What is An Air Ride Truck & Trailer?

November 18, 2021


Air Ride Trailers - What They Are and Their Purpose? 

Air ride trailers are an economical way to transport heavy loads. They offer a low-cost alternative to renting or buying a truck. It is not only more affordable but also safer than traditional methods of transporting large, heavy items. Air ride trailers are designed with airbags in the frame and inflated tires on the wheels. It allows for smoother rides over rough terrain; this is why they are often referred to as "air rides."

What does air ride mean on a trailer?

A common question we hear from truck drivers is "what does air ride mean on a trailer?" the answer can be a little difficult to understand.

First, let's define what air ride truck and trailer is. 

Air ride suspensions utilize pressurized air to suspend or raise an axle or trailer up and down allowing for smoother transport of fragile goods. A single airbag support kit can support up to 20,000 lbs. which is plenty of support for a loaded axle or set of axles.   The advantage of an air ride component is that it does not effect the existing equipment on a truck. 

This travel solution uses an internal mechanism that suspends the weight within the vehicle, which allows drivers and passengers and more importantly, their fragile cargo to enjoy a smooth drive.

An air ride suspension system consists of four main parts: pneumatic cylinders, compressor unit, air tank, and an optional control unit.

The pneumatic cylinders connect to the axles of a vehicle and provide support for the weight of cargo when in transit. These cylinders work by taking in pressurized air from within their built-in compressor units through small tubes that run throughout the body of each suspension system. A separate tube also comes from the air tank, which is stored in an area of the cargo hold away from moving parts.

Air ride truck carrying fragile cargo.

What is the purpose of an air ride trailer?

Air ride trailers are designed to lift the rear of the trailer off the ground using air pressure. This provides suspension for heavy loads which result in a smoother towing experience. An added benefit is that it reduces wear and tear on your tractor by minimizing bumps and vibrations

An air ride system uses pressurized air to create an airbag inside a rubber bladder. The airbag supports a load and absorbs road vibrations.

Air ride trailers use a compressor to generate high-pressure air, which is stored in the trailer's air tanks. A switch on your dashboard activates the compressor, which fills the tubes with enough air for up to 10 minutes of ride time.

This means you can disconnect your trailer without having to manually drop the remaining air pressure.

Some Flatbeds are equipped with air ride which allow for a smoother and safer ride for fragile or delicate cargo.

How does air ride improve truck performance?

Driving performance is the ability of a truck to perform at its optimum level when loaded, unloaded, or in any operating condition. The following paragraphs will discuss not only how air ride helps with driving performance but also the history of air ride suspension systems and some of their applications.

Driving performance is determined by many factors. It mostly depends on the following:

  • Vehicle dynamics

Vehicle Dynamics is the systematic study of the vehicle's response to the driver's demand. It results in the calculation of important vehicle properties. The first step taken by an air ride manufacturer should be to calculate these properties. Besides, to identify if there are any problems with the current equipment. For example, if there is too much bounce under the truck, this means that the suspension is not balancing out the weight distribution inside of the trailer. An air ride suspension would allow for proper balance and therefore increased driving performance.

  • Operator comfort

Operator comfort can be defined as how well a driver feels while operating a vehicle. A properly designed air-ride suspension allows operators to have a more exciting ride while still being able to have control over the truck. This is due in part because air ride suspensions absorb shock while driving, therefore leaving the driver feeling less fatigue while operating his or her truck.

  • Improved fuel economy

An important aspect of driving performance is the reduction of fuel consumption. Most likely, if a driver is not comfortable while operating his or her truck, their fuel efficiency will decrease as a result of fatigue and slower reaction times. An air ride suspension would reduce shock, therefore leaving the operator more refreshed and ready to drive.

Air Ride Suspension History

In 1904, Frank Hedrick built the first-ever air-ride truck. It was built on a 3-ton Pierce-Richert truck chassis, and it included two airbags on the front axle. Hedrick experienced many challenges with this vehicle; however, his biggest challenge came about when he had to stop for gas (which back then was not readily available like it is today). When filling up the tires with air, the pressure would increase beyond the designed limit and explode. After years of testing and perfecting, Hedrick was finally able to reduce the number of blown-out tires.

In 1934, International Harvester Company built a truck cab-over design. In this way, drivers could easily see the road ahead while operating their vehicles. The design of this truck was not perfect due to its lack of suspension, which caused the vehicle's frame to bounce while driving on the road. This bouncing effect resulted in misleading information being presented to the driver while he or she was operating their vehicle.

In 1953, William Bushnell Stout designed a unique all-aluminum cab-over design with air ride suspension, which was manufactured by Teledyne Corporation. Stout, in 1955 also released a new model of his vehicle that included a brand-new design with a stainless-steel body.

In 1968, air ride suspensions were used in the Ford Super Van and the military vehicles that were able to carry tanks. This marked a widespread use of air rides in trucks.

Air ride suspension applications in work trucks

Air Ride Trailers utilize leaf springs like the one shown above rather than coil springs. This allows for much smoother transit over rough road conditions when you are driving an air ride truck and trailer.

