Pacbrake’s Amp air-suspension and management system provides app-controlled load leveling and utility air without in-cab components
Loaded vehicles tooling down the road with the back end sagging is not a pretty — or safe — sight. Not only does it look bad, but it adversely affects the handling of the vehicle. When the back end of a vehicle drops, the front becomes unloaded, reducing downforce on the steering tires, which can lead to loss of control. The headlight beam also raises, which can decrease visibility for the driver and impact oncoming traffic.
Truck engineers assume a truck won’t be loaded all the time, so they design a suspension that can withstand a rated load without resulting in a harsh unloaded ride.
A prime example is a 2017 Ford F-350 test truck with tiered springs in the rear and overload springs that come into play to handle the full-rated load, leading to a drop in the rear when a load is placed in the bed.
Leaf springs are made up of a master leaf plus tiered or stepped leaves that add carrying capacity and move/flex under load, giving a better ride. Rebound clips hold the leaves together, so they act as a whole. In the case of heavy-duty pickups, engineers often add overload springs on the top and bottom of the spring pack, which take up weight as the truck squats when it is loaded. While this works, especially for temporary loads, it can make for a miserable ride with prolonged loads, like hauling a truck camper or towing, not to mention looking like the Joad family while driving down the road.
Many products on the market act as load levelers, and each system has its benefits and weaknesses, which must be contemplated by the vehicle owner before installing. Some inexpensive systems technically work but result in a permanently harsh ride, while others, like some air-spring systems, offer on-the-go adjustability at a premium. In addition to front-to-back adjustability, air suspension can be adjusted from side to side to give more support to one side of the vehicle if it is heavier than the other.
When purchasing the Pacbrake Amp system, buyers choose Android or Apple iOS. Switching platforms after installation requires replacing the main plug-and-play control module.
A relative newcomer to the add-on air-suspension market is Pacbrake, a company known for its engine-exhaust-brake systems that are frequently found on diesel engines.
Pacbrake’s Amp division offers an airbag kit that, with the addition of a compressor, tank system and electronic controller, becomes a fully automated, adjustable system that doubles as a compressed-air source for filling tires, rafts and other inflatables, operating small pneumatic tools or sounding air horns — all managed from a smart device.
There are a number of choices when it comes to installing an air-spring system. Buyers can opt to install only the Amp Air Spring Kit. Each airbag has a Schrader valve for adding or removing air using an external source. While inconvenient, this does work, provided there are no leaks or changes in the vehicle weight profile, in which case, you’ll have to go outside to readjust.
For convenience, a built-in or portable compressor can be used to fill the springs on the go. In its purest form, this is still a manual operation, using a fill hose from the compressor and a gauge.
Lastly, an automatic pump and tank with a controller can be installed, which not only allows suspension adjustment while driving but also monitors pressure and provides air for things like air horns and an air-hose connection.
Controllers vary by type and complexity. Legacy controllers mount inside the cab of the truck and have a power switch for the pump, a control or valve for both airbags and one or two gauges to show the pressure.
Pacbrake’s Amp Wireless Air Spring Controls Kit completely changes the paradigm in onboard air systems. No longer are long runs of air line and wiring into the cab necessary. And there’s no need for gauges and a control panel, which take up space and create an increased likelihood of malfunction. Instead, the company has designed a controller, pump and tank system that can be installed under the truck and is managed by a mobile app on an Apple or Android smart device.
Installing this system is not for the fainthearted. The installation on the Ford truck took 10 hours at a Ford commercial truck center with lifts and extensive equipment, including access to Ford’s online shop manual with wiring diagrams to show where to tap into the accessory wiring harness.
When all is said and done, the end product was worth the effort. The fully adjustable, weather-resistant, iPhone-controlled air-leveling system provides instant air-spring inflation, thanks to the onboard air tank, and works flawlessly. Additionally, a quick-disconnect port makes it easy to hook up an air hose for inflating tires and the like.
The air springs have a six-month warranty to the original purchaser, and the brackets and air-management system are covered for two years. The Amp Air Spring Kit for the test truck sells for $449.16, but the kits start at $366.68, depending on vehicle application. The Onboard Air Kit (HP10164) has a 2½-gallon steel tank and a $414.46 MSRP. The Wireless Air Spring Controls Kit (HP10316) sells for $615.
Chris Dougherty is technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome. Chris is an RVDA/RVIA certified technician and a lifelong RVer, including 10 years living full time in an RV. He and his wife make their home in Massachusetts and hit the road in their heavy-duty truck towing their travel trailer every chance they get.