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How to Install Airbags for Better Towing With Your Pickup

Air springs are designed to support the rear springs when carrying or towing heavy loads. Here's a step-by-step how-to-install airbags guide.

20 Ram Towing TrailerAir Lift Installation
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We buy pickups to do a job — a job that sometimes requires hauling or pulling a heavy load that pushes the truck’s factory weight limits to the edge. When that happens, the pickup’s nose is high, the tail is low, and the handling becomes a bit dicey as the truck bounces through the dips and leans around corners. Installing an air suspension kit is the easiest way to get the ride and handling back to a safe state for a pickup truck tasked with trailering gargantuan loads.

How to Install Airbags for Safer Towing

towing car trailer
Heavy loads on a pickup raise the front suspension and drop the rear suspension, compromising the vehicle’s ride, handling, and safety.

Airbags or air suspension kits will reduce how much the rear springs compress under load. They provide an air assist to help the factory springs carry the load. That, in turn, levels the truck and reduces instability while cornering or driving over dips in the road.

Notably, airbags, or more accurately, air helper springs, are exactly that — helper springs. Airbags do not increase a pickup’s payload or towing capacity. The manufacturer sets those limits and doesn’t get better, regardless of what aftermarket suspension upgrades you install.

Ram AirLift 5000 Kits
The Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 air helper spring kit and Wireless One system puts load control at the driver’s fingertips; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)

Air Lift: Excellent Air Helper Springs

Air Lift Company, based in Lansing, Mich., makes one of the most convenient, popular, and infinitely adjustable aftermarket air helper spring kits. The company offers air suspension kits and accessories to fit nearly every popular pickup truck and SUV on the road. It comes as no surprise that their products are under a lot of heavy-duty pickups that tow big trailers or carry slide-in truck campers.

If you’re looking at how to install an air suspension kit yourself, the usual installation process follows three similar steps:

  1. Install the air-helper springs between the rear axle and frame
  2. Mount and connect the air compressor that inflates the two airbags
  3. Install some form of a controller for the air compressor

Once installed, a remote-controlled mini compressor will pump air into the airbags to level the rear of the pickup, Simple as that.

Following this process, we installed Air Lift’s LoadLifter 5000 Series (#25980) underneath a 2007 RAM 2500 Quad Cab 4×4 outfitted with a 5.9L Cummins. This pickup splits its towing duties between pulling a toy hauler on weekends and excavation equipment during the workweek. Bear in mind that Air Lift produces kits for Ford and GM HD pickups, too.

We also stepped up the leveling game by installing Air Lift’s slick Wireless One on-board air compressor system that allows on-the-fly air pressure adjustments via Bluetooth on either Android or Apple iOS device or by using the digital-readout hand control that comes with the kit.

How to Install Airbags: Helpful Tips

How to install air spring Ram AirLift 5000 Kits and parts
Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 kit and Wireless One kits ready for installation at Mobile Diesel Service’s shop in Sutherlin, Ore.; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)

Air Lift provides detailed instructions in each kit, along with online videos to guide you through installation and use. It takes about 4 hours to do the install. Thomas Smalley, the service tech at Mobile Diesel Service in Sutherlin, Ore., has successfully installed numerous Air Lift kits. We employed his skills to install the Air Lift system on my RAM 2500.

He said DIYers should read through the instructions, and then set the parts out for each side before doing anything else. It’s also very helpful to be able to do the work with the truck on a lift.

“Air Lift’s 18-page guide booklet is one of the best, with large photos and detailed instructions,” said Smalley. “A pickup owner with the basic tools shouldn’t be intimidated to do this at their home.”

One tip Smalley passed along: put an air hose nozzle to the air inlet fitting on each bag after securing the bottom brackets to the axle housing. Using compressed air will slowly raise the airbags until you can bolt the top mounting plates to the frame plates.

“Otherwise, it can be a pain to get the two plates close enough together to put in the attaching bolts when the truck is on a hoist (or jack stands), and the rear axle is at full droop,” Smalley said. “Or you can place a screw jack under each side of the axle housing and raise it up until the top plate on the air springs contacts the frame plates.”

Bluetooth Pairing

Another key point to remember: Do not put in the fuse for the wireless compressor/manifold until you are ready to make the initial link to the controller or app on your phone or tablet.

Once the fuse is in, the system stays in the Bluetooth “search/link” mode for about 2 minutes. If the Bluetooth pairing fails after 2 minutes, it shuts off, and you must remove and reinsert the fuse to begin again. We learned this from firsthand experience.

Wireless Air Control Gen 2

Ram AirLift 5000 fuse wiring
Air Lift’s Gen 2 Wireless One controller allows easy fingertip control of the amount of air in the air springs; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)

Using the Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 system is straightforward. The second-generation Bluetooth Wireless One system allows you to adjust air pressure up or down.

