Truck springs have their limitations. Add too many leaves and the vehicle rides like a skateboard. Try to improve the ride with a softer suspension and when you hook up your trailer or fill the bed with a load, the headlights point toward the sky and you wallow through the washboard. Overload springs can help, but they too have their limits and can result in a harsh ride. There is no magic answer.
The good news is that auxiliary air-suspension kits and heavy-duty sway bars can solve much of the problem. Hellwig Products in Visalia, Calif., has been manufacturing aftermarket and OEM suspension components for 65 years. The company recently introduced its Big Wig Air Suspension and Big Wig Sway Bar for heavy-duty pickups.
We installed the Big Wig suspension kit on a Ford F-250 topped with a Four Wheel Camper. Fully loaded with fuel, water and LP-gas, the truck tipped the scales at 10,640 pounds. Our F-250 mule had already been modified with a Rancho 4-inch lift kit, larger tires, and an aftermarket bumper and winch. These are all heavy and add weight to the vehicle. This points to an interesting fact. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of any truck is the maximum weight that can be loaded into/onto the vehicle. By the time you add aftermarket accessories like bumpers, lights, winches and passengers, it’s very easy to exceed the GVWR. This can dramatically influence the ride and handling of your vehicle.
Driving our test F-250, with the relatively lightweight Four Wheel Camper onboard, we could feel the body roll in corners and on quick lane changes. And with the addition of food and camping gear, the rear end did squat a little.
The Big Wig Air Suspension kit we installed comes with all the necessary hardware, hoses and fittings. An air fill valve can be placed on the rear bumper in a convenient location, allowing the suspension to be manually adjusted. This system is ideal for the vehicle that is empty most of the time, but occasionally carries a heavy load. It does require an air source and most fuel stations have an air hose. The deluxe kit we used includes a compact compressor and a reserve air tank, both neatly tucked up under the frame. The compressor turns on automatically whenever the pressure in the tank gets too low. A dual-needle pressure gauge in the cab lets you know what each air spring is doing, and ride height can be adjusted as you drive.
Even more convenient is the self-leveling accessory kit. Remarkably simple in design, a mechanical arm attaches to the differential housing and senses whenever a load is present. As the rear sags, the sensor arm opens a pressure valve on the tank, bringing the truck back to level. When the load is removed, air pressure is automatically released.
Contitech, a division of Continental Tire in Germany, makes the new air spring bags. It uses a special weave in the spring that produces a softer expansion and a longer extension, yet actually tests to higher pressures than competitors Hellwig considered. The air springs are significantly larger than others, and the mounting brackets have been beefed up to handle the heavier loads.
We took a test drive over the mountains to California’s coast from the central inland valley where Hellwig is located, and the F-250 took the tortuous roads in stride. We weren’t expecting a 10,640-pound, 4WD truck with a 4-inch lift and big tires to drive or ride like a BMW, but even with the camper on the back, the big air springs seemed to cushion the harshness of the spring packs well.
It should be emphasized that while aftermarket suspension products often do significantly improve the ride and handling of a vehicle that is towing a large trailer; they do not change the factory engineering of the frame, axles or brakes, and cannot increase the tow rating or payload weight ratings of the vehicle.
The basic Hellwig Air Spring kit has a suggested list price of $617. Installation takes about 90 minutes. The deluxe auto-leveling kit, with compressor and tank lists for $840 and can take two to three hours to install. All Hellwig Air Springs come with a two-year warranty. Metal components have a lifetime warranty.
Hellwig Products Co., Inc.: 800-435-5944, www.hellwigproducts.com.
To read more about the test including the installation of a Hellwig aftermarket sway bar, find the July issue of Trailer Life on newsstands or subscribe!