If you need running boards that can handle big, muddy boots stepping in and out of your truck all day whether it's on the job, on the farm, or driving the team home from a soccer game, we've got you covered. Look for running boards with a perforated grate pattern which provide complete and biting grip for virtually any footwear except heels. These first scrub all moisture and debris out of shoe treads, then promptly drop it through the perforations onto the ground below - effectively removing large amounts of muck before it ends up inside. Heavy-duty steel construction ensures extreme strength.

7. How Does Pickup Cab Length Affect Wheel-to-Wheel Coverage?

After you enter any of the specific sections within our Running Board main page (Step Boards, Bar Side Steps, Rocker Bars, or Hoop Steps), you'll see check boxes under a LENGTH heading on the left side of the screen. Here, we'll focus on "Wheel-To-Wheel" vs. "Cab Length" choices.

Wheel-To-Wheel Coverage

"Wheel-to-wheel" coverage means running boards span the complete length of a pickup, van, or SUV between front and rear wheel well openings. Such running boards can come in the form of a one-piece section spanning the entire length (SUVs), or they can exist in the form of two separate but adjoining sections (pickup trucks).

In two-piece applications, the first section typically runs below a pickup's cab area while the second is cut to fit just the area below the bed - varying in lengths depending on short-, medium-, or long-bed configuration. After year, make, and model details have been entered in Product Options fields, under-cab sections and under-bed sections you need may be sold together or separately.

Cab Length Coverage
Bed Section Coverage

"Cab Length" running boards are available for pickups only, and include only the length underneath the doors of the cab. They do not provide coverage underneath the pickup bed area the way "wheel-to-wheel" products do. We recommend selecting this box if steps for the cab area are all you need or want. As mentioned earlier, some running boards use “Bed Section” pieces in conjunction with cab length sections to provide wheel-to-wheel coverage.

8. What is the Installation Process?

8.1 Do-It-Yourself

Installing running boards or side steps is a straightforward process that can be done with basic hand tools in your driveway. Even if you have access to a lift, performing installation steps on the ground may be preferable because lift support arms can sometimes get in the way.

8.2 Some Require Drilling and Some Do Not

Pre Drilled Holes
Pre Drilled
Drilling Required
Drilling Holes

It's important to note that some running boards will require you to drill holes in the frame of your truck, and others will be designed to use holes that were pre-drilled by the vehicle manufacturer. On a few makes and models, running boards may be configured to use holes on the vehicle frame already being used by items such as body-on-frame isolation bushings, etc. In such cases, existing bolts for these bushings can be temporarily removed without complication. After mounting bracket pieces have been slid over the existing bolts, they are simply re-installed back in place.

Most trucks do, in fact, come with extra pre-drilled holes created specifically for the purpose of bolt-on accessories. As a result, running boards that are " vehicle-specific" typically come with bracket pieces that have been shaped and sized to account for locations of factory-drilled holes.

Running boards that are "universal-fit" are not designed with any specific vehicle in mind. As such, odds are good that bracket pieces for these running boards will require new holes to be drilled.

8.3 A General Overview of Installation Steps

Running Boards On Work Bench

After taking your running boards out of the box, it's important to first make sure all the hardware is included. Instructions from the manufacturer will serve as a reference for how many brackets, nuts, and bolts of each type you should have. Halfway through installation is no time to realize an essential piece is missing.

If your truck was built with mounting holes in the frame already, go ahead and install the running board mounting bracket pieces that came with your kit. If your truck doesn't have p re-existing holes, you'll need to drill them yourself. Instructions with your running board will tell you what size drill bit to use (we recommend bits made specifically for drilling into metal) and where to place the holes.

Apply primer paint to any newly-drilled areas to prevent corrosion of any bare metal surfaces before installing the brackets.

With mounting brackets securely bolted in place on your frame, install the running boards themselves onto the other end of the bracket pieces. Depending on running board design and vehicle application, driver- and passenger-side boards may be asymmetrical. If the boards aren't centered where they should be underneath vehicle doors, you may have the sides mixed up.

If your running boards contain built-in lights, you'll need to connect wiring to your vehicle's electrical system - most likely to a switch that turns interior lights on when any of the doors are opened. If running boards feature power retraction, there may be a control module that needs to be installed as well. Instructions included with your running boards will guide you through these stages, but if you're not comfortable with performing electrical work, there's no shame in using an experienced professional.

Running Board Types Collage

When you've got running boards, side steps, rocker bars, or hoop steps that match your needs and preferences, you're going to look back at your vehicle and smile at how stylish and complete everything looks. And when you look away, you'll continue to smile knowing how much safety and comfort running boards add for your passengers - who will appreciate them greatly.

In addition to everything covered here, we’ve also got the off-roading and truck items you want and need such as taller coil springs, front leveling kits with coil spacers and torsion lift keys, performance shocks and struts designed for off-roading, performance coilovers, off-road wheels, and a host of other upgrades to make your ownership experience more enjoyable. Whatever you’re looking for, we’re confident you’ll find the right products on the digital shelves of our online store. Visit us at www.CARiD.com for all your automotive needs, or contact our knowledgeable specialists at 800-505-3274.

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