By Tony Barthel
I’ve got a saggy backside. No, no, not the one I sit on when I’m working on these stories. I’m not sure what that backside is like – it is always behind me, though. I’m talking about my truck.
More specifically, my 2015 Ram 1500 pickup truck. And I’m not the only one with a Ram who is experiencing this. I found a simple and inexpensive solution that takes almost no time and makes almost no major changes to the truck.
I’m talking about airbags and, more specifically, the Air Lift 60818 1000-series airbags.
What do they do?
When a truck is designed there is always a compromise. You can make the suspension firmer or softer, balancing ride comfort with load-carrying capacity. These kinds of compromises challenge designers in every corner of the creation process. With domestic full-sized pickups in particular, you can detail out options of seemingly endless numbers which affect how the truck rides, handles and also deals with loads.
Many half-ton trucks are really used as cars with occasional jaunts to the hardware store to justify their purchase. But we RV enthusiasts hook these pickups to trailers all the time and haul those towable RVs to places of beauty and relaxation. So we tend to push these trucks more than the average buyer.
What are air springs?
Aftermarket air springs simply add more stiffness to the suspension of trucks. By having a flexible air bladder, you are making a suspension more rigid by adding air. There are a variety of these air spring kits available for the suspensions of all sorts of vehicles.
How tough are these? There are plenty of semi-tractor-trailer rigs that only have air springs. The old days where cars like the Lincoln Continental with air springs as a guarantee of short-term failure are largely behind us.
You can add air springs to almost any truck. There are models that attach outside the suspension. In addition, many of these kits don’t even require doing much modification to the vehicle itself. In fact, many of these kits can be installed by backyard mechanics with a very basic set of tools.
But that depends on the truck, the suspension, and the goal.
First of all, it’s very, very important to know that adding air springs isn’t necessarily a way to compensate for a truck not well-equipped to handle a load. In other words, you can’t simply add air springs to a half-ton truck and make it a three-quarter ton truck.
To know what you can tow, you should do the numbers by taking the information in the door jamb of your truck and using realistic calculations. The truck will tell you the maximum allowable weight on both the front and rear axles, as well as the cargo carrying capacity of that vehicle.
So, let’s take my own 2015 Ram 1500 for this calculation.
So for my truck, it claims I can tow 8,571.49 pounds. So I should be good with a travel trailer with a dry weight around 2,900 pounds, right? Not so fast there, buckaroo.
The important calculation is cargo carrying, and my truck is only rated to accommodate 1,671.49 pounds. So you’d think I’d still be good, right? Maybe.
It’s all about the weight
First of all, I have a camper shell. There’s 200 pounds. The weight distribution hitch is another 100 pounds. Add 26 gallons of gasoline at six pounds to the gallon, and there are another 156 pounds from my cargo carrying capacity. Add 600 pounds of people/passengers to the load and you’re seeing where this is going.
Now let’s be realistic about the trailer. The tongue weight on my trailer is about 500 pounds. Yes, they’re usually about 15 percent of the trailer’s weight. But I have two heavy AGM batteries up there along with two propane tanks, plus I often carry water aboard. How do I know this number? I weighed the thing with a scale.
Now you can see I am almost at full capacity of the truck’s cargo-carrying ability. And what if I want to bring a generator, or some other camping-related stuff? Really, I have no business putting anything else into the back of the truck, quite frankly.
So even with nothing in the back of the truck, I’m well over the 70 percent capacity that I espouse. I should have honestly bought a 3/4 ton truck to tow a 2,900-pound travel trailer. I have a sneaky suspicion that many of you are far over what you’re really supposed to be towing.
Back to the air springs
Since I’m so close to the capacity of the truck when towing the relatively soft suspension of the Ram, combined with the fact that I’m pretty close to max capacity, the rear of the truck sits low which aims the headlights incorrectly.
Essentially what I’m working to accomplish is to make sure the truck sits level, and that’s what the airbags are going to achieve.
In the case of the Air Lift 1,000 series, this is a really, really simple install on the Ram. They simply get inserted inside the rear coil springs. You then run a line to a place where you can attach a compressor, and you’re golden.
Now, know that there are also setups for a lot more weight capacity, setups for other types of suspension, and kits that include an air compressor. But I’m going to be the Trailer Police for a moment and hope that everybody carries a small air compressor with them and measures the air in their tire before any trip. With this in mind, I don’t need another compressor.
My experience with air springs
Installing the air springs should be easy for anybody who doesn’t have a horrible temper and a lack of mechanical skills. Unfortunately, I have both of those. So after kicking the box across the yard I, took the truck to an aftermarket shop, who got two hours of labor to install the system for me.
The difference in the vehicle is significant, to me. Using the Schrader valve at the back of the truck, I can add/remove air as needed to accommodate loads in the truck. Air Lift recommends having at least five pounds of air in the system at all times and, even with this, the truck seems to handle better and more surely.
Inflating the system to just 10 psi gets the truck to sit true with the trailer attached. That means my headlights are properly aimed. You can measure the height of the truck by measuring from the ground to the bottom of the wheel openings when the truck is unhitched and when it’s hitched up, and add air accordingly.
I’m very happy I bought this kit. (I got it at Amazon.) We shall see what the long-term reliability of this kit is. I am likely considering a three-quarter-ton truck, to be honest, even with this smaller trailer, as I hope to get one that’s a bit larger in the future.
Towing safety is something I take very seriously and I hope this helps you if your tow vehicle is a bit out of adjustment. But the most important thing to do is tow well within your limits.
One of the resources I used is a towing calculator developed by a friend of mine, which you can see here along with more information about towing safety.