Indeed, having a car with a good suspension setup can greatly improve driving comfort. Not only do you breeze through slight bumps and jerks on the road but you can also ignore a pothole or two without thinking twice. But cars aren’t only about luxury and comfort. Sometimes what you need is comfort along with some performance. That’s where airbag suspension systems come in. Most modern performance or luxury vehicles have them installed straight from the factory, which is remarkable, but older model cars, unfortunately, do not have that feature. If you are one of those folks who own an older car you really are missing out on this piece of heaven.
What is an Airbag Suspension?
Airbag suspension systems are quite different from a coilover setup that most enthusiasts prefer. Coilover springs are great for fixing ride height for performance applications but they are not at all practical for daily drivers. Air suspension, on the other hand, is very practical in that it allows you to customize your ride height with the help of a switch. You don’t need to manually adjust the springs like you would with a coilover setup. Simply flicking a switch would allow you to increase or decrease your car’s height at will. This brings us to our next point –aesthetics.
Earlier, lowering ride height was simply a race tactic to achieve a lower center of gravity and hence better traction in corners. But the trend quickly caught on to the streets albeit in a different way. Soon car enthusiasts started lowering their cars to extremely low heights just to make them look aesthetically pleasing and not to achieve better traction. The problem here was that race cars only had one application. They were built for the track and had to race. They did not need to maneuver around bumps and potholes. Street legal cars, on the other hand, had to face their biggest adversary – the city roads. So, as a workaround people started to install airbag suspension to their cars to get the best of both worlds.
The issue with air suspension is that it is a bit expensive and understanding how it works is a bit difficult. But that is why we are here. In this guide, we will teach you everything you should know so that you can maintain your air suspension and enjoy your bagged ride.
Important things to note
There are a lot of confusing terms you must have heard if you have ever researched about airbag suspensions, such as duty cycle and psi pressure switches. First, let’s elaborate and talk more about what each of them means.
PSI is the SI unit for pressure and the abbreviation means ‘pounds per square inch’. In other words, it is the amount of force in pounds being exerted over each square inch of space. Therefore, you will find PSI everywhere in your daily life but most commonly you will find it in relation to air pressure. The PSI rating of your air suspension system will directly transfer to your vehicle’s height. So, the more air pressure you have in your ‘springs’, the higher your car will be from the ground. Furthermore, the more psi you have in your reserve tank the quicker your ride height will increase from its lowest setting.
CFM stands for ‘cubic feet per minute’ and in an airbag suspension system, it shows you the potency of the air compressor. Alternatively, the amount of air the compressor will push out at a certain psi rating. The better the cfm rating the better the airflow will be to the suspension and the faster the tank will fill up.
The Duty Cycle
All machines have a certain period of functionality after which they need rest and the air compressor is no exception. The duty cycle is, therefore, the amount of time the air compressor can run before needing a breather. The duty cycle is mathematically calculated and there is a simple formula for it.
Duty cycle percentage = Compressor on time/(compressor on time + compressor off time)
If you are not that big in mathematics, don’t worry we will explain by example. So, if your air compressor has a duty cycle percentage of 33, it means the compressor will pump air for a good 15 minutes after which it will need to recuperate for 30 minutes before it can return to its normal functionality.
You will need a compressor that has a higher duty cycle percentage. Ideally, a 100 percent duty cycle is best but there is one other thing to consider and that is the psi rating. If the compressor has the highest duty cycle rating but it pumps out air at a low psi you won’t be able to lift a heavy vehicle like a pickup truck or SUV. Remember, the psi rating is directly linked with the air compressor’s performance. In a perfect world, a 100 percent duty cycle compressor that puts out air at 125 psi or more is considered ideal.
Factors to Consider Before Purchase
Once you have made up your mind about getting an airbag suspension system you need to decide what you need it for. Do you need it for daily driving or occasional use? Does the system come within your budget? What types of components are being used? Questions like these need to be answered before finalizing your decision.
Let’s face it; you are only getting air suspension for your daily driver because you can afford it and you like the benefits it brings to your daily drive. In this case, you would want a setup that is not overpowered and is reliable for everyday use. Firstly, you would need to keep in mind the storage space in your vehicle for the tank. Generally, bigger is always better but it is feasible to get something that works just right.
A smaller vehicle would work well with a single compressor but for a large vehicle like an SUV, you would need two compressors and most probably an engine-driven compressor. The valve settings may also vary but since you are going for a daily driver, you can get away with 3/8 inch orifice valves. However, if you want faster lift off the ground you should go for larger valves that will allow better airflow.
Weekend car shows are always a blast to be at. They can certainly be made better with great air suspension. You can park your car and lower it down to the max for that impressive stance everyone wishes they had in their cars. When it is time to leave you can flick a switch and increase the height to cruise back home safely. This kind of application requires serious investment. You should get ½ inch valves and lines coupled with a 200 psi dual compressor. Get a 10-gallon storage tank and you are good to go. Just make sure you get the best quality compressors that can handle the 200 psi pressure.
You might think after reading all this that maintaining such a complicated system would be a hassle. That is certainly not the case. In all seriousness, if you are vigilant with installation you would never have to worry about your slammed car.
Maintenance is easy and you don’t need a mechanic to do it for you. All you need is a set of eyes, a jack to lift your car and a good memory to remember your maintenance window. It is always better to perform checks every 3,000 miles. Check all the connections, inspect air lines for leakages and valves for wear and tear. If you forget to do this then you are most likely to be stranded on the side of the road with no options to work with.
If you would like to ensure your air suspension system does not fail then you should try this:
These valves have air flowing in them from one direction. If you lose pressure in one corner the entire air can leak through there resulting in the loss of pressure from all sides. A check valve ensures that you don’t lose pressure in every corner. They are relatively inexpensive but most people forget to install them and pay the price later.
Another useful addition to your air suspension could be Schrader valves. These valves are specifically designed to safeguard your bagged car from slamming the pavement. If you lose air in one corner, using the Schrader valve you can refill air into that corner with the help of an external air compressor. This system also works great if you have a busted air compressor. You can use an external compressor until you can get yours fixed. Many people just overlook the installation of the Schrader valve thinking it is an unnecessary expense but in reality, it saves you much more money later in terms of repair and maintenance.