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Tax Refund Idea: Add Air-Suspension to Your Ride

DIY, Suspension & Steering  /   /  By Gary Lieber

The average tax refund is about $3,000. That made us wonder: How would we use a check from the I.R.S. to enhance our cars and trucks? So far, we considered prepping a commuting roadster for the track, spiffing up a garage, and converting an SUV to go (way) off-road. In this post, we provide tips on how to get a “slammed” look by bagging your ride. 

A vehicle’s suspension consists of springs, shocks, struts, links, or bars—components that suspend the chassis, body, and engine over a car’s wheels. These systems get the job done, but most of them have a big drawback. They are fixed, meaning that they can’t easily be adjusted for height or handling characteristics. Here’s the answer: bag your ride.

A lowdown stance makes any car look sporty and mean.

A lowdown stance makes any car look sporty and mean.

Bagging a vehicle’s suspension means replacing the coil or leaf springs with a flexible, pressure-filled bag that’s made out of heavy-duty rubber. With the press of a button, the amount of air in the bags is adjusted—changing the ride height and the suspension’s characteristics.

Air-suspension kits range from a basic manually-operated package available for a few hundred dollars to customized digital systems that cost several thousand bucks. Regardless, what used to be a dark art—requiring modification of shock towers, relocated suspension bits, and chopped body parts—has become a plug-in-play process.

Despite its relative simplicity, there is more to an air suspension than four bags of compressed air. A typical kit has several options to consider. If you’re ready to get down to business, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Air Compressor and Air Tank

The air compressor and tank are the heart of an air- suspension system.

The air compressor and tank are the heart of an air- suspension system.

The most important part of an air-suspension system is the compressor and air tank. This compressor is an air pump powered by your car’s electrical system. Its job is to compress air and store it under pressure in the tank.

Some tanks and compressors are integrated, while others are two separate systems. The tank is a reservoir of compressed air allowing for smooth inflation of the bags located at each corner of the vehicle’s suspension. These components are usually mounted in the trunk (sometimes in a custom enclosure), but they can also be installed under the chassis or mounted to a unibody frame. The air-line connection between the compressor, tank, and other components is usually flexible polyurethane or reinforced rubber hoses, but some use stainless steel tubing for a slicker car-show look.

Air Suspension Controller and Distribution Manifold

The air suspension controller allows you to adjust the air bag’s settings.

The air suspension controller allows you to adjust the air bag’s settings.

The ride height is adjusted with a controller and distribution manifold. A relatively low-priced controller uses analog switches to control a set of electric valves, which in turn set the pressure and therefore the vehicle height. A set of screws are used to calibrate a default ride height. The downside of this system is added weight.

If your budget allows, you should consider a digital controller, which uses sensors to determine and maintain a stable ride height. After an initial calibration, the system will maintain the desired height irrespective of any additional weight in the car. The controller works with the distribution manifold that controls inflation and deflation of the airbag.

Air bags come in a variety of sizes depending on the desired effect.

Airbags come in a variety of sizes depending on the desired effect.

Strut-type airbags include the shock absorber.

Strut-type airbags include the shock absorber.

Air Bag Options

Airbags come in a variety of sizes depending on a few things:

  • the weight of your car
  • how much that you want the bag to travel from fully inflated to deflated
  • the way that your shock absorbers are mounted

There are nuances. For example, replacing McPherson struts with air suspension calls for an integrated bag/shock solution much like a coil-over. Instead of a spring, there is a donut-shaped airbag that fits over the shock. If your shocks are mounted outside the springs, then you should use a separate bag that mounts in the steel spring’s position. For vehicles with leaf springs, there are mounting adapters available to convert to bags.

Installing bags takes at least one full day. But the art of the airbag comes with the tweaking of maximum and minimum ride heights over time. You will want to adjust the harshness of the spring for your default height (which is a lot easier with electronic controllers). Most of the kits come with presets and custom settings optimized for your car. Some even have wireless handheld controls.

See the full selection of air-suspension equipment and accessories available on eBay Motors.

About the Author

Gary Lieber is a regular contributor to the eBay Motors Blog, Clean Fleet Reports,, and He likes to modify his cars by adding features that are unique to the marque. His Porsche 911 is a multiple Concours winner including Top 911 at Porsche Parade in 2005 and 2015. His Volkswagen GTI has been tricked out with engine management upgrades and style enhancements not commonly available on this side of the pond.

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