The screen of the handheld controller, or a more detailed visual schematic on a smartphone or tablet, displays the airbag’s psi level. Raise or lower the air pressure — measured in 1-pound increments — until achieving the desired ride height and comfort level.

It has a range of up to 20 feet away, which allows the operator to stand back and view the truck’s attitude while adjusting the air pressure to achieve a level stance. We found it only required 40-65 pounds of air pressure to maintain the level ride for the towing and hauling applications with this RAM 2500.

The frame-mounted Wireless One standard compressor is loud but does its job quickly, supplying a maximum of 100 psi to the air springs. The minimum air pressure should never go below 5 psi. This minimum value prevents damage to the air springs in the event the suspension fully compresses when there’s no load in the bed or trailer on the hitch.

Once installed, your new air springs can give your pickup truck a literal attitude adjustment with a shot of air whenever needed.

How to Install Airbags: A Visual Step-by-Step Guide

The images below show the highlights of the Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 air spring installation. These steps are typical of an air suspension kit installation on the majority of pickup trucks and SUVs.

How to install airbags Ram AirLift 5000 remove bump stops
The air spring mounts in the same location as the bump stops, and the latter is removed so the top mounting plates for the air-helper springs can be bolted into place on the frame rails; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 frame plate install
The first step is to remove the bump stops and replace them with special top plates where the air springs attach to the frame rails; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 swivel air fittings
Then the air springs are assembled by installing the swivel air fittings and top plates on the airbag bladders using the supplied hardware; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 air bag plate
The bottom metal caps and mounting plates are then attached to the airbag using special bolts supplied in the kit. It’s important to have the bottom mounting plate’s flanges facing away from the air fitting; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 flange location
Leave the mounting bolts a little loose until after the air spring assemblies are in place on the axle housing; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
automotive tech installing Ram AirLift 5000 air spring assembly
Thomas Smalley, a diesel technician at Mobile Diesel Service, adjusts and lightly tightens the airbag assembly to the driver’s side of the RAM 2500. Once both air-helper springs are in position, he’ll torque all the mounting hardware to Air Lift specs, as noted in the instruction booklet; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 inflated air helper spring
Pro tip: Using compressed air will slowly raise the airbags until you can bolt the top mounting plates to the frame plates; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
fitting inflated Ram AirLift 5000 air helper spring
Adding a little air helps raise the air springs, so the top plate of the airbag and frame plate on the pickup’s frame rail easily bolt together; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 air bag and brake line
Make sure the hard brake line and axle flange carriage bolts don’t touch. On non-ABS RAMs, the bolt goes behind the brake line, as pictured; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 torque lower and upper brackets
Once both air spring assemblies are in place, all the mounting hardware is torqued to Air Lift specs: Nylon locknuts @ 16 lb.-ft.; lower bracket hardware @ 20 lb.-ft.; and upper bracket/hardware @ 31 lb.-ft.; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
how to install airbags Ram AirLift 5000 mounting air lift controller and compressor
Installation of the Wireless One onboard air system is pretty straightforward. The compressor and manifold (control unit) mount on the outside of Ram’s passenger-side frame rail. We placed ours on the rail below the rear passenger door. A marker works fine to indicate where to drill the mounting holes. Air Lift also provides a paper template for those who don’t like to freehand such things; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
how to install airbags Ram AirLift 5000 drilling pilot holes in frame
A 1/8″ drill bit works for making the pilot holes for the self-tapping screws supplied in the kit. RAM boxed-frame rails were easy to drill out; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
how to install airbags Ram AirLift 5000 Marking Frame
We placed our Air Lift controller and compressor on the rail below the rear passenger door; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
how to install airbags Ram AirLift 5000 mounting air compressor and control unit to frame
The mini air compressor and control unit attach to the frame rail using self-tapping metal screws; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 wireless air compressor mounted
The positioning of the wireless air compressor (left) and the control manifold is crucial, so follow the Air Lift instructions; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 fuse wiring
The Wireless One kit comes with a wiring harness, controller, and a 15-amp fuse with a special holder. The controller connects to the manifold/compressor on the frame rail via Bluetooth. It makes adjusting air pressure from the driver’s seat or outside the pickup straightforward; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 compressor wiring
The Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 Series air helper springs are ready to go to work after running wiring and compressor lines. The compressor lines are push-to-lock, easing installation; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
Ram AirLift 5000 air spring installed on RAM 2500 truck
Properly installed airbags, aka air-helper springs, can help level the rear of any pickup towing a heavy trailer. Air Lift offers air suspension kits for just about every pickup on the road; (photo/Bruce W. Smith)
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