Running boards are useful (and sometimes necessary) in vehicles with high clearance. The best running boards not only offer a stepstool into your vehicle, but they can protect doors in the parking lot, increase seat longevity, and prevent passengers from falling when they attempt to enter or exit your vehicle.
But do you want a running board, a side step, or a nerf bar? And what makes for a good running board? This guide will walk you through the basics and suggest several popular brands. We’ll help you find the right fit for your needs, truck, and style.
Running Board Buyers Guide
Running boards come in several styles. Every type of running board can help you step into your cab, but the look of each is very different. Which type you prefer is partially a matter of taste, but may also depend on how you plan to use your running board.
Types Of Running Boards
Generally speaking, there are three styles of running boards: plank, nerf bar, and side step.
- Plank running boards are long flat pieces of metal that run the length of your cab. Because they are wide and long, plank running boards are also good for protecting your trim from road debris. These are also useful for helping passengers to enter your car.
- Nerf bars are typically cylindrical. They won’t provide protection from debris but can be used as a step. This type of bar is also helpful as a buffer against parking lot mishaps. Some prefer the more aggressive look of nerf bars to standard plank running boards.
- Side steps are small steps for helping you into the cab. These don’t run the entire cab length and so offer little parking lot protection. They do add less weight to your vehicle than the other types of running boards.
There are also running boards that blend some of these styles. Some nerf bars include side steps that jut out near the doors.
Running Board Materials
Running boards can be made from any number of materials, but the most common are stainless steel, mild steel, and aluminum. You can also find running boards made of hard plastic. These can last some time but typically are less durable than metal running boards.
- Stainless steel running boards are heavy but corrosion-resistant and very sturdy. Running boards made from this material are typically backed by long warranties.
- Mild steel is less durable than stainless steel. Running boards made with this material are typically galvanized with a rust-resistant coating. Mild steel running boards are often less expensive than stainless steel alternatives.
- Aluminum is extremely lightweight and rustproof.
Additionally, you may want to look for features like non-slip footholds and UV-resistant finishes to ensure peak functionality. Textured black powder coat finishes can also help protect your purchase from the elements.
Regardless of what material you purchase, most running boards will corrode over time, typically at the bracket where it mounts to your vehicle. Keeping the brackets clean and well cared for can increase the lifespan of your running boards.
Running boards must be compatible with your vehicle. Many manufacturers make versions of their products for several brands and models. Be sure that whatever running board you purchase is intended for your vehicle.
Our Review Standards
To select the running boards featured in this buyers guide, we consult our network of experts for their thoughts on running boards. These experts have over 100 years of combined experience in aftermarket auto fields ranging from detailing to accessories to tires, and everything in-between. These experts helped us identify the qualities that would be most important to someone looking for a running board and the standout brands in each category.
Our team then combed through dozens of resources such as DIY mechanic and auto enthusiast forums, manufacturer and running board-specific websites, instruction manuals from manufacturers, and reviews from online retailers. We pay particularly close attention to quality reviews and recommendations that highlight the quality of warranties, customer service support, build quality, materials, and overall reliability.
We also factored in the quantity and quality of online retailer reviews from websites such as Amazon, RealTruck, Advance Auto Parts, and more. We looked at factors such as notable customer reviews, prices, meaningful superlatives, and discount shipping eligibility. We did the research so you don’t have to.
Why You Can Trust Us
Since 2020, we have published over 200 auto product reviews in an effort to make shopping for auto products easier. Our team of writers, editors, researchers, and product experts collaborates to thoroughly vet top products. We try to perform in-house testing on real vehicles whenever possible before making our recommendations.
When testing is not feasible, however, our aim is to make your life easier by doing all the online research for you and presenting that research in the form of easy-to-read product comparisons and buyers guides, rather than outright recommendations. For more information on our testing methodology and how we evaluate every product, check out our methodology page here.
