N-Fab RKR Step System For 5th Gen (2010-2024) 4Runner: Combination Rock Slider Alternative & Running Board Steps – Detailed Install & Review
Step bars, sometimes referred to as “nerf bars” (or running boards) come in several different styles but are essentially a fashionable way to assist you in getting into and out of your 5th Gen 4Runner.
Step bars differ from rock sliders in several ways including construction materials, means of installation and especially price. Although step bars and rock sliders seem to exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, the RKR step system from N-FAB does a great job at closing the gap.
This system bolts onto your factory side step mounting locations and acts more like a rock slider and rocker panel protection while on the trails, but has removable “steps” for more daily driving applications.
Tool & Materials:
- Sockets: 12mm
- Wrenches: 18mm and 17mm
- Universal Joint
- Floor Jack (optional)
Find It Online:
- N-FAB RKR Step System: Check Price
Nerf/Step Bars Vs. Rock Sliders
Before we get into detail about the RKR Step System, let me first give an broad overview of the difference between step bars and rock sliders and the reasons for them both.
Step bars and rock sliders mount in the same general location on your rig but serve two very different purposes. Where step bars will mount to the body of the vehicle, just underneath the rocker panels (into threaded body mounts), rock sliders are affixed to the frame of your 4Runner, either by bolts or welded permanently in place.
The step bars’ primary purpose is to give you a foothold while entering or exiting the vehicle, while the main focus of rock sliders is to physically protect your rocker panel areas from being damaged from below. These differences are further reflected in the design, construction and materials used in their manufacturer.
If you’re interested in sliders, David Todd did an outstanding write-up on them.
How To Choose
So why would anyone choose one option over the other? The same reasons we choose anything else for our favored four-wheel-drives: Cost, purpose, and aesthetics.
While the thought of having rock sliders sounds great, they tend to cost twice as much as step bars and if you’re not planning on running trails that are too technical, you may want to save those extra clams for another toy for your Yota.
Most step bars can easily be installed by a DIY minded enthusiast, while rock sliders can require welding to be mounted (most are bolt-on today). They tend to be made of heavier materials for their armor abilities, but again, if you don’t need the defense then you can save a great deal of weight with a set of step bars.
Where aesthetics is subjective, I can tell you that I prefer the look of rock sliders that tuck tightly up under the rocker panels, but I also like the ability to step up into the rig with ease. With the RKR Step System from N-FAB, I can have both.
The N-FAB RKR step system is exactly that. A system.
While most other step bars will have their rails and steps as a single piece, the RKR system allows the steps to be easily bolted and unbolted to the main rails. With the steps installed, the RKR provides you with a solid surface to set your foot on while entering or exiting your 4Runner. When you remove the steps, the main rails hug the rocker panels underneath the doors, to provide protection against the unwelcomed rocks or tree stumps.
Most step bars are made of a lightweight and thin material such as a composite or aluminum. For example, my 4Runner came equipped with factory running boards which seemed to be comprised of an aluminum frame and plastic coverings. The RKR step system, however, is made from 1.75″ tubular steel with a 0.120″ thick wall that is treated on both inside and out, making it resistant to rust and corrosion.
The full set of bars and separate steps are welded at the joints for strength and finished in a textured black powder coating. All of these traits will ensure you get the best protection and rigidity available as N-FAB has designed these step bars to be right on par with top rated rock sliders. Combine this with a lifetime structural warranty and a 5-year warranty on the finish (a typical failure point) and you have an affordable and trail worthy bar system for both form and function. Just what you’d expect from a product made in the USA.
Things To Note
Mounting the RKR system to your 5th Gen 4Runner is pretty simple and straight-forward. If you’re feeling unsure about doing this yourself, I recommend starting with the passenger side to get the feel of it. There are far fewer things in the way compared to the driver’s side which houses the KDSS system and all it’s plumbing.
It doesn’t matter if you mount the steps to the main bars first, or wait until after they’re installed. Remember, the steps are designed to be removed and re-installed at will. I wanted to put the whole assembly up under the truck at the same time, so I opted to install the steps beforehand. It’s worth noting that there was no indication as to which side was driver and which was passenger. There are three brackets on the main bars where the bolts screw into the 4Runner, the front bracket will have a slightly different layout than the other two.
Step 1. Remove Old Running Boards
If you have factory running boards, like I did, you’ll need to remove them first. There are six 12mm bolts that hold the running boards to the underbody. Using a ratchet and socket, loosen the bolts enough to finish the job using your fingers, but don’t fully remove them just yet. Although the running boards are light, they’re long and can be cumbersome to work out from under the 4Runner with one end still bolted up.
