How Stairs and Steps Work

Sometimes steps are necessary to climb into really large vehicles -- like this truck or an RV.
Sometimes steps are necessary to climb into really large vehicles -- like this truck or an RV.
Hannu Liivaar/iStockphoto

Most people wouldn't associate stairs and steps with towing. After all, how could a set of stairs or steps possibly help you when you're hauling a boat trailer to the lake or if you're driving an RV across the country? Well, have you ever tried to climb into a boat that's on a trailer? Have you ever attempted to climb up into an RV the size of a large tour bus without using the stairs? You'd have to have pretty long legs to make the leap into the RV, and depending on the type of boat you're hauling, you may be facing a five- or six- foot climb (or more) before you reach the top edge of the hull of the boat.

Of course, those two examples are a little extreme, but a lot of trailers present a challenge when it comes to climbing up onto the deck. Some construction trailers -- those that you see on the highway carrying heavy, oversize equipment -- are often several feet off of the ground. Flatbed trailers, the ones designed to haul cars and trucks behind other vehicles, may not look very tall from a distance; however, if you've ever tried to step up onto the deck of one of these trailers, you'd realize that it's still a good stretch. Some can be a few feet high -- roughly the height of two or three stairs.

Excess weight can be a concern when you're hauling a trailer behind your tow vehicle. You normally don't want to carry anything that's just unnecessary weight. There's no doubt that when you're towing, stairs are not simply extra weight -- they truly do serve a purpose. It really doesn't matter what you're hauling, there's always going to be the need to climb up on to the trailer (or into it) to load and unload cargo. Unless you're the type of person that never tires of the balancing game that you have to play when you're climbing on your boat trailer like a set of monkey bars at the local playground, a well-placed step -- or even a small set of stairs -- can make the whole process much easier.

So, let's say that you've decided that when you're towing, steps can be a rather useful addition to your trailer. You may be right, but it's likely that you'll still have a few questions: Where can you buy a step (or two) for your trailer? How do you know which one is the right choice for you? And once you have them, how will you install them? Can you do it yourself or does this job require a professional? Read the next page to find out.


Installing Stairs and Steps

Installation of some types of stairs, like the folding stairs that lead into this RV, should be handled by a professional, in most cases.
Installation of some types of stairs, like the folding stairs that lead into this RV, should be handled by a professional, in most cases.
Dan Driedger/iStockphoto

Adding stairs or steps to your trailer or RV may be easier than you think. Most trailer supply stores have a wide selection available for you to choose from, so there are plenty of options. If you search long enough, you'll probably find just what you're looking for. These are just a few examples of the countless choices that you may find:

  • A small metal footstool -- not attached to the vehicle -- simply pick it up and stow it when it's not in use
  • A single foot-step pad -- usually bolted in place -- folds down from a vertical surface to provide a single, relatively small step surface
  • Retractable steps -- usually bolted or welded in place -- these sometimes resemble a small ladder with two or three rungs
  • Electric steps - usually bolted or welded in place -- these steps unfold from beneath the trailer or vehicle at the push of a button, or the flip of a switch


As you may have noticed, unless you're going with one of the options that don't attach to the trailer or RV, the stairs and steps have to be secured to the vehicle. For a lot of trailer owners, this is what usually determines if the stairs that you select are a do-it-yourself project or not.

If you're installing stairs that require you to bolt them to the trailer or RV, most owners opt to tackle the project themselves. Depending on the specific type of stairs or steps selected, the job will likely require a lot of careful planning, measuring and drilling. There's a good deal of satisfaction in completing a project like this -- but that satisfaction only comes if you handle the project properly. You'll need to make the appropriate stair or step selection, take the time to carefully read the instructions provided by the manufacturer, measure everything carefully and use the proper hardware. If you do all of this correctly, there's a good chance that your project will be a success.

On the other hand, there are times when installing steps and stairs may not fall within the capabilities of the typical do-it-yourself mechanic. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Welding stairs to the frame of a trailer or RV in your own garage or driveway isn't something that most people are prepared to do -- or even capable of. If you add figuring out the electrical connections and motor placement for the push button-operated folding stairs mentioned earlier, even some of the hardy souls that were up for the welding may drop out at that point. If you instinctively feel that you should leave the installation up to a professional, you should do so. However, if you feel that you're up to the challenge, maybe you should give it a shot -- it all depends on your level of comfort.

To read more about towing, stairs and steps and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

More Great Links


  • Blazin Bell Tech. "Trailer Specialties - Trailer Door Blocks, Steps and Ramps." (Oct. 28, 2008)
  • Camping World. "Steps." (Oct. 28, 2008)
  • "Stairs." (Oct. 28, 2008)
  • JC Whitney. "Steps & Stools." (Oct. 28, 2008)