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How To Install Air Bags For Better Towing With Your Pickup

Air Lift Loadlifter 5000 Air Helper Springs Provide Safer, More Stable Handling When Your Pickup is Heavily Loaded

how to install air bags on a pickup

We buy pickups to do a job — a job that sometimes requires hauling or pulling a heavy load that pushes the truck’s factory weight limits to the edge. When that happens, the pickup’s nose is high, the tail is low, and the handling becomes a bit dicey as the truck bounces through the dips and leans around corners. The easiest way to get the ride and handling back to a safe state when your pickup is heavily loaded is to install air bags for towing.

How to Install Air Bags for Safer Towing

pickup truck with trailer and heavy load
Heavy loads on a pickup raise the front suspension and drop the rear suspension, compromising the vehicle’s ride, handling, and safety.

Air bags are designed to reduce how much the rear springs compress under load. They provide an air assist to help the factory springs carry the load. That, in turn, levels the truck and reduces instability while cornering or driving over dips in the road.

It should also be noted here that air bags, or more accurately air helper springs, are exactly that—helper springs. Air bags do not increase a pickup’s payload or towing capacity. Those limits are set by the manufacturer and can’t be increased regardless of what aftermarket suspension upgrades you install.

Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 air helper spring kit
The Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 air helper spring kit and Wireless One system puts load control at the driver’s fingertips.

Air Lift: Excellent Air Helper Springs

One of the most convenient, popular, and infinitely adjustable aftermarket air helper springs is made by Air Lift Company, based in Lansing, Michigan. Air Lift offers air helper springs and accessories to fit nearly every popular pickup and SUV on the road. Their products are found under a lot of heavy-duty pickups that tow big trailers or carry slide-in truck campers.

If you’re looking at how to install air bags yourself, the usual installation process follows three similar steps:

  1. Install the air-helper springs between the rear axle and frame.
  2. Install the air compressor that inflates the two air bags.
  3. Install some form of controller for the air compressor.

Once installed, when the driver needs to level the rear of the pickup, air is added to the air bags. Simple as that.

Following this process, we slid Air Lift’s LoadLifter 5000 Series (#25980) underneath a 2007 Ram 2500 Quad Cab 4×4 5.9L Cummins. This pickup splits its towing duties between pulling a toy hauler on weekends and excavation equipment during the workweek. (These Air Lift kits are also available for Ford and GM HD pickups.)

We also stepped up the leveling game by installing Air Lift’s slick Wireless One on-board air compressor system that allows the air pressure in the bags to be adjusted on the fly via Bluetooth on either Android or Apple or by using the digital-readout hand-control that comes with the kit.

How to Install Air Bags: Helpful Tips

Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 kit
Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 kit and Wireless One kits ready for installation at Mobile Diesel Service’s shop in Sutherlin, Oregon.

Air Lift provides detailed instructions in each kit, along with online videos to guide you through installation and use. It takes about four hours to do the install. Thomas Smalley, the service technician at Mobile Diesel Service in Sutherlin, Oregon, who handled the Air Lift system on our Ram 2500 was well-versed in such installations.

He said DIYers should read through the instructions, then set the parts out for each side before doing anything else. It’s also very helpful to be able to do the work with the truck on a lift.

“Air Lift’s 18-page guide booklet is one of the best, with large photos and detailed instructions,” said Smalley. “A pickup owner with the basic tools shouldn’t be intimidated to do this at their home.”

One tip Smalley passed along is, once the bottom brackets are secured to the axle housing, put an air hose nozzle to the air inlet fitting on each bag. Using compressed air will slowly raise the air bags until you can bolt the top mounting plates to the frame plates.

“Otherwise, it can be a pain to get the two plates close enough together to put in the attaching bolts when the truck is on a hoist (or jack stands) and the rear axle is at full droop,” Smalley said. “Or you can place a screw jack under each side of the axle housing and raise it up until the top plate on the air bags contact the frame plates.”

Another key point to remember is do NOT put in the fuse for the wireless compressor/manifold until you are ready to make the initial link to the controller and/or app on your phone or tablet.

Once the fuse is in, the system stays in the Bluetooth “search/link” mode for about two minutes. If the connection isn’t made by that time, Bluetooth shuts off and the fuse will need to be removed and plugged back in. We learned this from first-hand experience.

Wireless Air Control Gen 2

Air Lift's Gen 2 Wireless One controller
Air Lift’s Gen 2 Wireless One controller allows easy fingertip control of the amount of air in the air bags.

Using the Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 system is not complicated. The second-generation Bluetooth Wireless One system allows you to fully adjust air pressure, which is shown on the screen of the hand-held controller or via a more detailed visual schematic on a smartphone or tablet. Air pressure can be raised/lowered in one-pound increments until the desired ride height/comfort level is achieved.

