Buyer’s Guide:

Step Bars Vs Running Boards

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Step Bars Vs Running Boards

When it comes to truck accessories, especially step bars and running boards, you probably have some questions. Is it called a side step or a step bar? Do I need a step bar or a running board? And why do some folks call it a nerf bar? If this is the first time you have accessorized a truck, SUV or jeep, this can be quite confusing. Whatever you call them, bars and boards serve the same function — to give easier access to your toolbox or truck bed and to provide non-slip stepping surfaces to help people get in and out of your vehicle. It’s important to understand that any of these options will get the job done, but that there are some key differentiators. The key differentiators include material, finish, width, and length.

The following article is intended to help you choose which product will best serve your needs and preferences.

Step bars and running boards are, for the most part used interchangeably.

So, what are the differences?

Step bars are called a variety of names, including side steps, side bars, and nerf bars — just to name a few. Their primary function is to provide a stepping surface into your vehicle and they usually have individual step pads to correspond to each door on the vehicle. Step bars are generally narrower than running boards and are mounted with extra space between the vehicle body and the bar.

Running boards also provide a stepping surface into the vehicle, but are mounted flush, or closer to the vehicle's rocker panel, instead of leaving a gap. Running boards are usually wider than side bars with a flatter profile. Running boards have a flat stepping surface, usually with a tread that spans the length of the board.

FUN FACT: What is a “nerf” exactly? Who put the “nerf” in the nerf step bar?

“Nerf” is an old school racing term for when two racers bump or “nerf” each other. These minor collisions are still common in racing today. Before nerf bars, a nerf could cause two vehicle's wheels to collide and launch one into the air, often causing major damage.

Nerf bars were a type of truck accessory created to serve as the solution. Nerf bars still aim to protect your vehicle, though today they have become more focused on protecting it from dings and dents from parking lots.

What are the types of step bars and running boards?

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Traditional or Tube Step Bars

Traditional or Tube Step Bars are often round or oval. Measured in inches, the width of the tube explains how big the step area is in width. Oval bars are a truck accessory used to provide a wider space to plant your foot than seen on round bar models. This offers both young and young-at-heart passengers more assurance and comfort as they step inside your ride. Check out these Traditional Step Bars.

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Hoop or Drop Steps

Hoop or Drop Steps have one or two sections or “hoops” that extend below the main bar and form a step. In this way, they are similar to Oval and Round styles; however, many consumers like them for their low-profile look. Take a look: Hoop or Drop Step Bars.

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Traditional Running Boards

Traditional Running Boards are preferred by some because there is no specific designated place you have to step on the board to get into the cab. Running boards come in a variety of lengths and are custom made to fit your year, make, model, and cab size. If you require a larger stepping area before climbing into your vehicle, a running board is perfect for you. See our assortment of Tradition Running Boards and Drop Step Running Boards.

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Powered or Electric Running Boards

Powered or Electric Running Boards are a type of motorized running board that will “hide” or tuck itself up under the cab of the vehicle when not in use. View your choice of Electric Running Boards.

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Rock Sliders

Rock Sliders are popular with owners that love off-roading. They are meant to protect your undercarriage and doors from large obstacles, such as rocks. If you off-road regularly in your Jeep, these Rock Sliders are a must. There are even Sliders with Steps.

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Individual Steps and Hitch Steps

Individual Steps and Hitch Steps are perfect for customers that want a single step up into their cab or the bed of their truck. Many individual steps can be mounted in a variety of locations like Truck Bed Steps and Bumper Steps.

person stepping on a truck step bar

What are the other key differentiators?

Material: Bars and boards are made with a variety of materials such as stainless steel, carbon steel, and aluminum alloy.

Finish: Bar and boards come in several finishes. The most common is stainless steel (brushed or polished) and black powder coat (matte or gloss).

Width: Most are listed with an inch rating in front, and this explains how big the step area is in width. Width is usually paired with shape (round or oval) when discussing tube step bars.

Length: Bars/Boards come in two basic lengths: Cab-length and wheel-to-wheel.

  • Cab-length are only as long as your truck cab, and will stop right around where the rear of the cab meets the truck bed.
  • Wheel-to-wheel start where the front wheel ends, and cut off just before the rear wheel, covering the entire length of your truck. Bed access are essentially wheel-to-wheel with an additional step per side for bed access. Check out these Wheel-to-Wheel options.

Your truck’s engine size (V8, diesel, etc.) and your truck’s cab size are two additional factors needed when ordering.

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