Tech Tip: Slow Death of An Air Ride System -

Tech Tip: Slow Death of An Air Ride System

08C729_17When an air ride system fails, it can fail in a big way. It’s a rarity when just one component fails. More than likely, it will be a cascade of failures that can lead to a huge repair bill. So make it a point to inspect the system before a health check turns into an autopsy.

The first signs of a failing system may be a ­compressor that runs a little longer than expected or a blown fuse. These are symptoms of a problem with the system, but they are also a problem on their own.



When a compressor runs more than normal, it can cause debris to enter the system. It can also increase the amount of moisture in the system. Both scenarios can damage the valves and other sensitive components in the air ride system.

Most passenger and light truck compressors are a diaphragm-type that supplies an oil-free air supply to the springs. A piston-type compressor is available for custom systems; it’s designed for intermittent service to inflate the air springs. Running the compressor for extended periods can also overheat the compressor and damage the diaphragm or piston. It’s very important to ensure that the source of air for the compressor is as clean and dry as possible.

Another thing to remember is that most compressors operate in not the cleanest of environments. Most are mounted under vehicles, where they can be subjected to road spray. Most systems are equipped with a dryer that is connected to the compressor outlet to absorb the water entering the system. The dryer contains a moisture-absorbing desiccant such as silica gel. The desiccant can hold a given amount of water, but once it becomes saturated, it can no longer prevent water from entering the system.

The dryers that are installed on most systems do not have an indicator that will show when they’re saturated and no longer able to absorb water. An additional dryer with a moisture indicator can be added to the original equipment dryer. Some are not serviceable and are incorporated into the compressor unit. They have a limited life and any compromises in the system can lead to an early demise.



It’s a common practice to flush transmission lines after a transmission has failed internally. The same is true for air ride systems. The lines of a damaged system can hold moisture and debris from a failed compressor. Failing to flush the lines can lead to the premature failure of a new component, including the air struts and shocks.

Flushing the lines with compressed air should remove any debris. Do not use brake cleaner as the solvents could damage the lines.



Air bags and bladders are not the weakest link in the system. Advances in the synthetic materials that are used to make the air bag help the air chamber resist leaks and tears. Internal damage caused by compressor debris can cause a leak in the air bag. Oil from the compressor may also cause damage to the internal surfaces of the bladder. This can weaken the spring and cause it to fail.

Nothing is worse than a comeback or having to warranty a repair you already performed. Besides hurting your bottom line, it hurts your reputation with the customer and your suppliers. Piece-mealing out an air suspension repair by replacing the next failed component is not fixing a vehicle, putting a shop at risk for a costly comeback.


You May Also Like

Differences in Brake Fluid Matter To Cars – And Owners

Though DOT 3, 4 and 5.1 brake fluids are technically compatible with each other, when mixed, fluid properties can change.

Trying to match the brake fluid to a product that is available can quickly have your head spinning when trying to service a late-model BMW, VW or Mercedes. Finding the correct specification can be ambiguous because some manufacturers provide a part number instead of a specification in the service information or owner’s manual. Brake fluids can have several confusing names like LV, Super or DOT 4 Plus.

Brake Hardware

Specific hardware does not do its job if it is left in the box.

Throttle-By-Wire Diagnostics

On older throttle cable systems, the carburetor or fuel injection system reacted to the throttle angle.

Spotting Brake System Failures By Inspecting The Old Pads

The main culprit of friction material separation is typically corrosion.

Diagnostic Strategies For Stop/Start Systems

This function of the power management system uses several modules to decide when the engine needs to stop and start.

Other Posts

Brake Pad Ecology

The leading source of particulate emissions come from brake pads and tires.

Lightweight Brake Components

Engineering teams have certain goals that they need to meet or exceed.

Power Steering Pull

Every driver has a different threshold for a pull.

Fuel Pressure Diagnostic Service

Use a scan tool that can look at special direct fuel injection parameters and perform bidirectional tests.