Running Board vs Nerf Bar: What’s the Difference?

If you need a little help getting into your truck or SUV, a variety of side steps exist that can give you a boost. It might be the case if you’ve installed a lift kit or oversized wheels, or it could simply be to aid with mobility. Two popular options include running boards and nerf bars. They’re often referred to as if their names are interchangeable, but there are differences between them.

Typically priced between $200 and $1,000 with a few outliers, there’s a big range in price for both styles. But comparing running boards vs nerf bars, you’ll often find one is better suited to your needs than the other. Learn more about the differences, the benefits of each, and how to choose the style that’s best for you.

What is the difference between a nerf bar and a running board?

Both nerf bars and running boards are designed to make it easier to enter and exit your vehicle. They also add a bit of extra style to your vehicle as well as offering some protection from road debris. They mount to your frame with brackets under the rocker. Options for both styles include wheel-to-wheel length and cab-length, depending on your preferences. But there are differences between the two.

The primary difference between nerf bars and running boards is in their design. Nerf bars are typically made of metal and feature a plastic, rubber, or texturized step section along each side of the vehicle. Commonly, they’re made of tubular steel with 3-inch, 4-inch, and 5-inch diameters. They’re finished in a few different ways: stainless steel, chrome, and corrosion-resistant paint or powder coating.

Running boards, meanwhile, may be made of metal, fiberglass, or plastic, featuring a flat panel between four and seven inches wide with a step section integrated into it. They’re often mounted tight against the side of the body rather than having a gap between. Like nerf bars, there are a variety of coatings like chrome, stainless, and black powder coating. Some might even be paintable to match the body color.

Benefits of a running board

One of the major benefits of running boards vs nerf bars is the size of the tread. In most designs, a running board has a wider, deeper tread section that gives you a more sure-footed grip as you step up or down. Other benefits include:

  • They’re more solid. Since they’re mounted closer to your vehicle, they’re often sturdier and can withstand higher weight limits.
  • They don’t impede ground clearance. Since they’re tucked closely against the rocker panel, the step doesn’t drop down very far, so it won’t get damaged as easily going over rough terrain or obstacles. 
  • They tend to be more appealing. Visually, the designs of running boards are geared more aesthetically.

Benefits of a nerf bar

Nerf bars are typically more rugged in design, making them appealing for work trucks and offroad-focused looks and use. Also:

  • They’re installed lower to the ground. Nerf bars tend to have a vertical drop that makes it easier to get in and out.
  • The tread is often replaceable. If the rubber tread breaks or goes missing, it can be replaced instead of needing a whole new set of nerf bars.
  • They let dirt and moisture escape. Since there’s a gap between the step and the vehicle’s body, debris tends to fall through easier rather than getting trapped and forming corrosion.
  • They offer rocker protection. Not only do they help with access, but they can help avoid damage to your truck by guarding the rockers.

Which style is right for you?

Between running boards and nerf bars, both offer their own unique sets of benefits. So how do you decide which one is right for you? Here are some tips that can help in making the choice.

Consider practicality

When choosing between nerf bars and running boards, consider the practical aspects first. Consider what kind of access you need to get into your vehicle. If you have physical impairments or are vertically challenged, then a lower nerf bar might be a better choice. On the other hand, if ground clearance is an issue then a running board may be more suitable with its lower profile.

Think about looks

Running boards and nerf bars both come in a range of shapes, sizes, and materials, so it’s important to choose one that complements your vehicle’s look. Consider the finish too – matte black might look great on an urban SUV, for example, but may not suit an older truck as much.

Safety first

Finally, safety should always be at the forefront of your mind when installing aftermarket accessories on your vehicle. Both running boards and nerf bars offer improved safety due to their solid construction, but always make sure to check that they meet your needs for traction and accessibility, and that their weight capacity is sufficient.

Whether you prefer running boards or nerf bars, AutoZone has your truck and SUV accessories. Shop according to your vehicle’s information to view parts that fit your vehicle perfectly, and feel free to ask an associate for help or recommendations.

FAQ/People Also Ask

What are the benefits of running boards?

With a wider tread section and a variety of styles, materials, and finishes, running boards are a popular choice. They also sit tight against the body.

What are the drawbacks of running boards?

Running boards tend to be slightly less durable than other options, and the style might not suit rugged vehicles as well.

What are the benefits of nerf bars?

Nerf bars are geared toward durability, and they add extra protection against obstacles. They also won’t collect debris as readily.

What are the drawbacks of nerf bars?

Although there are plenty of styles to choose from, nerf bars can be less appealing visually than running boards.

What types of vehicles are best suited for running boards and nerf bars?

Running boards tend to be better suited for urban vehicles with an emphasis on style. Nerf bars, on the other hand, are best suited for trucks and rugged SUVs. However, both styles are available to fit your preferences.

Can I add running boards or nerf bars myself or should I hire a professional?

As a bolt-on accessory that’s often designed specifically for your make and model, it’s possible to install your own running boards and nerf bars. You can always hire a pro to install them if you aren’t confident with the job.

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