Best Powered Running Boards & Side Steps: AMP Research, Bestop & ARIES
"Let’s Talk" Best Automatic Powered Retractable Running Boards and Truck Side Steps.
So, here you are contemplating spending upwards of $1,000 to make your pickup truck or SUV easier for you and your family to enter and exit. Leonard Truck Accessories offers automatic, electrically powered running boards from three, top quality, powered running board manufacturers, AMP Research, BESTOP, and Aries Automotive Products. Automatic powered running boards are popular because most styles are virtually invisible when not in use, they offer a wider, flatter stepping surface than most nerf bars, and let's face it, they are really cool.
Starting with the AMP Research and BESTOP products they are both very similar in style and operation. Open your door and a flat, cab length, running board drops down offering a safe and sturdy step up. The ARIES Action Trac is a different and unique design that is actually a fixed nerf bar type truck step and retractable running board - all-in-one.
Here’s an overview on the BESTOP Powerboards:
- An electrically powered running board that tucks in when doors are closed and extends down when a door opens.
- Drops down about 6" and out 2" to create a stair-step into your truck
- The full cab length board works with both front and rear doors, driver, and passenger sides
- 600-pound load capacity per side
- Complete kit includes two full length boards, OEM quality sealed motor, controller, hardware, wiring harness with weatherproof connectors and LED Light Kit
- Powerboard includes complete wiring bundle, mounting hardware, motors, brackets and, step extrusions
- Built-in anti-pinch safety features senses pressure to keep the board from retracting on your hand and feet
- Patented high strength, die-cast aluminum linkage built to last in any climate
- OEM quality sealed motors that perform in any weather
- OEM quality heavy-duty wiring harness with weatherproof connectors
- Sturdy 6.25 inch wide aluminum running board features ultra-durable, non-slip, powder-coated surface
- Integrated LED Light Kit mounts to linkage or to the body and illuminates board and ground below for easier access in and out of the cab
- 100,000 mile/3-year limited warranty
Typical power retractable running board installation from any manufacturer requires either splicing into existing wiring under the dash, behind door-panels or plugging into the OBDll port under the instrument panel. BESTOP offers the traditional style, hard wiring style BESTOP PowerBoard or The PowerBoard NX.
The BESTOP PowerBoard NX addresses the biggest fear most customers have when considering automatic retractable running boards - removing interior panels and splicing into the vehicle’s electrical system - by using Wi-Fi technology to sense when the boards should deploy or retract. The Wi-Fi- signals activate the controller instead of a hardwire connection. You won’t need the OBDII port but you still need to attach leads to the battery and run the harness down to the boards. We will dig into installation a little later but let’s look at the AMP Research PowerSteps first.
AMP Research Is The Most Recognized Name In The Powered Truck Side Step Field.
Here's how the AMP Research website lists their features:
- Automatic power-deploying running boards
- Low-profile integrated led light system - standard
- High-strength, die-cast aluminum-alloy components with an anodized and PTFE coated, military-spec finish to resist corrosion
- Precision stainless-steel pivot pins for rock-solid stability
- Maintenance-free, self-lubricating bushings for all-weather performance
- Extruded aluminum steps with full-length internal ribs for rock-solid stiffness, rigidity and support with a high-texture powder-coat finish for maximum grip and durability
- 600 lb. load capacity (each side)
- Weatherproof, oem-quality electric motors, drive system and wiring harness
- Pressure-sensitive, pinch-proof safety technology
- 5-year/60,000-mile warranty
- Designed and built in America
To ease the pain of installation, the AMP Research PowerStep is available with a Plug and Play option for certain applications. This option eliminates the need for splicing into wires under the instrument panel and behind the door panels. AMP Research accomplishes this by making use of the OBDll diagnostic port. All vehicles sold in the USA after 1996 have an OBDll diagnostic plug but that does not mean they are all compatible with AMP's Plug and Play option. If your vehicle is compatible with Plug and Play it will show as an available option for your vehicle.
The basic AMP Research PowerStep and the Bestop PowerBoard are very similar. They both support up to 600 lbs. a side, have a standard 6"-7" drop-down distance and step width of 6". deployment is the same, up when the door is closed and down when it’s opened.
