Plug & play Airbag suspension?

Submitted: Thursday, May 03, 2018 at 20:22
ThreadID: 136645 Views:3504 Replies:7 FollowUps:28
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Hello, I have a 2017 pathfinder which is a company car & no modifications are allowed. When I tow my camper trailer the rear sags too much. Is it possible to have airbags installed without actually modify or drilling into the chassis. Also when I change cars would need to remove the airbags?
Cheers SS-ss
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Reply By: splits - Thursday, May 03, 2018 at 21:57

Thursday, May 03, 2018 at 21:57
How much ball weight do you have and what is in the back of the car? A car loaded correctly within the manufacturer's specifications will not go down at the rear any more than it has been designed to do.

If the ball weight is approaching the upper limit then you should not have very much in the back. Things like a loaded set of draws and a fridge could be too much.

What does the owner's handbook say about the use of a weight distribution hitch? If it says one must be used then you must use one. That is the way the car has been designed to get additional support for the rear end. Changing the suspension design is not the answer.

If it says you must use one then you are still not out of trouble. A WDH can damage the car or tow bar if the angle between the car and the trailer exceeds a certain limit. That rarely happens on sealed roads or smooth dirt but it is very likely when towing a camper trailer in the bush.

Air bags are exponential springs and this can cause a few problems in some installations. The more you compress them, the more they resist further compression.

Your coil springs are linear and compress in proportion to the load. If you double the load you double the compression. They will keep compressing like that until the axle touches the bump rubbers. They are also exponential and will bring the descending car to a sudden but slightly cushioned stop. That rarely happens in a correctly loaded car being driven sensibly.

Someone may have a bolt in air bag kit for your car but with the load you have and the high pressure you may need in them, their exponential feature may result in them hardening rapidly to the point where you will place excessive stress into their mounting points and crack them. I have seen that happen in your type of car.

In cab/chassis utes they stop the downward movement of the chassis at the top of the bag if the back of the car falls suddenly but the rest of the chassis behind them keeps going down. If the forces are excessive the chassis bends at the top of the bags.

I would be leaving the suspension alone and start looking at the way you have loaded it. Keep in mind each seat has been designed to carry the weight of a decent size person. It is very easy to load any four/five or more seat car with not enough of the total weight in the seats and far too much down the back.
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Reply By: Batt's - Thursday, May 03, 2018 at 22:00

Thursday, May 03, 2018 at 22:00
You could give Airbag Man a call

Also check the balance of you camper it shouldn't have to much weight forward of the axles 50 - 80kg on the tow ball would be enough. Your vehicle is just there to tow the weight around and not support large amounts of it. You also have to take into account any gear or persons in the rear of the vehicle.

The other problem is quite often the manufacturer claiming how much the vehicle can carry and how much tow ball weight the vehicle can support which often falls short of what most standard suspension on any vehicle can actually handle safely without the need for towing aids to compensate for their shortfall.
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Follow Up By: Member - Mark (Tamworth NSW) - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 07:38

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 07:38
Batts, the amount of weight on the Tow Ball is dependent on the weight of the Camper trailer, 80kg for some would be dangerously too light. My 1.5T Kimberley Kamper has 200kg ball weight, I'm sure Kimberley haven't made it that heavy without good reason. I'm told (validity unknown) Europeans work on 5% of trailer weight as ball weight , Australia's 10%. I'm not an engineer though.

I'm sure a good installer can come up with a way of attaching the two valve stems without making it obvious that your employer will notice. Attach them to a "L" plate which is screwed on somewhere obscure. Any clips for holding the airlines in place won't be seen. Your mechanic can remove the airbags easily OR you can decomission the airbags when you sell the vehicle without removing them. Unless they are going to get under the vehicle, 99% of people won't notice them, the bags when smattered with road grime they blend in and if not inflated won't affect your vehicle at all.
I use airbags on my Pajero when towing our heavy camper trailer, my last vehicle with airbags I sold with airbags to my father and he hasn't used them in four years
Airbags are a good compromise when towing something heavy for a week or two each year. Heavier springs are better, but then you suffer when you aren't towing.

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Follow Up By: Batt's - Wednesday, May 09, 2018 at 09:45

Wednesday, May 09, 2018 at 09:45
Dangerously to light sounds a bit over the top. I've never had any problems towing a pop top van weighing 1.4t with an 80kg ball weight which is fairly heavy and previously had a couple of 1t boats with similar ball weights.
As mentioned the trailer or van etc should be able to support most of it's weight and be balanced so as not to put to much on the vehicle and cause excessive sagging but be enough as to not do the reverse and try to lift the rear of the vehicle. But in saying that lots of vehicles are unable to support much weight on the tow ball without sagging because the factory springs are designed for comfort and not load carrying.
Most vehicles will be able to support your 200kg over the rear springs fine but place that behind the springs on the tow ball, it's a hole new ball game that 200kg of weight has now increased by a reasonable amount and the springs are unable to support it safely. So now the stability of the vehicle has been effected because the rear of the vehicle is sagging under the weight because of the te often incorrect springs the manufacturer has fitted. Each to their own I've never had any problems towing and have always set things up so everything is running level without the need for excessive tow ball weights.
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Reply By: Ron N - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 10:04

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 10:04
ss--ss - What happens if you fit the airbags to the Prado, and you happen to have a prang (just say some imbecile runs into you) - and the vehicle needs to be towed away promptly - meaning you won't get a chance to remove the airbags - and someone from your company finds them?
What are the potential ramifications of that scenario?

