By on May 3, 2019

best running boards for trucks

From time to time, TTAC will highlight automotive products we think may be of interest to our community. Plus, posts like this help to keep the lights on around here. Learn more about how this works.

Here’s a tidbit of trivia for you. At a recent truck event, your author was told by an OEM engineer that running boards actually help, not hurt, fuel economy. Preliminary wind tunnel testing allegedly showed that the boards direct the air in such a way as to create something of an air curtain along the side of the truck, effectively creating a streamline effect and reducing turbulence. Scything a cleaner path through the air saves fuel. Take from that anecdote what you will.

If nothing else, running boards help the vertically challenged amongst us to hoist themselves up into the cab of a pickup without needing to deploy a rope ladder or load themselves into a trebuchet. There is an argument that they help improve the truck’s worth at resale time, but your author is not so sure of that assertion, having owned several pickups both with and without running boards. Cash will fly out the window no matter what.

Alert readers will note we’ve selected running boards which fit various iterations of the mighty Ford F-150. We chose a single pickup truck for continuity’s sake and, since the F-Series is America’s best-selling vehicle, we figured it’d be a logical selection. Most, if not all, of the boards in the following post are available for pickups without a Blue Oval on their nose.

(Editor’s note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)

The Best Running Boards

1. Editor’s Pick: TAC 3″ Black Nerf Bar Side Steps

tac 3" side steps

From the lot on Amazon, these were selected as my choice for their appearance and price. Yes, I’m that shallow. Nerf bars refer to round tube-like steps such as the ones you see here (at least in my world; some say the term comes from a small bump between vehicles when racing and nerf bars were designed to keep wheels from tangling). Their design is open to the underside of the truck, allowing snow and other misery to fall straight on through instead of piling up between the step and the door. Personal experience suggests salty brine resting in this area from that foul mix can accelerate rust on the rockers.

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These particular units stretch back only to the aft end of the SuperCrew’s back doors. Some will run from wheel to wheel, providing a stepping point on the truck’s side into the bed area but these do not. Crafted from powder coated mild steel, these units are said to bolt right up to the truck without the need for drilling or poking new holes in your snazzy F-Series. At $119.99, the price is right, as well.

Pros: Looks great, affordable price, tubular design

Cons: Doesn’t provide a bed step

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2. Off-Road Worthy: APS Off-Road 6.5″ Side Armor Aluminum Running Boards

aps off-road 6.5" side armor aluminum running boards

At the polar opposite of the spectrum from the Nerf bars listed above are these brutes from an outfit called iArmor. Their square tube design, slotted step pads, and powder coated black finish give an aggressive off-road look. One-piece aluminium construction allows for a weight rating of 300 lbs, so feel free to order that extra double cheeseburger with bacon.

Or go ahead and take on that rocky trail at Moab. This particular entrant from the iArmor line is designed to act as a rock slider, protecting a truck’s rocker panels and door bottoms from getting bashed on unforgiving rocks when the driver misjudges that off-road driving line or the truck simply runs out of breakover angle. Those slots in the step pads do more than just look good; they provide a space through which dirt and debris can fall, preventing them from looking like a set from Lawrence of Arabia after you power through a sand wash.

Pros: Durable, good looks, will probably outlast the truck

Cons: More expensive than most

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3. Highly Reviewed: iBoard 304 Stainless Steel Black Running Boards

iboard black 5" stainless steel running boards

These are far more practical than stylish, though real-world customer reviews seem to have given this approach a hearty stamp of approval. Its flat profile is certainly unique in the world of running board design. Sticking out a full five inches like a spoilt child’s bottom lip, these steps offer plenty of foot space from which drivers can launch themselves into their pickup truck.

Also of note? The iBoard’s ridged rubber top provides a solid, non slip and continuous footing along the entire length of the bar compared to most other boards which have stepping pads with exposed metal in between. The company says it is made from 304-grade stainless steel and comes with heavy duty brackets. Installation is dead simple, using existing places on the frame as mounting points, and some customers report the seller helpfully sent them links to YouTube videos detailing the process.