Today, air ride suspension is used in most commercial and industrial trucks. It is due to its ability to support heavy loads while also providing increased performance when compared to conventional suspensions. Typical work trucks that use air ride technology include dump trucks, cement mixers, and buses. The increased performance is realized by the fact that air ride suspensions can support heavy loads, absorb shock while driving and keep the truck level. Some work trucks also use air ride suspension to improve fuel efficiency.

  • Dump trucks

Dump trucks are used in almost every industry because of their ability to transport materials like asphalt, dirt, and gravel. To do this, they need to be outfitted with heavy-duty suspension systems so that they can handle large payloads. However, most trucks of this type are limited. Their suspensions cannot absorb shock when driving over uneven surfaces. As a result, these types of trucks usually have lower fuel efficiency because the ride is uncomfortable for operators. The extra weight in the truck results in increased fuel consumption.

A dump truck with air ride suspension has a solution for this issue. It is capable of leveling the bed and absorbing shock while driving over uneven surfaces. The result is a level, smooth surface for transporting materials and an operator that experiences comfort even after long hours of operation. An additional benefit to dump trucks with air ride suspension is that their added weight results in increased fuel efficiency.

  • Concrete mixers

Concrete mixers are designed to transport materials like water, gravel, and cement from one location to the next. Since these materials are heavy, most concrete mixers are misfit with heavy-duty suspensions. It allows them to carry these materials without any problems. One of the benefits of using air ride suspension systems for concrete mixers is that they absorb shock while driving over rough surfaces. It allows operators to transport materials with much less discomfort and save on fuel as well.

  • Box trucks

Box trucks or dry vans are used to transport palletized cargo like chemicals, building materials and household goods from shippers to their consignee’s.  Since these materials are heavy and fragile, some box trucks are equipped with air ride that minimizes road vibrations and reduces the chance that a load is damaged during transit.  Less vibrations in the trailer usually means less wear and tear on the other components that make up the axle and suspension.

Air Ride suspension technology

Today, there are several different types of air ride suspensions. They include air bellows suspensions, torsion bar suspensions, and leaf spring suspensions.

Air bellow suspension is used in many work trucks because it does not require any cables or levers for lifting or lowering the truck bed. Torsion bar suspension is often found on smaller types of trucks that are used to transport materials over short distances. Leaf spring suspension is widely available in basement hoists, scissor lifts, and heavy-duty aerial work platforms.

Air ride suspensions can handle heavy payloads when compared to conventional suspensions. They are also being capable of providing comfort for operators when driving over uneven surfaces. This means that air ride suspensions are perfect for dump trucks, cement mixers, and concrete mixers.

Many other types of vehicles also use air ride suspension. These vehicles provide comfortable rides for operators while also allowing the vehicles' tires to maintain contact with the road at all times. It does not matter how rough the terrain is underneath them. It means better responsiveness and more control over the vehicle.

Tips on using and maintaining your Air Ride Trailer

Trailers are one of the most popular and affordable forms of transports. When you use an air ride trailer, there is a specific set of tips that you should follow to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible for as long as possible.

1. Lubricate and maintain components regularly.

The suspension and axles will need lubrication every 2,000 miles and air ride suspension components need re-certification every year.

2. Air pressure should be set to the airbag manufacturer's recommended range.

If it is not, you could put too much air in them and blow them up or air out them. Then they lose their round shape and do not ride as well as they should.

3. Do not air the airbags down too much when they are in storage.

If you air them down too much, it can cause flat spots. It could lead to cracking or tearing of the airbag. This is called airbag rot and can reduce fuel economy by up to 30 percent.

4. Inspect air ride components before every haul.

Check airlines, airbags, air fittings, and air pads for wear or damage. You should also check the air ride bag mounts to make sure they are in good condition. If you notice any component that is damaged or needs to be replaced. You should contact an air ride technician immediately for services like air ride suspension repairs, air repair, and air ride rigging.

5. Use a load leveler if you do not weigh the back of your air ride trailer.

If you do not need full airbags, use a load leveler plate to get more contact on the road with your tires. However, this will only be effective if your airbag system is air ride-equipped.

6. Use air ride trailers with airbags for the best performance.

The airbags act as cushions during bumpy conditions to prevent jarring. It minimizes wear on your equipment like air ride suspension repairs, air repair, and air ride rigging services. Airbags also put less stress on the air ride suspension system components.

7. Use air ride trailers with airbags for increased carrying capacity.

The airbags provide a larger footprint on the road and better weight distribution. It allows you to carry more while using less fuel. Airbags also help by increasing stability on roads that are potholed or uneven.

It seems like there are many ways to improve truck performance, but air ride is one of the most effective. If you want better fuel economy and more stability on your trailer for long haul trucking, this may be the solution for you.

About the author

I’m Luis Uribe, author of this website. I am the owner and head publisher for Trucker Daily and a freight brokerage Total Connection Logistics. I have been in and around the trucking industry for over 15 years. It is my mission with Trucker daily to equip truck drivers, with the latest in industry updates, news, and helpful tips to help further your trucking career and life. Whether you are a truck driving veteran, or beginner, you will find information on this site to save you a lot of time in your driving journey.

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