Not all trailers are created equal. Most are equipped with a leaf spring suspension. But when the cargo is fragile, it’s necessary to step up to something better than the norm. Something like an air ride suspension.
Answers to the following questions will give you some idea of the purpose of an air ride trailer suspension, how to switch to air ride and the cost involved.
- What Is an air ride trailer?
- How do you convert a leaf-spring trailer suspension to air ride?
- How much does it cost to convert a trailer to air ride?
- What is the difference between an air ride and a leaf spring trailer?
- How much does it cost to put air ride on a horse trailer?
An air ride trailer is a trailer with an air ride suspension system. This type of suspension has an air compressor that supplies compressed air to the air bags (bellows) allowing them to act like springs when they’re inflated sufficiently.
Trailers of all sizes use air ride. Here are a few of the air-ride trailer suspensions on the market today:
There are also a number of air-hitch configurations for:
- 5th wheel hitch
- Goose-neck hitch
- Receiver hitch
Two companies that design and manufacture air hitches are ShockerHitch.com and AirSafeHitches.com. Air hitches help to smooth out the jerks while towing on rough roads and concrete highways.
Leaf spring suspensions are the most popular choice of trailer manufacturers. They can provide an acceptable load rating for many applications, but they don’t offer the best ride quality.
An easy and inexpensive way to improve ride quality is a Kelderman Leaf Spring to Air Suspension conversion kit – a full air-suspension framework that attaches to the trailer frame and the leaf spring hanger – designed to improve the ride quality of an RV trailer with a conventional leaf-spring setup.
Note: The following installation instruction is a stripped-down version (without any details) meant only to give you a general idea of what’s involved.
Some tools and equipment required for the job:
- Cutting Torch, or Grinder
- Jacks (4)
- Jack Stands (4)
- Wheel Chocks
- Combination Wrench Set (up to 1 5/16”)
- Socket Set (1 5/16” torque wrench)
- Side Cutters
- 6 mm Allen Wrench
Jack up the trailer high enough to remove the tires. Make sure to use jack stands for safety during the installation. Once the tires are removed, place a jack under each axle. (This will prevent the axles from falling once the equalizer hanger is removed.)
Take a torch or grinder and cut the equalizer hanger flush with the frame. (This is where the air ride assembly and the leaf spring assembly hook up together.)
Mount the top air-ride framework. The front of the framework has ears that come down for the bottom framework to connect to. Locate the top framework so that it is centered under the trailer (side to side).
Mount the bottom air ride framework. Weld the shackle hanger to the swingarm. Slide the swing arm up into place using supplied fasteners. Next, fasten the top of the airbags to the upper framework. After the air bags are fastened in place at the top, fasten the bottom of the bags with supplied fasteners. Then, determine where the equalizer hanger will be located and weld to the bottom swing arm.
For more detailed instructions on how to install the Kelderman conversion kit visit Kelderman.com
The cost of an air ride suspension varies depending on the application. Things like trailer size and the number of axles are factors that play into price. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to list two products that represent the cost for camper trailers with tandem axles.
The Kelderman leaf-spring to air-suspension system (listed above) works together with the existing leaf spring setup. Cost for a tandem kit is approximately $1,850.00 ($2,250.00 CAD).
Trailer Flex Air Ride suspension replaces the existing leaf spring setup. Trailer Flex offers various spring capacities designed for single, tandem and triple-axle requirements. An 8K single-axle kit costs approximately $2,500.00 ($3,000.00 CAD). An 8K tandem-axle kit runs about $3,700.00 ($4,500.00 CAD).
The obvious difference between an air ride and a leaf spring suspension is its overall appearance. A leaf-spring stack is attached to the frame at two locations, one in front of the axle and one behind the axle. They usually rest on the axle, but sometimes the axle rests on the leaf springs.
An air ride system has air bags that usually sit between the frame and the axle. Just like leaf springs, they help to absorb road shock and prevent the transfer of this energy to the frame.
How do these two suspension systems compare when applied to a trailer?
Air ride trailer suspensions deliver superior ride quality compared to a conventional leaf spring setup. That’s because they’re designed to keep the trailer level as well as absorbing most of the road shock.
Even though air ride trailer suspensions deliver better ride quality, they also happen to be one of the most expensive suspensions money can buy. Leaf spring suspensions Even though they’ve been around for over a century the cost remains quite low.
Not only are leaf spring suspensions the most economical, but they’re also the easiest to install. Air ride suspensions, on the other hand, are much more complicated because there are more parts especially when it involves onboard air.
There’s no such thing as a zero-maintenance suspension. Leaf springs suspensions for trailers need to be looked at once a year for signs of sagging or broken springs. Air ride suspensions need more attention. Close attention must be paid to the air compression, the airlines and the air bags. When the air supply breaks down, you have no suspension.
Dakota Air Suspension System
The Dakota Air suspension system has evolved over the years. Its ultra-smooth ride is perfect for trailers carrying fragile cargo such as horses and electronic equipment. Its durability meets the more extreme demands of a construction trailer.
A single-convoluted low-frequency air spring provides a larger surface area to accommodate bigger loads. These are high-grade springs with a factory-installed internal rubber bump stop.
Timbren uses shock absorbers exclusive to the Dakota Air suspension. Each shock is capable of handling a minimum of 8,000 lbs. of tension to prevent over-extension of air springs.
The combination of air spring, shock absorber and leaf spring help create a total suspension package ranging from 7,000 – 10,000 lb. capacities.
Each Dakota Air suspension is equipped with a heavy-duty leaf spring for added stability and strength. This metal spring allows for a more compact design that is lightweight and strong.
For more information about price contact Timbren Industries.
STi Air Ride Suspension System
One of the unique characteristics of the STi air ride suspension is its fully independent wheel design. You’re guaranteed a soft, stable ride that offers better handling and more control over your trailer. The STi Air Ride Trailer Suspension protects your horse’s legs resulting in less fatigue upon arrival.
The double-convoluted air spring creates more suspension travel and a softer, smoother ride. Rated at 105-120 psi, but tested up to 900 psi, this is one tough air spring. Included is an internal rubber bump stop for protection if air pressure is ever lost.
STi air suspensions can be installed on new trailers from major trailer manufacturers, as well as retrofitted for existing trailers.
For more information on price contact Timbren Industries.
If you’ve read through the answers to the above questions, hopefully, you now understand the design and purpose of an air ride trailer suspension. For medium-sized trailers – particularly horse trailers – your best bet is to go with either Timbren’s Dakota Air or STi air ride trailer suspension.