Suspension modifications are among the first things drivers change on their cars, whether it’s for improving performance capabilities or just looks. The automotive aftermarket is full of options for suspension modifications for almost every car, but there are a few distinctive options to choose from. These include lowered springs, coilovers, and airbags.
In this article, we’ll be comparing airbags and coilovers, the advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as their effect on the car’s looks and performance. If you’re looking for a suspension upgrade, but can’t decide whether airbags or coilovers are the right choice, keep reading, but first, let’s go over the basics.
What Are Airbags?
Although the mention of airbags suggests the safety system that protects the car passenger in the case of a collision, cars can be fitted with different types of airbags that are actually a replacement for conventional shocks in the suspension system.
Suspension airbags are balloons made either from heavy-duty rubber or polyurethane, which are made in a way to withstand high pressure from the car’s weight. These airbags can either replace the springs completely, or assist them in absorbing the pressure from high-speed driving.
They can be found in luxury sedans and SUVs, but also in modified cars.
What Are Coilovers
Coilovers are the most similar to regular shock absorbers, with the only difference being that they have adjustable height and damping. This feature allows you to increase or decrease the height of your car, depending on your needs and preferences.
Most commonly, coilovers aren’t factory-fitted. Aftermarket components are used to improve handling, allowing the driver to adjust the ride height according to his or her need.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Airbags
Just like any other modification, both airbags and coilovers have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with airbags.
One of the first and most obvious advantages of fitting aftermarket airbags to your car’s suspension is the ability to control ride comfort. Aside from this, you can also adjust the ride height from the car’s cabin electronically. Some aftermarket airbags automatically adjust the height and stiffness depending on the surface and environment. Only high-grade systems are fitted with these features, but they’re also much more expensive than systems without these features.
Being able to adjust the ride height and stiffness doesn’t only affect how the car performs and drives, but you also affect how well you’ll feel the road. With a less stiff setup, your car will glide on the road, and you’ll have a feeling like you’re floating. For long drives, this is a great feature, especially if you’re driving kids.
Another advantage of having airbags in your suspension setup is the fact that you can get better fuel economy. Although it doesn’t seem like airbags and fuel economy are connected, you can improve fuel economy by lowering your car while driving on the highway. By lowering your car, you’ll improve your car’s aerodynamics.
Airbags have some disadvantages as well. The main one is the price. Aftermarket suspension airbags cost significantly more than lowered springs or even coilovers. This also applies to the maintenance of airbags. Although they’re usually very durable, once an airbag fails, you’ll have to replace it immediately because the car will be tilted toward that corner. If this happens, the car will be very unsafe to use.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Coilovers
The first advantage of coilovers compared to stock shocks and springs is the ability to adjust the height and firmness. Adjusting coilovers is fairly easy by turning the knob on each coilover, and in most cases, one set of coilovers can either raise the car compared to the stock setup or lower it significantly.
The second reason why coilovers are a good modification is the fact that they improve the car’s handling. A lower suspension setup lowers the center of gravity, which in turn improves the handling capabilities.
Compared to air suspension, coilovers are also a more durable option, and offer a much wider range of adjustments. These adjustments include camber, caster, compression, and much more. Another advantage of coilovers is that they are significantly easier to fit to a car compared to air suspension.
Aside from the obvious advantages that make coilovers a great investment for amateur racing and track day cars, there are a few disadvantages as well. The majority of aftermarket coilovers will make the ride much stiffer compared to stock components, however, some reputable brands are known to keep the ride comfort intact. Higher-quality coilovers also cost more. Adjusting coilovers takes time, and requires a couple of specialized tools for the job as well. Air suspension can be adjusted on a flip of a switch.
Which is Better For Daily Use?
If you’ve put your mind to replacing your stock suspension with either air suspension or coilovers, you’ll need to think long and hard about your needs and requirements.
If you’re looking for the possibility of quickly adjusting your ride’s height without losing any comfort, air suspension is the right choice, but if you’re looking for a suspension setup that can be adjusted more than just the height, coilovers are a better choice.
When it comes to aesthetics, airbags are the most common choice. They’re mostly fitted to heavily modified vehicles used for various car meets. Driving the car to the meet place at a comfortable ride height will make it easier for you, no matter how far you’re away from the meet, but once you park your car at the desired space, you can slam it to the ground in a matter of seconds. If you’re looking for performance, coilovers are a better choice, mostly because of they have expected performance no matter how extreme the circumstances are.
Both air suspension and coilovers have similar functions, however, the way they do what they do make them completely different. Both options are used for specific applications, and once you’re certain about what you need, and what your budget allows, you can choose the adequate replacement for your stock suspension system.