Running Boards 101

car_running_boardA running board is a support, often made of stamped metal, that located under the side doors of a car or truck. It allows passengers to step up into the vehicle and is common on the cars and trucks of the early 1900s. Running boards have gone through an interesting evolution. They were ubiquitous on early cars but around 1930 they started to go out of style. In the last few decades, however, they have come back as very popular accessory for trucks and off-road vehicles.

They started on railroad cars

The origin of the term can be traced back to the early days of railroad transportation. Running boards on trains are those expanded steel walkways that are mounted on top of railroad box cars. Originally, they were used by brakemen to travel from car to car to apply hand-operated brakes. When airbrakes were developed, this practice was abandoned but running boards are still used as a means of moving up and down when the train is moving.

Early automobiles

As we mentioned before, back in the early 20th century, virtually all automobiles were equipped with running boards. They typically connected front fenders to the rear fenders and functioned as a step so people could step up into the vehicle. The necessity of fitting running boards on cars was caused by the fact that first cars were designed with a high body that bolted to the chassis from above. If running boards weren’t installed, stepping up into the cab would be difficult, especially for children.

Out of style

During the 1930s, car design was evolving rapidly to become more aerodynamic. In 1936, Cord eliminated running boards from their vehicles purely for styling reasons. Soon, the existence of running boards was considered the styling of yesteryear and most manufacturers eliminated them from their models.


Today running boards and similar accessories are popular among truck owners and those that own off-road vehicles, such as Jeep Wranglers. The reason for their popularity is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago: vehicles designed to operated off road commonly have high clearance underneath and their cabs are much higher in the air than standard vehicles. As such, running boards allow passengers to easily enter and exit the vehicle by providing a nice secure step to use.

Today’s types

In general there are two types of running boards for trucks and off-road vehicles today. First is a molded running board, often made of plastic or fiberglass, that runs underneath the front and rear doors on both sides of the vehicle. These are typically sold in the color of the vehicle and are designed to easily attach to the vehicle body or frame.

The second kind of running board really isn’t a board, it’s a long metal tube. The parts department at Pearson Chrysler of Richmond, VA, a Chrysler, Dodger, Jeep, Ram dealer says they use the term Nerf Bars, which run underneath the doors also but do not attach to the vehicle body, they attach directly to the frame.  They provide the same utility as running boards; a place to step on when you are entering or exiting the vehicle.

Buyers guide

If you are considering running boards for your truck or Jeep, you will find a very wide variety of places to purchase them. Your local brand dealer is a nice first stop because they will carry running boards specifically designed to fit your vehicle. You will also find running boards on-line from a plethora of websites and, of course, on Amazon or eBay.

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