Probably more importantly, does company policy allow for towing with the vehicle?
Who fitted the towbar? You, or the company?

If the company fitted the towbar, surely you can argue with management that, as part of the towing package, airbags or heavier rear aftermarket springs are necessary, to ensure towing stability?

If you fitted the towbar, isn't that a "modification", against company policy?

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: RMD - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 11:15

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 11:15
Why would he fit airbags to a Prado when he has a leased Pathfinder?

I also ask how he isn't allowed to have any modifications, but then wonder how the towbar got to be fitted?
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 12:20

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 12:20
Sorry, RMD, a bit of brain scramble there, I had just been talking to a mate about his Prado. Of course, the brain typed Prado, when I mean to write Pathfinder.

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Follow Up By: RMD - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 13:20

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 13:20
No worry really.
I never get confused like that of course, but I do get things Frack to Bunt.
You can always blame iphone/Ipad predictive text which knows what you are thinking, going to think soon or someone else is thinking and it puts that in.
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Reply By: ss--ss - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 12:16

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 12:16
Thanks for the replies & the usefull information. The towbar was fitted by the dealer so it's allowed , the brake controller is also fine but it says no modifications to the suspension. This is imposed by Leaseplan which my company uses. As suggested I think I'll leave it stock & rearrange the weight. I do carry my Engel fridge in the back of the car full loaded. Unfortunately the camper I have is designed with pretty much all the weight Infront or on the axle.

Cheers Ss--ss
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 12:25

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 12:25
It's an unfortunate fact of life that way too many vehicles have excessively soft rear springing - and it appears the Pathfinder is also one of them.

In fact, of all the vehicles I've driven, the Nissans seem to be the worst for badly set up suspensions.
I have bad memories of driving an early single cab Navara that had the most shocking suspension setup, that I think I've ever encountered.

Even the new Navara's apparently aren't so hot in the suspension dept, and it sounds like the Pathfinder would benefit greatly from some suspension improvements - so it's a shame that Leaseplan refuses to allow them.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: RMD - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 13:28

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 13:28
The spare wheel of your trailer could be repositioned more rearward, ie as close to the front of trailer body as is possible instead of where it is worst, or underneath if clearance is OK.
The BOX for "stuff" should be back against the trailer body and the PVC pipe thingo could go rear of the axle and mudguards.
That would relocate a fair bit of weight and be more favourable for the tow hitch and ball weight.
Any trailer battery and /or gas bottles may be best near the rear of trailer too.
Unfortunately makers fit longer drawbars and then weigh them down.
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Follow Up By: baznpud - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 16:17

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 16:17
Don't know if it's possible with your trailer, but have you thought about a WDH set up.
Go caravaning, life is so much shorter than death.

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Follow Up By: OutBack Wanderers - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 17:27

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 17:27
Gee's that's a long drawbar, if the trailer decides to start 'snaking' with that length, wouldn't it swing wildly? I had a 6x4 swing, but mine was easier to control because of the length and short drawbar

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Follow Up By: RMD - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 19:50

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 19:50
Outback wanderer
The long drawbar will make it more stable, not less. A 6 x 4 is less stable than the long drawbar trailers.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 20:14

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 20:14
Road train trailer dollies use long drawbars specifically to prevent sway and snaking. This lesson has been gained from long experience.

Many years ago, I followed a road train on a gravel road, that was using a short drawbar - and the end of the back trailer whipped from side a staggering amount - to the extent that you could see the huge snake-tracks it left in the dirt road.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: KevinE - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 09:32

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 09:32
I used to have a camper pretty much identical to yours ss--ss, I removed the spare wheel & carrier off the draw bar. The spare wheel will easily fit in the trailer, under the bed. The only poles I carried were those that I knew I'd use. They went on top of the bed when we packed up. So no need for a pole carrier on the draw bar. You should be able to move the toolbox back a tad & still open the lid? I drilled extra holes in the toolbox, rather than on the draw bar & covered the old holes with duct tape. Just check the tape occasionally. I got the ball weight down to 48kg. Also, in the photo, your tow bar hitch seems VERY long? Is that so you can clear the rear door of the car when you open it with the camper hitched up? If not, I'd take a trip to a tow bar seller, with the camper hitched up & see if they can improve that for you. Good luck mate!
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Follow Up By: RMD - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 14:27

