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.