Is Air Suspension Good For Off-Road?


Is Air Suspension Good For Off-Road

Off-roading leads to encountering all kinds of obstacles for your vehicle. Whether it’s climbing hills, flexing over rocks and logs, or running over potholes in dirt roads. How your vehicle performs is determined heavily by the suspension you have. So, what if you have an air suspension?

Is air suspension good for off-road? Yes, due to the very nature of air suspension being regulated with differing air pressures, you can often feel like you are gliding over rough terrain without even feeling it. Using air suspension limits damage and giving you and your passengers a more comfortable journey.

Your off-road vehicle needs to have the best possible suspension for this thrilling activity, read on to find out what we have found to be the best way for you to enjoy going off-road.

How Does Air Suspension Work Off-Road?

Air suspension is quite a modern concept when it comes to making motor vehicles ride in a more comfortable manner and was originally developed for use on bicycles back in 1901.

A vehicle that has modern air suspension fitted generally has a feeling of gliding over regular pot-holes and bumps and ditches on and off-road.

To achieve this there are rubber bellows fitted to each wheel. Each bellow is filled with air that is regulated using a compressor or pump that is governed and powered by the vehicle.

Some air suspended vehicles have adjustable air suspension that can allow the owner to change the actual ride height of their vehicle. This is especially useful when parking on an uneven surface or needing extra clearance to clear an obstacle while off-road.

As the vehicle is moving the shock absorbers have sensors built into them that send a signal to the compressor which in turn inflates or deflates the bellow, this all happens in the space of milliseconds.

Is Air Suspension Better Than Spring Off-Road?

Air Suspension Off-Road

Air suspension is mainly found in luxury cars, Mercedes, BMW, etc. Air spring is generally installed into the more common makes of vehicles. You can get aftermarket air suspension kits that can be fitted to your vehicle of choice and some vehicle manufacturers actually offer to do this as part of an optional extra.

Air suspension is definitely more comfortable than spring suspension. In fact, spring suspension can often feel very harsh when driving over certain terrain, especially when using it for off-road driving.

Because of this, heavier vehicles such as trucks and buses use air suspension as spring suspension would simply depress under the weight of the vehicle or the load in which it was carrying, ultimately leading to a worse ride quality off-road.

This becomes especially true when towing a trailer, caravan, or other vehicles. The weight at the back axle can be extreme and cause the vehicle to have an unusual ride height where the rear of the vehicle is lower than the front.

This can cause issues like premature tire wear problems to actually snapping the spring coils in the rear.

You might now be wondering why anyone would even choose to use spring suspension. Well, one major problem with actually using an air suspension is the fact that it requires the use of air chambers. If any moisture gets into these then this can cause significant damage.

During summer months, this is not a problem but when the weather gets colder, condensation and frost become an issue. If moisture is allowed to develop in the chambers of baffles the air can freeze, expand and cause irreparable damage to pipes and/or the rubber baffles, this can cost a lot of money to repair.

The advantage to having springs is they don’t rely on any special treatment as such, while it is true springs can break, it takes a lot of years of wear and tear for that to happen.

Other Options for Off-Road Suspension Solutions

When it comes to off-roading most people agree that the suspension on your desired vehicle needs to be one of the most considered factors of your ride.

A bad suspension choice can really ruin your day, especially if your off-road adventure is overly bumpy.

Luckily, there are lots of different choices when it comes to choosing the right suspension for going off-road, here are the ones we think you should know about;

Leaf Spring Suspension

Leaf spring suspension is one of the most common forms of suspension on most off-road vehicles and consists of a metal spring steel flat bar that runs from one end of the vehicle to the other. 

Attached by u-bolts and attached to the springs the leaf springs bend and flex with the weight of the vehicle and act as a way of keeping the vehicle suspended above the chassis.

Paired with the correct shock absorbers the leaf spring is a great solution for the off-roading enthusiast.

IFS (Independent Front Suspension)

Independent front suspension allows the wheels to move independently of each other, allowing each wheel to move up and down in a vertical manner. 

This is an advantage when it comes to driving on uneven or rough terrain, and can help create a more fluid driving experience.

If a vehicle doesn’t have IFS both wheels will move up and down even if only one wheel is hitting a bump.

Double Wishbone

A lot more complicated yet advanced type of suspension is the double-wishbone. Given its name because of the two wishbone-shaped struts, double-wishbone not only helps with vertical movement but also has adjustable camber, toe, caster, and scrub radius.

The double-wishbone struts are connected to the coil suspension that in turn is connected to the wheel.

A disadvantage of having double wishbone suspension is that it can be a cumbersome style of suspension and often doesn’t leave much space for fitting snow chains or oversized wheels.

TTB (Twin-Traction)

Twin-traction beam suspension is very common in 4×4 trucks and consists of a universal mounted I-beam that allows each wheel to move independently of each other.

The use of TTB is very stable and is almost the same as using s single axle, but with better recoil and better ride height.

Because the TTB uses a central universal joint the differential is generally located underneath the driver side.

Four-Link Suspension

Mult link suspension consists of 3 or more separate links that make up the suspension arm, allowing the user to be able to change different parameters of their suspension without altering other areas.

The four-link suspension variant uses four rods of differing sizes that are connected to the wheel at one end and the steering rack at the other. They use a ball joint or rubber bush to allow the shock of motoring to be absorbed and ultimately give a comfortable ride.

The problem with using multijoint suspension is the ball joints and rubber mounts tend to wear over time and this can create damage to the suspension itself.

Other Things to Consider When Off-Roading

Off-roading can be a fun activity but you need to take a few things into account before taking your vehicle on an adventure.

1. Tire Pressure

You should always make sure that you have the correct tire pressures before your journey, when using a tire pressure that is too low you will inevitably damage the wheel hub and alloy. When this happens the seal around the tire is damaged and air leaks start to happen.

Having too high a pressure will make your off-roading quite difficult, the tire will start to struggle with grip, especially on rock and uneven surfaces.

You should check your owner’s manual to determine which pressure is best for the terrain that you are planning on going on.

2. Ponds, Streams, and Rivers

If your journey requires you to go through any arrears that have water, first check the area and the water level. If the level is higher than your exhaust, wheels, and door sills, you might need to install an exhaust snorkel, this will stop any water from getting into your exhaust and causing damage.

If you do find that you have come to a body of water and there is no other way around, you should make sure that the level of water is not higher than the engine as this will most definitely cause serious damage to your vehicle.

3. Safety

Always make sure that you make others aware of your plans when going off-road, if there was an accident you need to make sure that people know where you might be. 

If there are other people in the area make sure that they are at a safe distance from you, this makes the chance of a serious incident unlikely.

Carry a phone or radio that allows you to contact the emergency services or recovery if you need to.

Never off-road on private areas of land without the owner’s permission, the owner has the right to prosecute anyone who is on their land as a trespasser.

Air Suspension and Off-Road Driving

When thinking about going off-road you should most definitely consider the best type of suspension for you. Air suspensions can be great for off-roading, but the factors you need to take into account are the terrain in which you are going, the comfort and how important it is to you, and the cost.

Thankfully there are plenty of upgrade choices and there is a massive selection of after-market options for you to consider.

Remember never to take on any form of mechanical work on your vehicle unless you are competent or have a professional to evaluate your work.

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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