A custom air suspension system for a car or 4WD can offer a range of pros and cons. From increasing load capacity and ground clearance to customising ride height, there’s plenty you can do with an air suspension system. However, there are some downsides that you should be aware of before you decide to upgrade your suspension system.
But before we get into the pros and cons of air suspension, let’s have a quick look at how the system works.
What is an air suspension system?
An air suspension system can be used to replace a traditional spring (or leaf) suspension system. The steel coil springs, or leaf system, are replaced with airbags made of rubber and polyurethane or other textile-strengthened type of rubber. An electric pump or compressor is used to inflate these airbags to the desired pressure, which then behave as springs would in a traditional suspension system.
Some systems will be electronically controlled. They usually feature height and resistance sensors designed to help keep the vehicle stable and level.
Air suspension systems are commonly used on heavier vehicles like trucks, buses and even trains. However, in recent years, these systems have become more popular in luxury cars and as customisations for 4WDs and sports cars.
Air suspension advantages
Air suspension can greatly improve driver and passenger comfort by providing a smoother ride. A professionally installed system should noticeably reduce driving noise, vibration and roughness, especially on poor quality roads or when driving off road.
Better load handling
If you regularly transport or tow heavy loads, air suspension can help by stabilising and keeping the vehicle level. Body roll during cornering is reduced and the vehicle height can be raised to prevent low-riding while carrying heavy loads.
The reduced movement and vibration can also be beneficial, especially when carrying fragile or delicate materials.
Reduced wear and tear
Air suspension can reduce the wear and tear on suspension systems and other components by minimising vibrations and making for a smoother ride.
Customise ride height
With some air suspension systems you can alter and set your ride height to the desired level. You can raise the height for greater ground clearance when off-roading or hauling heavy loads. Or you can lower the ride height to improve handling or just because it looks cool.
May improve fuel economy
Adjusting the ride height to suit driving conditions can result in improved fuel economy. For example, lowering the suspension for highway driving can improve aerodynamics and reduce wind resistance.
Air suspension disadvantages
The primary drawback is the initial cost of an air suspension system. The system itself will cost significantly more than a spring suspension system, plus you’ll need to pay a mechanic to install and calibrate the system.
Maintenance costs over time will also be greater than the cost of maintaining spring systems.
While air suspension systems are fairly reliable, they are prone to some common mechanical issues. These include:
- Rust and moisture damage
- Tubing failures
- Air leaks
- Compressor burnouts
While air suspension systems can be costly to install and maintain, they do come with significant benefits especially for drivers who regularly tow or transport heavy loads or drive across a range of road conditions.