Side steps: The different types & how they're installed
Updated 19 Dec 2019
What are side steps?
Side steps, side rails, sliders or running boards. It doesn’t matter what you call them, they are all similar in that they provide a narrow step that sits under the doors of a vehicle and act as both an aid in getting in and out of a vehicle while also offering some protection to a vehicle’s panels. They are typically installed on large or high-lift vehicles, usually 4WDs. Steps can greatly assist the elderly and children while getting into a high-lift vehicle.
Side steps are made of heavy-duty steel or aluminium that mount to the underbody of a vehicle and sit just under and next to the side sill. Some ‘intelligent’ steps are powered and will automatically retract into the side sill after the vehicle occupants are on board. While these ‘intelligent’ steps are clever, some people prefer the fixed steps that add protection from panel damage. There are also side steps used in conjunction with side rails - bars that runs from the front bullbar to the rear wheel. These add extra protection to the vehicle and the side step is integrated with the sidebar. When it comes to side steps, there are various options available to suit any avid 4WD owner.
Types of side steps
These are a one-piece individual step or pad fixed to each side of the vehicle. They come in different trims for optimal foot grip and aesthetically pleasing designs. They are specifically made to assist in vehicle entry and exit.
Not designed to be used as a step but they do come in handy for that function. This a tube that runs from the front to the rear wheel that is designed to protect the vulnerable side of the vehicle from large rocks and debris in rough road conditions.
Side rails and steps
Tubular steel rail that runs from the bullbar to the rear wheel. The bar runs above the front wheels and below the doors. High-grip sheeting is placed between the sill and the bar and under the doors to provide a step and also to prevent foot slippage. Some pre-installed side steps can integrate with side rails fitted at a later date. The rails provide protection to panels during every day and uneven terrain driving.
Electric side steps
An individual step that will automatically extend when it senses the vehicle’s door has opened and will retract against or under the sill when the door is closed. These are designed specifically for easy entry and exit to a vehicle and to be hidden away when not in use.
Reasons for installing side steps
Side steps provide ease of access to a high-lift vehicle, a major benefit to the elderly or small children who find it hard to get into a higher vehicle. Using steps decreases the chance of falling and injury when entering and exiting a vehicle. Side steps and rails also provide some protection to a vehicle when being driven on rough terrain.
Who can supply and install side steps?
4x4 suppliers and accessory fitment specialists. The likes of TJM, ARB and Ironman 4x4 can supply and provide fitment advice. There are also specialist suppliers and fitters that can shape and fit their products to your requirements.
Things to consider
- Make sure the product and fitment complies with the vehicles OE safety systems, Australian design rules (ADR) and are SRS airbag compatible
- Do the side steps allow for added rails should you chose to add rails later?
- Quality and grip are important. Make sure the steps are safe and will last
- How will the steps be mounted to the vehicle?
- Consider how much weight will be added to the vehicle
- Can they be colour coded to your vehicle?
- Installation can cost an extra $200+ on top of the purchase price. Make sure you get a quote and factor in the installation costs
Not after a side step install?
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Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars.
This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.