Once reserved only for luxury cars and heavy-duty trucks, air suspension systems are coming into their own today, with more and more vehicles being equipped with them. These systems replace the traditional shock/strut/spring setup with a series of air bags. They’re really basically heavy-duty balloons made of rubber and filled with air.
There are quite a few different advantages to an air bag suspension system. For one, they’re incredibly customizable and can be adjusted for different ride preferences, terrain and more. Second, they can also adjust the vehicle ride height to raise or lower your vehicle and make driving simpler, as well as to aid in getting in and out of the car.
One of the core components of the system is the suspension air bag. These inflated bags sit under the car (at the axles) and take the place of mechanical springs and shocks/struts. The only real problem with them is that the bags are made of rubber. As such, they’re subject to wear and tear, as well as damage from external sources.
In terms of lifespan, your results will vary depending on the automaker in question and their specific system. Each varies. One company estimates you’ll need to replace each air suspension bag between 50,000 and 70,000 miles, while another estimates replacement every 10 years.
In all cases, suspension air bags are in use at all times if you’re driving and even when you’re not. Even when your car is parked, the air bags are still filled with air. Over time, the rubber dries out and becomes brittle. Air bags can begin to leak, or they can fail outright. When that happens, the side of the car supported by the air bag will sag dramatically and the air pump will run constantly.
Knowing a few of the more common signs of air bag wear can help ensure that you’re able to replace it before it fails completely. These include:
- The air pump cycles on and off often (indicating a leak in the system somewhere)
- The air pump runs almost constantly
- The car has to pump up the air bags before you can drive
- Vehicle sags on one side
- Suspension feels softer or “spongy”
- Cannot adjust the rid height properly
It’s important to have your suspension air bags inspected for problems, and a certified mechanic can inspect the entire air suspension system, and replace a failed suspension air bag for you.