Material: Die-cast aluminum alloy
Cost: $1,000 – $2,000
The Amp Research Power Step is the most expensive, but most advanced, running board on the market. What makes this running board different from typical running boards is that it is electronic and retractable, folding under your truck for improved ground clearance. The Power Step works automatically, extending when you open your door and retracting once closed. If the standard power step is not thick enough, Amp Research also offers a wider XL model.
These running boards include LED puddle lights and an anodized PTFE-coated finish for improved durability and corrosion resistance. The Power Step is also backed by a 5-year/60,000.0-mile warranty.
Because they require power, these running boards have a more involved installation process than your typical running boards. To install them yourself, you will need some wiring knowledge, though customer reports indicate the setup process is not especially difficult for the layperson.
What Customers Are Saying
Most reviews for the Amp Research Power Step are glowing. Drivers frequently mention Amp Research’s customer service and how diligent the company is. Customers state that the company will honor its warranty, though some forewarn others that not all parts are covered under warranty.
Reviewers say these running boards are very sturdy and they like that they extend lower than other running boards. Because it retracts when not in use, the Power Step is able to dip lower without hindering clearance while driving. Many swear these are the best running boards on the market and will use no other brand.
Material: Carbon steel or stainless steel
Cost: $160 – $200
The Ionic Automotive Nerf Bar comes in widths ranging from 3.0 to 5.0 inches. The bars are made of sturdy carbon or stainless steel tubing with welded end caps. The carbon steel variant has a different appearance and a slightly higher tensile strength.
The step pads are constructed from hard durable plastic. These bars run the length of your cab, offering a buffer in parking lots and a convenient rail for hosting yourself into the cab.
These nerf bars are available in polished silver or black. Depending on the specific set you purchase, the pro series bars may be backed by a three-year, five-year, or lifetime warranty. These high-quality nerf bars are exceptionally easy to install and require no drilling in most cases.
Ionic also sells polished aluminum running boards.
What Customers Are Saying
Many customers purchase Ionic nerf bars because of their appearance. They are easy to install and include custom brackets specifically for your vehicle. Reports on installation length vary from 30 minutes to 2 hours. A lot of reviewers think that for the price, it’s hard to beat Ionic products.
A few customers say that their bars began to rust after a couple of years. This will be common for most types of running boards, especially at the mounting brackets. Continued use can wear down the protective layer.
Material: Alloy steel
Cost: Around $110
A side step is the simplest option for adding a step-up assistant. The n-FAB RKR Step is low-cost, very simple to install, and ruggedly built. The RKR step bars are compatible with n-FAB’s RKR rails if you choose to add a nerf bar. They’re also backed by a five-year warranty.
N-FAB also offers nerf bars and running boards.
The n-FAB RKR Step has a universal design.
What Customers Are Saying
Virtually all reviewers say these steps are extremely simple to install. There are two bolts for each step, and most trucks have mounting locations pre-drilled. These steps are even compatible with trucks that already have bars or rails installed. The well-built, thick steel is appreciated.
A few customers note that n-FAB stamps its logo onto each product, and some don’t like the appearance. This stamp also somewhat impacts the durability of the product.
Cost: $435 – $590
The Westin SG6 Running Boards offer a wide 5.5-inch step surface that’s textured and slip-resistant. These stylish boards have injection-molded end caps and come with a polished or black-powder-coated aluminum finish.
If you want to upgrade beyond the basic running board, you can purchase an end cap LED light kit, though this will bump up the price a bit. These running boards are model specific and come in different lengths to match your cab. The bracket mounting system is sold separately.
What Customers Are Saying
Reviewers on Amazon like Westin running boards because they offer excellent grip and a wide area for stepping into your cab. These are an excellent upgrade over cheap plastic factory running boards that don’t offer as high a weight capacity.
Some don’t like that the mounting brackets are sold separately, which increases the total cost of this running board.
