The Air Suspension Upgrade Every Ford F-150 Owner Needs For Hauling and Off-Road Adventures

Photography: Brandon Cody

  • The 2016 Ford F-150 can tow an impressive 12,200 lbs and carry up to 2,157 lbs of payload.
  • Despite the titanic numbers, the F-150 does not come equipped with self-leveling adjustments, which can put immense strain on the factory suspension during these usage cases.
  • Firestone Ride-Rite created the first pneumatic suspension device in 1938 and has continually aimed to preserve and enhance ride quality for on and off-road vehicles.
  • The combination of Firestone’s dual-leveling air helper springs (Ride-Rite) and its heavy-duty air compressor kit offers individual air pressure adjustment as needed, reduced excessive suspension and tire wear, and level load support.

You don’t always know what you need until you need it. In the case of all things truck, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot I don’t know about. But spending time with Firestone has helped change that.

That name might be more synonymous with a tire brand and you wouldn’t be wrong. The American-born entity started in 1900 as a tire and rubber company, becoming one of the most recognizable names in the automotive industry in a handful of years. But its commitment to innovation never let it rest on its laurels. In 1908, it developed the first non-skid treaded tire. In 1925, it became the first tire manufacturer that supported speeds over 100mph. And in 1938, Firestone created the world’s first Airide™ air spring.

The last point is why we’re here today. Since its first Airide™ product 85 years ago, Firestone has invented, tested, and refined ride-quality components as our needs have changed. Today, its stringent Ride-Rite air-suspension products are trusted by several OEM manufacturers — including the largest names in the EV game. This development has paid dividends for the automotive aftermarket, too, including trucks.

THE WHY

A couple years ago, I didn’t know why air suspension products were relevant for trucks, but I quickly learned that utility, and the need for suspension-leveling adjustment that comes with it, is one of the most important usage cases of the segment.

The 2016 Ford F-150 pickup you see here can haul. It touts a 12,200 lbs tow and 2,157 lbs payload capacity respectively. While those are impressive standalone figures, it doesn’t take into account the additional suspension strain that the truck has to endure. The resulting rear sag is unfavorable on a multitude of levels: ride quality, suspension wear, tire wear, overall drivability, and even proper headlight leveling are all impacted.

COURSE CORRECTION

At the core, Firestone Ride-Rite products help correct all of those unfavorable side effects. On this F-150, the factory bump stops were removed in favor of Firestone’s own Ride-Rite setup. These rear “air helper springs” (2582) are responsible for facilitating the required sag offset for payload or towing. Part of my learning included what Firestone’s kit didn’t do; namely, the Ride-Rite system isn’t designed to raise or lower the ride height of the truck. That’s probably the biggest contrast to the air suspension systems more commonly associated with cars. In this realm, changes to height can hurt performance or cause parts to be stretched or compressed beyond their capabilities, resulting in premature failure.

The Firestone Ride-Rite system also doesn’t allow the truck to increase towing or payload capacity. “Even with the air springs, you have the same brakes, axles, bearings, and frame stiffness, which in part determines the vehicle’s load capability,” qualifies Firestone. “Ride-Rite air springs simply allow you to carry the maximum capacity of your truck more comfortably and without suspension sag or the poor handling that comes with it.”

SIDE-TO-SIDE

My crash course in off-road air suspension continued and I learned that there are two types of Firestone Ride-Rite air helper springs: single and dual-leveling. As a tethered setup, a single-leveling system puts equal air pressure into each side. By contrast, the dual-leveling system runs separate air lines to each bag. As a result, each air helper spring works independently, allowing side-to-side or front-to-back leveling as required for your usage case. 

AIR ON DEMAND

Up until now, we’ve only talked about the Firestone Ride-Rite system. In this case, that’s only half of the equation. Firestone also offers air compressor kits (Standard-Duty, Heavy-Duty, and Extreme-Duty) that offer electronic air pressure adjustment on the fly, whether via wireless (Bluetooth) app or analog control.

For day-to-day use, slide-in campers, trailers larger than 20’, or heavy loads, the Heavy-Duty air compressor (2219) is recommended. It’s the one that we selected, too, since the truck will occasionally tow cars to and from the track. Since the Extreme-Duty compressor comes with a 2-gallon air tank, that is the best kit to buy for continuous usage, or if you think you’ll have to fill up truck tires after an aired-down session off-road.

NO GUESSWORK

As a newbie to off-road air suspension, this was a lot to take in. Fortunately, Firestone said that they’ve worked to simplify the decision process for enthusiasts just like me. This Firestone Air Command kit (2630) pairs that aforementioned Heavy-Duty air compressor with all the accessories you need to install it on your truck: dual-path fill control via wireless app, a loomed wiring harness, an easy-to-read analog gauge, and all the required hardware. To make your compressor setup a true plug-and-play kit, we’d recommend adding a no-drill mounting plate. At the time of our installation, this HD bracket (2635) was not yet available but should be rolling out onto shelves by October alongside its Extreme-Duty cousin (2636). Make sure you order the right one for your application!

INSTALLATION

So to recap, this Ford F-150 received Firestone’s Ride-Rite Rear Kit (2582) and its Air Command Kit (2630). In case we hit any snags, we entrusted the install to our tech gurus at R/T Tuning in Montgomeryville, PA.

The first step is getting the truck onto a lift to remove the factory helper springs. With the help of the included Ride-Rite brackets, Firestone air springs fit directly into the OEM locations — between the F-150’s suspension and frame — so that they are able to provide correction where the truck needs it most.

After the Firestone Ride-Rite Rear Kit was fitted, the Air Command Kit was next. Since the aforementioned mounting bracket wasn’t available, we opted to drill into the F-150’s frame to mount the ECU and compressor in the most secure and discrete manner. From here, it was just a matter of routing the 1/4” lines from the compressor to the air springs and running power from the Command Kit to the F-150’s battery. I’m always a bit skeptical when a manufacturer claims to have a “quick and easy installation” but it really was pretty straightforward, even to a truck novice like myself.

IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

The real beauty of this Ride-Rite and Air Command Kit combination is the ability to adjust it from your phone. As of now, Firestone has separate apps to download depending on whether you have a single-leveling or dual-leveling Ride-Rite kit, so just like the mounting bracket, it’s important to make sure you download the right app for your application.

Once the appropriate app is on your phone, you simply pair it with a 6-digit PIN and get to adjusting. Since our F-150 has a dual-leveling kit, target values for left and right air springs can be adjusted independently, or both together. You can monitor the actual PSI rise or fall from the meter above. The app also allows you to adjust your settings (memory, Bluetooth, or tank for Extreme-Duty kits), read faults, and update your firmware, amongst other useful features.

All in all, the Ride-Rite kit offers every truck owner a level of ride comfort and adjustability that is flat-out missing from traditional leaf-spring setups. And combining these air springs with an Bluetooth-enabled air compressor kit adds convenience that modern enthusiasts crave. Like it did 85 years prior, Firestone is adapting to our needs, even if we didn’t know it was something we needed. It’s that knowledge that makes it a brand we can trust today and likely for similar solutions 85 years into the future. 


 

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