What Are Bags on a Car?

Air bags—when used in this sense—are aftermarket suspension parts that allow you to adjust your car’s ride height on the fly.
Written by John Davis
Reviewed by Jaya Anandjit
background
Air bags—when written with a space between air and bag—are aftermarket automotive suspension components that allow you to customize and modify your car's ride height on demand. 
Air suspension systems are popular with automotive enthusiasts because they allow you to customize your car's ride height on the fly without tedious adjustments. As a result, they can drastically change a vehicle's look while improving its ride quality, and they are one of the most popular upgrades you're likely to encounter at a car show.
You came to the right place if you're considering modifying your car with an air suspension kit and are looking for more information. Today, we'll explore everything you need to know about air ride suspension so that you can modify your vehicle with confidence and style.
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What are suspension air bags?

Air bags—sometimes called air springs or bellows—are aftermarket suspension components that allow you to modify your car's ride height using an app or remote control. They replace the standard coil springs in your vehicle and use a series of electrical connections, an air tank, and an air compressor to give you a smoother ride and the ability to adjust the ride height using air pressure
While air bag systems have been around since the early 20th century, they have become increasingly popular in modern years. In fact, some manufacturers now include air suspension systems as stock options on modern vehicles, like the
Lincoln Navigator
,
Infiniti Q50
, and
Volkswagen Golf GTI
.  

Air bags vs. coilovers

When it comes to lowering your car, you have a few choices, including air bags, coilovers, and lowering springs. To make your decision, you'll need to decide whether you want your vehicle's ride height to be static or bagged. Static means that the ride height is dialed in and set to a specific and fixed height, while bagged refers to an air suspension system that you can adjust on the fly. 
Coilovers and lowering springs both provide a static ride height—while coilovers give you a substantial degree of adjustment, lowering springs allow you to reduce your ride height by only a set amount. With coilovers, you can fine-tune your vehicle's ride height, spring rate, dampening rate, rebound, and even some camber adjustments, while coilovers are cheaper and easier to install.
On the other hand, air bags allow you to lower and raise your car as you please while driving or parked. Air bags do not allow for the same degree of fine-tuning as coilovers, but they do provide exceptional ride quality and the ability to customize your car's ride height on demand. 
MORE: Best cars with air suspension

How to install air bag suspension in your car

While installing an air ride suspension system in your car can be an excellent DIY project, it can also be incredibly complicated without the right tools and know-how. And if you make a mistake, it can cause dangerous driving conditions that may result in costly repairs. The best way to ensure that your air suspension system is properly installed is to visit a professional mechanic. 
That said, if you want to take a crack at installing your own air suspension system, here is a general outline of the steps you'll need to take. 
  • The first step toward installing your air suspension system is to remove the old stock suspension components. That includes the stock struts and coil springs from the front and rear ends, depending on what part of the vehicle you plan to modify. 
  • Before you start installing the bags, you'll need to prepare space inside the vehicle for the air tank and compressor. Typically, these components are tucked away behind the front seat, in the back seat, or in the trunk. You may need to remove your spare tire or modify the car's cabin to make room for these parts.
  • The next step is to install your new parts. The new air springs will go in the same place that your stock struts and coil springs were housed.
  • Once the air bags are in place, you can start installing the air compressor and tank. Your air suspension kit should include instructions detailing how to install these parts correctly.
  • The final step is to run the electrical wires and connections for the compressor. You will usually want to route these lines through a relay and a fuse before connecting them to the car's battery. 
Once you complete these steps, you'll need to check your system to ensure that it works properly. Then, determine how to adjust your ride height—your system will most likely use an app or remote control to change the bags' air pressure—and set the height. 
Finally, you'll need to check your system for air leaks before you hit the road—you can do this by spraying the bags with a mixture of dish soap and water and watching for bubbles.
MORE: What is a car suspension system?

What to consider before bagging your car

Is installing an air suspension kit the right move for you and your car? As mentioned above, you'll need to choose whether you want a static or bagged ride height. If you're leaning toward bagging your car, you'll need to understand the pros and cons of air suspension before making a final decision. 

Air bag pros

Let's take a look at the major advantages of an air suspension system:
  • Increased comfort. Air bags provide significantly increased ride quality compared to stock struts or even aftermarket coilovers. With the right setup, you can cruise over bumps and potholes as if floating.
  • Enhanced capabilities. Air ride suspension can boost your hauling and towing capacities. They allow you to carry heavy loads by raising the vehicle without sacrificing performance.
  • More flexibility. Air suspension allows you to customize your ride height for driving over various surfaces. You can raise the vehicle if you see a bump in the distance or if you need to drive up a steep incline. 

Air bag cons

Now, let's explore some of the disadvantages of air bags:
  • Tricky installation process. Compared to other ride height mods, air bags can be difficult to install. While modern kits make the process easier, it remains a complex process for inexperienced enthusiasts.
  • High price tag. Air suspension systems also tend to be more expensive than other suspension kits, like coilovers and lowering springs.
  • Increased maintenance. Air bags require more maintenance than coilovers or lowering springs. You'll regularly need to service your compressor and lines, and you'll have to keep an eye out for leaks in the bellows.
  • Reliability issues. Finally, air suspension systems are generally less reliable than coilovers and have a shorter lifespan, especially if you're using budget parts. 
MORE: Illegal car modifications to avoid
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FAQs

It depends on what your goals are for the car. If you're looking for the ultimate driving experience in terms of comfort, as well as the ability to adjust your ride height on the fly, an air suspension system may be for you. But if you want the ability to fine-tune your ride height and other specifications—like camber, spring rate, dampening rate, and rebound—for a lower price, coilovers might be your best bet. 
Remember, air bags give you the ability to adjust your ride height whenever and wherever you are, while coilovers and lowering springs provide a static ride height that may or may not be adjustable while parked.
Air suspension kits are substantially more expensive than coilovers or lowering springs. While the exact rate will depend on your car, your location, and the quality of parts you choose, you can generally expect the price to fall somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000.  
While you might be able to find air suspension kits for as little as $500, you should be wary of prices that seem too low, as you'll want to avoid installing cheap, low-quality parts. The average price for a quality kit ranges between $1,500 and $4,000. If you plan to have a professional install your kit, you should expect to pay an additional $700 to $1,500 in labor costs. 
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