Project Ford E350 Tow Rig: Part 3 – Step into the light…
angled close up of rear mud flap into aluminum running board going away from camera
Here’s the OG-style running boards.

After who knows how long, they were starting to fall apart. Stepping in certain places made it feel like you were going to step right through.

underneath van looking at angle iron bracket attached to frame rail
After some inspection, it was determined that it was because half of the support brackets holding up the running boards were falling off or falling apart.

The van had lived in Indiana for many years, and the snow and salt had taken its toll on the mounting gear. And, honestly, I found the running boards tacky and a little ugly. We figured we could do better.

angled view of space between mud flaps on van body with running board missing
After some time with some hand tools, we got the old running boards off.

Other than the few brackets under the van holding them on, they just bolted to the “mud flaps”. I kinda liked the look of the flaps, so I just left them in place. The can of Raid is because the driveway was covered in ants and I didn’t want to die. Sorry, ants, this is my driveway.

looking at passenger side of van with two jacks holding up side step and a pile of tools on the driveway
N-FAB is known for their truck and Jeep accessories, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have options for other vehicles.

Although I’m noticing a trend of using parts from truck and Jeep companies on my van…

Anyway! We decided to go with their Nerf-style step system for the Ford Econoline. Since the van bodies are mostly identical across the 150, 250, and 350 models, N-FAB is able to support all of them. However, there were quite a lot of different configurations of the vans, including longer and shorter versions, and some revisions throughout this body generation, so, in our case, the step is a little short-looking.

You do have some flexibility on bolting the step to the van, but not a ton. As you can see, centering it between the wheels would’ve resulted in the steps being in an odd place. But this still looks way better than the crappy running boards! And with the mud flaps it kind of has a little bit of a mad max vibe, especially with the steel wheels.

I used two jacks to get the step system up into place and then crawled under the van to take measurements and make marks.

view underneath van of side step flat plate and mounting holes against inner body
Here’s the back of the step system and what it looks like where it attaches to the body of the van.

Yes, just like building a race car, you need to drill holes. I spent a LOT of time measuring for where these holes would go. N-FAB uses carriage bolts instead of a bolt and a nut, so you don’t have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to getting the holes right. Measure a lot, measure again, and then get to drilling.

Remember, kids, use pilot holes.

After the holes are drilled, it’s quick work to bolt the steps on to the vehicle.

view underneath van of side step flat plate and mounting holes against inner body
Here’s a close up of the exterior/outside of the step showing the carriage bolt.

Aesthetically this is nice. And I can see how trying to get a wrench or something in there would be a little bit frustrating.

angled view of van showing side step
And here’s the final product.

Man that looks good! You can see that Van Diesel has been busy doing diesel-y things, like getting muddy. One disadvantage of the van is that it’s 2WD/RWD with an open differential. It’s prone to getting stuck in slippery/yucky conditions. Maybe a 4WD conversion? No that’s crazy…

Anyway, now we can easily get in and out of the van and not worry about dying. Because who wants to die at the race track getting into the support vehicle? That would be embarrassing. My race car is busy trying to kill me, I don’t need the support vehicle to do it.

So now that we can see both our vehicle’s health and where we are going, and now that we can easily get in and out, wouldn’t it be nice if it were easy to hook up to the trailer?

Stay tuned, and we’ll be towtally ready in the next segment.


  1. Spray Boeshield in all freshly drilled holes for rust protection. It will save you a lot of frustration down the road.

    1. @DocWalt we had looked at that option. The bottom of the E350 bumper is not flat and also is not wide. It actually steps down to a lip which reduces the mounting area. If you look at the picture where the light bar is installed, you can just make out the nuts on the bottom side of the bumper. When it’s just the nuts under there, it’s not a problem. In order to install the entire light bar below the bumper and still have sufficient adjustability, we would’ve needed a more complex mount. Then you have the difficulty of dealing with the wiring having to get around the lip and so on and so forth.

      We also considered on top of the bumper where the old lights were. But, again, the lack of a flat surface would’ve made constructing the mounts more difficult.

      I agree that there is a definite airflow sacrifice here. In towing performance thus far we have not seen any issues with the transmission temps, and the light bar is more blocking airflow to the extra trans cooler than the radiator. The vans are not intercooled. Once the summer comes on and we make longer tows we’ll get a better idea as to whether or not it’s a problem. Fortunately it’s just four bolts to undo and one wiring connection and the light bar is removed if it turns out to be a problem.

      There’s also the roof πŸ™‚

    2. Isn’t this a diesel? Can’t see how you would need that much cooling unless you were running it during the day in the middle of the desert.

      1. It is a diesel, but it’s used primarily for towing, so the transmission cooling is somewhat important. It does routinely get into the 90F range here in the South East, and there are a couple of decent mountain climbs depending on which direction you head (for example, Monteagle between Chattanooga and Nashville). That being said, I’d think that this is not going to make a meaningful difference in cooling. Fortunately I have the Edge CTS2 Insight display to tell me if something is wrong!

  2. Wow, the light output from the headlights looks great! Hopefully you got em aimed right πŸ˜‰ Give that red wire +12v im guessing and you got yourself some cool DRL!

    1. @3phase_power – I actually didn’t hook up the DRL. I am not a huge fan of them and I would’ve had to hack up some wiring to get something to work. The van has enough of a hackjob of wiring going on, I don’t need to add to it πŸ˜‰

  3. Oh wow! Eric, I think you’ve given me my next project for my E450 tow vehicle. Have you tried the 5 star tuning upgrade on your E350 that I did four years back (mine is gas). Long term analysis – I really like it! The mini LED project that I did was to change all of the E450 RV’s interior lights to LED – literally a night and day difference on brightness plus a huge saving on the duration of charge held by the RV cabin batteries. Plus I replaced my outside ‘porch’ light with two LEDs. I put one at the front and one at the back. Now if I need to do some night work on the car, I’ve got superb lighting.

      1. @Frank Ewald Which 5Star upgrade are you referring to? The Van is a weird 7.3 Powerstroke in that the ECU is different than the Ford trucks of the same years and some of the PIDs are different. This is why the Edge programmer (Evolution) version of the Insight wasn’t used — Edge claimed they couldn’t program the van. I do have a much older Edge tuner that came with the Van and I have supposedly programmed it for “towing” (Level 1) mode. I’m not entirely sure how much difference it made because I never really compared it back-to-back.

        As for the interior lights, I am definitely considering upgrading everything to LED. It is quite dark in there.

        As for back-up, well, you’ll have to wait and see! (pun intended)

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