Pros & Cons of Air Ride Suspensionsby Dennis Hartman
Air ride suspension, also known as air suspension, is a suspension system for vehicles that provides one of the smoothest, most stable driving experiences for luxury cars and off-road vehicles. It is a more modern option that takes the place of coil springs and pneumatic shocks. However, air ride suspension is a complex system and is not without its own list of drawbacks.
The biggest advantage of an air ride suspension is the smooth ride it provides. The system uses a series of compressors and air bags to pump air into each shock absorber. The air provides a cushion against bumps, leaving the driver to feel steady even on rough terrain. Air suspension systems also can provide automatic leveling, keeping the vehicle in the best position for safe, accurate driving.
Air ride suspensions don't have any need for the steel coil springs that serve as an important suspension component in most cars. This removes the chance that springs will wear or break, as may happen in an older vehicle with a traditional type of suspension. Removing springs also frees up more space under the vehicle, though much of this space is needed for the compressors and air bags that air ride suspension uses. Still, it gives automotive engineers new ways of arranging the mechanical components underneath a car.
Air ride suspension is susceptible to several types of failure that are not an issue with other types of suspension. Air bags can rupture from road debris or as rubber gaskets dry out over time. The lines that connect the air bag to the rest of the suspension also are vulnerable to breaking. Compressor motors can wear out over time or fail if they run constantly in an attempt to compensate for a leak in the suspension that prevents pressure from building up.
Air ride suspension is an expensive type of automotive technology, especially compared to the relatively simple and inexpensive suspension components most vehicles use. This makes air suspension appropriate only for upscale vehicles such as high-end luxury cars and heavy-duty off-road vehicles. Buick and Land Rover are among the few automakers to include air suspension in their vehicles. Adding an air suspension kit as an aftermarket option can be an expensive and time-consuming project for car enthusiasts.
- car spring image by Ray Carpenter from Fotolia.com