Air suspensions are a wonderful upgrade in pickup trucks. When they work, that is.
Unlike traditional shock absorbers and coil springs that compress under heavy loads, an air suspension uses four bags of compressed air that can be filled to keep the truck riding higher and more evenly.
Even without extra weight, an air suspension has other advantages. Such as automatically adjusting the truck's height on the highway to increase fuel economy, or dropping down to a lower position when the truck is in park to make it easier to get in and out.
But those benefits come at the cost of complexity. Compressors, valves, solenoids, sensors, and electronic control modules all present a potential fail point.
And yet, the most complex issue of all is figuring out how Ram can continue to sell this upgrade to owners in cold weather climates that can't use it for half the year.
Ram Air Suspensions Don't Work in Cold Weather ∞
If the outside temperature dips below freezing, there's a good chance Ram's air suspension will stop working. That's a big deal for people who live in places that have, oh what's it called ... WINTER.
When the air suspension stops working, it doesn't fail gracefully. It delegates the task of absorbing bumps and keeping your vehicle safely upright to four deflated rubber bags. And as you might imagine the ride quality sucks. That can also affect steering control and make the entire experience miserable.
Owners will stop using their very expensive trucks when it gets too cold outside because the alternative is to feel drunk or queezy after the ride.
But what is it about the cold air that the suspension doesn't like?
Frozen condensation in the compressor, valves, and lines ∞
These cold weather areas aren't cold all year round, and the extreme temperature swings will create extra condensation in the compressor and air lines of the system.
As the temperature drops that moisture will freeze and restrict the flow of air or keep valves in a stuck position.
Road salt always causes problems and this case it's no exception ∞
A longer term threat is the road salt used in cold weather areas. The salt can corrode fitting or air lines and cause leaks, but to be fair coil springs aren't a big fan of road salt either.
Here's the bottom line: If you live in an area where the temperatures routinely fall below freezing, talk to other owners. They'll probably tell you to not buy a Ram Truck with an air suspension system.
Design Changes in the 5th Generation Trucks? ∞
There's rumors that FCA made some changes to the air suspension system starting with the 5th generation trucks (2019+). It's possible they exchanged the nitrogen based system for something else.
It's too early to tell if those changes made a difference.
Other Ways Air Suspensions Fail ∞
If the air suspension is giving you problems above freezing temperatures, it could be due to one of these common issues:
- Air compressor failure Most air comressors are filled with a processed nitrogren air mixture that has most of the moisture removed. But if the system leaks or is not proerly maintained mositure buildup can kill the compressor.
- Valve or solenoid sticks Once again mostly due to any moisture. If a valve or solenide sticks it can over or under-inslate the air suspension system or potentially blow out a fuse along the way.
- The air bag fails or ruptures Once an airbag loses it's ability to hold air it's just, well ... a bag. Even the best synthetic materials can dry out and crack over the years. And they're not cheap to replace.
- Rusted out fittings or cracked plastic lines As mentioned above, road salt is good at destroying ice and just about everything else on the underbody of your truck.
Not Many Good Repair Options ∞
Dealerships say Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) has generally been useless in offering solutions or help to service departments.
And there's not much hope for a recall because FCA can probably win the argument that it's not a safety issue. Although there are increasing reports that air suspension can stop working while the truck is in motion, and there are arguments to be made for how safe that is.
Unfortunately owners are left to hope their warranties might cover the cost of a new compressor which is, at best, a temporary fix. Or to pay out of pocket to replace the air suspension with a standard system with coil springs.