AMP Research and BESTOP approach warranty differenty - 5 years or 60,000 mile whichever comes first for the AMP PowerStep Line and 3 years or 100,000 miles whichever comes first for the Bestop PowerBoard. So, if you drive your truck 12,000 miles a year, or less, you can take advantage of AMP’s 5 year 60,000 mile warranty. However, if you do a lot of traveling the 3 year-100,000 mile warranty on the BESTOP units offer longer protection. For example, if you drive 20,000 miles per year then you get a 3 year warranty on either the AMP or the BESTOP. However, if you do 25,000 miles per year you get more coverage with the BESTOP. And, keep in mind, powered running boards that come already installed on a new vehicle are only covered under the typical 3 year or 36,000 mile manufacturer's waranty.
Aside from warranty differences, in their basic configuration, they both require similar wiring and installation procedures but pricing starts out a few hundred dollars less for the BESTOP PowerBoard vs. The AMP Research PowerStep. The price difference lessens a little when you compare the Plug and Play AMP PowerStep and the BESTOP PowerBoard NX with Wi-Fi controlled activation, but there is still around a two-hundred-dollar difference in BESTOP's favor.
On the feature and installation side, comparing the PowerBoard NX Wi-Fi vs. AMP Research Plug and Play option is a bit of a toss-up. The PowerBoard NX's Wi-Fi actuation is certainly high tech but the module does require batteries. I'm not sure what happens when the batteries are weak or dead. Power to the motors comes from the vehicle's battery but the Wi-Fi module tells the motors when they should be powered. Might be a good idea to keep fresh Duracells in the glove-box. Also, while I cannot speak from experience on the PowerBoard NX , I know Wi-Fi can be interrupted or disrupted. It is, however, a tempting option and I wonder if BESTOP has thought about an app that will allow activation from your phone?
Alternatively, If you want to avoid under the dash and inside the door wiring on the AMP PowerStep you can opt for a Plug and Play version which is an extra cost option that uses the OBDll port (that's the connector under your dash that Service Engine code-readers plug into) for activation. The downside, it isn’t available for all applications and you would need to buy an additional harness if you want to use any other OBDll device or trouble code reader without unplugging your PowerSteps.
For vehicles needing more "drop" AMP Research and BESTOP both offer a 2" extension. AMP has one for the standard PowerStep and BESTOP for both the PowerBoard and PowrBoard NX
AMP also offers the PowerStep XL which has an additional 3" drop built in especially for lifted trucks. The PowerStep XL retracts into a housing that looks like a Rocker Rail when the steps are in the up position. This style allows the boards to deploy from a lower point which is more desirable than extending the hinges too far. Take a look at the two pictures below:
Now that we have compared two of the most similar automatic retractable running boards. Let's look at some products that are unique in their design or application.
- Dual motors drive this electric-powered running board to deliver more power when deploying and retracting
- Engineered to support loads up to 600 lbs
- Led lights illuminate boards when deployed
- Aggressive design for extreme traction, all-weather performance made from high-strength, die-cast aluminum components and maintenance-free, self-lubricating bushings
- Legendary reliability with durable, high-texture powder-coat finish to resist corrosion and maximize grip
- Precision stainless-steel pivot pins for rock-solid stability, oem-quality motors, drive system and wiring harness that sets the industry standard
- 5-year/60,000-mile warranty
- Designed and built in America
The AMP Research PowerStep Xtreme has a high traction surface and thicker, heavier board. AMP Research didn't just change the running board portion but beefed the assembly up with two motors per side instead of just one. Now, don’t assume that AMP is getting cheap with the standard boards only having one motor. The PowerStep Xtreme has a heavier board and may have to deploy with ice and snow packed on the bottom of the truck so AMP is making sure the Xtreme gets the job done. All PowerStep Xtremes are plug and play but applications are limited.
Designed with lifted trucks in mind the ARIES Action Trac is a two-step combination of power retractable running boards and nerf bars. Here’s a case where it’s best to start off with a picture.
- Dual Step Retractable Truck Steps
- 3" powered step automatically drops 8" when door opens, up to 15" below doorsill
- 4" top step provides convenient access to the roof of the vehicle
- Contoured design helps protect the rocker panels from road debris and door dings
- Housing shields retractable step, pivot points and electronics from the elements
- Integrated control module detects obstructions and eliminates pinch hazards
- Integrated LED lights activate on deployment for added visibility and safety
- Limited lifetime warranty (five-year finish and one-year parts)
- Made in USA
The Aries ActionTrac can give you up to 15" of step drop. The main "nerf bar" part is anywhere from 5"-7" from the rocker and the automatically deployed running boards drops another 8". Admittedly, they aren’t virtually invisible like the basic PowerStep and PowerBoard from AMP and BESTOP, but they deploy much lower than the other styles, nearly twice as much lower. If your truck or JEEP is 20" off the ground 7" of drop like the standard retractable powered running boards offer won't do much good. One of the selling points for the AMP Research and BESTOP basic retractable running boards is no "loss of ground clearance" but if you need 15" of drop for your side steps ground clearance is probably not an issue you're concerned with.
