The Complete Running Board Guide

There are many reasons why customers prefer SUVs and 4WDs. One is the taller ride height, which lets you have better visibility in all kinds of traffic. You’re seated higher and have a better feel as to what’s around you. But getting in and out of vehicles with more ground clearance can be an issue for some. Not all of us are basketball players. Kids and the elderly can also find it needs a bit of negotiating.

In such cases, an installed running board or sidestep can prove extremely helpful, and avoid any unwanted injuries, or getting shoes and clothes dirty. These are bars that run along the length of the doors to give passengers an easier way to enter and exit higher vehicles. This is their main use, but they’re also good for adding some side protection to the vehicle.

Types of Stepping Bars

close up on side step of vehicle

There may be some confusion as to all the names thrown around to describe what essentially is a bar that helps you get in or out of your car. There are running boards, side steps, nerf bars and rock sliders. Running boards and sides steps are used interchangeably, though there are differences. Side steps are more akin to nerf bars, and are similar in purpose though have somewhat different designs. And rock sliders do what it says on the tin. Let’s take a look at different underbody bars for your car:

Running Boards

Running Board of vehicle close-up

A running board car is a type of bar that typically runs the whole length of the car under the doors. Running boards have a rectangular shape and have adequate space to step on. They are mounted flush against the car’s rocker panels, with little or no visible gaps. The whole board has a non-slip, textured surface for safely entering and exiting your vehicle.

Running boards can be fitted to all SUVs, utes and 4WDs, new or old, currently sold in Australia. Besides providing for clear footing, they are useful when accessing the roof or the tray. Tradies, campers or anyone storing heavier items on roof racks or in the ute tray will find the added height particularly convenient. The board is also good for keeping the car interior clean since you can clean any dirt before stepping in. Also, you won’t be rubbing off any collected dirt from the car exterior on your way out. And lastly, there’ll be less wear to the seats, since you’re less likely to scrape the side seat supports, both going in or coming out.

A running board car comes in durable materials, generally different grades and thicknesses of stainless steel, which can be coated for better protection against corrosion. For peace of mind, all running boards comply with current ADR regulations.

Side Steps

side step on vehicle

Side Steps are narrower bars that are usually mounted lower, and further away from the vehicle than a typical running board car. There are visible gaps between the bar and the rest of the vehicle. Side steps differ in that they have individual stepping pads, positioned under each door. They are most suitable for vehicles with higher ground clearance.

Similar to side steps are nerf bars. But where side steps are rectangular in shape, nerf bars are tubular or oval shaped. Most are also shorter than both running boards and side steps.

Rock Sliders

Whereas most running boards, side steps and nerf bars are bolted on the fixed mounting points in the vehicle, rock sliders are welded directly on the chassis rails. They need to support the whole weight of your SUV or 4WD in difficult, rocky terrain and protect the transmission, fuel lines and undercarriage. This is why rock sliders are made of heavy-duty steel tubing, with welds of equal quality.

What to Choose?

Most automotive stores stock running boards or side steps. Nerfs are rarely found. For rock sliders, get a custom-tailored fit for your car. You won’t find these in stores, but welding workshops are the place to go.

Since running boards fit relatively close to the car, they won’t eat into the ground clearance as much as side steps or nerf bars. The raised height is why you bought the 4WD or SUV in the first place. They do however provide for a more pleasing look since they fit seamlessly with the rest of the car. The textured surface runs along the whole length of the board, so no missing steps or slipping here. Coatings and chrome can be optioned if that’s the look you’re after.

Side steps and nerf bars aren’t recommended as much as running boards, since they take away the benefit of a higher vehicle. You’ll be constantly scraping these in moderate off-road trails, never mind seriously uneven or rocky terrain.

All bar types are suited for easier entry into vehicles. Since they protrude away from the car, they’ll be good in protecting your car from scraping to the bodywork in places like car parks, against curbs, or from careless drivers. Side steps are often sold with brush bars, which are welded or drilled onto bull bars. The combination gives good side and front-end protection. Get the type of bar that best suits your vehicle. Look for compatible products for your make and model from good 4WD stores around the country.