Aries step bar install

Backfoot100

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I just put these step bars on and wanted to share my experiences, good and bad. Let me first note that I’m not a huge fan of running boards, steps or step bars. They serve a functional purpose under certain conditions but I still prefer my vehicles without. That said, on my original FWD 88 Sub, I put running boards on 30 years ago to help my vertically challenged wife and kids get in/out of it. Now I need the same assistance for my wife and grandkids with my 86 Sub due to the taller tires/wheels I have on it even though it’s only RWD.


As most of you know, the options are pretty limited for these trucks. Running boards are still available from LMC but I went that route 30 years ago. Then again, LMC isn’t exactly cheap. I thought I'd try a step bar this time and the only one I could find was from Aries. Model 204039-2. Polished stainless 3” round double pad step bars specifically designed for ALL Suburban’s, 73-91 that includes all mounting brackets and hardware. Touted as being bolt-on, no drill installation. I seem to remember that same claim 30 years ago with the running boards which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So, between my penchant for perfection and these previously false claims, I’m expecting the worse possible scenario.


I ordered the steps from Amazon for $230 delivered. They arrived several days later with the box partially opened up. I’m sure just due to trying to handle the oversize box. The UPS driver wanted me to inspect them before accepting delivery. I did and they were actually packaged fairly well. The brackets, hardware and bars all intact and undamaged. The only thing I couldn’t find were the installation instructions. Easily fixed by going online and printing them out.


The installation is designed to remove the front body mount bolt and install the front step bar bracket right on the body mount and reinstall the bolt. There’s a small support bracket that then attaches from the bracket to the frame itself purely for more strength. Pretty simple actually.

The rear mount is designed to mount on the front hanger of the leaf spring. You have to remove the leaf spring mounting nut (not the bolt itself, just the nut), slip the new step bar bracket over the bolt threads and put the nut back on. Then another support bracket runs from that hanger bracket to a crossover frame between the two frame rails. Again, purely for strength.


I soaked all appropriate bolts, nuts and mounts in penetrating oil numerous times for a week to prepare for the onslaught. The very first problem I run into is I need a special wrench to be able to take that nut off the leaf spring bolt. The nut is on the inboard side of the frame mount and only accessible from the top. Not easy to get to so I had to make a wrench that fit. I didn’t have an extra 7/8” wrench in my arsenal so I had to go buy one just to cut it apart.

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That problem solved, I start dissecting the front body mount and the rear leaf spring mount. Both were completely effortless. Maybe just my rig being pretty rust free or the soaking of penetrating oil for a week or both….who knows. They came apart easily.


I start installing the front step bar mount. At this point I realize that the instructions are pretty vague and the illustrations are less then optimum but I think I get it figured out. The small support bracket that attaches the mount to the frame just happened to fit perfectly into a factory hole drilled in the frame. Ok...maybe this thing will work out after all.

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The rear mounts are a different story. The rear hanger mount goes over the leaf spring bolt. Then a support brace attaches the hanger mount to the frame cross member. I just can’t figure out how it attaches without drilling a hole in that cross member. Then to add insult to injury, the muffler is in the way to drill the hole. After looking at all possible options over a couple hour period, I realize that there’s just no way to do it without moving the muffler and drilling a hole. I remove a clamp for the muffler and pry it enough out of the way to get a hole drilled but it isn’t easy. I get the support bar mounted to the frame and the leaf spring hanger mount. Mission accomplished.

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Backfoot100

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Crap it cut me off so on with part two.
Here's the rear support bracket and how its attached.

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So I can install the step bar itself now with all hardware loose so I can move it around before snugging everything up but something just doesn’t look right. I get out from under the truck and the rear of the step bar sticks out a good 1.5” further than the front of the bar. Standing 10 feet away from a side view, it looks fine. Standing next to it and looking down at the bar or standing at the front or back of the truck and looking down the length of it, it looks like ****.

Now I get back under it and look at what I did wrong. I spend hours looking at all possible options of remounting all the parts and pieces to make it come out right. The only possible answer is to start cutting **** up. Instead of hanging the rear step bar mount to the leaf spring hanger like it’s designed, I cut it up to a piece of flat bar stock. I removed the leaf spring bolt and mount that piece of flat bar stock directly to the front of the leaf spring hanger. It’ll move that step bar back at least ¾”. The problem is that the leaf spring hanger has some complex bends in it that would have to be accounted for to mount the flat bar stock to it. At this point you really need to look at the pics to see what I’m talking about. It should make more sense.

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This one has my home made wrench installed just for illustration.