Installation of the ARIES ActionTrac is simpler in many respects. First off, the steps themselves are pre-assembled. No need to install the motors or hinges. All operating components are contained in the step housing. Just install the brackets on the board and bolt the running boards up to your truck. ARIES also simplified some of the wiring by housing the control unit within the step housing and making the door sensors magnetically activated. Instead of going into the doors and splicing into the lock actuators the activating sensors just stick onto the door and the door jambs with double sided tape. The wires that are attached to the piece that attaches to the door jamb and are then routed to the harness. No door panel removal necessary.
Don’t get too excited yet, while no splicing into your vehicle’s wiring harness or door panel removal is necessary you will still need to route the harness under carpeting and the door sills so it can be attached to the running boards themselves. On some vehicles it may also be necessary to remove the rear seat bottom or any other component preventing you from lifting the carpet (personally, I would rather do that than remove door panels). Door sill trim usually snaps off or just has a couple of screws holding it in place and the only time you might have to drill a hole is if you don’t have a rubber floor plug (most all vehicles have them somewhere on the floor) to run the wires through.
Let's Talk Installation
After polling installers from some of our Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories retail locations the consensus is 2 hours for an AMP PowerStep Plug and Play, BESTOP PowerBoard NX or ARIES Action Trac and 4 hours for a hard-wire installation PowerStep or PowerBoard. These installers have experience, proper tools and lifts in their shops. Assuming you have the tools and a way to access the bottom of your vehicle an end consumer should add 2 hours to the professional's installation time. This can vary, of course, one way or another, but it is a realistic estimate.
Still with me? OK, here’s the tools you will need:
- Safety goggles
- Allen wrenches or Allen head sockets
- Basic hand wrenches SAE and Metric
- Socket set and ratchet
- Wire cutters
- Wire stripping and crimping tool
- Heat gun or mini-torch
- Trim removal tools
- Power Drill
- Assorted drill bits
- Hole saws
- Box cutter
- Measuring tape
- Electrical tape
- Weatherproof caulking or silicone sealer
- Graphite Lubricant
- Screwdrivers flat and Phillips
- Alcohol (for surface cleaning before applying any adhesive tape)
Now, that tool list covers all the products discussed here but some installations may not need everything listed. Some items like the trim removal tools aren’t absolutely necessary but they make removing door panels and trim pieces much easier and they are inexpensive. You will run the risk of breaking the plastic trim pieces or pulling the clips out of the door panels if you're not using these tools.
You won’t see it on a manufacturer's list, but I recommend a good portable light or head lamp to see under the dash or into the door. I also recommend having a circuit tester for troubleshooting or just making sure you are not cutting the wrong wires. If you are using a jack to raise your truck, then jackstands are an absolute necessity. Never use cinder blocks or stacked wood. A hole saw will only be necessary for installations that have a pre-wired connector on the harness. Most times there’s a rubber plug that can be slotted to route the harness through, but if there isn’t a simple drill bit will not make a big enough hole.
If you are considering doing the installation yourself, you probably have some of the necessary tools already. Wiring and trim tools shouldn’t cost more than $50 and may come in handy in the future. Finally, having an “extra set of hands” will make installing the boards and brackets on the vehicle much easier and safer.
A Few Observations From A Pro
The instructions provided are excellent and should be followed to a “T” Removing door panels and wiring into the door actuators is the most difficult part (not required on all applications) Before tightening the brackets to the body, the boards must be level in order to prevent binding and jamming. Connectors are provided that allowing splicing into the vehicle’s wiring without cutting the wires Each vehicle is a little different and relocation of items like brake cables might be necessary (parts to complete the relocation are provided) Most installations require routing wires from the engine compartment to the interior. Use existing entry points by slotting the rubber grommets. Be extremely careful not to cut any wires in the process. Re-seal any holes with caulking.
Here are some links to sample instruction sheets and independent/manufacturer produced videos. Regarding the videos - you will notice they are usually around 20 minutes long so, with average installation times between 2-4 hours, by a professional, some things were obviously left out. Keep in mind every vehicle will have its own special circumstances. These manufacturer's instructions are only a sample. We've chosen some common models for a quick overview. Instructions specific to your vehicle will be supplied with your new running boards and might be available for download from the manufacturer's websites.