What is air ride suspension and why are motorists fitting it to their vehicles?

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1993 Mercedes-Benz 190E
1993 Mercedes-Benz 190E
Robin Classen

• Stance is a growing trend in the car culture scene.
• Air ride suspension is becoming more popular. 
• Basic kits start from R25 000.
• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24.

South Africa's local car scene has gone through something of a transition over the years.

The fitment of air ride suspension systems has become the latest in a long line of trends more closely associated with the stance culture.

More 'lows'

Where a simple drop in suspension by means of a lowering kit used to suffice, now it has become redundant because coilover kits, and air ride suspension have become the new 'craze'.

Shaun Isaacs 2012 Chevrolet bakkie fitted with air
Shaun Isaacs 2012 Chevrolet bakkie. Image: Shaun Isaacs

Do you have a car fitted with air ride suspension? Email us, we'd like to feature it on Wheels24.

There are a number of advantages from fitting air ride suspension. You can go from completely low on the ground (low as in scraping a leaf) to a much higher ride height by the flick of a switch while inside the car.

It could become pricey with basic kits starting from as little as R25 000 depending on where it is fitted. Parts like the air compressor and supply lines can be upgraded however depending on the budget.

Coilovers are often the next best thing with the only downside being that each wheel has to be adjusted individually. This is called riding 'static' and offers a firmer ride. MaxTrac and BC are the most commonly-used brands locally.

READ | Lowriders, Bosozuko, hot rods and vans - Here are 8 car cultures from around the world you might not have known about

A basic lowering kit is the last resort and often the first thing most petrolheads fit in order to bring the car's frame a bit lower to the ground. Sizes range from 30mm all the way to 60mm. Many people have also resorted to cutting and heating the car's original springs, but this is not at all recommended.

That 'whoosh' sound

You know a car is fitted with air ride suspension when you hear a loud 'whoosh' sound - similar to that of a Golden Arrow bus' door opening or when you're inflated a car's tyres with a pump.

Letting the entire frame of the car rest on the ground is called 'airing out', and yes, some people drive their vehicles in such a low state and intentionally scrape the undercarriage. With that said, this is normally done at events.

hyundai i20 on air

                                                                                 Image: CapeStance

Petrolheads, especially the younger generations, love the appeal that a lower car carries and offers something cool to look at when it is also combined with an aftermarket wheel.

If you compare going the performance route to that of the stance scene, the latter will almost always win because there is no constant need to chuck money at turbochargers and the like, whereas going low is more a once-off cost where parts are concerned.

SEE | Spoilers, cut springs, under-car lighting - 5 mods you should never do to your car

While there are many advantages to be had from using air ride suspension, it does have a weakness or disadvantage. If inferior parts or brands are used in the system, it can lead to bag leaks where air runs out even though the car is set to stay at a particular height.

There's also a risk of your vehicle's suspension taking more strain and being damaged.

No matter what kind of tuning you end up doing there is always a risk that something might happen as its not a factory product. Manufacturers like Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and Rolls-Royce, along with many others, all make use of factory air ride suspension systems.

These systems can also be fitted to virtually any car be it something as old as a Volkswagen Beetle or something more modern like a Nissan GTR. Possibilities are endless as it all depends on how far you can stretch your budget.

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