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Should you buy the Owl Vans Side Steps? Our review

Owl Vans Sprinter Side Steps - 170" w/ Tread Plate
  • Ease of Install
  • Cost
  • Installation Instructions
  • Overall Design and Quality
  • Customer Service
4

Summary

So far these are great side steps with some room for improvement in the installation instructions for DIYers. With no parts list included, we didn’t know we were missing parts when it arrived, but Owl provided great customer service and shipped out the missing parts right away (plus some additional washers we requested). Once installed, these steps feel sturdy and make it much easier to get in and out of the van. They are not super wide and your foot can’t slide through (both by design) – keep that in mind when deciding if these are the right choice for your van.

Our first van build project was adding side steps. Particularly with the AWD model sprinter, it was a bit of a challenge to get in and out of the van without them. Side steps also seemed like one of the most generally useful add-ons we could buy for the van. We decided on the Owl Vans steps because we liked the look and the features. The closed back meant neither we nor our dog could have our feet slip through the step. Because the steps are fairly narrow, we chose to include the tread plate on the passenger side to provide a bit more grip.

Since the steps were expensive and we don’t live near Arizona, we decided to try installing them ourselves to save money. We ordered the steps from Van Parts Warehouse and they arrived freight with no issues. The steps looked great and felt well-built. We used the Owl Vans installation video for the instructions and to determine what tools we needed. We had no interest in manually setting rivnuts, so we opted to buy this pneumatic rivet setting tool instead. It was a huge timesaver. We also saved time on the drilling by purchasing these drill bits with stepped tips. The bits worked great, even with no pilot holes. For more information about the tools we used and a summary of our tips for the installation process, see our installation post.

Starting installation of the side steps

Man under van installing rivnuts for mounting side step
Installing rivnuts with the pneumatic tool

As we laid out all our parts, we ran into our first problem – there was no packing list included. If you’re installing on a 144 then that’s less of an issue since you can see what’s in the video, but there is no 170 in the video. We got eight “A brackets” but nine “B brackets.” We should have suspected a problem, but we did not immediate realize they were extra.

We planned our layout with the eight brackets. Since the driver side was shorter and would support less weight further back, we only put three on that side. The remaining five went on the passenger side, which worked out to spacing them every 24 inches. On the driver side, the first and second brackets were 24″ apart, and we put the last one in the middle of the remaining step length. We also should have installed the backing plate for the front steps before we started, but we didn’t have any screws for it in our package.

The A and B bracket installs followed the steps outlined in the video with no issues. When it came time to put on the step itself, it was unclear whether the washers went on top and bottom of the step or only on top. We tried both ways, but without the bottom washer some of the nuts didn’t sit flat over the holes, so we opted for two washers. When we called Owl Vans later we learned that they were only intended to go on the top of the bolt securing the step. From our experience, they should include them for the bottom as well.

Something is not right…

When we got to the end of install (or what should have been the end), we realized we had a few problems.

  • We had an extra B bracket
  • Our driver step was less solid than our passenger step, even with only 4 of the brackets installed on the passenger side.
  • We were “missing” large washers to install the final passenger side bracket (because we used too many in the previous step).
  • The backing plates were impossible to install with the hardware we had.

We called Owl Vans the next Monday to see if we had done something wrong. The customer service representative was very helpful and helped us confirm that we were missing an A bracket and other parts. He also clarified that they only intended for us to use one washer at each step connection point. When we asked for the size to buy extras, he offered to throw them in with the other missing parts, which we appreciated! The customer service experience was excellent and they quickly shipped out the missing parts.

Side step installed on a sprinter van
The passenger side of the van – you can see the depth difference in the front step vs the step at the tread plate

Once we received the parts, finishing the install was straightforward. If we had known to space for four brackets on the driver side we could have spaced them more evenly, but we just placed the last bracket as far back as possible. We wanted to avoid more holes in the van, and the step still turned out solid – much better than with only three brackets. To attach the backer plate to the B bracket, we found that we needed a washer with a smaller inner diameter. We happened to have some washers that worked when stacked with a larger one from the kit, so we used those.

