Nerf bars and steps make any pickup more efficient and safer on the jobsite, so settle on those products that deliver function first and foremost.
By Bruce W. Smith & Stuart Bourdon
When pickups are used day-in and day-out around construction jobsites, especially in road building and site development, accidental encounters with the lower rockers are going to happen.
Minor body damage isn’t a big deal. But an employee getting hurt getting in and out of the truck is a different matter.
A muddy boot or slight misstep on the door sill can lead to bruised shins, muscle pulls, and even sprained or broken ankles.
Such slip-and-falls are bad news as they take away from productive time and can have a direct affect on medical claims.
But there’s a simple pickup upgrade that helps diminish the chances of both types of “body” damage: steps or nerf bars.
Steps come in both fixed and retractable versions. Side steps can be a factory option or an aftermarket addition.
The retractable versions are electric, automatically opening and retracting upon door opening/closing.
Bed steps, which affix to the front and/or rear corners of the body under the bed, are manually retractable, and give a foot-assist reaching into toolboxes or climbing into the bed.
Nerf bars are tubular steel products that typically bolt closer to the lower rockers than the traditional bed step. Their primary purpose is to prevent the rockers from getting “nerfed” by close encounters with rocks and stumps, or any other object the lower pickup body night encounter.
The key to which style you need is based on personal preference. What’s more important is knowing which steps and nerf bars provide the best truck body protection and convenience for driver and passengers.
QUALITY OF MATERIAL
When you begin shopping for steps and nerf bars, skip right past the Wal-Marts, Sears, and other general-purpose vehicle parts outlets because they tend to carry products designed more for shine than function.
It’s also good to shy away from the factory steps (or running boards) for the same reason: They are usually light-duty products that don’t stand up well to the rigors of off-pavement/construction use.
Instead, turn your search immediately toward the off-road shops and specialty manufactures who concentrate on fabricating tough, no-nonsense products just for such purposes.
Another buying tip is to avoid so-called “universal-fit” items; generic fit-all products may get the basic job done, but a top-of-the-line application-specific product will excel at all levels from installation to the hard knocks around the jobsite.
And don’t be afraid to come right out and ask sales people if the accessory you are looking at will hold up to sliding over rocks and banging into trees, or being used as a vehicle jacking point.
Strength in the field comes from solid design and engineering as well as the type of material used to make such items.
For example, tubular nerf bars and nerf bar steps fabricated out of heavy-wall steel tube are far better than oval- or round-shape aluminum that uses thin materials and light-duty mounts.
When body protection and durability are prime concern, 1/8-inch tubing is better than 1/16-inch, and 1/4-inch steel mounting brackets are stronger than 3/16-inch. So read the product descriptions closely before buying to learn what material and what thickness is used for a particular accessory.
“A good manufacturer will use a combination of materials to provide strength where it’s needed and to keep its products affordable,” says Adam Wiegmann, owner of 4X Innovations (www.4xinnovations.com) in Platteville, Wisconsin.
“We use 1/8-inch-thick DOM (drawn-over-mandrel) tubing in places that need strength, because it’s manufactured from stronger steel. Hot-rolled electric weld (HREW) tubing is about half the price, but it’s not as strong.”
BED ACCESS STEPS
Another type of step to consider are those that allow you to access toolboxes and the bed without straining to reach up and over the bedside.
Several companies, including AMP Research and Bestop, have bed steps that attach via flip-down brackets.
Such steps are positioned at the front and rear corners of the bed. These are very convenient in both use and function.
Most can hold 300-400 pounds, so even the biggest worker around the jobsite can access the bed or toolboxes a little easier.
We have found them to be easy to install and one of those add-ons that you couldn’t live/work without.
STEP-UP TO NERFS
Protecting the lower rocker panels (and door bottoms on the newer vehicles) is a big concern for pickup and SUV owners because that’s one of the easiest areas to damage – and the most expensive to repair.
