Part 2, The Soft Machine: Is the truck of today too soft? Many hunters and fishermen think so. Let’s look at the situation a friend of mine encountered with his late-model Suburban. Doug is an avid waterfowler, big-game hunter, and fisherman who tends to push his truck to the limit. He’s been bogged down in a South Dakota cornfield while goose hunting, buried in a Nebraska mudhole while deer hunting, and high-centered on a remote Missouri trail while trout fishing. Though most of his towing is done with a small boat, he occasionally tows bigger loads. He is also a gear freak of the first order--which means he tends to overload the truck with all manner of hunting and fishing equipment.
“My frustration is that I picked a 3/4-ton Suburban so I would have extra load-carrying capability,” Doug told me. “But the rear of the truck sags noticeably when it’s fully loaded. And under heavy braking, the nose really dives. What’s going on?”
Welcome to the world of the modern truck. There was a time (back when television cowboys Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy ruled the range) when the sport utility was viewed primarily as a work vehicle. It had a Spartan interior, three-speed transmission, and stiff leaf springs fore and aft designed to handle massive loads. The ride wasn’t pretty, but that was the nature of the beast.
These days we ask SUVs and pickups to do much more. The new breed of SUV/pickup owner expects passenger car comforts--that’s why SUVs come with plush interiors, comfy seats, and a ride like grandfather’s Fleetwood. Fine. But that trend leaves hunters and fishermen who drive offroad or tow heavy loads stuck in the middle. By “softening” the modern truck suspension to meet the requirements of new owners, manufacturers have compromised load-carrying capability for those of us who really need it.
Given the kind of performance Doug required of his Suburban, I recommended a suspension upgrade. First, he replaced the original equipment shocks with premium shocks, which utilized a sophisticated design that improved the shock’s ability to respond quickly and efficiently to widely differing driving conditions.
“Though shocks are often considered solely in the context of ride quality, they have an equally important role in traction and steering control,” says Snyder of Trailmaster. “By helping to maintain proper tire-to-road contact, a shock helps improve traction, steering response, and braking effectiveness.”
We opted for a quality shock to get that performance and to ensure it would mate well with the second part of the installation--auxiliary air springs.
Air springs are primarily load-leveling tools. This is a key role; a vehicle that is not level will not handle properly. By restoring the vehicle to level ride height, air springs also help ensure that the stock steel springs and the shocks work in optimum conditions.
Air springs, available for leaf- and coil-spring applications, use compressed air to inflate and deflate an air bladder to achieve the desired ride height. The controls are mounted in the cab for easy operation.
On the coil-spring application, a polyurethane cylinder is inserted into the spring and a feeder hose for the air is inserted into the top of the bladder. The springs can deliver 1,000 pounds of leveling capacity per pair.
There are two types of leaf-spring applications--sleeve and bellows, each of which is constructed of fabric-reinforced rubber, much like a tire. The sleeve type delivers up to 2,500 pounds of leveling capacity per pair. The bellows is a heavy-duty unit: It can handle up to 5,000 pounds of leveling capacity per pair. (Air springs are not available for trucks equipped with torsion bars.) Never exceed the manufacturer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which can be found in the owner’s manual. GVWR is the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and payload (your gear).
“Air springs help deliver the versatility that today’s truck owner demands. The system gives you the capability to fine-tune the ride under widely differing road and load characteristics, and it also makes for a more comfortable ride and better handling,” says Snyder.
Doug has had the system in his Suburban for a year now, and he remains impressed with how his truck handles, both on and off road, loaded and unloaded. “What a difference,” he said. “Sway and nose dive? Gone. They simply disappeared once I had this system in place. Last summer I drove to Canada to fish with four buddies. We filled the back of the Suburban to the headliner with camping and fishing gear. We even maxed out the roof rack. But the truck handled fine during the whole trip.
“With this setup, I feel like I can have my cake and eat it, too.” And that says it all.