What is a Running Board? Understanding Its Function and Types

what is a running board

Have you ever paused to ponder the purpose behind those sleek strips adorning the sides of trucks, SUVs, and vintage cars? They’re more than just decorative accents—they’re running boards, serving a practical function that goes beyond mere aesthetics. So, let’s delve deeper into the world of running boards, exploring their origins, evolution, functionality, types, installation processes, maintenance tips, and more.

Understanding the Basics: What is a Running Board?

A running board is essentially a narrow step affixed beneath the side doors of a vehicle, facilitating easy ingress and egress for passengers. Think of it as a convenient foothold, particularly beneficial for taller vehicles like trucks and SUVs. These boards have been a staple of automotive design for decades, initially serving as a necessity during the early days of automobiles when ground clearance was limited, and stepping into a vehicle required a bit of a leap.

The Functionality of Running Boards

Beyond their primary role as stepping aids, running boards offer a myriad of advantages. One of their key functions is protection—they act as a barrier, shielding the vehicle’s sides from road debris, mud, and other hazards encountered during travel. Additionally, they contribute to the vehicle’s overall aesthetics, lending a touch of style and sophistication to its exterior.

Key Functions of Running Boards:

  1. Accessibility: Perhaps the most apparent benefit, running boards make it easier for passengers of all ages to enter and exit the vehicle without straining themselves.
  2. Protection: By extending along the length of the vehicle’s sides, running boards help safeguard the paint and bodywork from damage caused by rocks, gravel, and other debris kicked up by passing vehicles.
  3. Aesthetics: Beyond their utilitarian function, running boards enhance the visual appeal of a vehicle, adding a touch of flair and personality to its exterior design.

Evolution of Running Boards

Over the years, running boards have evolved in both form and function. What was once a simple plank of wood or metal has now transformed into a diverse range of styles and materials, catering to various tastes and preferences.

Historical Significance:

The origins of running boards can be traced back to the early days of automobiles, where they served a practical purpose in assisting passengers in boarding and alighting from vehicles with higher ground clearance. In those days, running boards were typically made of wood or metal and were often adorned with intricate designs to complement the vehicle’s aesthetic.

Modern Innovations:

Today, running boards come in an array of materials, including molded plastic, aluminum, stainless steel, and even carbon fiber. They can be sleek and streamlined or rugged and utilitarian, depending on the vehicle’s make and model. Furthermore, advancements in technology have led to the development of retractable running boards, which deploy automatically when the vehicle’s doors are opened and retract flush with the body when not in use, offering a seamless appearance and improved aerodynamics.

Types of Running Boards

Given the diverse preferences of vehicle owners, running boards are available in various styles and configurations. From traditional molded boards to cutting-edge retractable designs, there’s something to suit every taste and need.

1. Molded Running Boards:

These running boards are typically made of durable plastic or composite materials and are custom-molded to fit the contours of specific vehicle models. They offer a sleek and integrated look, blending seamlessly with the vehicle’s body.

2. Aluminum Running Boards:

Known for their strength and lightweight properties, aluminum running boards are a popular choice among truck and SUV owners. They provide excellent durability and corrosion resistance, making them ideal for harsh weather conditions.

3. Stainless Steel Running Boards:

For those seeking both durability and style, stainless steel running boards are an excellent option. They offer superior resistance to rust and corrosion, ensuring long-lasting performance and a polished appearance.

4. Retractable Running Boards:

These innovative running boards feature a motorized mechanism that extends and retracts them automatically. When not in use, they retract flush with the vehicle’s body, enhancing aerodynamics and reducing wind noise.

Installation Process

While installing running boards may seem daunting at first, it’s a relatively straightforward process that can be completed with basic tools and a bit of DIY know-how. However, depending on the vehicle’s make and model, professional installation may be recommended to ensure proper fitment and functionality.

Steps for Installing Running Boards:

  1. Gather the Necessary Tools: Before you begin, make sure you have the required tools on hand, including a wrench, screwdriver, drill (if necessary), and mounting hardware provided with the running boards.
  2. Position the Running Boards: Carefully position the running boards beneath the vehicle’s side doors, ensuring proper alignment and clearance from obstacles such as exhaust pipes and suspension components.
  3. Attach the Mounting Brackets: Secure the mounting brackets to the vehicle’s frame using the provided hardware, ensuring they are properly aligned and tightened to prevent any movement or rattling.
  4. Install the Running Boards: Once the brackets are in place, attach the running boards to them using the supplied screws or bolts, making sure they are securely fastened and aligned with the vehicle’s body lines.
  5. Test for Stability: After installation, test the running boards for stability by applying weight to them and checking for any signs of movement or flexing. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure a secure fit.

Maintenance Tips

To keep your running boards looking great and functioning optimally, regular maintenance is key. Here are some simple tips to help you keep them in top condition:

  • Regular Cleaning: Remove dirt, mud, and debris from the running boards using a mild detergent and water solution. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that could damage the finish.
  • Inspect for Damage: Periodically inspect the running boards for any signs of damage, such as scratches, dents, or corrosion. Address any issues promptly to prevent further deterioration.
  • Apply Protective Coating: Consider applying a protective coating or wax to the running boards to help maintain their shine and protect them from the elements. Be sure to choose a product specifically designed for the material of your running boards for optimal results.

