Best Running Boards for Trucks: A Step Up

Vivek Nayyar
by Vivek Nayyar

Top 8 Best Truck Running Boards

best running boards for trucks a step up

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.

Updated 6/25/2021 to remove our promoted product recommendation.

Table of Contents

1. Editor’s Pick: TAC 3" Black Nerf Bar 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.

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

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.

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.

2. Off-Road Worthy: 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

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.

3. Highly Reviewed: iBoard 304 Stainless Steel Black 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)

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.

4. Bully Black Bull Series 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.

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

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.

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.

5. AMP Research PowerStep XL

The most high-tech running boards on this list, and they come at a high price too. As you can imagine, these are electronically programmed to extend and retract at the same time as your doors open and close. They have handily also installed LED lights, which makes them easier to use in low-light situations. As for the boards themselves, they are all metal except for the plastic end covers. They look sturdy. Their main drawback seems to be an overly complex process to install them. Otherwise, they are the most affordable for that king of the road feeling, even when climbing in or out.

Pros

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

Cons

  • Blindingly expensive, installation time

Bottom Line

  • Pricey but worth it.

The most high-tech running boards on this list, and they come at a high price too. As you can imagine, these are electronically programmed to extend and retract at the same time as your doors open and close. They have handily also installed LED lights, which makes them easier to use in low-light situations. As for the boards themselves, they are all metal except for the plastic end covers. They look sturdy. Their main drawback seems to be an overly complex process to install them. Otherwise, they are the most affordable for that king of the road feeling, even when climbing in or out.

6. APS iBoard Running Boards 5" Custom Fit

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).

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

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).

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.

7. “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.

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

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.

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.

8. YITAMOTOR 6.5 Inches Running Boards

These black stainless-steel boards are slick but also safe with the added textured surface. All materials used are wear- and rust-resistant, a must as they are fixed in place and exposed. Each side can support up to 350 lbs. It seems that the quality of the hardware provided isn't of the same quality level as the step themselves. You'll want to visit your nearest hardware store to pick up the right size screws, and you will be ready to install them.

Pros

  • Unique appearance, plenty of stepping space

Cons

  • Reports of odd fitment

Bottom Line

  • Worth the work

These black stainless-steel boards are slick but also safe with the added textured surface. All materials used are wear- and rust-resistant, a must as they are fixed in place and exposed. Each side can support up to 350 lbs. It seems that the quality of the hardware provided isn't of the same quality level as the step themselves. You'll want to visit your nearest hardware store to pick up the right size screws, and you will be ready to install them.

FAQs

Is aluminum or stainless steel better for running boards?

A couple of factors must be considered while going for a running board and based on those points, your decision may vary. For instance:

Aluminum

It is a light material and therefore the running boards made of this element are not strong enough to handle extremely heavy weight.

Depending on the quality and/or type of aluminum, the running boards may or may not be highly corrosion resistant. Therefore, if you plan to go for aluminum boards, consider having those that are made of marine grade that tends to last longer.

Because corrosion is one of the major factors when it comes to durability, you may want to get aluminum boards if you live in a humid-free, dry region.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is comparatively stronger than aluminum and therefore running boards made of this element can handle heavy weight.

This metal is highly corrosion resistant and can be safely used in humid regions.

The bottom line is, aluminum running boards are lighter but are prone to corrosion and cannot handle heavy weight. On the other hand, the boards made of stainless steel are heavy but are corrosion resistant and can hold comparatively heavier entities.

Should I put running boards on my truck?

A quick and short answer is, yes, you should. There are a couple of reasons for installing running boards on your truck including:

They provide an additional step to get in and out of your truck pretty conveniently. This is mostly helpful for the short people.

They help the interior of your truck/vehicle to remain clean by serving as a doormat, especially when you or any of the passengers attempt to get in from a muddy or dusty road.

They protect your vehicle by blocking all the debris, stones, pieces of rocks, and nails from hitting the door panels.

Keeping the above factors in mind, it would a good idea to have running boards installed on your SUV or truck.

Who makes quality running boards?

Even though you may have a different perception when it comes to a brand, some of the reliable running board manufacturers are:

Tyger – The company was founded in 2013 and is located in California, USA

TAC – The company was founded somewhere in 2001 and is located in the USA

Westin – The company was founded somewhere in 1981 and is located in San Dimas, California, USA

APS – The company was founded somewhere between 2007 and 2008 and is located in Ontario, California, USA

Note: The above list is based on the reviews the products of each brand have received from the users.

How much ground clearance do you lose with running boards?

The fact is, your vehicle has as much ground clearance as its lowest part or accessory. If you notice, several parts underneath your car are pretty close to the ground. With that said, even if you install running boards, they won’t affect the ground clearance much.

However, the position of the brackets, a.k.a. the angles that hold the running boards also play a vital role in giving your vehicle a decent level of gap from the road. Simply put, the lower the brackets are installed the lesser ground clearance your automotive with have.

How much does it cost to have running boards installed on a truck?

It would cost somewhere around $100 to $150 to get running boards installed on a truck. However, there are various factors that affect the price range such as getting the boards from your vehicle’s manufacturer’s authorized store might be pricier but will be a perfect fit and covered under warranty. On the other hand, if you install aftermarket running boards from a third-party vendor, they could be cheaper but the quality might not be reliable and you may also have to check the duration and type of warranty they offer with the piece of equipment.

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.

(Editor’s note: 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.)

[Product images provided by the manufacturer.]

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  • Proud2BUnion Proud2BUnion on Oct 01, 2021

    This is a basically a repost of an article from early 2019. At that time I took TTAC's recommendation and purchased #2 for my son's 2018 F-150. The boards themselves have held up fairly well, aside from some minor paint flaking. However, our Minnesota winters have taken their toll on the poor quality attaching brackets & hardware. Extreme rust, and forget about easily removing to repaint. This year we will try bed refinishing with bed liner spray, as our repaints have quickly failed.

  • Jpolicke Jpolicke on Mar 21, 2022

    I just put a set of the #7 boards on my '22 Frontier. Very pleased with the look. They split the distance between the ground and step-in height almost perfectly in half and make entry easier for my wife who isn't as limber as she used to be. Do people really pay to have these put on? Nissan thoughtfully provides 3 pairs of threaded studs under the body on each side to attach the brackets. My complaint with the tubular style as shown in #1 is that they put the step inserts where they think they look right but have little connection to where you actually put your feet to get in and out.

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