Nefarious Racing

Air Bag Suspension VS Coilovers: Which Is Better?

Coilovers Vs Air Bags Thumbnail

If you are looking to lower your car and you want to be able to adjust the suspension, you have two options:

Coilovers or air bags.

Often the topic of hot debate between car enthusiasts, both of these options give you the ability to adjust and fine tune your ride height. However, they both come with pros and cons.

In this blog post, I’m going to cover both options in detail and give you the pros and cons of each, so that you can select the right suspension for your car.

Air Ride Suspension

Air Bag Suspension

Air ride suspension, also known as “air bags”, is literally as the name suggests – it consists of a bag of air instead of a coil spring to keep the car off the ground.

Originally developed for NASCAR and popular with moonshine runners due to its ability to handle heavy loads, this suspension lets you quickly adjust the car’s ride height.

The bag is usually made from a type of rubber and is installed where the spring would go, while the dampers are left in place. The bag is then connected to an air compressor and reservoir which inflates the bag to raise the car. As the bags inflate, the car gets raised, and the ride becomes stiffer. As they deflate, the car gets lowered, and the ride gets softer.

This system is controlled either by a controller inside the car which lets you raise or lower the car, or some more modern systems also allow you to control it with an app on your phone.

Some airbag kits offer adjustable perches or shock bodies similar to those coilovers have, to allow you to get the bag height just right – so that the car is at the height you want it when the bag is inflated a certain amount.

The main benefit of air bag suspension is that you can quickly raise or lower the car’s height, within seconds, from inside the car, and is particularly popular with people who build show cars or want to be able to drive super low and raise the car as necessary.

Benefits of Air Bag Suspension

  • Allows you to quickly raise or lower the car, even on the fly
  • More comfortable at low ride heights than almost all other suspension types
  • Makes street driving at low ride heights much easier
  • Can handle significant amounts of additional weight

Disadvantages of Air Bag Suspension

  • Significantly more expensive than coilovers or lowering springs
  • Doesn’t last as long as normal suspension
  • The system is much more complex and has many parts that could fail, making it less reliable
  • Adds more weight to the car
  • Don’t handle as well as coilovers


Coilover Suspension

Coilovers are a type of suspension most popular for their ability to adjust the vehicle’s ride height. They do this by letting you either raise or lower the spring perch, or the whole shock body itself, which raises or lowers the car.

Originally designed for racecars, coilovers are designed to maximise the handling performance of the car, and allow you to quickly adjust the suspension settings. They were also designed to use universally sized springs to make it easy to swap out spring rates, though this is not the case with all kits out there today.

Coilovers have become extremely popular, with many budget kits flooding the market, due to being a relatively cheap way to lower your car and increase its performance while being able to set the ride height just right.

Better kits will allow you to adjust the dampening settings as well, allowing you to make the ride softer or stiffer, which is usually done by just turning a knob.

The main benefit of coilovers is that they offer incredibly consistent handling, and the ability to adjust the settings and set the perfect ride height, which makes them popular with both motorsport enthusiasts as well as those just looking to improve the looks of their car.

Benefits of Coilovers

  • Improve the car’s handling
  • Let you adjust ride height and other settings such as dampening and camber, depending on the kit
  • Cheaper and less complex than air bags
  • More durable than air bags

Disadvantages of Coilovers

  • Not as easy to adjust as air bags
  • Stiffer ride than air bags
  • Won’t let you run super low on the street without risking damage and getting stuck on bumpers

So, Air Bags Vs Coilovers – Which One Is Better?

Grey Lexus on air bags

The answer to this really depends on what you are intending to do with the car, and of course, your budget.

While air bags give you a more comfortable ride and quick adjustability, they are also more complex, significantly more expensive, less durable and won’t handle as well.

On the other hand, coilovers offer better and more precise handling, are less complex, tend to last longer and usually cost less, but they are harder to adjust.

So it really depends on what you need.

Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Handling Performance

White Honda NSX

Is cornering ability your priority? Then coilovers are definitely the way to go.

While some air bag kits have made significant leaps in handling performance, they just can’t provide the consistency, reliability and responsiveness of a good coilover setup.

There are many coilover kits that have done a fantastic job of combining ride comfort with performance, offering OEM levels of comfort while significantly improving handling.

Looks & Appearance

Modified Lamborghini with red wheels

If your priority is looks, and you just want to be able to lower your car and enjoy the ride, air bags are the best choice.

There’s a reason that air bags are popular with show car builders and mini-truckers. They allow you to quickly and easily drop your car to the floor, then raise it back up and drive home.

You also don’t need to worry about bumps or steep driveways, all while enjoying a comfortable ride.

Ride Comfort

Blue Audi driving on the highway

This is where the real advantages of the air bag suspension come in.

While coilovers certainly can offer a comfortable ride, and many kits are designed to give OEM levels of comfort, it is undisputed that air bags offer a more comfortable ride, just through the nature of their design.

This is particularly true if you are wanting to go low, as air bags will allow you to quickly raise the car and get over bumpers without hassle, which would not be possible with coilovers at a low ride height.

Air bags are also good for taking extra loads, and can be adjusted to support the extra weight, preventing your suspension from bottoming out.

If ride comfort is your priority, and the car won’t be seeing the track or be driven hard on twisty roads, it’s going to be impossible to beat the comfort air bags will give you.

Track Use

Red Nissan Silvia S15 drifting at the track

If you are planning to hit the track often, coilovers are definitely the better option.

There’s a reason practically every race car on planet earth today uses coilovers – they are the most consistent, predictable and precision suspension system available.

Yes, while NASCAR did use airbags in the 1940 and 50s, suspension design has moved on quite a bit since then and coilovers have taken over as the best performance suspension for track use (otherwise F1 cars would have air bags).

Whether you are doing circuit racing, drifting or drag racing, properly coilovers tuned are going to give you unmatched handling performance and durability. This is why if you go to a track day or racing even, practicably every car will have a set of coilovers – and you won’t see many air bags about.


Low vintage pickup truck

At the end of the day, everyone’s needs are different and your choice between air bag suspension or coilovers is going to depend on what you are looking to get out of the car.

You need to take into consideration if you want a comfortable ride, the ability to go low, ease of adjustment, handling performance, longevity and reliability.

Also keep in mind that air bag kits tend to cost significantly more than coilovers, so you need to take budget into account as well.

If you want suspension that will give you the best handling performance and handle track days, and you are not too worries about being able to adjust on the fly or a slightly stiffer ride, go with coilovers.

If your priority is going low and looking good and you want a comfortable ride, and don’t mind the added expense, potential reliability problems and added weight in the car, air bags are the choice for you.

I hope this article has helped you to make a decision on whether you should get coilovers or air bags. If you have any questions or would like to add some information, feel free to post a comment below.

Mateja Matic