With 4WDs, utes and crossovers making the majority of vehicle sales, there’s a large aftermarket sector tailored to meet varying buyer needs. Since all vehicles sit higher up than your usual hatchback or sedan, you’ll want something that makes entry and exit easier, serves as a base for loading stuff into the tray or tub, and protects the vehicle from the sides.
Options abound here, and you can choose between side steps and running boards, nerf bars, as well as rock sliders when you need that extra dose of protection. All differ in their own unique ways, and getting what’s right for you will depend on your needs. Besides these additions, when you’re heading out in the bush, common sense dictates that you’ll also want basic front and rear vehicle protection.
Bull bars and nudge bars push anything heading for your vehicle safely aside. These are good in preventing head-on collisions, but you’ll also need something to shield the sides, as this is where most impact occurs. Brush bars are the natural extension from bigger bars up front, keeping side panels and wheels intact. They can be used on their own, or in combination with a side step installed at either side. Complete the outfit with front and rear bash plates, and add a beefier rear bumper, and you’re ready for any situation.
Why Side Steps?
Side steps are the often overlooked item when outfitting your vehicle. They’re relatively cheap additions (compared to everything else out there) but have multiple purposes that more than recoups the sale price. First, they provide for easier access in and out of vehicles that are a bit higher up.
SUVs, 4WDs, utes and even smaller crossovers have higher ground clearance by default, and getting in and out can be a challenge for anyone of shorter stature. It’s not just adults, but kids and the elderly. With side steps running the length of the doors, footing is secure with ample space and rubberised inserts or perforated surfaces that prevent slipping. Entry and exit into the vehicle are faster, safer and won’t incur unnecessary injuries.
Another convenient use of well-appointed side steps is keeping the cabin and interior clean. You can rub off any mud or dirt along the way, so the seats and the footwells remain spotless. Perforated designs do a better job here, and any water or dirt just seeps through. Lastly, there’s the protection.
This is good for a range of driving situations and settings. Side steps are at home both in urban and rural areas, as well as in the bush. They protect the car in tighter spots, like car parks or when brushing up against the curb. On unsealed roads, they help to throw off rocks and flying debris, as well as branches and eager wildlife that are just too close for comfort. Matched with a pair of side brush bars, you significantly avoid damage or the risk of anything more serious, like accidents.
What to Look for in Side Steps
If you’re looking for durability, good looks, and strength then choose your side steps in either aluminium or steel designs. Steel side steps are the more heavy-duty option and something you’ll want if you’re going off-road. They’re considerably heavier than aluminium options, coming in a bit thicker.
Aluminium side step models can take the same loading weight, won’t budge if properly installed, and save a few kilos if weight is important. Both types come with coatings to prevent rust, and some have a polished finish that helps in the looks department. There’s also the price difference and compatibility with brush bars to take into consideration. Comparing the two, the aluminium option looks more at home on its own, and is often the preferred choice in urban settings.
Side steps need to run the length of the doors, without impeding on the wheel arches. They also need to protrude outwards to accommodate bigger or smaller feet. Most taper towards the end, though square edges are also common. Often, you’ll see a combination of metal bases, and rubberised top inserts. Heavy-duty steel variants may have perforated surfaces with texturised inlays for safer footing.
Get the right side steps for your car. This means the right MY of your model as each pair is manufactured to correct lengths in terms of wheelbases. You can also find universal variants that will fit a range of vehicles, as well as rebadged 4WDs and utes.
Similar to side steps, you’ve got the running boards. They differ in that they sit wider and lower than side steps, so they’re intended more for higher vehicles. Then there are nerf bars, which are pieces of circular tubing that extend more into the wheel arches, and like running boards they’re set lower. Lastly, consider rock sliders that are often welded into the chassis and can take more weight. They offer the best side and underbody protection, especially when off-road.
Most side steps are easily fitted. They are packaged with mounting brackets that are bolted onto the chassis rails for a clean and secure fit.