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Lay Out Your S-Series on Twenties

Part Three: Air Management Systems

In part one and part two of this series we covered the steps involved in installing a lowered airbag suspension on the front and rear of a Chevy S-Series pickup. Now, for the final installment, it’s time to see what it takes to bring the whole system together. So if you’re ready for some switch-flippin’, frame-draggin’, laid-out fun – read on!

Once your air bag and suspension work is complete, there are really only four main components that make your on-board air suspension system fully functional: lines, tank(s), compressor(s) and a control system. The following guide is designed to help you build or select the complete air management system that meets your needs.

Lines & Fittings
Air Lines and Fittings
1. Lines and fittings are available in all shapes and sizes.
One of the first steps in hooking up your air system is running your lines. The key to running lines is to get them tucked up and out of the way so they don’t get pinched between the frame, body and any suspension components. And, if you plan on dragging, be sure to run your lines somewhere above the frame. It’s also important to keep your lines away from high heat areas such as the exhaust, muffler and tailpipe. Secondly, the lines you choose have a major impact on the speed of your system. So, if you’re looking for speed over control choose 1/2” lines. If you don’t care about speed and are more concerned with accuracy and control, choose 1/4” or 3/8” lines.

Air Tanks come in many sizes
2. Air Tanks are available from one to five gallons to meet your needs.
Air tanks come in all shapes and sizes from tiny 1 gallon tanks to whopping 5 gallon tanks, but what it all boils down to is this: the more air you have in reserve, the more you can play around with your system without refilling your tanks. However, the larger your tank the more time it takes when you do have to fill it. Therefore, when you choose a tank and compressor setup, keep in mind how you’ll be using your system. If you plan to dump the bags at every stop light, then you’d better have a lot of air on hand (not to mention a compressor that can fill it back up in a hurry). If you only plan to lay it out when you get to your destination, then a smaller tank and smaller compressor will cut down the amount of weight you have on board your truck.

When selecting an air compressor (or air compressors), there are three main things you need to be concerned with: How fast will it fill up your tank(s)? How long can it operate vs. how long does it need to rest? And how much power does it use to operate? When shopping compressors it’s important to familiarize yourself with the industry terminology used to rate compressors.

A Good Air Compressor
3. Choosing the right compressor is the key to your air system.
The first, and probably most important term, is “fill time.” Fill time, as you might expect, refers to the amount of time it takes the compressor to fill the tank from zero to maximum pressure (typically 150 PSI – pounds per square inch). Since this obviously depends on the size of the tank, most manufactures throw out another measurement, “airflow.” Airflow refers to the number of cubic feet of air (cfm) the compressor is pushing out each minute. That means the higher the airflow the faster the fill time.

Another important term you’ll see is “duty cycle.” Duty cycle is the ratio of how long your compressor can continuously run versus how long it must rest before the next cycle. For example, if a compressor can operate continuously for 10 minutes and must rest for 10 minutes before its next cycle, then the compressor has a 50% duty cycle. Some heavy-duty, fan-cooled compressors can operate continuously without rest. These compressors have 100% duty cycle.

A third term you need to know about is “power draw” (a.k.a. current draw). This refers to the power load the compressor puts on your electronic charging system (measured in amps). It’s important not to exceed your vehicle’s peak power output because not only do you run the risk of draining your battery, you may also cause serious damage to other electrical equipment including your alternator. Typical compressors draw around 15-20 amps, while heavy-duty compressors can draw anywhere from 40 amps or more. While bigger more powerful compressors typically create more air flow and faster fill times, you will need extra battery power (and in most cases a high-output alternator) to power such a workhorse.

Control System
The control system is basically a series of valves, solenoids, actuators, switches, relays, pressure sensors and gauges that, when properly wired together, let you control air pressure to each of your four air bags. Depending on the system you decide to build, you can either get two-way (front to rear) or four-way (all four corners) pressure control.

Complete Air System
4. Complete air systems include everything you need to control your air bag suspension including tank(s), Compressor(s), lines, fittings and a control system.

While it’s possible to piece together your own control system, most builders opt for an integrated kit such as AirRide Technologies’ RidePro E or Dakota Digital’s Air Bag Control system. These systems offer sophisticated digital pressure control and advanced features like auto ride height on start and pre-set programmable ride heights. AirRide Technologies even offers complete air management systems that include everything you need all in one matched kit including: control system, gauges, tank(s), compressor(s) and all the necessary air lines, fittings and wiring for easy, no-hassle installation.

Well, there you have it; your complete down-and-dirty guide to air suspension. Keep in mind, while we used a Chevy S10 for this installation, the same principles and products are available for most full-size and mini trucks. So, with a little time and a lot of research, it’s possible to lay out any truck on air. Good luck, we look forward to seeing your project cruisin’ through the next show.

Slammed S10 on Air

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Related Links:
  • S-Series on Twenties, Part I
  • S-Series on Twenties, Part II
  • Chevy S10 Accessories
  • GMC Sonoma Accessories
  • ShockWave
  • RoadGRATER
  • Truck Accessories
  • Back to Stylin' Trucks Articles page
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