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Pros & Cons of Electric vs Fixed Running Boards

A running board is a platform that attaches to the underside of the vehicle, right below the doors, making getting in and out of the cabin much easier. Although primarily used on pickup trucks and large SUVs, running boards are nowadays more common even on smaller crossovers because of how convenient they are.

With the advancement in car technology over the last couple of decades, electric running boards are quickly catching up to fixed running boards and, in some cases, completely replacing them altogether. As their name might suggest, a fixed running board is a simple platform that has no way of folding or retracting. It sits where it’s located, and that’s it.

An electric running board, on the other hand, is controlled by an electric motor and can extend and retract when the door is opened and closed, respectively. Obviously, both fixed and electric running boards come with pros and cons, which makes the purchasing decision all the more difficult and important.

In this article, we’ll go over what fixed and electric boards are, as well as what their pros and weaknesses are to help you make a well-informed decision for your next purchase.  

PowerStep Running Board With Plug And Play

What to Look for When Buying Running Boards

When buying running boards, cost ranks highly as one of your most important criteria. If you’re working within a budget, you’ll want to purchase a running board that doesn’t break the bank.

As great as electric running boards are, and we’ll get into that a little bit later in this article, there’s simply no escaping the fact that they’re substantially more expensive than a typical fixed board. 

Style is another reason why one might choose an electric running board over a fixed unit. Since they can extend and retract depending on whether the doors are closed or open, electric running boards will give your vehicle a much cleaner and neater appearance while also giving you easy access to the cabin. Fixed running boards can be unsightly to look at, especially as they get dirty due to people stepping all over them with muddy or wet shoes.

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How Electric Running Boards Work

Electric running boards, sometimes also called automatic running boards, are powered by a small enclosed electric motor that can extend or retract the platform which rests on a hinged mechanism. The motor is wired to extend the step when a door opens and retract it when the doors are closed.

Pros & Cons of Electric Running Boards

One of the biggest advantages that electric boards have over fixed ones is their adjustable height. Although most electric running boards extend more than their fixed counterparts, some more premium choices can be programmed to have different height intervals, meaning you can choose how far you want them to extend and, in some cases, even control that through an app using your phone.

Since electric running boards can retract neatly underneath the vehicle, they don’t hamper ground clearance and can therefore extend further than fixed running boards, usually halfway between the body of the vehicle and the ground. 

Their automatic function also makes them look sleeker, especially if you want to retain an OEM look. This also means you’ll have to do less cleaning since the running boards are hidden when the vehicle is in motion, making them more protected from the elements. A lot of modern electric truck running boards also come with LEDs to illuminate the step (such as the AMP PowerStep), making it easier to get in and out at night, and you can usually control this function through an app on your phone.

The biggest downside of electric running boards is their price. Most premium electric running boards start at anywhere between $800 and $1,200, but the most luxurious and durable offerings can set you back as much as $2,300 or even more. Although these accessories tend to get good reviews and users say they’re usually worth every penny, that’s still a lot of money to spend on a running board.

Another downside is their weight. When you add up the weight of the electric motor, the hinges, and the platform itself, and times it by two for one running board on each side, you’re now looking at 70 to 120 pounds of added weight. It’s not all bad though, since most of them are rated to bear anywhere between 300 and 600 pounds of weight per side.

Electric running boards are more susceptible to malfunctioning due to their complexity, but that being said, most modern units are pretty robust. Installation is another issue though, since you’ll have to attach the steps and then wire it all together. Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that electric running boards can fail in cold weather, especially if they’re iced over and can’t extend properly.


Pros & Cons of Fixed Running Boards

The biggest advantage of fixed running boards is their cost. You can find a really good fixed running board from a reputable company for as little as $300, with some affordable units even coming in at less than $200. 

Since these running boards are fixed, they don’t have any electrical parts that can go wrong, making them extremely durable. They’re also much easier to install than electric boards and will always function as intended, even in cold climates, since they’re always extended. 

That being said, the fact that they can’t retract is also their biggest downfall since they usually limit ground clearance, and the longer the fixed running board is, the more it affects and reduces ground clearance. This also makes them susceptible to damage when off-roading and it makes them harder to keep clean since they’re always visible and exposed to the elements.

Lastly, if you’re not a fan of the way running boards look but love the ease of access they offer, you’ll be conflicted if you choose a fixed running board. On one hand, you’ll love how easy it is to get into your vehicle but you might not love the way it looks every time you turn your head back to see it.

Hopefully, this article explained the differences between fixed and electric power running boards and helped you make an informed decision. Truth be told, you can’t go wrong with either since it all boils down to your budget, your style preference, and whether you’re worried about ground clearance or not. Whichever style you decide on, choose 4 Wheel Parts as your accessory headquarters.