Pros: A cubic acre of top-notch reviews, extremely functional

Cons: Plain-jane appearance makes them look plastic (they aren’t)

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4. Bully Black Bull Series Side Step

bully bbs 1101s black bull series multi-fit adjustable side step

Slightly off the range but still within the realm of running boards are these simple side steps. Anyone with even the slightest amount of gearhead in their blood will recall seeing these on custom rigs for decades, dating back to at least the chrome bedazzled units of the ‘70s. Those with longer memories can correct my timeline in the comment section.

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Cast from one-piece of chrome plated aluminum, this step is marketed as a universal fit for most vehicles. Note well: they’re sold by the each so be sure to hit the “2x” button before checking out (unless you don’t want passengers in your truck or you have no friends). They incorporate a cog gear design so buyers can adjust the step’s angle of attack depending on the height of their rig.

Pros: Cheap, lightweight, fits just about every vehicle (including your Cavalier)

Cons: Not much surface area on which to step

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5. AMP Research PowerStep XL

amp research powerstep xl power running board

Yes, Virginia—you can buy aftermarket power running boards. Once the domain of high-spec pickup trucks and the object of scorn from jealous people who couldn’t afford them, power deployable running boards have now hit the accessory catalog. They are predictably expensive, and installing them is a bit of a faff, but the availability of these absolute units means truck shoppers don’t need to splash out for the Limited Tungsten Denali Reserve model to get them.

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As a bonus, this XL version has LED lights embedded in its surface and extends three inches lower when deployed than the non-XL PowerStep from the same company. A dearth of reviews and feedback for this particular unit gives us pause but other products being hawked by this manufacturer seem to be positively received. Note that these things aren’t nearly as flush fitting as factory power deployable boards

Pros: Cool as all get out, brings power steps to the proles

Cons: Blindingly expensive, installation time

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6. APS iBoard Running Boards 5″ Custom Fit

aps iboard running boards

Similar in design to the black iBoards listed above, these steps offer similar functionality but with a chrome-like strip for a bit of styling flair. Sold in pairs, its 5-inch wide corrugated rubber step pad covers the entire running board. This provides a secure, slip-proof, and comfortable step for all hands (or feet, technically).

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These steps don’t have plastic caps on their ends, either, something else with which your author has experience. Running boards without caps can allow dirt and debris, flung up from the front tire, to enter the hollow board. This can rust the thing from the inside out. This particular design is available in three different widths, from four to six inches, and can be ordered in super long wheel-to-wheel configuration that allows for stepping into the truck bed as well.

Pros: Available in a variety of widths and lengths, no-cap ends

Cons: Function over form

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7. “Smartphone Style” Black Powder Coated iBoards

smartphone-style black powder coated iboards

You just knew that smartphones were eventually going to pervade every single part of your life, right? The word is only mentioned once by the manufacturer in its reference to the board’s shape, which is enough. Spanning a good six inches out from the rocker panels of your truck, there’s little chance anyone will miss these things with either their foot or their eyes. Raised ends are said to act as mud guards, which is an innovate touch.

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Reviews are for a variety of styles but seem to be overwhelmingly positive. They are said to be made from ‘aircraft-grade’ aluminium with metal ends welded on for a seamless integration to repel dirt and enhance rigidity. The manufacturer says those ends are “guaranteed to stay on forever”, so look for my return in calendar year 2367 to check on the veracity of that claim. I’ll be bringing Captain Picard with me.

Pros: Positive feedback from customers, you’ll be the only one with them on your truck

Cons: Bizarre look may trap dirt near the truck

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8. MPH Auto 6″ Running Boards

mph auto 6" stylish running boards

These sharp-looking boards are black with a silver edge, not unlike the rectangular iBoards listed above, but are much better looking to these jaundiced eyes thanks to a rounded-edge design. Diagonal lines cut into the black step area give a much different vibe than the whip straight pinstripes of the other units.