Expert Tips for Maximizing Your Running Board Experience

Looking to get the most out of your vehicle’s running boards? Check out these expert tips to ensure optimal performance, longevity, and style.

1. Choose Quality Materials:

Invest in running boards made from high-quality materials such as stainless steel or aluminum. These materials offer superior durability and resistance to rust and corrosion, ensuring your running boards remain in top condition for years to come.

2. Opt for Professional Installation:

While DIY installation may seem tempting, it’s often best to leave the job to the professionals. A professional installer will ensure proper fitment and alignment, minimizing the risk of damage to your vehicle and ensuring optimal functionality.

3. Regular Maintenance is Key:

Make it a habit to regularly clean and inspect your running boards for any signs of damage or wear. By addressing minor issues promptly, you can prevent more significant problems down the line and extend the lifespan of your running boards.

4. Consider Protective Coatings:

Applying a protective coating or wax to your running boards can help shield them from the elements and maintain their appearance. Look for products specifically designed for the material of your running boards for optimal results.

5. Be Mindful of Weight Limits:

While running boards are designed to support the weight of passengers entering and exiting the vehicle, it’s essential to be mindful of weight limits. Avoid standing or jumping on the running boards, as excessive weight can lead to damage or deformation over time.

6. Check for Compatibility:

Before purchasing running boards for your vehicle, double-check that they are compatible with your make and model. Choose running boards specifically designed for your vehicle to ensure proper fitment and functionality.

7. Embrace Retractable Options:

If you’re looking for a sleeker, more aerodynamic option, consider investing in retractable running boards. These innovative designs deploy automatically when needed and retract flush with the vehicle’s body when not in use, offering a seamless appearance and improved aerodynamics.

8. Customize for Personalization:

Explore customization options to personalize your running boards and make them stand out from the crowd. From illuminated accents to custom logos, there are endless possibilities for adding a unique touch to your vehicle’s exterior.

9. Don’t Forget About Safety:

While running boards can enhance accessibility, it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Ensure that your running boards are securely attached and free of any obstructions or damage that could pose a tripping hazard.

10. Stay Informed:

Stay informed about the latest trends and innovations in the world of running boards. Whether it’s new materials, advanced technologies, or innovative designs, staying up-to-date can help you make informed decisions when purchasing and maintaining your running boards.

Frequently Asked Questions About Running Boards

Curious about running boards? Explore these frequently asked questions to gain a better understanding of their purpose, installation process, maintenance, and more.

1. What is the purpose of running boards?

Running boards serve as convenient steps affixed beneath the side doors of vehicles, making it easier for passengers to enter and exit, especially for taller vehicles like trucks and SUVs.

2. Are running boards necessary for all vehicles?

While not essential for every vehicle, running boards are particularly beneficial for taller vehicles or those with higher ground clearance. They enhance accessibility and can protect the vehicle’s sides from damage.

3. How do I install running boards on my vehicle?

Installation methods vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle and the type of running boards you choose. It’s recommended to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully or seek professional installation for optimal results.

4. Can I install running boards myself, or do I need professional help?

While some running board installations can be DIY projects, it’s advisable to seek professional help, especially if you’re not confident in your mechanical skills. Professional installers ensure proper fitment and alignment, reducing the risk of damage to your vehicle.

5. How do I maintain and clean my running boards?

Regular cleaning with mild detergent and water is essential to remove dirt and debris from your running boards. Avoid harsh chemicals that could damage the finish. Additionally, inspect them periodically for any signs of damage or corrosion and address any issues promptly.

6. Do running boards affect my vehicle’s aerodynamics?

Traditional running boards may slightly affect aerodynamics, but retractable running boards minimize this impact by retracting flush with the vehicle’s body when not in use, reducing wind resistance.

7. Can running boards support heavy weights?

While running boards are designed to support the weight of passengers entering and exiting the vehicle, it’s essential to be mindful of weight limits. Excessive weight or jumping on the running boards may cause damage or deformation over time.

8. Are there different types of running boards available?

Yes, running boards come in various styles and materials, including molded plastic, aluminum, stainless steel, and retractable designs. Each type offers unique benefits in terms of durability, aesthetics, and functionality.

9. Can I customize my running boards?

Yes, many manufacturers offer customization options for running boards, allowing you to add personalized touches such as illuminated accents or custom logos to match your vehicle’s style.

10. Are running boards safe for children and elderly passengers?

Yes, running boards provide a convenient step for passengers of all ages, making it easier for children and elderly individuals to access the vehicle safely. However, it’s essential to ensure that running boards are securely attached and free of any obstructions to prevent accidents.


In conclusion, running boards are more than just a functional accessory—they’re a symbol of convenience, protection, and style. Whether you opt for traditional molded boards, sleek aluminum designs, or innovative retractable models, you’ll enjoy the numerous benefits they provide. So, the next time you step into a vehicle equipped with running boards, take a moment to appreciate their role in enhancing both accessibility and aesthetics. After all, in the world of automotive design, it’s often the smallest details that make the biggest impact.

About the Author

Dan Collins
Dan Collins

Rooted in a familial history of garage work, Dan Collins pursued his passion and earned a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering in 2003. His journey in the automotive world was fueled by a fascination with cutting-edge companies offering products beyond the ordinary. At Cars Bibles, Dan utilizes his professional standpoint to... Read full bio

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