Air suspension systems have been used in the trucking world for decades to smooth out the bumps, potholes and other hazards of the open road. They work great but the technology is complex and expensive. However, in the last decade or so, the systems have been migrating to the world of lower cost consumer transportation. In this article, we will take a look at air suspension systems and how they work.
Standard suspension systems
The standard automotive suspension system is a design from past. It was built for an average ride, whether it be via a truck or car. The problem is that every time you add or take away weight to a vehicle, speed up or slow down, or turn to the left or right, the suspension system has to cope with the changes. Unfortunately, this is difficult because every driving situation is different. As the service manager at Roberts in Meridan, CT, a full-service Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealer, explained to us; engineers have no choice but to design suspension systems for an aggregate average.
How they work
Air suspension systems essentially replace a vehicle’s metal coil springs with air bags. The air bags are made of tough, thick rubber and are inflated to a certain pressure to mimic the action of a standard coil spring. However, the similarities end there. By adding in an on-board air compressor, lots of sensors and electronic controls, today’s air suspension systems can reach to road conditions. The result is a car or truck that handles and rides extremely well.
The early versions of air suspension systems were simple and lacked any electronic control. Basically they were shock absorbers outfitted with heavy rubber bags. The bags were inflated to the correct height by an external compressor through a valve on the bag. The next advancement was an on-board compressor that allowed the driver to increase or decrease the airbag pressure on the fly. More advanced systems added an air tank to maintain pressure and provide an even transition between pressures.
Electronic systems are managed through electronic control modules. The modules receive information through a variety of inputs, including ride-height sensors, speed sensors, and accelerometers. They then take this information and control the pressure in each of the four air bags. The result is a consistent ride regardless of the driving conditions and weight of occupants and luggage.
Doing It Yourself
Yes, you can buy and install an electronic suspension system yourself but choosing one can be a daunting task. There are a multitude of manufacturers selling a huge number of components in a bewildering combination of quantity and quality. Added to the mix is the fact that most air suspension kits only replace coil springs and you might want to do more than that. Many companies offer total suspension overhaul kits, where everything from tie rods to control arms and shocks are replaced with high-end components designed to maximize what an air suspension system can offer.
In conclusion, air suspension system kits aren’t for the casual handyperson to install but if you are up for a challenge they can yield impressive performance. For lots more information on these systems, there are a multitude of manufacturers sites on the web that have complete instruction manuals and other documents for you to review.