If you’re in the market for a luxury car, a high end SUV, or heavy-duty truck, you may be asking yourself: What is an air suspension? Because of the smooth ride it provides, this style of suspension is found on a lot of luxury models, but most people have no idea what it is. Here are the basics, along with the pros and cons.
What It Is
Air suspensions have changed a lot over the years, but essentially they operate on the same basic idea. A chamber or bag of air called an air spring replaces coil springs, and a series of solenoid controls manages the movement of air. These solenoid controls perform a similar function in air suspensions as the internals of a shock do in conventional suspensions. In a modern system, you’ll find an air compressor, air lines, solenoids and air bags installed to allow compressed air to travel through a closed system to provide damping for the vehicle.
While there are different styles of air-suspension systems, that’s the basic idea of how they all work. Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of whether the bag style is designed to carry more weight and adjust ride height, provide a smoother ride or be more tunable for handling.
Air-suspension systems offer a pillowy ride, as they absorb the bumps in the road and seem to glide over anything they encounter. This makes them great for luxury vehicles, where comfort is more of a goal than performance and responsiveness. These types of suspensions are also more adjustable — both in terms of air flow through the system and the amount of air pressure in it – allowing the driver to tailor the feel of the vehicle to their needs and comfort. In addition to luxury cars, air suspensions are also used in trucks, where they can not only adjust the overall height of the vehicle, but also help towing trailers and carrying heavy loads.
You may be wondering why all cars don’t take advantage of this style of suspension’s adjustability and comfort. Most vehicles are equipped with steel springs and shocks because they’re easier to maintain. An air system seems great when it’s working properly, but when there’s a failure, it isn’t something you can just keep driving on until you get it fixed. When it breaks, the whole system is broken and has to be repaired right away.
You’re not alone if you’ve ever asked yourself: What is an air suspension? The vast majority of vehicles on the road don’t even have them as an option, and only the top tier of luxury carmakers include them as standard equipment. While the benefits include a more supple ride and greater adjustability and versatility, repairs and maintenance can be substantial downsides.
Check out all the steering and suspension parts
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Erich Reichert has been an editor and on-air personality in the radio control car hobby for 12 years. A certified car nut since birth, he has written for internationally published titles such as RC Car Action, RC Driver and Xtreme RC Cars, as well as Stuff Magazine, Road and Track and Super Street. He's covered everything from product reviews and tech articles to high-profile lifestyle pieces and celebrity interviews. Erich found his passion for writing after a successful career as an art director, working with brands such as Pepsico, NASCAR, MTV, Nintendo, WWE, Cannondale Bicycles and HBO. He's also a father, an avid hockey fan and an FIA race license holder who enjoys hiking, playing drums and movies.