What are Running Boards?

Updated on Feb 5, 2024

Written by
 RealTruck Expert Team

Running boards, also called truck steps and truck side steps, are flat boards that run underneath the doors of a vehicle to provide an additional step between the cab and the ground. They're usually four inches or wider, and can run the entire length of your cab or full length to provide a step going into the bed. A popular accessory for trucks, vans, and SUVs, running boards drop down about three inches from your vehicle's pinch weld, making it easier for you to enter and exit the cab.

Some brands, such as AMP and Aries, even offer electric running boards that deploy when you open one of your truck's doors and retract when not in use. These boards come down as low as 10 inches, making them a great choice for customers who need maximum drop distance.

Running Board Materials

The following materials are commonly used to manufacture running boards.

  • Aluminum: Lightweight, sturdy, and rustproof, aluminum is frequently used in the construction of running boards. Some boards, such as Dee Zee Brite Tread Running Boards, are completely made of aluminum. Other boards use an aluminum frame with a polymer overlay. Ionic Factory Style Running Boards are an example of this design.

  • Steel: Used to make heavy-duty running boards, steel is stronger than aluminum and will take more weight before bending or flexing. Running boards made of carbon steel or mild steel will usually come with a black powder coat or E-coat to combat corrosion. Stainless steel boards are more resistant to rust and will usually come with a polished, almost chrome-like finish.

  • Fiberglass: Less common than metal running boards, fiberglass running boards such as Owens Fiberglass Glastep Series are still sought after by some customers because they are easily painted to match a vehicle’s OEM paint code.

Cab Length vs Wheel to Wheel

If you own a pickup truck, you have a choice between cab length and wheel-to-wheel running boards. Cab length running boards are the more common of the two, and are usually more affordable than their wheel-to-wheel counterparts. On a truck with a regular two-door cab, it will provide one step on each side of the vehicle. On vehicles with crew cabs or extended cabs, two steps will be provided on each side of the vehicle.

Wheel-to-wheel running boards extend past the cab and toward your rear wheel well, giving you a step that allows easy access to the sides of your bed. This is particularly helpful if your truck is equipped with a toolbox. Wheel to wheel nerf bars are ideal for customers who need to access items in the bed frequently, such as contractors and anyone who uses their truck to make a living. Some manufacturers, most notably N-Fab, also offer wheel to wheel nerf bars without a bed step.

Cab length running boards will certainly get the job done for many truck owners, but if you routinely access your truck bed, wheel-to-wheel running boards are a better option.

Cab Length Running Boards

The running boards don't extend past the cab.

Wheel to Wheel Running Boards

The boards extend past the cab to provide a bed step.

What About Nerf Bars?

Nerf bars are almost always made of stainless or carbon steel, though there are a few aluminum models as well. Most nerf bars have a step pad on top of the bar at each entrance to the cab, but some manufacturers, such as N-Fab, also offer bars with hoop steps that drop down to provide a step closer to the ground.

On most vehicles, nerf bars are attached to the vehicle's rocker panel area using bolts and brackets that require no drilling. Cab length nerf bars are the most common, but there are also wheel-to-wheel version that provide a convenient step into the side of your bed for accessing cargo or a tool box. Whichever bar you choose, multiple finishes are available including polished, chrome, gloss black, and textured black.

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