What is an Air Suspension System?
Before discussing the merits and drawbacks of an air suspension system, we must first describe what it is and how it works.
Air suspension is a type of vehicle suspension powered by an electric or engine-driven air pump or compressor. This compressor pumps the air into flexible bellows, usually made from textile-reinforced rubber. Air suspension offers similar features to hydropneumatic suspension, but utilizes pressurized air rather than pressurized liquid. The air pressure inflates the bellows and raises the chassis from the axle.
Uses of Air Suspension System
Air suspension is used in place of conventional steel springs in heavy vehicle applications such as buses and trucks, and in some passenger cars. It is widely used on semi-trailers and trains, primarily passenger trains. Air suspension is useful in providing a smooth and constant ride quality, and most modern electronically controlled air suspension systems feature self-leveling, along with raising and lowering functions.
Types of Air Springs
There are different types of air springs on the market, but they primarily fall under two basic types: sleeve style and bellows (or convoluted) style.
1. Sleeve Style
Sleeve style air springs are designed for lift and ride control. The internally mounted sleeve is covered by a bag, made of flexible, heavy-gauge rubber. The bag is crimped into the spring mount on one end and swaged onto the opposite end, sealing the contents inside. When air is compressed into the spring, the two-piece sleeve extends, lengthening the assembly in order to achieve the desired height.
Sleeve style air springs are useful in applications where space is limited and loads are light. These factors make sleeve style air springs ideal for light-duty trucks and track cars.
2. Bellows Style
Bellows style air springs are made from heavy-duty rubber reinforced configured with either one or more convoluted chambers or “bellows”. Bellows style airbags are typically larger than sleeve style, allowing them to handle greater loads. Their size and shape allow bellows style air bags to lift the same weight as sleeve style springs with about half the air pressure.
The extra lifting capability and larger diameter makes bellows style air springs more suitable for medium- & heavy-duty trucks, work trucks, motorhomes, and trailers.
Pros and Cons of Air Suspension
Air suspension has many appeals, but there are also a few drawbacks to keep in mind when considering implementing an air suspension system.
Here are the pros and cons of utilizing an air suspension system:
- Smoother ride, especially on shorter wheelbase trucks
- Reduction in noise, harshness, and vibration
- Less wear on the suspension system
- Trailers with air suspension last longer as they take on less vibration
- Ability to take corners at higher speed
- Allows you to raise or lower your suspension at will
- ECAS (Electronically Controlled Air Suspension) allows you to keep your load level if a high weight is causing your truck to squat
- High initial cost, as well as higher maintenance costs compared to a leaf spring suspension system
- More complicated install
- Decreased fuel efficiency as a result of increased weight
- Air system is vulnerable to leaks, which can have major consequences
- Compressor may burn as a result of constant activation to compensate for leaks
Air suspension systems come with a host of great benefits, but are not without their flaws. Be sure to carefully evaluate the pros and cons before deciding to make the switch.
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