What is an Air Suspension?

Suspension systems using pressurized bladders rather than metal springs let drivers easily adjust ride height and firmness.


Article QuickTakes:

If all roads were perfectly smooth, vehicles would not require much in the way of springs and shock absorbers. But in the real world of potholes and speed bumps, cars need to be equipped with a flexible suspension system to soak up the bumps. An air suspension replaces (or supplements) a vehicle’s springs with air-filled bladders that can adjust the ride height and firmness for the driving conditions.

What Are the Benefits of an Air Suspension?

For off-road use, air suspensions provide a quick way to raise the vehicle for extra ground clearance–a benefit when clambering over rocks and other obstacles. When used to lower the ride height, an air suspension can be a boon for entering and exiting a tall vehicle. The 2022 Jeep Wagoneer offers a five-level Quadra-Lift air suspension system that can raise the ride height as much as 2 inches from normal for off-roading, or it can drop the big SUV as much as 1.6 inches when parked. It also has an Aero Mode that lowers the body to maximize fuel economy at highway speeds.

Air springs can be designed so that the suspension becomes stiffer or softer as the ride height changes. Some luxury cars use air suspension to improve ride comfort, smoothing out imperfections and swallowing potholes so passengers aren’t disturbed. Tesla’s Model S and Model X use an air suspension, and it can automatically adjust the car’s ride height based on location. If you need a little extra ground clearance to pull into your driveway, the car can learn to do this automatically.

Load-leveling capability adjusts the front and rear air springs independently to keep the vehicle level as weight is added or removed. This feature is particularly useful to prevent pickup trucks and SUVs from squatting over their rear wheels when hauling or towing heavy loads.

What Vehicles Offer an Air Suspension?

Air suspension systems are available as upgrades on more expensive cars and SUVs, though you don’t have to buy a Rolls-Royce to get one. The 2022 Volvo XC60 SUV, for example, offers an optional 4-Corner Air Suspension system for $1,800, and the 2022 Audi Q5 includes Adaptive Air Suspension as part of its $2,800 Sport Plus package.

Many vehicles from brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Lexus offer air ride suspension as standard or optional equipment, and the systems are getting more common. They’re also found in some very heavy electric off-roaders like the GMC Hummer EV and the Rivian R1T.

How Does an Air Suspension Work?

Instead of a physical spring, typically made of steel, at each wheel, an air suspension uses bladders that can be inflated or deflated using an onboard air compressor. As the compressor changes the volume of air in each bladder, the vehicle rises or lowers. These adjustments also change how the air-filled pouch wraps around the perch it sits on. The shape of this perch determines how the spring rate changes in conjunction with ride height, or in other words, how firm or soft the ride is.

Can I Add an Air Suspension Kit to My Car?

Air suspension kits are available for many vehicles as aftermarket accessories. Whether you drive a new Jeep Wrangler or a classic Chevy Impala, it’s likely you can find an air suspension kit that will work. They are not cheap, often running into the thousands of dollars, and they require significant mechanical skill and equipment to install. But the kits are useful on vehicles that regularly venture off-road or carry heavy loads.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Jordan Golson
Jordan Golson is a transportation reporter covering cars, trains, planes, future cities, mobility and more — basically, if it moves and doesn’t go to space, he's on it. He is especially interested in the intersection of transportation and technology, and that means he goes deep into electric cars, autonomous vehicle tech, sensors, safety, connectivity, and similar topics.