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Air ride suspension

I just learned that the air ride suspension (back) failed in my SUV. The mechanics I use don’t work on these suspension systems. Do most mechanics work on suspension systems or do I need to go to the dealership? (It’s a Ford Explorer 1996, about 96K miles)


For about $400 in parts and not too much labor, you can probably install conventional springs in this vehicle and disable the air suspension. It is a reasonable alternative to fixing the air suspension. I don’t, recommend it if you are going to keep the vehicle and you like the air suspension. They are very useful. It is probably easier to replace air springs than coil or leaf springs.

I am not familiar with the SUV air suspensions as I am with some of the Ford sedans. I never noticed any aftermarket parts for them so they may not be that common. Whatever further I type is from my knowledge of sedan suspension, which could be quite different.

Ford sedans changed the controls so they are more difficult to get error codes from the air suspension after ca. 1998, I think. After that dealers are about the only ones that can pull codes. There is a shop near me that specializes in air suspensions that can do it but that would be unusual. Maybe your SUV can be done with simpler scan tools, but not every shop will have even those.

Is the air suspension light on? Has it been going on for some time and you ignored it? It is quite possible that you have a leak that can be found fairly easily. The mechanic needs to figure out how to manually inflate the system by triggering the compressor relay and the air spring solenoids at the same time. With my system that is very easy to do at the connector to the controller. You just need to know what pins to ground. After that is accomplished, they can check for leaks by spraying the system with detergent and water. The air springs could quite easily be leaky after that many years. You could have other problems with sensors or other hardware as well. That is where it is useful to be able to scan the control “computer”.

Typically the air suspension light comes on and people ignore it when small leaks first appear. After a while the dryer on the compressor saturates with water because there is more pumping than venting. Moisture gets into the system and corrodes the pump or solenoid valves and there is a lot of damage. Unfortunately, there is no interval recommended for the dryer and I feel there should be.

There may be clues to what is wrong by when the air suspension light goes on, i.e… how many seconds after start-up. If no one here has more specific information about the Exploder system, you should try a board specific for your vehicle.

The air ride system is really not that complicated and most problems can be traced back to leaks at the ride height solenoid O-rings or the air bags themselves. The latter develop dry rot (like tires and belts) and cracks often form on the lower fold where the bag is attached to the strut, etc.
About all I can suggest is doing some calling around. Many larger metro areas seem to have a few places that advertise air ride repair in the local classifieds, etc.

For some more info on parts, DIY advice, and even the free use of a scan tool you might consider checking this site out.

I think they may even have a DIY diagnosis section there. Hope that helps.

It’s either the dealer or to a salvage yard to pull the springs from a standard model. The conversion to steel springs should not be too much trouble…