Running boards, tubular steps, nerf bars and “rock sliders” offer different levels of protection – but only if they are designed correctly.
One-piece, wheel-to-wheel rock sliders are your best buy in true nerf bars because they support the entirety of the rocker panel to prevent damage and the vehicle can take an obstacle amidships without damage.
Good rocker protectors are made from heavy-duty steel, typically snug-up close to the rocker panel where they take the hit instead of the body.
Nerf bars, which sit up to an inch or more away from the vehicle’s lower bodywork provide slightly less body protection, but they have the added benefit of being a step if needed.
Look for those made from heavy tube and with welded on steps instead of tubes that have been flattened and made into a step.
One company that does a very good job integrating off-road strength in step/nerf bars with convenience of use and installation is Houston, Texas-based N-Fab (www.n-fab.com). The company’s Nerf-Steps have a 445-pound weight rating – the highest in the industry.
Iron Cross Automotive also makes premium nerf bar steps. The HD Series Steps fit like true nerf bars, but have nicely built-in steps with anti-skid step plates.
Regardless of the type of steps or nerf bars you choose, the parts need have a durable finish. Some manufacturers offer both powder-coating and chrome-plating. Some offer special coatings.
Warn Industry’s (www.Warn.com) Andy Lilienthal says, “Powder-coating is common in the off-road industry because it’s one of the most-durable finishes available. Powder-coat is baked-on, providing a harder finish than a wet-painted surface. All our bumpers are powder-coated from the factory.”
Wiegmann has a different take saying, “I don’t recommend powder-coating nerf bars and rock sliders because you can’t just touch-up a scratch if the part is powder-coated. You have to recoat the entire part.
“My favorite coating is called POR-15 (www.por15.com), a special rust-preventive coating,” Weigmann continues.
“It has the durability of a powder-coat, but it’s a roll-on paint that you can touch-up. Most off-road shops can order it in for you, or you can order it directly from the company’s website.
Greg Grote, engineering manager at Luverne Truck Equipment (www.luvernetruck.com) in Brandon, South Dakota, says for greatest rust-resistance to look for a product that’s either stainless steel or has an e-coating, a rust inhibitor, that’s then powder-coated for UV protection.
“We use a polyethylene copolymer-based thermoplastic coating in our XX product line. We spray thermoplastic powder over heated steel where the powder melts into a thick protective coating and gets into some places where a liquid paint or powder coat can’t.”
Whether the parts are stainless steel, powder-coated, plastic-coated, or painted, the priority remains: function over looks.
That’s because when you are stepping up into your truck you want the very best product under your feet. The same goes for protecting the truck’s lower rockers.
Bestop TrekStep Side-Mount
Allowing convenient access to toolboxes and cargo in the truck bed, the spring-loaded TrekStep from Bestop offers a 400-pound capacity and retracts or extends with the push of your boot. No-drill installation directly to the frame makes them a breeze to affix to the driver or passenger side. The TrekStep features rugged aluminum alloy linkages and high-strength steel mounts. Three-year or 36,000-mile warranty.
bestop.com; (800) 845-3567
Iron Cross ND Series
Well known for its rock sliders and nerf bars for Jeeps, Iron Cross Automotive’s HD Series Steps for full-size pickups provides the best of both worlds – rocker protection and non-skid steps. Welded construction with aluminum anti-skid tread plates and powder-coated for durability. Five-year warranty.
www.ironcrossautomotive.com; (866) 476-6276
AMP Research Power Step
The auto-deploying AMP Research Power Step has extruded-aluminum steps with full-length internal ribs, an integrated LED system for visibility in low-light situations, stainless steel pivot rings, and self-lubricating bushings to keep it working in all seasons. Steps have 600-pound capacity and are Teflon-coated to a military spec finish to resist corrosion. Five-year or 60,000-mile warranty.
amp-research.com; (800) 309-6823
Three steps per side is the signature of the N-Fab Bed Access 6-Step side bar. It stretches from tire opening to opening and allows you to get in the doors easily and access the bed as well. The one-piece, all-welded N-Fab side step bar comes assembled and ready to install.
www.n-fab.com; (866) 806-6322
Fab Fours Side Steps
From the same company that makes super duty bumpers comes a new fully formed side step. Fab Fours all-steel, black powder-coated side steps have a full 10-inch stomp pad embossed with the Fab Four logo. The high-quality product is available in cab-length or bed-access models, and designed to fit full-size pickups or the Toyota Tacoma and Jeep JK.
