Suspension 101

Every car has some combination of springs, shocks, bars, or links that suspends its chassis, body, engine, and drivetrain above its wheels. If you had to remove any of these elements the ability to accelerate, turn, and stop in relative comfort will become non-existent. The trouble is, most of those characteristics are at odds with one another, which is exactly why you know less about suspension tuning than just about anything else.

What is air suspension all about?

Air suspension systems seem even more mysterious but, as it turns out, they aren’t a whole lot different. Most modern suspensions are made up of a coil spring that slips over a shock or is positioned near it.

At its core, an air suspension really just does away with those coil springs for flexible, pressure-filled bags of air that are typically made of the same sort of rubber as your tyres. At the touch of a button, the bags can be inflated or deflated, instantly altering ride height and how the suspension performs.

Haters have been comparing air suspension systems against more conventional coil-spring suspensions for years, often with little sound reasoning behind any arguments.

A proper suspension isn’t as subjective as you think either and can be measured by how well it takes advantage of the tire traction capabilities, how evenly traction is distributed from front to rear and how responsive it is to the driver’s steering and throttle inputs. Pass those tests and it doesn’t really matter whether we’re talking about tightly wound coils of steel or rubber-formed pillows of air.

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The Breakdown

At the core of any air suspension system are its bags, or air springs. There are rubber bellows that feature metal plates at each end that slip over the shocks, similar to a coil spring. Like coil springs, air springs are progressive in nature, which means increased compression results in a stiffer spring.

The ability to alter an air spring’s rate at any moment means that the potential for better performance or quality of ride just got a whole lot easier.

Essentially, this means that by fitting an air spring kit to your car just got a lot easier too. The whole process has come a long way over the last five years, according to Air Lift Performance’s Corey Rosser. “With technological advances in air springs and air control, an air suspension system is a very comparable option to a coilover system,” he says.

Gone are the days of chopped-up shock towers and relocated suspension bits in hopes of fitting some billowy bags in place. Today, hollow bellows that allow shocks to slip through themselves make mounting them into most cars easier than it’s ever been. Today’s kits allow you to leave the shocks in the factory locations and, for the most part, bolt in much like any conventional coilover system would.

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There’s a whole lot more to a proper air suspension system than four bags worth of hot air! Any kit worth your consideration is made up of all sorts of other components. It starts with an onboard air compressor that’s powered by the car’s electrical system and is able to inflate each bag on demand.

The compressor feeds the springs individually using flexible, polyurethane lines or, in some cases, custom-bent, stainless steel tubing (You’ll see the top show cars rocking hard lines, which can really look insane. Google it and you’ll be amazed!).

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Most of the time, a separate air tank is integrated that helps instantaneously increase and maintain air pressure within the system and allow for smoother transitions between large pressure changes. Both components are typically mounted in the trunk, sometimes in a custom enclosure, but they can also be hidden underneath the chassis or attached to the unibody or frame.

The compressor works like any other air pump, drawing outside air into its internal tank, where it’s pressurized and sent out the other end. Somebody’s got to tell it when to pump and how much air to allow past itself though, which means some sort of driver-actuated controller has to be integrated into the system. Manual or electronic controllers are available that can be mounted near the driver or accessed from a smartphone app in some cases for easy, on-demand ride-height adjustments.

Once the system’s installed, you’ve got to determine whether or not you’ll adjust ride height based on air pressure or through a series of sensors. Pressure-based systems rely on a given value that you know positions your car at a particular ride height. But we must warn you, pressure sensors aren’t always accurate, and weight changes can still affect the ride height.

For example, plop a few hundred pounds onto the back seats and watch the ride height drop. As air springs compress from added weight, pressure-based systems recognize this and compensate by reducing air pressure back to its original value, which results in lowering your car even more. Unwanted changes can also happen when weight’s thrown around while cornering or when going up or down a hill.

Electronic systems that rely on a series of sensors to establish and maintain ride height are far more accurate and don’t care whether or not there’s 150 pounds’ worth of pressure inside those air springs. Here, sophisticated sensors are placed underneath the chassis monitor ride height and relay that information back to the controller, ensuring the ride height remains where you want it, despite pressure.

Just like with coil springs, an air spring suspension works best with the right supporting mods. Most experts recommend going on the soft side when setting up air spring rates, and instead focusing on the right shocks to address oscillations and the right sway bars to minimize body roll.

To slam your ride or not…

PROS

  • On-the-fly ride-height and handling adjustability. Speedbumps become obsolete!
  • Preserve expensive, low-hanging body components and prevent chassis damage.
  • Progressive-rate air springs, just like your coils.
  • Adjustable spring rates.
  • Highly versatile.
  • No other way to obtain a slammed ride height and remain functional.
  • Instantly adapt to increased weight changes.
  • Decrease ride height without sacrificing ride quality.
  • Looking badass wherever you park!

CONS

  • More expensive than coil-spring suspensions.
  • Installation process is more complex.
  • Installation process is more expensive.
  • More components required.
  • Permanent chassis modifications necessary in some instances.
  • Did we mention it costs a lot of money!

So that wrap up what makes air suspension so cool? Well check out these very valid reasons you should be getting air suspension right now!

  • You can air your car out for an aggressive show stance that is lower than any coilover could ever achieve.
  • It’s easy to raise it up to clear road obstacles like speed bumps or steep angle transitions.
  • Enhance your ride quality for comfort using damping and air pressure adjustments.
  • Create a track-ready set-up with stiff damping, progressive-rate air springs and, in many cases, adjustable camber.
  • Any custom car is taken to the next level by simply installing air-ride.
  • Confuse people into thinking how you could possibly drive around like that.

To have the best, raddest, most jaw dropping custom car around you need, take it to the guys that’ll do the most epic job in making your dream ride a reality and that is without a doubt the auto magicians at Ace Customs. Contact us now to build you a ride that turn heads, guaranteed!