Still curious as to the primary differences between running boards and nerf bars? Let’s focus on the key characteristics that set these two popular side-step styles apart.
The main distinction between running boards and nerf bars boils down to aesthetics, considering running boards’ flat design and nerf bars' characteristic tubular form factor. Running boards are primarily engineered for accessibility, featuring a wide, flat step surface and variances that improve usability, like step illumination and retractability. On the other hand, nerf bars also feature slight design variances, though the same utilitarian design remains across all styles.
When choosing between nerf bars and running boards, there are a few considerations, the first being your desired style. Typically, running boards feature a factory-esque, street-centric design geared towards subtly-modified SUVs and pickups. By comparison, nerf bars feature rugged aesthetics appealing to off-road-centric 4WD vehicles like Jeeps and heavy-duty pickups. As a result, most nerf bars pair best with heavy-duty bumpers, aftermarket fender flares, and meaty tires.
Regarding installation and price differences, most fixed running boards and nerf bars run around the same price and feature straightforward installations. However, illuminated and retractable running boards charge a higher premium for the upgraded tech. They’re also more challenging to install, requiring you to run an auxiliary wiring harness and potentially modify your vehicle’s electrical system. If you’re a novice mechanic shopping on a budget, it’s best to stick with non-powered options.
Lastly, let’s discuss finishes. From flashy chrome to stealthy matte black powder coat, side steps are offered in various finishes to complement any style of build. We’d recommend powder-coated or stainless steel for an application that regularly sees harsh winters and trail abuse. However, chrome plating and standard paint should be plenty durable for a daily driver, especially in areas that don’t heavily salt the roads in the winter.
Other Types of Side Steps
While not as common as running boards and nerf bars, AmericanTrucks offers several other styles of truck side steps.
Hoop steps feature a slight form factor consisting of a single drop hoop. These steps are commonly found on work vehicles and industrial applications, featuring a heavy-duty alloy construction and durable rocker mounts. Hoop steps are offered in black, polished, and safety yellow for personalized aesthetics that complement any vehicle.
Bed steps are practical for any pickup, providing a sturdy foothold at your truck's bedside or rear bumper. Whether you frequently transport cargo in the bed or need regular access to your toolbox, bed steps make accessing your truck’s bed easy and quick! Bed steps are offered in retractable and fixed versions, depending on your style and budget.
Like podium-style nerf bars, drop steps feature central support tucked tightly against your pickup’s rockers and integrated hoops to ease entry into the cab. However, unlike nerf bars, drop steps are commonly manufactured from fabricated steel or box tubing for a rugged, angular design. Drop steps come in chrome, polished, and black paint/powder coat finishes.
Commonly Used Materials
Side Steps come in several materials and finishes, depending on variables like your aesthetic preferences and climate; these include aluminum, carbon steel, or stainless steel.
Aluminum is used across various automotive applications, including truck side steps. The alloy is lightweight and corrosion-resistant, though prone to dents and scratches from impacts and abrasions. As such, we’d recommend aluminum side steps for daily drivers rather than regularly-abused trail rigs.
- Relatively soft
Mild steel is known for its strength and durability in automotive applications, making up most pickup's frames and body panels. However, the material is heavy and highly prone to oxidation. Still, we’d recommend steel side steps for heavy-duty applications that see their share of abuse; but ensure they're finished in powder coating or another corrosion-resistant layer!
Stainless steel is a premium choice for running boards, nerf bars, and other truck steps, combining aluminum's corrosion resistance and steel's strength. While sturdy and corrosion-resistant, stainless steel isn’t quite as durable as steel and is relatively expensive. However, the material is more than suitable for most automotive-grade applications.
Installation and Maintenance
Depending on the style of side steps, installation can be a simple bolt-on or a time-consuming undertaking requiring additional wiring and modifications. In any case, it’s essential to understand the basic tools and steps necessary to safely and securely install your new side steps.
While not every tool on this list extends to all styles of side steps, you shouldn’t need anything besides what’s listed.
