For the last few years we’ve debated the superiority of hydraulics over airbags. After a few years of trial and error, and seeing for ourselves some of the developments, and witnessing some things that are just amazing on both sides of the debate, we’ve revised our opinion. Now we know that some of you are asking, “How can you compare airbags to hydraulics?” Well, we did and the bottom line is that the choice has become a matter of preference. One of the things that bags and hydros have in common is that both require some wrenching. Be ready to be a member of the busted knuckles club as nobody said that it was going to be easy to work on your lifted or bagged vehicle when repairs are needed.
One of the first things done to most new project vehicles is a suspension modification. If you dished out all of your money for a new project car or truck, and don’t have the funds to add hydraulics or airbags, or if you just want to lower your vehicle and have a sportier, better handling suspension, then a lowering kit will gain you the same look at an affordable price.
If you want to lower your ride, you should look into the right kit, from springs to spindles. Speaking of spindles, it seems that they’re not just being used to lower vehicles anymore. Some people are using them to clear 22- to 30-inch wheels on their “G-bodies,” as well as their “donk”-style rides. On the subject of wheels, wheel fitment and wheel clearance when lowering or lifting a vehicle should be an issue, because if you lower your vehicle too much, it might give you problems in the future. These problems can include bottoming out, and rubbing and scraping; all unwanted scenarios that arrive when you least expect them.
There are many choices or combinations as to how your ride will sit or lay when parked on that busy boulevard or flossing on that car show floor. Do you stick with tradition and do a hydraulic hookup or do you take the “new school” route that mimics the hydraulic movements using airbags? Some of the traditionalists or the hardcore used to flip out at the idea of using anything but hydros (or “juice”). Now, the technology has gotten better and members of all lowriding generations are split on what they will use for their suspension.
No active suspension system is perfect, but as we’ve mentioned, owning a custom car isn’t easy either. The choice of your suspension should be up to your needs, from the amount of room in the vehicle to the type of suspension that you have. Airbag suspensions are known for their smooth, spongy ride vs. the stiff, bouncy ride of hydraulics. If you opt to have airbags and you want the car to mimic hydraulics, a fast-valve setup is the one for you.
As with everything, there are always some consequences, or, as some people believe, you sacrifice one thing for another. Some of the disadvantages of airbags include air leaks and the problem of supplying adequate power to the air compressor. Compressors have a hard time filling up the air tanks quickly enough if you’re heavy on the switch. There are also compressors that can fill your tanks while driving. They operate from your engine and are belt driven.
If you’re into tradition, you should look into hydraulics and find the right kit for you. If you want to learn to work on hydraulics, you should buy a basic kit, which tend to need regular maintenance. If you’re not into wrenching on your hydros and you can afford a better quality setup, you should invest in something that requires less maintenance. Some upgrades that you can do to hydraulics include using Adex square dumps for accuracy and reliability, and Optima sealed batteries for power. People have even started to tube their hydraulic systems in pressure-rated tubing to avoid leaks in their setups, as well as avoiding popping hoses during normal wear and tear.
As mentioned earlier, no active suspension is perfect. Hydraulics do have some problems, but they get an undeserved bad rap. One of the disadvantages of hydros is leaking oil, which can normally be avoided when the system is plumbed right the first time. As for power supply, depending on your switch-happy trigger, you can usually use your batteries for about a week before having them charged. There are manufacturers like Power Master that just launched their 12- and 16-volt sealed batteries, which will give you the same punch with less batteries as they’re set for cranking power, which is what most of us use with hydraulics.
If you don’t use the right combination of springs, your car can get really stiff and bouncy, but that can be corrected by using the right set of coils for the weight. This is usually an action that’s done to cars whose owners just want to “lock and lay,” meaning that they just want the car to get over the speed bump.
Whether you’re sporting airbags or hydraulics or the right lowering setup for your ride, you’ll tend to catch that attention when cruising a lowered vehicle. If you get caught driving a vehicle with a lowered suspension, be ready to be clowned on by some switch-happy fool who will hit switches on anything. Why? Because he read about it last year in our annual Suspension Guide. Maybe you should have read our Suspension Guide, too. Now take a look at some of the industry’s latest products and find out what’s hot in today’s market. Don’t get caught slippin’; just swing what you’re in.