You can adjust air pressure from up to 20 feet away, which allows the operator to stand back and view the truck’s attitude while adjusting the air pressure to achieve a level stance.  We found it only required 40-65 pounds of air pressure to maintain the level ride for the towing/hauling applications with this Ram 2500.

The frame-mounted Wireless One standard compressor is loud but does its job quickly, supplying a maximum of 100 PSI to the air springs. The minimum air pressure should never be below 5 PSI; this keeps the air bags from being damaged should the suspension go to full compression when there’s no load in the bed or trailer on the hitch.

Once installed, your new air bags can give your pickup a literal attitude adjustment with a shot of air whenever needed.

How to Install Air Bags: A Visual Step-by-Step Guide

The images below show the highlights of the Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 air bag installation. These steps are typical of an air bag installation on the majority of pickups and SUVs.

installing air bags
The air bags are mounted in the same location as the bump stops, and the latter is removed so the top mounting plates for the air-helper springs can be bolted into place on the frame rails.
air bag top plates
The first step is to remove the bump stops and in their place bolt in the special top plates where the air springs attach to the frame rails.
swivel air fittings
Then the air springs are assembled by installing the swivel air fittings and top plates on the air bag bladders using the supplied hardware.
how to install air bags
The bottom metal caps and mounting plates are then attached to the air bag using special bolts supplied in the kit. It’s important to have the bottom mounting plate’s flanges facing away from the air fitting.
air bag mounting assembly
Leave the mounting bolts a little loose until after the air spring assemblies are in place on the axle housing.
technician installs air bags
Thomas Smalley, a diesel technician at Mobile Diesel Service, adjusts and lightly tightens the air bag assembly to the driver’s side of the Ram 2500. Once both air-helper springs are in position, he’ll torque all the mounting hardware to Air Lift specs as noted in the instruction booklet.
Air hose inflating air bag
Pro tip: Use an air hose to partially inflate the air bags to help raise them so the top plates (frame and air spring) are close enough to be bolted together.
air bags with top plate
Adding a little air to the air bags helps raise them so the top plate of the air bag and frame plate on the pickup’s frame rail can be easily bolted together.
air bag installation
Make sure the hard brake line and axle flange carriage bolts don’t touch. On non-ABS Rams, the bolt goes behind the brake line as pictured.
torquing hardware
Once both air spring assemblies are in place, all the mounting hardware is torqued to Air Lift specs: Nylon locknuts @ 16 lbs.-ft.; lower bracket hardware @ 20 lbs.-ft.; and upper bracket/hardware @ 31 lbs.-ft.
Marking drill holes
Installation of the Wireless One onboard air system is pretty straightforward. The compressor and manifold (control unit) are mounted on the outside of the Ram’s passenger-side frame rail. We placed ours on the rail below the rear passenger door. A marker works fine to indicate where holes that need to be drilled. Air Lift also provides a paper template for those who don’t like to freehand such things.
drilling frame rails
A 1/8″ drill bit works for making the pilot holes for the self-tapping screws supplied in the kit. Ram boxed-frame rails were easy to drill out.
controller installation
We placed our Air Lift controller and compressor on the rail below the rear passenger door.
attaching controller
The little air compressor and control unit are attached to the frame rail using self-tapping metal screws.
The wireless air compressor and the control manifold
The wireless air compressor (left) and the control manifold can only be positioned a certain way, so follow the Air Lift instructions.
Wireless One kit
The Wireless One kit comes with a wiring harness, controller, and a 15-amp fuse with a special holder. The controller connects to the manifold/compressor on the frame rail via Bluetooth. It makes adjusting air pressure from the driver’s seat or outside the pickup as simple as it can get.
Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 Serie
Wiring and air lines run, the Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 Series air helper springs are ready to go to work. The air lines are push-to-lock, easing installation.
Properly installed air bags, aka air-helper springs, can help level the rear of any pickup towing a heavy trailer. Air Lift offers air bag kits for just about every pickup on the road.

Additional Resources

Air Lift Company | 800.248.0892

Mobile Diesel Service | 541.459.8939

Bruce W. Smith
About Bruce W. Smith

A veteran automotive photojournalist with more than 30 years experience as editor, writer, photographer for national 4x4, RV, boating and outdoor consumer magazines. Over the years Bruce has been a regular contributor to such titles as Four Wheeler, Diesel Power, Off Road Adventures, Jp, Offroad, Sports Afield, Truck Trend, Motortrend, Trailer Life, Motorhome and several boating publications. Also book author: https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Trailering-Your-Boat/dp/0071471642