Towing Tips: This Is How You Use Air Bags When Towing

Whether you’re towing for weekend fun or work, doing it correctly is very important. Doing it improperly can not only put yourself in harm’s way, but it can also endanger other road goers too. Unfortunately, seeing trucks towing improperly is very common. I’m hoping that this article will reach those who don’t know better and they can apply what they’ve learned here to their everyday towing responsibilities.

First off, it’s important to identify what your truck’s towing and hauling capabilities are. This will vary depending on its configuration, but it is easily found in the driver-side doorjamb. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is what the maximum amount of weight your truck should be carrying. This is a safe metric to follow.

As you can see, this camper is a lot for this Ram. It may be capable of pulling it but the nose is high and the tail is slammed. It needs some help to safely tow this big of a camper.

Once you know what you can tow, move on to finding out what suspension settings work best. Your truck is designed to haul trailers, but when loaded down, it can aim the headlights into the sky, make the steering wheel light, max out the rear suspension, and even cause braking issues. Adding airbags can make all the difference. But, although airbags can help tremendously, that doesn’t mean truck owners know how to properly use them.

We see it all too often where people complain about rough or bouncy rides and swear against these upgrades. I’m here to tell you, more than likely, it’s an operator error. Air bags are great and can help any truck that tows but doing it properly is key.

What Is Happening?

Two more great examples of why it is so important to have airbags or some sort of suspension helper.

For those out there who are complaining about a rough ride with their airbags, chances are you’ve got them too inflated. It is important to identify the load you’re carrying. Not all loads require the same bag pressure which leads me to my next note. Add your air into the bags before loading the truck down. Once you’re loaded, then make your adjustments until it rides correctly.

People will often air the bags up with it loaded and that can be detrimental to the bags. If you have the bags aired up too much, the truck will ride very rough. Every bump will feel like much more than that and your passengers will probably be complaining. Been there. What about those who complain about the truck bouncing?

Chances are if the truck is loaded down and you do have air in the bags and the truck is still bouncing, you don’t have enough air in them. For these bags to work properly, you have to have them adjusted properly. Typically airbags run 70-80 pounds of air in them while towing. This is an overall average so this gives you a starting point.

This truck is loaded down with a good-sized bulldozer and with the help of its onboard suspension, the truck is nice and level.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that even though 70-80-pounds of air is average, it doesn’t work best for me. I usually tow a truck on my 30-foot gooseneck trailer and I suffered from a rough ride. Rather than complaining about it, I made my adjustments and it was everything that I needed. When the bags were maxed out, it was taking the factory suspensions help away.

I found that when I took the pressure down to 50-PSI the truck still rode level but offered a much more comfortable ride. Again, every load is different and it is up to you to make it right. When towing with airbags, it comes down to three things. Stability, Ride Comfort, and Level Vehicle. Make your adjustments accordingly.

Below is a graph I’ve made up using my truck and load as a suggestion.

[Based on 12,000-pound load on ’11 Ram 2500 with airbags]

Airbag Pressure Stability Safe Zone Level Truck
5 PSI to 30 PSI Very bouncy, complaining passengers, straps come loose on load, unlevel truck, headlights into the trees NO NO
31 PSI to 50 PSI Controllable steering, softest ride, load maintains tight, steering is easily controlled YES YES
50 PSI to 80+ PSI Extremely rough bumps, somewhat nose down ride, possibly damaging to other suspension components NO YES/NO

Shown in the picture is our Project TowBoat at 30-PSI. Although it will tow like this, I saw quite a bit of bounce. At just 15 or 20 more pounds of air, the truck is level and the ride comfort is night and day better.

Again, the above graph is something I made based on my typical load with my truck. For what you’re towing, maybe that 5 PSI to 30 PSI is where you need to be. Maybe you’re towing heavy and that 50 PSI to 80 PSI is your safe place. At the end of the day, you need to have a soft ride, your steering and braking need to be stable and controllable, and lastly, your truck needs to be level. This will warrant the safest towing experience.
What are your thoughts on this? What is your typical load on a trailer? Do you run your bags at a lower or higher pressure? Let us know in the comments below. Stay tuned to Diesel Army as we take a deeper dive into more towing tips.

About the author

Artie Maupin

Artie Maupin is from Southeast Missouri and has an extreme passion for anything diesel. He loves drag racing of all kinds, as well as sled pulling competitions.
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