Side step performance

Side step shown with a foot and the factory sliding door step for reference
Side step shown with my men’s US size 10 foot and the factory sliding door step for reference

Usability

As expected, the steps were a huge improvement to the usability of the van and made it much easier to get in and out. We knew the steps were more narrow toward the back by design, so they would not get caught on things. It is worth noting though that narrow steps with a closed back mean it’s not easy to stand comfortably on the step at the side door.

In our experience, step depth is more of an issue when exiting the side of the van than when getting in. The front portions of the steps are a bit wider, so this is less of concern there. If you have any stability issues that would make it hard to balance on the balls of your feet, this may not be the best side step for you. We would recommend the tread plate to anyone purchasing these steps. The raised lip on the plate helps provide a bit more grip when you’re getting in and out of the side door since only the ball of your foot might fit on the step.

Longevity

When we went to take photos for this post around six weeks after install, we realized that our smaller lock nuts had all rusted to some extent. We live in a wet and humid part of the U.S., but we did not expect problems so soon. We reached out to Owl Vans to ask for replacements. They responded quickly and agreed to send us new hardware. They said they had gotten a batch of improperly coated parts and unfortunately some had made it into kits before they realized it. When we get the new parts we will change them all out and update if we have any additional issues. It’s not clear that this is an issue that Owl Vans could have easily prevented, but it is a good reminder to monitor anything you install to make sure you don’t have any early failures.

Since we’re still in the early stages of our build, the van hasn’t spent too much time on the road. It has made a few airport runs and a trip to the dump. We will update this post in the future if we have any other issues once the van is in more regular use.

Summary

Overall, the install was straightforward but a bit frustrating because parts were missing and we didn’t realize it. Using the pneumatic rivnut setter, we could have finished the project in a day if we had everything when we started. Regardless, we were very happy with how the steps turned out, and Owl was great when we had problems. One challenge to doing all your projects on the weekend is that there’s no one around at most van companies to answer your questions in real time.

In the end, we were very happy with the steps and our ability to install them. We would definitely consider purchasing again if we were designing another van. If you decide to buy these steps and install them yourself, check out our install post for our lessons learned before you start!

Owl Vans Sprinter Side Steps – 170" w/ Tread Plate

3.8 out of 5
$2448
Image of sprinter side steps with tread plate

So far these are great side steps with some room for improvement in the installation instructions for DIYers. With no parts list included, we didn’t know we were missing parts when it arrived, but Owl provided great customer service and shipped out the missing parts right away (plus some additional washers we requested). Once installed, these steps feel sturdy and make it much easier to get in and out of the van. They are not super wide and your foot can’t slide through (both by design) – keep that in mind when deciding if these are the right choice for your van.

Ease of Install
4 out of 5
The process is pretty straightforward, but it would be very time consuming (as they highlight) with the tools in the video. Requires some specialized purchases, but can be done in a day.
Cost
3.5 out of 5
These are not inexpensive side steps, but their quality for the price seems reasonable.
Installation Instructions
3 out of 5
The video covers most things, but we would really love some written instructions to reference and there's nothing in the video about the number of brackets for the 170, attaching the backing plate, or attaching the steps. There is also no packing list/parts list to check before you start the project
Overall Design and Quality
3.5 out of 5
We really like the look of these steps and they feel solid. They are a bit narrow at the sliding door, and, in our opinion, you need to spend the extra $50 on the tread plate. We had rust issues with the smaller lock nuts six weeks after install.
Customer Service
5 out of 5
Customer service was quick to answer all of our questions and get our missing parts out to us immediately.

Pros

Aesthetic complements the van

Sturdy and high quality

Video gives a fairly good overview of equipment needed and overall process

Cons

No written instructions and missing some steps in video

Sliding door step may be too narrow for some

Early rust issues with some lock nuts

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