Steps for Installation (DIY)
Though every side step features a unique installation, the following instructions cover most styles.
Review Package Contents and Instructions
There’s no such thing as over-preparing, especially when installing aftermarket parts. Before beginning the installation, it’s vital to review the instructions, catalog the contents of the package, and verify that you possess all tools and equipment necessary to complete the job.
Engage the Parking Brake/Chock Wheels
If you’re working on the ground, engage the parking brake before crawling underneath your vehicle. This critical safety step can prevent serious injury.
In this step, remove any interior trim, body mounting bolts, or other obstacles that prevent installation.
In this step, perform any necessary modifications to your vehicle required for reassembly. Some side steps require drilling additional mounting holes in the rocker panels for a sturdy, secure installation.
Time to throw everything back together! Install your new side steps according to the manufacturer’s instructions, making sure to torque all hardware to spec.
DIY Installation Vs. Professional Installation
Unsure whether you’re up for an at-home installation? Let’s look at the alternative: a professional installation. Typically, a professional installation consists of taking your vehicle to a dedicated truck shop or mechanic to have the job tackled by skilled workers. While less of a hassle, you’ll have to add labor costs to your bill, which can easily double the expense of your side steps. If the price you’ll pay a shop is worth the time you'll save, then a professional installation is a solid option; however, if you’re semi-competent in the garage and have the required space and tools, installing side steps yourself is highly cost-effective.
Care, Cleaning, and Maintenance
Now that you've installed your new side steps, what are the proper steps for maintenance and cleaning? In most cases, cleaning and maintaining side steps is no different than any other exterior component. Standard auto-grade soaps efficiently remove salt, road grime, and dirt, keeping your steps looking new for years to come! However, there are some exceptions. Regarding which products to use, we’d stay away from harsh cleaners and degreasers, as the chemicals contained within may stain, tarnish, or degrade your side steps' finish, especially polished stainless steel, polished aluminum, paint, and ABS plastic step pads. Besides aesthetics, power-retractable running boards are the only products that require mechanical maintenance. From the factory, power-retractable running boards are treated with lithium grease to lubricate the hinges; however, years of repeated use and exposure to the elements can wear away the product. For this reason, periodically pop beneath your pickup to inspect the hinges, keeping a bottle of grease on hand to re-lube them as necessary.
Quality side steps are engineered with critical safety considerations in mind, ensuring safe, injury-free entry into your vehicle’s cab.
One of the most crucial characteristics of a quality side step is a slip-resistant tread, preventing slipping and tripping in wet, icy, muddy, or dusty conditions. The slip-resistant tread arrives in several forms, including sandpaper-esque textured tape, textured plastic step pads, and non-slip dimples.
Suitable Weight Limits
Another safety consideration is the step's weight limit, ensuring a sturdy product that won’t bend, break, or deform under everyday use. For more information on a step’s specific weight limits, consult the manufacturer, read the instructions, or contact AmericanTrucks’ knowledgeable sales and support team.
Proper Usage Guidelines
Truck side steps function as designed only under specific guidelines; however, it’s essential to understand these limits so as not to cause unnecessary damage or injury. For example, truck side steps can only support a set weight, with most maxing out around 400 lbs. While they can easily support 1-2 individuals, overloading the step can result in product failure. Additionally, side steps are NOT rock sliders. While podium-style nerf bars and drop steps may have a similar appearance, they aren’t engineered from the same heavy-duty DOM steel to withstand the same heavy impacts and abrasions.
So what have we learned? Though there are several styles of truck steps–running boards, nerf bars, hoop steps, and more–they all accomplish the same general task: easing entry into the cab of your vehicle. With various styles, materials, and finishes, there’s undoubtedly a product that meets both your aesthetic preferences and needs. AmericanTrucks carries all of the top side steps for your truck, whether thant be a set of rugged nerf bars for your 4WD, factory-style running boards for your SUV, or sleek power-retractable steps for an unobtrusive appearance.