Install Part One: Debunking Air Ride Myths With Ridetech
When you want your car or truck to sit extra low at shows but still drive nice and handle well, air suspension offers the best of both worlds. Then you hear these horror stories and decide to stick with a coil over and live with the high ride height. We all want our cars to sit lower though, and Ridetech has worked tirelessly to improve the technology over the years. We want to go over some of the misconceptions about air suspension and how the folks at Ridetech have made them merely things of the past.
There are a multitude of issues that people associate with air bagged vehicles. Potential for bag failure, leaks, extra weight, poor performance on the track and any other number of issues their buddies tell them. We’ve heard them all and dealt with some of them. These days, all of those issues can be tied directly back to poor installation or use of cheapo no-name parts.
My personal car is an air bagged 1966 Chevelle that’s been on air bags for over 15 years. Through that time, I’ve driven the car countless miles and had air ride all along the way. For me, there’s no other way I’d have the car – on the ground gets people to notice it all day long. I’ve used quality parts on it and had a professional install in the air ride and have had only one issue in those 15 years.
Misconception #1 – Air Bag Failure
You hear it all the time that if the bag fails, you’re stuck. In having my car on air bags for over 15 years, I’ve had one air bag failure. It wasn’t from the bag being 15 years old, I didn’t notice something was rubbing on it, causing the bag to get a tiny hole. This didn’t leave me stranded, but let my car look like a little lopsided for the drive home. This was 100% my fault for poor installation, not the bags fault.
These same bags are a smaller version of the bags used on big-rig trucks all over the world all day long. They aren’t unsafe, they don’t pop. If there is any popping it’s from improper installation, not from the bag themselves.
In fact, we were recently at Ridetech talking air ride with them. The max pressure these bags will see is roughly 150PSI. If you are really pushing the car and hitting potholes and such where it would compress, the most pressure that bag will see is about 250PSI. This isn’t an issue as Ridetech tests these bags to well over 600PSI before failure. If your bag ever saw that kind of pressure, there’s going to be much bigger issues than a popped bag.
At the end of the day, proper installation with zero rubbing or chaffing of the bag will ensure an air bag that will most likely outlive you or the car it’s on. For my car’s failure, it was 100% my fault, not the bags fault.
Misconception #2 – Leaks Are Normal
Leaky air ride sets up are definitely out there. Just like the bag failure, more likely air leaks are from improper installation more than the equipment itself.
Ridetech can supply all the fittings and hose, which is something we’d recommend. The air hose or line is actually DOT approved line, the same exact line that’s holding up big rigs who are delivering your groceries to the store. The only time we’ve seen air lines fail is by being cut or burnt, through improper installation. Taking the time to make clean cuts is crucial. On the bag or valve side Ridetech provides DOT-approved “Bubble-Tight” push-to-lock connectors. Again, same as on big rigs and they make installation or removal of lines incredibly easy.
Making sure everything has Teflon selant is another way to minimize a chance of a leak. You might end up with a leak, but they will be small and manageable. Get a bottle of soapy water and spray all the fittings till you find the culprit. The chance of having a leak is pretty minimal – you’re more likely to have an oil leak than an air leak. At the time of writing this article we have had RideTech air ride on the Cadillac above for about 3-4 months and there’s been zero leaks.
Naturally the system may bleed off pressure over weeks or months of time. That’s where the RidePro-X digital leveling system comes into place. It automatically resets your ride height as soon as you start the car up.
Misconception #3 – Air Ride Offers Poor Performance
At the end of the day, a spring is a spring. Whether that’s made of metal or rubber, the car doesn’t know the difference. If the spring rate is correct, the car is going to perform the same regardless of the type of spring it’s using.
With air ride, you’re able to adjust spring rate with the push of a button and try out different rates. Or you can lay out your car with the push of a button at a show to get that cool dropped ride height.
To prove the performance of Ridetech air springs, they conducted a test years ago with a group of magazine editors. They had a car equipped with air springs and then did back-to-back testing with coil springs showing that the car performed the same with either set up under it.
Just like in a coil spring car, the performance of the suspension mainly comes down to the control of shock absorbers. Ridetech is part of Fox Factory – a company that manufacturers high-performance shock absorbers. It’s super-premium stuff. Ridetech custom valves all of their shocks to individual vehicle specifications. From there, these shocks are adjustable to dial in the performance and ride quality of the car to your personal preferences. In fact, the ShockWaves use the same exact shock as a coil over – just one has an air bag the other has a metal spring.
Misconception #4 – Air Ride Adds Weight
The weight of an air ride set up and the performance go hand in hand. If you’re adding hundreds of pounds of weight to the car, then the performance will surely go down.
The ShockWaves that go in the front of the car have aluminum bodies and rubber air springs. The difference in weight between a ShockWave and coil spring is minimal, if it isn’t lighter. They also utilize high strength, composite caps in the ShockWaves to maintain strength but drop weight.
The air tank that’s required is made out of aluminum as well to keep the weight down on the set up. Overall you might add 20 or so pounds total to the overall weight of the car by going with air ride. A very small price to pay to get that perfect slammed look at the shows.
Misconception #5 – Toe/Spring Constantly Changes
The last issue is one we hear a lot. First let’s discuss the toe/caster/camber alignments with air ride. Just like your coil spring cars, you’ll get the car at the ride height you want and set all of it. Every time you come back to ride height, the alignment will be right where you want it.
The alignment does go out of spec if you slam or raise the car, but you wouldn’t be driving the car in that state anyways. You might lower the car all the way down to cruise around a show, but you’d be doing 5MPH and a few miles – nothing to worry about there.
Another issue is that the spring rate changes when going down and back up. Simply put, if you air the car down and then back up it most likely won’t be back to the exact same spot to keep the alignment true.
That’s where RidePro-X leveling system comes into play. This digital control system will put the car at a pre-determined ride height every single time you start the car up or select preset #2. It also cross weighs the car to compensate bag pressure for added people and stuff. This ensures that the car is perfectly aligned and balanced every time you hop in your car and go to the hardware store or hit the track.
Overall, air suspension – by Ridetech and a few other manufacturers – has improved to the point that performance and ride are equal to traditional metal springs. Ultimately, it comes down to the leveling system and shock absorbers. From a reliability standpoint, if you stick to brand name, DOT-approved parts, the only thing in the way of 100% reliability is the installation. For sure, a leveling and compressor system adds cost, but you get the best of both worlds – Car Show Low looks with modern ride quality and handling at ride height.
Check back as we go through a full install of RideTech and their RidePro-X leveling system! For more information or to place your order, hop on the RideTech site or give them a call at (812) 481-4787