Running Boards

See our Running Board Replacement Procedure.

(This article is mostly discussion/conversation.)

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Dave's son wanted to replace the running boards on his '73 Super Beetle, as they were old, very ratty, and practically falling off the car. Rust and it's attendant problems were Dave's biggest concerns with this venture. He was worried that he would just get the old running boards torn off only to find that there was too little metal to attach the new ones!

Rob wrote -- My running boards needed to be replaced as well. The bolts which hold the running boards on have welded-on captive nuts inside the heater channel. The bolts have frozen solid, so I'm concerned that I might have a rust problem inside the channel, or at least that he would break some of the bolts off inside the nuts. When you're ready to replace them, get the German ones, not the Mexican ones. The German ones are MUCH thicker metal, and have better rubber too. The older I get the more I have reinforced the old adage, "You get what you pay for!"

Dave wrote -- There is a gap about half an inch wide between the front fender and the running board, and there's quite a bit of rust down in there. It makes me worry about getting the old ones off, let alone the new ones on. Rocky Mountain Motor Works (now Mid-America Motor Works) sells Nutech aluminum running boards that they describe as follows:

These extruded aluminum running boards ... are made from 6063 aluminum alloy and come complete with mounting hardware. Available in a variety of finished to satisy the discriminating needs of the hobbyist. These high-tech products will add class and practicality to your show car or daily driver.

The one that interests me the most is what RMMW calls the "Classic Running Board," (aluminum alloy, powder painted, matte black, edges of nibs are polished). Cost - $129.00/pair.

 

The "Classic Running Board"

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Rob wrote -- There is supposed to be a very fat rubber washer between the fender and the running board, with a bolt through it. This provides the running board with support without forcing the fender out of shape. The front of the running board is supposed to have the rubber top overlapping the front of the steel running board itself, so the rubber lip covers the gap and snugs up to the fender without scratching the fender paint.

I have a problem with rust, too. My running boards are in poor condition, but the bolts (which mount into captured nuts in the heater channel) are frozen solid. I'm not looking forward to replacing them, as I suspect if I try to force the bolts I'll break the captured nuts free. I think I might be grinding off the bolt heads and drilling and tapping the bolt threads so as to disturb the nuts as little as possible. And plenty of grease on the bolt threads so they are easy to get out in another 27 years :-)

Dave wrote -- Between the Bentley and Haynes manuals I have developed a Running Board Replacement Procedure.

Rob wrote -- As I indicated before, I have a concern about the four body bolts, as every VW I've had a close look at appears to have some rust around these bolts. The inner end of the bolts is inside the heater channel, which is subject to rust on many cars too, and my concern is that too much torque on rusty bolts is likely to twist out the capture nuts inside the heater channel. Point #2 of your procedure.

It might be possible to 'crack' the bolts a bit, then work in more penetrating oil, working the bolts in/out to get the oil down the threads. The only fix I can think of is to grind off the bolt heads, drill out the bolts (start small and gradually increase the hole size until all that's left is the bolt thread inside the nut thread, then use a tap to clean out the thread.) Lots of grease on the new bolts so they wonít rust again.

Dave wrote about a wonderful product he's discovered -- Have you heard of "Kroil"? It's supposed to be the best penetrating oil ever. Marketed by Kano Laboratories out of Nashville, Tennessee. I ordered two aerosol cans of Kroil for $10. The guy challenged me to use it on my toughest job -- he "guarantees" success. He said to spray it on the bolts in the morning, then let it sit until the afternoon. Then hit the bolts with another shot and remove the bolts. Hope it will be that simple.

The new running boards arrived from Rocky Mountain Motor Works (now Mid-America Motor Works.) They are really nice -- heavy aluminum, black, with the raised ribs on the running board surface polished silver. Hopefully early in the week we'll install them -- I'm waiting for the Kroil to arrive. In addition to the possible problem of the bolts being rusted in I am worried about the holes in the fenders (front and rear) that the running boards bolt into. I haven't looked closely yet, but the left front hole seems to be enlarged. May have to use some big washers.

Rob responded -- Yes, those bottom holes in the fenders do tend to enlarge if the old running boards have been loose in the holes. Extra large washers under the bolt heads should work.

Dave wrote -- The old running boards are about to fall off. The bolts look to be in pretty good shape -- I don't think I'll have any problem removing them. I tried to replace the bottom two fender bolts on the left front this morning -- couldn't get the new bolt started in the next one up from the bottom, and the nut for the bottom one appears to be missing.

I sprayed the running board bolts with Kroil and will hit them again once more before I put a wrench on them, but who knows. Iím most worried about the bolts that are broken off in the holes. Theyíre only about 1/4 inch in diameter -- it will take a pretty small drill bit and easy-out. Then if that doesnít work I guess itís drill the bolt out with successively larger bits until I get to the threads, then go in with the right sized tap. Havenít done that in years -- like reliving my youth -- one of the parts I never wanted to return to!

A bit later Dave wrote - Today I slipped into my coveralls, laid my big carcass down beside the car, and successfully removed the old running boards. Old indeed! They were really ratty. And the attachment points (front and back) were all messed up -- no rubber grommets, and in one case the bolt (which had a wing nut on it and no washers of any kind!) had pulled completely through and was holding nothing. I also noticed lots of fender bolts missing while I was under there. Sure wish I knew the history of this car -- it's really been through the mill!

As to the bolts along the side -- I have one broken one on each side and one yet to be removed. It was loose enough to get the running board off but tight in the hole when I put a wrench on it, so I didn't force it, just hit it with Kroil and am letting it sit. By the way, the Kroil seems to work well -- the bolts that broke off I had tried to remove before I got the stuff; all the rest of them that had been "Kroiled" came out with relative ease.

Anyway, now I have two broken bolts to deal with -- should be fun (right!). Need to drop by the auto parts store on my way home tonight and pick up a very small easy-out. I have a tee handle in the very bottom of my tool box, where it has resided unused for 28 years! At least with these bolts there's room to work, unlike the front bumpers, which are being held on by only one bolt on each side. The other two bolts on each side are broken off in the holes. You almost need a right-angle drill to get in there to drill out the bolts. Low priority project right now.

I slipped the left running board into place just to see -- boy, does it ever look nice! I hope my son will be pleased.

And later - I just finished installing the new running boards. It took longer than I (and my wife!) thought it should have, and it was a bit tougher that I thought it would be -- but isn't that always the case.

To summarize the running board replacement, Dave wrote -- The old ones were really in a mess. The bolts on the ends were a real hodge-podge -- none of them were alike, and all four of the rubber washers were missing. One of the bolts (the one with a wing nut on it!) was just sitting in the hole in the fender -- it wasn't attached to the running board at all.

I made the mistake of trying to take one of the side bolts out before hitting it with the Kroil, and of course I broke it off. There was one broken off on the other side as well. I tried the easy-out routine, but to no avail. One of the welded nuts in the heater channel broke off. So I gave up and just drilled them out. I replaced them with ordinary molly screws, the kind you would use to hang something on a hollow door. Worked great!

Putting the new running boards on was a bit fiddly, but it went smoothly and was well worth it. They REALLY look nice!

Dave wrote about replacement of the running boards while reassembling the car after having it painted - I got the running boards and new thresholds installed. For some strange reason the running boards ended up further away from the front fenders -- there's like an inch of space in between. I know there's supposed to be a gap, but only about 6-8mm -- one thick rubber grommet is the usual requirement.

I got a couple of rubber stoppers (the kind you use in a chemistry lab) and used them as spacers between the running boards and fenders.

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