What is an Airbag Suspension System? | Pros and Cons of an Airbag

Airbag suspension pros and cons

What is an Airbag Suspension System?

What do you know about airbag suspension systems? How much do you know about their benefits, or their drawbacks? To fully understand the good and bad of airbag suspensions, you’ll have to fully understand how they work.

Airbag suspension kits have two main sources of power, either an electric pump or a compressor that forces the air into bags. These bags are usually made with a mixture of polyurethane and textile-reinforced rubber. The compressors are designed to keep the bag inflated at a certain air pressure. When filled with air, the bags operate just like a spring would.

Why Do People Use Airbag Suspensions?

Airbag suspensions are also known as ECAS (Electronically Controlled Air Suspension), and like any suspension system, it was designed for smoother driving. They were designed as an alternative to the traditional steel-spring suspension systems you’ll find in heavier vehicles, such as trucks, tractor-trailers, buses, and trains. An ECAS comes with several key features, including the following:

  • Vulcanized, heavy-duty rubber springs for each wheel on the vehicle
  • A compressed air storage tank that stores air at 150 psi, on average
  • Valve blocks that direct air from storage to the rubber springs
  • Air pipes that connect the storage tank to airbags
  • An ECAS computer that lets the system know where to send air pressure

Airbag installed not under load

Types of Airbag Suspensions

Sleeve style Airbag Suspension

Air springs in the sleeve style have been designed specifically for lift and ride control. These sleeves are mounted internally and are covered by a flexible, heavy-gauge rubber bag. The bag is crimped onto the spring mount on one side and then swaged onto the opposite side, which seals the contents.

These two-piece sleeves extend when air is compressed into them, lengthening them to reach the desired ride height. Sleeve-style springs are designed for use with limited space and light loads, so they’re perfect for light-duty trucks, as well as custom street rods and track cars.

Bellows style Airbag Suspension

Made from heavy-duty reinforced rubber, the bellows-style air springs are designed for greater load-handling capacity than other airbag suspensions. Their size and shape allow them to lift the same weight at only half the pressure of sleeve-style springs.

These springs are configured with one or more convoluted chambers. There are multiple popular configurations for bellows-style air springs, including single, dual, and triple chamber designs. If they’re given plenty of space for proper installation, bellows-style air springs are great for heavy-duty applications.

variety of airbags including double convoluted and triple convoluted airbags

Why Use an Airbag Suspension?

The Pros of Airbag Suspensions (+)

+ Comfort

Car and truck manufacturers are looking for viable alternatives to spring suspensions and have increasingly relied on airbag suspensions to fill that niche. Once you do away with springs, you’re given a much smoother ride than metal springs can give you. After all, these bags have you literally floating on air.

+ Flexibility

Do you want to ride low to the ground without worrying about scrapes any time you hit a speed bump? That’s no problem with airbag suspension. You can get low ride and smooth operation with the help of the ECAS height-control valve. This height-control valves are sensors that will automatically adjust your vehicle’s ride height for you. When a heavy load has your truck sagging close to the pavement, the height-control valve keeps it stable.

Double convoluted airbags installed but not under load

The Cons of Airbag Solutions (–)

An airbag suspension isn’t all positives, however. We also need to talk about the drawbacks

- Hard To Install

An airbag suspension’s biggest drawback has always been the hassle of installing it. The good news is that recent developments in airbag suspension kits have reduced the need for modifications like cutting and drilling. However, they haven’t completely cut out the need for modification, and you’ll still need to drill holes to mount the kit’s compressor, manifold, and tank. There will be problems making enough space for the kit if you have a car or light-duty truck. You’ll also get an intrusive noise whenever the kit’s compressor kicks in.

- Costly

Airbag suspensions offer smooth ride –at a price. Without factoring in cost of labor, a kit alone with cost you a few thousand dollars. You can save money by installing it yourself, but these kits have several components. Self-installation is best left to the biggest gear heads.

- Unreliable

As a suspension system, airbags are put under a lot of stress. Only the highest-quality airbags are resistant this stress, otherwise they’ll leak eventually. Imagine you’re on a road trip and your airbags burst. You could have your braking capabilities compromised, or lose control of your vehicle, which leads to an accident.

- Upkeep

If you’re the type of person who wants a ‘set and forget’ upgrade, then airbag suspensions aren’t for you. These systems are intricate and require regular maintenance to work smoothly. If you want to protect your investment, you’ll need to make constant check-ups on your equipment.

dried rotted and leaking installed airbag

Closing Thoughts on Airbag Suspensions

Airbag suspension kids have some good advantages, but you need to be aware of much more than that. The improved ride quality also comes with drawbacks, and you’ll want to keep these three issues in mind.

Cost of Airbags

By far the biggest roadblock to using an airbag suspension. These kits are the most expensive on the market, and if you want a quality system, you should expect to pay top dollar.

Installation of Airbag Suspensions

These systems aren’t just expensive, they’re complex, and you’ll want to consult a mechanic to have them installed. A professional installation makes sure that it’s done safely. It also keeps you from potentially voiding your warranty.

Airbag Suspensions Potential leaking

These kits are frequently subjected to harsh road conditions. Like any other suspension product, they’re susceptible to wear and tear. Proper maintenance will keep your airbags longer lasting.

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The several pieces of hardware needed to install an airbag suspension