Around-Australia adventure trekkers Craig and Lesley Short have provided the ultimate air helper suspension test for 4wd aficionados and work vehicle owners by taking an airbag-equipped veteran Toyota Troop Carrier with 500,000km on the clock right around the country towing a substantial camper.
The nearly 16,000km three-month adventure holiday was completed on a Firestone Ride-Rite rear airbag system fitted more than 10 years to a 1994 vehicle which at that stage was already well accustomed to tough use as a combined building tradesman’s vehicle and recreational tow vehicle for boats, trailers and mobile accommodation.
The standard Ride-Rite kit with which it is fitted – supplied by Firestone Industrial NSW distributors All-Air Suspension – uses the same type of air bags fitted to heavy vehicles, including semi-trailers on which kilometres achieved frequently exceed 600,000, 700,000 and even a million kilometres.
In the case of the Short’s vehicle, where it is combined with heavy duty springs, the airbag system followed up 10 strong years of service in contractor and holiday mode with a bravura performance on tour, when it comfortably handled an all-up weight of 2.5 tons over routes ranging from (occasionally) sealed highways to the rutted tarmac and dirt of the Savannah Way and the pitfalls of the Gibb River Road.
Cargo on the overland odyssey ranged from electrical generators and camping paraphernalia through to nine heavy jerry cans of diesel fuel water for the vehicle and reserves of water for its occupants, including faithful old dog Kayley. The self-sufficiency this extra weight provided is essential when venturing out onto deserted roads and tracks where sometimes travellers don’t see another soul all day, says Craig Short, a tradesman joiner, house builder and jack-of-all trades in his day job, who has also undertaken numerous intrastate and interstate holiday and adventure outback and bushland trips on the 4.2 litre diesel Troopie.
"The airbags are as good as the day they were fitted. They definitely give better ride and handling over all conditions," said Short, whose driving covered all mainland States and the Northern Territory, from Birdsville to the Kimberley, Kununurra to Australia’s west coast down to Margaret River, then around the starkly remote and beautiful regions of South Australia and Victoria before returning via Broken Hill to Mittagong.
"There were some shocking roads out there – the Gibb River Road was one – where Lesley reckoned significant parts of her might have jumped right out of her bra without the air bags. At one stage, 65km of the Ningaloo track took 3.5 hours. There is not a soul out there – and that’s the beauty of it. But you have to be able to depend on your equipment to go there."
In use on 4wd and work and recreational vehicles, Ride-Rite kits offer improved ride, flat handling and reliable braking with the chassis level, square and true even when towing and carrying heavy loads. Complementary Coil-Rite kits for coil-sprung vehicles also offer stability benefits, particularly when towing.
The Shorts set up their Ride-Rite system up for about 40/50 psi for running the vehicle without towing, then adjusted it upwards when towing, which took the worst shock out of truly shocking roads.
Most vehicles are designed to handle regular bumps and potholes, but under a heavy load or bad roads they may struggle more. If the vehicle becomes very unstable in these situations, additional support is needed on the suspension. Braking and steering can be compromised otherwise, says All-Air Sales and Marketing Manager James Maslin.
Suspension sag can also be a problem with heavily loaded vehicles. If one end of the vehicle (typically the back) is visibly lower than the other, the suspension sag means that the vehicles suspension is not able to cope with the load. Driving with suspension sag leads to extra wear and tear on the vehicle, as well as making it less safe when braking and turning.
Difficult terrain, heavy loads and blazing heat weren’t the only challenges faced by Craig and Lesley Short. "Sometimes nature would throw in a few flooded rivers and bogs, just to get our attention, says Craig Short.
"You wouldn’t want to be the first to take your own vehicle into them. You wait for a tourist to go in first and see how they go. Then you decide about driving through, splitting the vehicles, or winching.
"One of the best things about the airbags when manoeuvring or camping was how easy it was to hook up and unhook the trailer. You have a range between 190-240 mm of vehicle raising and lowering to play with, just by pumping it up or releasing air, meaning you can raise or lower the back of the vehicle by that much to clear obstacles or to slip the towbar into place.
"You just adjust the air pump to get the vehicle the right height, put the ball under the socket and drop it down or lift it up lift it up, depending on whether you are coupling or uncoupling. It’s done that simply – no mucking around with the jockey wheel.
"After I bit of practice, I even managed to back the ball right over the socket in one hit. It was brilliant when you are setting up and breaking camp, when there are a thousand things to do.
"At one stage, we had to replace a part of the (non-standard) in-cab controls and we were without the airbags for a week or so, then we really struggled.
"We saw a huge difference and couldn’t wait to get the airbags back to work. We couldn’t have done the trip without them," says Short, who reckons the airbag-equipped Troopie is ‘just run in’ and ready now for the next adventure.
All-Air Suspension provides Firestone airbag kits to support suspensions, particularly under heavy or uneven loads. They can be adjusted for varying loads and road conditions by simply inflating or deflating, just like inflating a tyre. Airbags are used for front-to-rear and side-to-side levelling control of a vehicle. This enables a vehicle to "level up" when towing caravans, boats and trailers or when a vehicle or truck is carrying heavy, uneven loads – providing full adjustability for off-road or passenger loading.
If any of the above scenarios sound familiar, it might be worth contacting All-Air Suspension, a leading Australian provider of air suspension, or airbags and related equipment for 4wds, utes, SUVs, vans & light trucks. All-Air Suspension is the national distributor for Airbag Man’s number one air spring from Firestone Industrial.
All-Air’s experienced team will suggest the optimal solution to any towing or suspension problems. They have the highest quality products to suit every application, including:
Ride-Rite airbags, designed to fit between a vehicles chassis and the axle or leaf spring to provide levelling control, front-to-rear and side-to-side, when a vehicle is under load. The heavy duty double convoluted airbags are a two ply, reinforced rubber bellows.
Coil-Rite airbags, designed to fit inside existing coil springs to provide levelling control to a vehicle when under load. These airbags are made of durable polyurethane, providing years of comfort and stability to a vehicle.
On-Air, a full air suspension applied to vehicles with coil spring suspension. The coil springs are removed totally and are replaced with airbags. The airbags are heavy duty two ply, reinforced rubber rolling sleeves, the same construction as used on heavy duty trucks and buses.