Once you get all six bolts loosened, you can begin to fully remove them starting at one end and working your way to the other. As the bolts come out the board will easily begin to drop and can be removed altogether. Set those bolts aside, you won’t need them. Repeat the process on the other side and you’re ready to install the new RKR step system.
Step 2. Install New RKR Setup
The RKR step system comes with all new hardware, so if your 5th Gen 4Runner didn’t come equipped with running boards or you don’t have existing bolts in place, no worries, N-FAB has taken care of you. The new bolts provided by N-FAB are longer and have a separate, more stout washer than the simple OEM bolts. Be sure to use them!
Even though the RKRs are still considered step bars they are made with the same armor traits as rock sliders, so they’re going to be considerably heavier than your factory boards. At first I tried to lift and support the bars at the far end with my foot while I tried to get the closer bolts started. After 15 seconds of struggling and my wife laughing in a non-judgmental way, I decided to use a floor jack to support the bars up under the truck, while I worked the bolts with ease.
After you have all the bolts threaded, go ahead and tighten them snug using a ratchet and 12mm socket. There are two bolts per bracket and I had to use the U-joint to get to the lower bolts while the upper bolts were easily accessible.
Step 3. Mount Step Portion
If you haven’t installed the steps already, now’s the time. With the main bars secured to your furious 4Runner, line up the steps with the mounting locations. Slide the 18mm bolt through the holes and secure them with the 17mm nut. If you need to remove them, simply reverse the process and you’re set.
You may have noticed the weld for the step supports is only welded on one side. Well, there’s a good reason for that. The “flat” side is the mounting location for the step. This allows the step to sit flat and snug against the support bar while the curved part of the step fits securely against the main rail, allowing it to be properly supported.
If you install the steps on the weld side, you will notice that the step does not sit parallel with the ground as well as not forming a secure bond against the main rail, but rather the weld itself. This could cause unnecessary wear on your nice new step system.
There are two bolts per bracket that mount to your 5th Gen. While the upper bolts had plenty of clearance the lower bolts were a little trickier to access. I needed to use U-joint or “wobble” everything to get to these. I went ahead and got all the bolts started and then wiggled it all into position and tightened down. Also, if you decide to use a drill to screw in these bolts, I recommend turning down your torque before finishing the task by hand. You don’t want to overtighten these.
I didn’t have the recommended torque specs in my package so I made a quick call to N-FAB via RealTruck.com. The staff was very polite and helpful and after a few minutes chatting with the N-FAB rep, I learned that the torque specs for the main rails to the truck were 15-20 ft. lbs., and the steps were 65 ft. lbs.
This one was a little more frustrating than anything else. After I installed the RKR system on my 5th Gen, I drove around for the better part of a day. As I gradually came to a stop at a red light and finished out my super epic car-karaoke version of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy”, I noticed a slight rubbing noise that sounded similar to creaky springs. I could only hear it at very slow speeds and only when I began to drive off or came to a dead stop.
Seeing as how the RKR system was the only thing I have done different, I did a quick check and noticed that the KDSS bash cover was touching the main rail ever so slightly. I tried to adjust the rails by loosening all the bolts, but I didn’t gain any wiggle room whatsoever. My temporary fix was hit that location with a quick blast of my favorite spray lubricant and carry on. No creak. I will probably try to adjust once more when I can free up a little more wrench time, or even grind down that KDSS cover plate by millimeters at the rubbing location for a more permanent solution.
RKR – With Steps
RKR – Without Steps
The N-FAB RKR step system is a solidly built and an easily installed upgrade to your 5th Gen 4Runner. It fills the gap nicely between between nerf bars and rock sliders as it’s strong enough to take a hit and protect your ride.
The powder coating finish is nice and relatively durable but when it does scratch off, it wont take much to start flaking. So make sure to take care of the coating. Aside from the KDSS rub, the fit is great and the entire system installs easily. The upgrade from the factory running boards to this system is huge. Not only does the RKR system look amazing with the steps both on and off but the feeling of being more protected eases the mind.
I know it seems as if rock sliders and step bars are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but in reality, they’re more like siblings. Same family of parts, with very different personalities. If sliders are the rough and rugged type and the step bars are the fashionably sophisticated one, then the RKR step system is that child who’s able to live in both worlds. Think of it as the the sibling who hides that chiseled six-pack under a designer suit. The RKR’s ability to hold it’s form while putting function on blast is phenomenal.
With the steps on, this system gives an elegance to off-road style while providing a strong and secure way to get you into and out of your righteous rig. Take the steps off, and your 4Runner’s trail-worthy side becomes trail-ready. The low-profile bars snug up to the rocker panels providing maximum ground clearance while denying flex, exuding confidence on the trail.
In short, the RKR step system from N-FAB does an amazing job of providing a strong and beautiful bar set while providing the option of removable steps that wont break the bank.