Feature Fail: Running Boards

Feature Fail: Running Boards

I’ve recently decided on the automotive low point of the last 20 years. No, I’m not referring to the Suzuki X-90, although it certainly earns an honorable mention. I’m not even talking about the Pontiac Aztek. Instead, I’m referring to running boards.

I believe there are two major reasons why running boards are a “feature fail,” and I’ll cover them both. They are:

1. They’re really ugly. I don’t mean slightly ugly, like the BMW 5-Series GT, or even very ugly, like those steel wheels they used on the original Honda CR-V. I mean truly, insanely, unattractive.

When I bought my SUV, I specifically ordered it without running boards for this reason. Of course, I bought used, so when I say I “ordered it,” what I really mean is that I went to CarMax and said I wanted a vehicle that hasn’t even been in the same room as one with running boards.

Now, you’re thinking: Yes, they’re ugly. But they serve a purpose! And so we move on to…

2. They serve no purpose. Here’s what I’ve discovered about running boards. They would be very useful in some taller vehicles if they stuck out about a foot or two from the body, like actual stairs. But obviously they can’t, because this would make the vehicle way too wide for normal roads. So instead they stick out maybe two inches, which is nowhere near wide enough for a human being to put a foot on.

As a result, they have never actually been used, except on old cars from the early 1900s where the width of your running board was an expression of wealth, much in the same way that a window-mounted oval sticker is today.

The lone exception to this is those power-operated running boards on the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition. They come out far enough, and they stow when the vehicle is moving so you can’t see them. They aren’t a feature fail. The rest of the running board industry very much is.

14 Responses to “ “Feature Fail: Running Boards”

  1. Livermoron says:

    Seriously nothing better to write about today?

    I agree some vehicles have running boards when they obviously don’t need them – like the Toyota pictured. But having been the owner of two 4×4 Suburbans (88 and 96), a 4×4 F250 (00), and now a 4X4 Silverado (02) – all of which were stock height and all of which had running boards I will say I find them very useful. And I am a function over form guy so by default they aren’t that ugly to me.

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Haha. I am always open to suggestions!!

      I’m surprised you find them useful. I have a really hard time stepping on them without my foot slipping off. They’re always so small…

      Then again they may be more useful on a full-size SUV or truck. Yet I see them ALL THE TIME on Highlanders and such, like the one pictured above.

      • Livermoron says:

        I think you’re lumping all running board designs together – kind of like saying all dogs chew shoes because the one I had did – well, not really like that, but sort of.

        The running boards made out of pipe or tube I think you are thinking the most about may not actually be running boards at all. I think they are actually faux rock bars – the real ones are put on vehicles that actually go off road and they protect the body. It has probably been an evolutionary thing where someone saw them on some truck wheeling and thought they would make their M class look tough (like those brush gourds for tail lights you see on Lexus GX470s). And then someone slipped on one and said – hey, why don’t we make this a step too?

  2. Ltd783 says:

    I would add- They will stain your pant legs. In addition to being functionally useless, they are the dirtiest part of the car. So as you are trying to step over them to get out of a CUV (because they’re even more pitifully useless on exiting) your pant leg will inevitably brush against them, coating it with road grime.

  3. Forrest says:

    Window-mounted oval sticker?

    • Darren says:

      Mine, for example, says “OBX” meaning Outer Banks. But I never considered it an expression of wealth. I just like being reminded of my fun vacations on the Outer Banks every time I approach my car from behind.

      That being said, I’ve seen them from all sorts of places, as well as for dumb stuff like what type of marathon you’ve run. 13.2 and 26.4 (or whatever the numbers are) refer to half and full marathons, respectively.

  4. because ski racks says:

    uh, running boards definitely come in handy when you’re loading skis onto your racks…but they’re usually never big enough to handle ski boots without having to open the door, in which instance they are pointless….as are running boards when your rear ski rack is parallel with the rear axle…or when you can’t reach your ski rack over the higher-tiered portion of your Land Rover Discovery’s roof with running boards.

    • because can't afford a range rover^ says:

      lowered air suspension plus ski lodge valet render the running board beyond useless on this car.

      I wish rock rails were a more popular feature than running boards on Land Rovers.

    • ChargerRT says:

      I had running boards on a 2002 Land Rover Discovery andy wife always used them to climb into the car. She is on the smaller side. I on the other hand saw them as something to avoid as they would get dirt on my pants when getting in and avoiding stepping on them.

  5. Land Ark says:

    If you really want to talk about useless running boards, head on over to your local classic car show and make it appear as though you are going to step on the running boards of one of the 1930s hot rods. Even doing that on the ones with rubber non-slip tread will turn you into a pariah.
    The ones I don’t get are the round bars that stick out 2 inches beyond the rockers but don’t have any extra grippy areas. Your foot will slip right off when it’s wet and you’ll have to spend the rest of your life explaining why you have a slight limp and door striker-shaped dent in your forehead.

  6. brightfametexan says:

    Hey, an SUV that will never see offroad use. So why not useless running boards that will never see use? :)

  7. HaloNHorns2002 says:

    + 1,000,000 on getting your pants dirty… I have a Jeep Wrangler with the factory side steps and they’re too awkward for me to use, but make it an adventure to get past them without getting my pants dirty if I drive it to work. I only leave them on for my vertically-challanged passengers. Well, that and it makes getting stuff out of the back seat a bit easier…

  8. Darren says:

    Funny you write about this, because I am borrowing my brother’s Wrangler this week. It has a 6-in lift and has the factory side steps. In a vehicle of this particular height, I can see the need, although they ARE useless when getting out, unless you wish to look like a praying mantis while exiting your vehicle. They do help getting in, though, despite their small size.

    Of course, not every “SUV” on the road is a Wrangler, and I hate these idiotic things as much as you seem to, Doug. I’ve seen them on Kia Sportages, for God’s sake. Or Suzuki XL.7s, where I believe they are standard!

    Let’s not forget the Chevy HHR. My current daily driver is an HHR, but as it is an LS model, it does not include the optional side steps. The LT model does…this was obviously more a nod to retro style than actual use, but still, a Cobalt-based CAR that was built as late as 2011 has running boards. Here’s a picture for your amusement (and mine):


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