What is an Airbag Suspension and How Does It Work?
You don’t need to be a mechanic to know that your car’s suspension system is an essential part of keeping you safe and comfortable while on the wheel. It ensures your tyres maintain contact with the road and absorbs bumps when you’re driving.
What you may not know is that there are a variety of different suspension systems including adjustable airbag suspension systems.
So, how different are air suspension systems from standard suspension systems? Is one more advantageous than the other? To answer these questions, we’re going to take a deeper dive into airbag suspensions.
How does airbag suspension work?
Air suspension systems use pressurised air (as opposed to pressurised liquid) to emulate spring-like behavior. An electric or engine-driven pump is used to send this pressurised air into polyurethane or heavy-duty rubber bags. Once inflated, these bags will be able to absorb kinetic energy, thus reducing noise and vibrations while you’re driving.
In some vehicles, the suspension system will have a receiver tank that stores extra air. You can use this to further inflate the bags on command. Additionally, there are also air suspension systems that allow you to control the air pressure in the bellows. This allows you to make micro-adjustments such as being able to tilt the car side-to-side or front-to-back.
To control the amount of air that is being pumped into the rubber bellows, an air suspension system typically uses solenoid valves. These valves enable you to remotely adjust the flow rate and air pressure in your airbags. When closed, the solenoid valves prevent more air getting into the bellows once you’ve inflated them.
- Driver comfort
Airbag suspension reduces noise and vibrations while you’re on the road. Because of this, the driver can be much more comfortable. A comfortable driver will be able to put their full focus on the road and avoid potential hazards.
During long road trips, reduced vibrations and increased comfort can also mitigate driver fatigue. If you drive heavy trucks, air suspension systems can also reduce the bounce that you experience when driving over rough terrain. This is particularly important when trucks carry fragile loads.
- Less wear and tear
As a by-product of reduced vibrations, there will be less pressure on your tyres and the rest of your suspension system. Less vibrations in the tyres means less wear and tear.
In some trucks and trailers, air suspension systems can also lift the axles and retract unused tyres to further reduce tyre wear. Since less tyres on the road leads to less rolling resistance to overcome, this improves the fuel economy of your vehicle.
Lastly, if your vehicle carries heavy and fragile loads, an air suspension system can limit load shifting. With a smoother riding car, you can be assured that your load won’t get damaged in transit.
- Adjustable ride height
One of the biggest selling points of air suspension systems is its adjustability. By deflating or inflating the air bags, drivers are able to adjust the height of your vehicle’s body. You can lower the body to help your vehicle carry heavy loads. Conversely, you can also raise the body so that you can clear bumps on the road.
Some drivers also use this feature for aesthetic purposes. For example, in the iconic low riders, airbag suspensions allow the driver to raise and lower the vehicle’s body on command. Hydraulic suspension systems are also common among low riders, allowing for a more extreme change in the vehicle’s body height.
- Upfront costs
Compared to standard suspension systems, the upfront cost of an air suspension system is going to be significantly more. If you’re on a budget, it might be a little bit difficult to splurge that much cash on a new suspension system. The upside is that vehicles with air suspension tend to have a higher resale value.
If you’re a business owner who manages a fleet, it helps to think about the purpose of your vehicles. For example, if you run a fleet of local delivery vans, you’re probably not going to be concerned about long-drives and rough rural roads. As a result, a leaf spring suspension might suffice in this case. This way, you get to save money on the initial costs of air suspensions.
- Vulnerable to damage
Lastly, air suspensions require more maintenance than your average leaf spring suspension system. The rubber bellows are particularly vulnerable to rust, moisture damage and air leaks. Due to the complexity of airbag suspensions, the repairs tend to be more costly as well.
That was just a brief outline of air suspension systems. If you feel that you can benefit from one, make sure to visit your local car service shop and consult a trusted mechanic. It might just change your driving experience for the better.