What You Need to Know About Air Bag Suspension
For most vehicles, shocks, springs, and struts are enough to support the body on the chassis. But if you use your truck for towing heavy trailers or carrying heavy loads, the stock suspension might not provide adequate support to keep your truck level. Air bag suspension can be the solution for dealing with excessive weight that 90% of other vehicles don’t need to worry about.
Air bag suspension kits are an aftermarket add-on designed to help you use your truck or SUV to its full capacity. Rubber bags are installed between leaf springs and the frame to provide extra support in keeping the truck level when it’s under load. Or, for coil spring systems, an airbag is installed in the center of the coil to perform the same function. Prices vary depending on the vehicle you drive with kits starting around $400.
They can be extremely helpful in certain situations, and there are different styles to choose from depending on your needs. Here’s what you need to know.
Parts of an air bag suspension kit
In an airbag suspension kit, you’ll typically receive an upper and lower mount to secure the airbag to the vehicle. Hardware to fasten the system in place is also included. You’ll receive lines that attach to the airbags with fittings that allow them to be inflated and deflated.
By far, the most important part of the kit are the airbags themselves. Constructed out of automotive-grade rubber – the same type used to manufacture tires – they’re extremely durable and are intended to withstand extreme pressure and inclement weather conditions. The more air pressure they have, the more support they provide for your vehicle’s suspension.
Some air bag suspensions are manually inflated and deflated with a valve stem, whether directly at the air bag or, more commonly, at the end of a braided hose that gets mounted at the rear bumper. Other systems are automatically pressurized using an air compressor wired into your truck’s electrical system so they can be adjusted on the fly with a switch inside the cab.
Pros of airbag suspension
Not everyone will appreciate the benefits of an airbag suspension system unless you’re familiar with how a truck’s dynamics change with weight in the box or on the trailer hitch. Pros of using airbag suspension include:
- A more comfortable ride with a load. Rather than a saggy, bouncy feel when you’re going over even the smallest bumps or potholes, airbags provide additional support and comfort since you’re floating on air – literally.
- More stable handling. If you’ve hauled heavy loads, you’ve felt how the steering gets looser and stopping distances increase. Airbags help keep your truck level, minimizing the effect on handling.
- Flexible usage. Since airbags can be inflated and deflated based on your needs, it takes a short time to convert your truck from a comfortable passenger vehicle to a heavy hauler.
- Level headlights. With weight on the trailer hitch or in the truck bed, your headlights tend to point more skyward, drawing headlight flashes at night as if your high beams are on. Air bag suspension keeps your lights more level, benefiting both you and other drivers.
Cons of an air suspension system
With air bag suspension, there are things to keep in mind that can make you think twice.
- Installation can be complicated. Fitting the mounts, balancing the airbag pressures, routing the lines, and mounting and wiring the compressor can relegate this type of system to a professional install in many cases.
- It can be costly. At $400 and up, there is an upfront cost to installing an airbag suspension kit.
- It needs upkeep. While there’s not much to do for maintenance per se, airbags can tear or rupture, and cracking naturally occurs over time. You might need to replace an airbag every couple of years, and inspecting for problems should be part of your service routine.
- When they fail, it can be bad. If an airbag springs a leak with a load in the back, it can be dangerous trying to maintain control with the sudden change.
Types of airbag suspension
There are two broad categories for air bag suspension kits, and you need to match the right kit to your vehicle design.
Sleeve style air springs
This type of air suspension has a sleeve that folds in on itself. One end folds in on itself when it’s compressed, and extends as the ride height increases. The vertical inflation and travel make it perfect for use in tight spots, and you’ll often find these air springs in kits for light-duty trucks and SUVs or in coil spring setups.
Convoluted air springs
Also called bellows air springs, it looks like one or two balloons that spread the load by squishing outward. They tend to be wider in diameter and can work very well in applications without space constraints. These convoluted air springs are what you’ll find in most leaf spring applications and in heavy-duty vehicles like work trucks and RVs.
What does air bag suspension cost?
As a piece of equipment that has several levels of quality and capacity among the two different types, the prices can range greatly. Expect that the higher the load weight you need to bear, the more expensive the kit will cost. Also, the kit is usually per axle. Most installations are on the rear axle, and there may be kits for the front suspension too.
Air bag suspension kits range from around $400 to $1,000 including everything you need to complete a manual-adjusting install. A compressor kit can add $1,000 to $2,000 to the parts cost. Installation should be accounted for if you don’t plan to install it on your own, and that could be around a day’s labor for an experienced tech.
FAQ/People Also Ask
Air bag suspension helps bear the additional weight of loads in the truck bed or on the trailer hitch. It helps you maintain steering, handling, and braking.
Those who haul loads regularly or push the limits of their vehicle’s GVWR will reap the most rewards of installing air bag suspension.
Installing airbag suspension will firm up your vehicle’s ride for towing and hauling specifically. Daily drivers may not experience much benefit.
When you have air suspension installed, it can add potential points of failure including cracked or ruptured air bags, leaking lines, or a compressor that stops working. It can also be an uncomfortable ride with no load in the back.