Material: Alloy steel
Cost: Around $350
Made from heavy-duty alloy steel, the KYX® Double Tube Running Boards can support up to 500.0 pounds without bending. This specific running board from KYX has been improved upon over the past 10 years, featuring developments in ergonomics as well as improved anti-slip and anti-rust coatings.
These running boards are incredibly easy to install, as they don’t require cutting or drilling. It should be noted that this running board is protected by a one-year warranty and KYX’s customer service team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you out with any questions or concerns.
What Customers Are Saying
With less than a hundred reviews online, the KYX Double Tube Running Boards are hardly the most well-reviewed truck accessory in this review. However, these running boards boast an overall customer rating of 4.86 out of 5 stars. A huge number of reviewers reference a smooth installation process with many saying they love how these running boards look. Negative reviews complain the instructions are merely pictures.
Are Running Boards For Trucks Worth It?
While one of the most common truck accessories, running boards are not a necessary feature for a pickup truck. However, they are worth it, and not only for short people. The most obvious function of a running board is that it can help you get up into your cab or truck bed, but they have other uses as well.
Even if you are tall enough to hop right into your truck, your passengers may not be. It can be especially difficult for older people or people with partial disabilities to swing into a massive cab. Running boards for trucks offer a helpful step area.
If you have a roof rack or rooftop storage, running boards can help you access the top of your car much easier, turning a difficult hassle into a simple operation.
Plank running boards (as opposed to nerf bars or side steps) offer some protection to the body of your vehicle. These can block rocks and other debris from shooting up from the road, and are especially useful if you take your truck off-roading.
Running boards can also act as a buffer to your car’s body, protecting it from parking lot dings. If a person parks next to your car and is too cavalier opening their door, they’ll hit your running board before your body.
Even if you can get into your cab without running boards, this likely means sliding sideways into your seat. Repeatedly entering your seat this way can deform it over time, damaging the appearance and reducing comfort. Running boards for trucks help you get over the edge of your seat and sit in it directly.
How Much Does It Cost To Add Running Boards To A Truck?
In this review, the cost of the running boards for trucks and other utility vehicles ranges from roughly $100 to over $2,000. This is a typical price range for running boards, with most costing between $200 to $400. It doesn’t cost any money to install running boards, as you’ll be able to do it yourself at home, but you will have to spend time (and potentially your patience) installing this truck accessory properly.
If you’ve saved up your pennies and can afford one of the best running boards on the market, read on to learn how to install these truck accessories.
Installing Running Boards
Many trucks and SUVs include running board holes as a standard feature. This makes installing aftermarket parts something that many can accomplish themselves without the help of a professional mechanic. Simply follow any included installation instructions. Just don’t assume the best running boards for a Ram 1500 will fit a Ford F-150.
However, if your truck does not have pre-drilled holes for running boards, it’s best not to drill these yourself. In this case, you’ll want to take your car to a body shop to make sure the necessary holes are drilled correctly and you don’t damage your vehicle’s body.
In most cases, installing a running board will not void your vehicle’s warranty.
Best Running Boards: Bottom Line
Our review team has full confidence that any of our picks for the five best running boards on the market featured in this article are worth investing in. If you’re looking for the best all-around running board, the Amp Research Power Step won’t let you down.
If you’ve already done your homework and know exactly what type of running boards you want to install on your truck, the Ionic Automotive Pro Series is as good as you’ll get in terms of nerf bars. While the N-FAB RKR Step is a must-need item if you’ve decided side steps would look best and be the most helpful on your truck.
Yes, we do think running boards look cool and add to the visual appeal of a truck, but in our world – practicality still reigns supreme. Whether you’re helping elderly family members into your truck or you’ve just got some friends with short legs, the Westin SG6 Running Boards will ensure they don’t slip or injure themselves while climbing in or out of your truck. Last but not least, the KYX Double Tube Running Boards are certainly worth considering if you want a durable set of running boards.
*Data accurate at time of publication.