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
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: 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:
- Install the air-helper springs between the rear axle and frame.
- Install the air compressor that inflates the two air bags.
- 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 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
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.
Air Lift Company | 800.248.0892
Mobile Diesel Service | 541.459.8939