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Fitting snugly up against the truck’s rocker panels may be an issue for those of us living in the snow belt but your author needs to remember that not everyone does. In other climes, this fitment likely works just fine. It certainly has a clean look. As you’d expect, the kit includes all mounting hardware and mounting brackets.

Pros: Unique appearance, plenty of stepping space

Cons: Reports of odd fitment

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Tips and Ideas for Installing Running Boards

As anyone who has mounted these things onto the side of a pickup truck (*raises hand*) can tell you, ease of installation is dependent on the presence of all brackets and a good set of instructions. Take things at a walking pace, determine where the boards are meant to be bolted onto the truck, and you’ll resist the urge to fling them a distance far enough to earn air miles.

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In a fit of organization worthy of James May, it’s not a bad idea to lay out all the parts and pieces in logical order before shuffling under the truck to put the boards in place. A second set of hands will be helpful when fitting as these suckers tend to be quite long. Tighten (but don’t overtighten) the mounting bolts to avoid annoying rattling in the future.

And who knows? Maybe your fuel economy will increase.

[Images provided by the manufacturer]

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11 Comments on “A Step Up: Best Running Boards for Trucks...”

  • avatar

    All of these are flimsy jokes compared to N-Fab step bars.

    • 0 avatar

      Is that a real-world problem for almost anyone, though?

      • 0 avatar

        Running boards/nerf bars are nice to have more for getting to things on the roof as opposed to just getting in and out of your vehicle. Nerf bars are probably the best value

        • 0 avatar

          “Running boards/nerf bars are nice to have more for getting to things on the roof as opposed to just getting in and out of your vehicle.”

          Sometimes there are medical reasons why they need to be installed, like for instance, if a lady has had a hysterectomy and cannot easily enter/exit her tall vehicle.

          I know several guys who had to put those boards on their tall vehicles for medical reasons, and that includes ME for my wife’s 2012 Grand Cherokee and my 2016 Tundra.

          • 0 avatar

            Real men don’t need running boards to get up into their high chairs. Dirtball Donald wouldn’t need one.

        • 0 avatar

          Depends on the truck and the person, my wife, who isn’t short for a female would not have an easy time getting into our Super Duty that is at stock height but with the tallest factory tires. It came with the nerf style steps.

          When I put taller tires on the F-150 that didn’t have steps it also became a bit to tall for the wife to comfortably get in. So on went a set of the nerf style steps.

          Can’t say I’ve used either for getting to the roof. Now on the SUV yeah they are nice for putting things on the roof rack.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately the trucks themselves are flimsy jokes here in the land of snow and salt. Nothing you bolt onto a truck should be considered an investment.

      Cheap + Tremclad is the way to go.

  • avatar

    Next item up in the TTAC advertorial grab bag of Must Haves – Best Fake Portholes For Your Pimped Ride.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    Interesting article and some interesting comments.

    I classify running boards into two groups;

    1. Non off road. Non off road bars are fastened to the body of your vehicle and only offer ease of ingress into the cab and provide some protection to your vehicle from rocks and debris flicked up when driving. These types of running boards are generally cheapest and the flimsy.

    2. Off road. These are fastened to your chassis and offer superior strength. These need to be selected carefully. The set I have allow me to slide over rocks, provide high lift jacking along its length and if you buy one that protrudes far enough out it offers protection for your doors when you drop into a deep rut.

    Its important to consider what performance you expect from your running board. Sometimes its worth buying a heavy steel tubular frame with a checker plate top. Its cheap, strong, and easily repaired and can be painted any colour you want (even scratches can be repaired easily).

    Good quality, expensive running boards look pretty, but don’t function any better than steel. If you are buying them to make your truck look pretty at your local Lowes car park, just buy a pretty running board that bolts to the body. It’ll save you money.

  • avatar

    What I want to know is, will we see a return to the classic old movie scene where a cop jumps on the running boards and yells “follow that car!” to the driver?

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