Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ride Height Control Systems Explained

The most expensive part of your LEVEL 4 air ride system is the height controller package.  So before you drop a bunch of money on it, let's run through the basics so you know which one will be right for you!

Digital height controllers have been on the market since the early 2000s, but it's only been in the past 5 or 6 years that the technology has really caught up with the dream.  Now you've got your choice of several brand-name solutions that all do a great job of making your life easier!
We’ve been a dealer for Accuair, Air Lift Performance, Dakota Digital, and RideTech over the years, and prefer to offer our air management packages with a choice of Accuair eLevel, Air Lift 3P/3H, and RideTech RidePro systems.  Dakota's system is a bit outdated and lacking in features (in our opinion), so we’ll leave that one (along with the countless knock-off kits out there!) out of this conversation.  With that said, here are some of the differences between Accuair, Air Lift Performance, and RideTech.

Air Lift Performance’s 3P and RideTech’s RidePro digital height control systems use sensors to monitor the air pressure in each corner of your vehicle, as well as the air tank, to control your vehicle's air suspension system.  With the 3P, all of these sensors and the system's ECU are built directly into the valve manifold, so this system is extremely easy to install- one air line from your air tank, four air lines out to your airbags, and a total of five wire connections are all you need to have this system up and running!  This system also has a Bluetooth wireless receiver built in, so your iPhone or Android device can be used to control your car remotely! The included handheld control pad has a nice full-color display to navigate the various menus for setting tank pressure, airbag pressures, and lots more- it's a very nice overall package. RideTech’s system has the individual components pre-assembled onto a board with the air tank and compressor, so installation is super simple as well.

HOWEVER, because these systems use air pressure to control your vehicle, they fall victim to the same drawbacks as mentioned in our previous blog post about air gauges- air pressure doesn't equal vehicle height, so these systems can sometimes lead you astray!  To remedy this, Air Lift and RideTech offer systems with physical height sensors that attach to your vehicle’s suspension, which is what Accuair’s eLevel system uses as well.

Accuair's eLevel system doesn't have a problem with pressure readings- in fact, it doesn’t bother reading your airbag pressures at all!  It includes actual height sensors that install at each corner of your vehicle, and it monitors the height of your suspension rather than the pressure in the airbags.  Because of this, your car or truck will always go back to the precise height it was programmed for when you hit that button!  Accuair's handheld controller is a work of art- about the size and shape of an early iPhone, with a nickel-plated housing and nice touch-sensitive buttons; you can definitely feel the quality when you pick it up.

Alright, so are the eLevel, 3H, and RidePro with height sensors are better than the 3P/standard RidePro?  Well, yes and no.  They’re definitely better at maintaining a precise ride height- I don't think anyone would debate that fact.  However, that precision comes at a cost... about 500 bucks, for starters!  Aside from the monetary cost, though, is the added complexity of the system.  There is a LOT more work to be done to set up height sensors, and it can be outside of some people's skill set, which leads to higher labor costs for installation.

So, which system is right for you?  Well, if money is no object, and/or you have infinite automotive skills and tools to match, the eLevel or 3H are truly awesome systems to use.  But if you're looking for a solid and reliable package that won't break your bank, or if you just want to avoid the extra wiring and clutter of a larger installation, then the 3P or standard RidePro system may be the wiser choice. 

I hope that helps you decide on your build- if you still have questions feel free to contact us by visiting !

What About Pressure Gauges?

 So, what's up with gauges?  If you've been to a show and looked inside the cars with air suspension, you've probably seen a bunch of different combinations of switches, gauges, and other accessories- it can all be a bit confusing, can't it?  Well, here's MY opinion on the matter, for what it's worth.  And even though it's my job to sell you stuff, you might be surprised by my take on gauges!

Starting from the top, let's look at what a pressure gauge does in an air suspension system.  Well DUH- it measures the pressure in something, right?  Yep- in most cases you'll use a gauge to measure the pressure in each airbag, and possibly your air tank as well.  Analog gauge packages use either single- or dual-needle gauges with air lines running from the back of the gauge out to your valve assemblies, where they're teed into your system to read pressure.  Electric gauge packages use sending units to read the pressures in your system, so there will only be wires running from your valves to your gauge readout.  Add air to your airbags, and the gauge will read a higher pressure- that should make it easy to set your ride height reliably, right?

Well, the answer isn't that simple, unfortunately.  Air pressure and ride height aren't directly related!  Think of it this way:  Pretend you have your vehicle sitting level at all four corners, and your gauges are reading 80 psi in both front airbags and 50 psi in both rears (the rear is almost always a lower pressure since there usually isn't an engine back there!).  Now, your friend- let's call him Big Dave- gets into the passenger seat to cruise with you to the Dairy Queen for a Blizzard.  Suddenly his 400 pound butt is making your car sit lower on the passenger side, but the pressure went UP!  If you even out the pressure in your system, you'll be sitting even lower on the passenger side... see how this can be a problem?

This phenomenon isn't limited to those of us with friends named Big Dave, either.  If your gas tank is on one side of your vehicle, if you try to set your ride height on unlevel pavement, or if you carry items in your trunk or bed, all of these factors make air pressure kind of unreliable for setting a proper ride height.

Does this mean that gauges are no good?  Absolutely not.  But we don't include them in our electric air management systems to prevent new users from using them as a "crutch" while they learn their vehicle's new ride characteristics.  In my opinion, it's better to install your system without gauges at first, and drive it for a few days or weeks to learn how it feels when you're at different heights.  After you can dial in your ride height simply by feel, gauges can be a helpful monitoring tool in addition to your finely calibrated butt!  Or, you may simply decide that you don't need 'em at all...

The great thing about selling our systems this way is that adding gauges is super easy after the fact.  The Accuair valve manifold included with our LEVEL 3 electric control systems has four plugs in it that can simply be removed and replaced with fittings to run to your air lines for analog gauges or sending units for your electric ones.

If you've read this far, thanks!  I hope you learned something new today.  And if you skipped to the end for a summary, here's the "TL;DR" version: Gauges can lie to you, and they can make it harder for people new to air suspension to learn their system.  I hope that helps you make an educated decision while you shop for your air suspension parts!

Still have questions?  Contact us by visiting !