FabFours.com; (866) 385-1905
Rugged Ridge Crew
A complete line of high-quality and sturdy 3-inch tube steps designed to fit any pickup or SUV are available from Rugged Ridge Off Road. They can be ordered in a black finish or stainless steel. A 4-inch-diameter tube model is available to fit Crew Cabs, as well. These tubular side step bars make it easier to get into a lifted or stock height truck, and are offer all-welded construction for durability.
ruggedridgeoffroad.com; (770) 614-6101
Big Country Widesidder
With a selection of side step bars ranging in size from 6 to 3 inches and shape from round to oval, with lengths to fit just about any cab length and style truck, Big Country Auto has the contractor covered. The newest products are the 5-inch Widesidder Platinum Side Bars that feature polished stainless steel construction, super-grippy step pads for safer entry and exit, and no-drill installation brackets for most applications.
bigcountryauto.com; (866) 444-3818
Bestop TrekStep Rear-Mount
Identical to the Side-Mount product from Bestop (bestop.com), but designed for use beneath the rear bumper, TrekStep Rear-Mount retracting step is spring loaded and tucks up with the tip of your toe for good ground clearance and hands-free operation. Works with the tailgate up or down.
bestop.com; (800) 845-3567
Owens Products Commercial Board
You can choose from a handful of Owens Products’ running board styles, but for the rough and tumble workday the Commercial Board Series should be the first choice. These heavy-duty boards are built of .100-thick diamond tread and a 4-inch riser are offered with welded end-caps or bolt-on stone guards and end caps. Custom brackets give these boards superior strength and fast and easy installation.
owensproducts.com; (800) 726-9367
With 15 years in the business of making heavy-duty truck accessories Cattleman has made its reputation on using high-grade powder coatings and making sure each joint on its product is meticulously welded with solid bead all the way around for superb strength and durability. The company offers its stylish diamond-plate steel, glossy black HD running boards for single and DRW pickups. Cattleman HD running boards come with boot kicks to keep the cab interior clean.
The 6-1/4-inch-wide aluminum surface on the PowerBoard from Bestop (bestop.com) features a durable non-slip, matte-black powder-coated surface and a generous 600-pound capacity. Splitting the difference between the doorsill of your truck and the ground, this powered running board extends to provide a stair step when the door is open and then retracts for ground clearance when the door is closed. Three-year or 36,000-mile warranty.
bestop.com; (800) 845-3567
Go Industries Rugged Step
The Rancher Rugged Step is a commercial-grade side step from Go Industries designed for full sized trucks. Measuring 8-1/4 inches wide, the Rancher offers sure footing on 2-inch 10-gauge runners and 2-inch tubing. A nylon coating is used for corrosion protection. A mud scraper is available to clean muck and other debris from you boots to keep the truck’s interior clean. No-drill installation.
goindustries.com; (800) 527-4345
AMP Research Bed Step 2
The Bed Step 2 from AMP Research is a contractor’s dream, supporting up to 300 pounds to allow you to easily reach deep into the bed of your truck for tools, gear and cargo without having to climb in or stand on the tire. Made from high-strength aluminum alloy, its non-slip, fiberglass-reinforced composite step-pad is large enough for two boots; and when not in use, flips up with the kick of a toe. Easily installed on either side of the truck. Three-year or 36,000-mile warranty.
amp-research.com; (800) 309-6823