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I spent quite a bit of time with a sawzall, bench grinder and dremel tool getting that piece of flat stock shaped and usable but the end result turned out really good. Changing that mount then changed the geometry of the support bar that was mounted to that cross member. I ended up having to shorten that support bar and drill a new hole in it to mount it to the hole I had drilled to that cross member already. I know…..this is really starting to suck.
 

Backfoot100

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So I do all same modifying to the other side and get it all back together and the back end of the step bars still stick out ¾” further than the front. Not really that noticeable unless you’re anal about your truck. To me, completely unacceptable.
Kinda hard to see in the pic but you know what I mean.

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So I go get some 12” x 4” x ¼” bar stock from Home Depot and start cutting, grinding, drilling, sanding, priming and painting some spacers. I’ll add three of these between the front mount and the step bar. For all you rocket scientists out there that comes to ¾”. Now another problem is that the extra ¾” I’m adding to the mount makes the bolt that came with the kit too short…God Damn, what next. So off I go to get a couple longer bolts from Home Depot. I get that all done and put back together and finally, I’m a happy camper.

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The final verdict….the step bar is strong and it looks good. The quality of the parts are actually good but the fit of the mounts pretty much sux. Can they be bolted on? No, not without drilling holes in the cross member at the very least. Is that a big deal? Not really.

I learned a long time ago, anything aftermarket that says bolt-on, I’m calling ********. It just doesn’t happen. The next thing is that if you do install it as supplied, you’ll still have the back of the step offset by at least 1.5”. Is that a big deal? To me, yes. Maybe not so much for you. You’re the one who has to live with it.

Then again, maybe I was just a total dumb ass and completely messed up installing the front mounts the correct way. That's the the only thing I could have possibly screwed up.

No matter, I'm happy with them now and I'm not going back to try and redo them all over again.


Hope this helps anyone moving forward.
 

Paladin

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Good write up!!! Thanks:cheers:
 

SirRobyn0

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I learned a long time ago, anything aftermarket that says bolt-on, I’m calling ********. It just doesn’t happen.

Your suburban looks great. Generally I'm not a big fan of those style step bars, but on your truck it does look good. I don't want to derail your thread but a quick story about an aftermarket brake nightmare we are currently experiencing at the shop. And I should have known better than to take it on. 66 Barracuda, 4 wheel disk brake kit from a well known aftermarket brake parts manufacture, said to be bolt on. The amount of fabrication has been a nightmare, and we have had to exchange parts from the company, change axles and wheels. And we ain't done yet. I should have known better than to say yes to this job....
 

Whiskey Junior

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After reading your review, I figured I would order the same step bars.

I took a look at the bars trying to figure out the alignment issue you worked hard to fix, and I noted that my bars are not symmetrical left and right. The bars have about a 1.5" difference between the two when placed back to back. Perhaps Aries fixed them after your troubles?
 

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Backfoot100

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After reading your review, I figured I would order the same step bars.

I took a look at the bars trying to figure out the alignment issue you worked hard to fix, and I noted that my bars are not symmetrical left and right. The bars have about a 1.5" difference between the two when placed back to back. Perhaps Aries fixed them after your troubles?
Wow, good catch. Never even thought to look at that aspect. Maybe if I flipped em around it woulda been perfect....LOL.
I'm not taking em back off to try it.
Thanks for the update.
 

bigcountry78

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It would really suck if you went through all that, and all you had to do was swap sides….
 

Whiskey Junior

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I finally got my truck out of the shop, and started to put the bars on mine. The rear bracket install didn't match the instructions, not even one bit.

I had to drill the upper mounting hole for the brace, just like you, but I had to put the bracket in the lower hole and the step bar in the hole above it for it to not be completly crooked. I have yet to install the rear brace on the drivers side, as I will have to cut the muffler off to be able to drill the hole for the top bracket mount.

The mount looks good, but it seems a bit weak, with a ton of movement when stepped on in the front due to the compression of the body mount. I guess i will try to install a newer body mount to see if that firms things up a bit.

I'll post pictures when it gets a bit cooler here, too hot to lay on the asphalt right now.

I was careful to put the longer leg of the steps to the front of the truck, and they do run parallel to the body line for me.
 

TugboatPhil

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Thank you for the great pictures. I just got the bars last week and was still in the head scratching phase of planning.

The directions included appear to be a copy, of a copy, of a copy, in a machine running low on toner. Mine install is an 87 long bed, but yours looks close enough that I've figured out a couple things.

If I get them on without be committed to an asylum, I'll post some pictures.
 

pnwnvrdn

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They look good on your Suburban..worth the effort.
I've come to the conclusion that most aftermarket parts require at least a minimum of modifications for perfect fitment.
Nice Suburban.
 

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