Air suspension... what the hell, carmakers???

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wfooshee

Rather ride my FJR
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4,696
A bit of a ramble here, not quite a rant, but close:

So many cars are out there with either air-assisted suspension, at least on the rear, air assist on all four corners, or air springs only at either the rear or all four corners. Most of these cars seem to be European: Jaguar, Mercedes, Audi, Land Rover, etc. The '98 Aurora I had a decade ago had air assist at the rear, for load leveling.

Air springs, like Mercedes Airmatic, are touted as being an ultra-smooth ride, with the advantage of ride height control. That height control can be for self-leveling under load, or height adjustment for road conditions, like lowering the car at high speed, or raising your Land Rover for off-road use.

I've only had two cars with any air stuff in the suspension, and have experienced one other car. My '98 Aurora and my Dad's second-gen Lincoln Town Car had air assist at the rear, for load leveling. I think it worked OK on my Dad's car, didn't do diddly on my Aurora (although I often heard the compressor running.) My Jaguar had air springs at all four corners, no steel, just the air bladder holding it up. If you've seen my thread in the Member's Rides section, you know what I went through with that, eventually throwing in the towel and putting on steel-spring coilovers and never looking back.

As far as I can tell from the forums on these various cars, all of these systems are essentially no required maintenance stated by the manufacturers, but it seems that nothing lasts more than 8 or 10 years max without major system component replacements being needed. Air bladders blow out, fittings leak, water gets in the system and rusts out valves, but people buy these cars and are given no indication of the impermanence. Compressors alone can be half a grand, and new struts? You can get a decent used car for what a set of air struts costs! Car buyers expect suspension to be the last thing on a car to fail! There's no maintenance schedule for the compressors, even though 5 or 6 years seems to be the expected life span. There's no maintenance schedule on the dryers in the compressors, although used-up desiccant is completely useless for keeping water from entering the system. Indeed the dryers are not even serviceable unless you are decent with tools and don't mind getting your hands dirty; you simply get a new dryer attached to your replacement compressor.

Leaky fittings are a hassle. Sometimes fixing a fitting only makes another one go out, the next weakest point. If water has gotten into the lines because the desiccant on the compressor is used up, now you have moisture pooling everywhere: the pressure tank, the valves, the air bladders in the struts, and there is no way to remove that moisture except hoping it evaporates and comes out eventually as air is vented from the system during use. if your valves are rusty from the water, good luck with that!



So after my ramble/rant, I'm just looking for feedback from people who own these cars. Does you air suspension work properly? How old is it? How much have you had to do to it to keep it working, or make it work again after failure. Is it worth having, or so you wish you had just plain ol' reliable metal springs under your car? Have you done as I did and abandoned it?
 
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8,727
United States
Marin County
I would never even consider buying a used car with air suspension. Your saga has reaffirmed by bias. I'm not sure if this type of system even can be made durable from a long term perspective...there are just too many things to go wrong.