If you’re a serious towing enthusiast, you probably already know the reasons why you should add a truck air ride suspension system to your heavy-duty truck: a quality truck air suspension system helps by cushioning a bumpy ride, leveling your vehicle, reducing wheel hopping, limiting trailer bucking and adding stability during braking. And, an air ride suspension system helps you protect your investment in your heavy-duty truck by preventing the harsh wear and tear caused by heavy towing.
But, before you make a decision to buy a product that can have such a significant impact on your truck, your trailer and your load, there are several factors to take into consideration, including load capacity, manufacturing quality, ease of installation, adjustments to your vehicle, warranty, and much more. Here are a few tips for serious shoppers who are looking for optimum performance and value in a truck air suspension system.
All Truck Air Suspensions are NOT Created Equal
As you start shopping around, keep in mind that there are two main types of air suspension systems on the market:
Disadvantages: The helper springs are bolted directly onto your truck’s factory leaf springs. Unfortunately, factory leaf springs deflect and twist under acceleration and braking. This axle “wind-up" not only makes the truck drop when you accelerate, but it also makes the truck dive forward when you apply the brakes, throwing nearly all the weight of the truck and trailer onto the front suspension and brakes. Helper springs also tend to distort the natural spring frequency of the leaf springs, actually making the ride worse in certain situations. This type of air suspension system is best suited for leveling the ride and light or occasional towing.
Advantages: initial cost is less expensive. (Note that additional equipment may be necessary over time, offsetting the cost).
Disadvantages: More expensive. (Note: if you purchase a quality kit that comes complete with all the bells and whistles for long-term performance, it may offset the initial expense)
Advantages: Truck’s steel leaf spring is removed and replaced with a new spring, which allows for greater handling and control, stability, and safety, even when hauling the heaviest loads. Sometimes the manufacturer will install front and rear shocks to match the frequency of suspension.
Compare Important Features and Options
As with any product, each truck air suspension system claims to have the “latest and greatest" features and benefits. It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype, but when you come right down to it, there are a few things that are more important than others. Here’s a list of major features and options to consider when comparison shopping.
Buyers need to especially beware of the claims made by many helper spring manufacturers that their systems are designed for heavy loads. In spite of the claims, the fact remains that these helper springs are bolted directly onto your factory leaf springs, which are NOT made for heavy towing. With this type of system, you run the risk of the leaf springs twisting under heavy acceleration and braking. In turn, this axle “wind-up" can make the truck drop when you accelerate, as well a throw the truck forward when you apply the brakes, throwing nearly all the weight of the truck and trailer onto your front suspension and brakes. If you merely want to level your ride, the helper spring makes a fine choice, but if you are serious about towing heavy loads, you need to consider a total performance towing suspension system.
Do a little research up front and you’ll avoid unnecessary wear and tear on your truck – and costly repairs down the road. Your main consideration should be overall ride performance, safety and stability during heavy towing. If you’re serious about towing, you need to be sure you are buying an air ride suspension system that can do more than level the ride; it needs to be suited for heavy towing. Like many things in the automotive industry, using an inexpensive aftermarket part often yields less than optimal results.
Matthew C. Middlebrook is the President of Talon - Performance Towing Suspensions. Talon provides “air tuned" truck air suspension systems designed exclusively for American-made heavy duty trucks. Talon’s state-of-the-art total suspension systems include linkage controls axle wind-up, wheel hopping, bucking, and oversteer for a smoother, safer ride. For more information, visit http://www.talon-usa.com