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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Should You Upgrade to Air Suspension for Overland Travel?

 photo by Andrey Vershinin via iStock

The suspension is one of the most important parts of a 4WD. It holds all the weight of your gear while also playing a crucial role in the capabilities of your truck. 

Ground clearance, ride quality, payload, and durability are all aspects of overlanding that are directly affected by your suspension.

In this article, we’re taking a look at air suspension for overland travel, its pros, cons, and whether you should fit it to your rig or not.

What is Air Suspension?

Air Suspension

 photo by Andrey Vershinin via iStock

Air suspension is basically an airbag that replaces your springs. It is responsible for your vehicle’s ride height, spring rate, and its behavior off and on-road. 

The air within the bag can be controlled to provide a taller ride height, lower ride height, stiffer spring rate, or softer spring rate. 

When is Air Suspension Helpful?

pick up with wood in the back

 photo by PenelopeB via iStock

Air suspension is great for people who want to alter the ride height of their vehicle based on circumstances. For example, if you need a lower and slightly plusher ride on road to achieve better ride quality and efficiency you can pump less air in the bags.

On the other hand, if you need increased ground clearance, you can pump more air in the bags to increase ride height. This is obviously an advantage of having air suspension for overland travel.

However, the main drawback here is that by pumping more air in you also make the bags a lot stiffer; therefore, you are losing wheel articulation and the ride off-road will be stiff. 

Ride height adjustment is for more complicated systems, the main reason someone who drives off-road would want to add airbags is to be able to alter spring rate on the go.

For example, when you drive from work and back unloaded on normal weekdays you need a lower spring rate as the vehicle isn’t loaded. That can be achieved by lowering the pressure in the bag.

On the weekend when you are heading out camping and the vehicle is loaded you pump more air in and just like that your suspension for overland travel is at the correct load rate again. 

What are the Drawbacks of Air Suspension for Overland Travel? 

Suspension parts

 photo by Denis_prof via iStock

The drawbacks are mostly related to reliability as airbags are complicated systems. They need a compressor to function, and your whole suspension depends on an inflated bag. If you manage to rapture that bag in any way you are done.

There are some great systems out there that use both an airbag and coil spring; therefore, the airbag is there only to alter the spring rate. However, they are not made for all vehicles and can be expensive. 

As mentioned above, when airbags are used under high air pressures the ride quality becomes extremely harsh and there is no travel within the suspension. 

Who Needs Air Suspension for Overland Travel?

Truck overloaded with wood

 photo by Chmiel via iStock

I would say an air suspension for overland travel is best suited to people who use something like a truck-based camper. You can have them inflated when the camper is on and deflated when it’s off for the perfect spring rate on each occasion. 

People who carry different loads from light to heavy regularly will also benefit. However, if you want the most reliable system and are mostly carrying the same load, airbags are unnecessary.

What do you think? Are there any other reasons one would want to run airbags? 

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