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 14:27
Kevin E is on the money
Whoever fitted the towbar, and unless that ball distance is needed for clearance, the fitter of the towbar didn't care much about his customer.
That long tow tongue is levering the rear of the vehicle downwards with any weight.
The ball should be as close as is practical to the rear of the vehicle, not an outrigger.
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Follow Up By: Batt's - Wednesday, May 09, 2018 at 17:05

Wednesday, May 09, 2018 at 17:05
It's a shame the camper manufacturer like most others just load what ever weight they want in front of the axle and the buyer has to spend more money and time fixing this problem. If possible see if the water tank is as far back under the trailer as it can be. Also if the spare can be mounted on a bracket on the rear of the trailer or mount it on the side by modifying one of the rear jerry can holders if you don't use them. Lighter items forward heavy over the axle or to the rear a bit realistically there should be no reason if balanced correctly you should be able to lift the draw bar up by hand I would try and keep it below 100kg.
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Follow Up By: KevinE - Wednesday, May 09, 2018 at 21:15

Wednesday, May 09, 2018 at 21:15
Not sure that the configuration from the factory would have been a problem for most buyers Batt's. But we do lots of corrugated roads.

I removed the spare wheel carrier (thus the spare wheel) to avoid metal fatigue at the point where the carrier is fixed to the draw bar, while it's getting shaken like crazy with 40kg of spare wheel attached to the top of it. I didn't do it as a weight shift.

I had the spare wheel in the tub of my Ute, but suggested putting it under the bed on the CT in this thread, as the OP has an R52 Pathfinder, not a Ute. The R52 is basically an on road car, with all of the niceties that brings. But that also means that it will sag if a trailer is attached. My mods to improve touring seemed to fit his needs.

Re the water tank; ours was fitted at the back of the CT from the factory & on our 1st trip it became very apparent that had to change. It made the whole rig pitch like crazy (southern YP if you know the area, isn't much fun while pitching)

I emptied it for the trip home & never had a problem after that. The water tank never got used again while we owned the CT.

We then took the CT to the Gawler Ranges & then the Oodnadatta Track/Mereenie Loop/Palm Valley/Mt. Dare/Dalhousie/Chamber's Pillar/Lambert's Centre/Painted Desert & realised that we had never used the kitchen on the tailgate, so that was removed too!

That CT used to tow like a dream, no matter how it was configured, and it went on many more outback trips after that.

I think that the issue the OP refers to is more because the car is designed to be comfortable, rather than how it tows a CT.

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Reply By: Hoyks - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 19:55

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 19:55
You could argue that the suspension hasn't been 'modified' by fitting up-rated springs that maintain the same ride height, just that the springs had been replaced with a non-genuine item, similar to changing to A/T tyres. It will all come down to the wording of the lease agreement I suppose.

A pair of coil springs is around the $200 mark and probably easier to swap out than an air bag kit with the associated brackets and plumbing. Spray them black and who would know they had been changed (... provided you don't send Leaseplan the receipts)? If the vehicle is written off, I doubt the assessor will be noting that the springs don't look factory and reporting back to Leaseplan.

I had a lease vehicle and replaced the rear springs as they were too soft and smacked the bump stops way too often for my liking and that was just with all the baby equipment for a weekend away, let alone camping gear and a trailer.
I claimed the 'replacement springs', but fitted them myself. Claim was paid and no questions were asked.
AnswerID: 618681

Follow Up By: splits - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 22:12

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 22:12
In all of these discussions about heavier springs or air bags, few if any posters mention the changes this will make to the car's handling characteristics except to say that it rides or looks better.

Loading up the rear end and stiffening the rear suspension is a real good way to change the car from its factory designed understeer to one that now oversteers. If you swerve suddenly in an emergency or go a little too fast into a corner, the car will now be prone to swinging its tail out and spinning instead of running out wider at the front as the manufacturer intended.

That can be a hair raising situation to be in but it will be a hell of a lot worse when you are towing something as many caravan owners have found out although they may not be aware that their suspension modifications could have contributed to the accident.

When you alter a car's suspension design you may get what you want but you will also get something else. Knowing what that something else is is vital if you have any interest in road safety. You should be restoring some of the lost understeer from the front suspension.

There are some photos and charts here that cover it briefly.Photos/Charts
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Follow Up By: bellony - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 22:43

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 22:43
What has a higher spring rate?
A car that has standard springs and airbags to assist when needed so that it sits at the manufacturers spec ride height, and therefore has the standard amount of bump travel
the same vehicle with standard springs sitting on its bump stops.
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Follow Up By: Hoyks - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 23:19

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 23:19
... and putting a few ton of van on the back won't change things from how it rolled out of the factory either.
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Follow Up By: splits - Friday, May 04, 2018 at 23:33

Friday, May 04, 2018 at 23:33
A car that has standard springs and airbags to assist when needed so that it sits at the manufacturers spec ride height, and therefore has the standard amount of bump travel

How do you know it has the standard amount of travel? You have installed an exponential spring in a suspension that has not been designed to work with one. You now have two springs. If you really must stiffen the suspension then install a stiffer coil spring. They will fully compress but an air bag will be like a rock by the time they are around 70% compressed That could be before the car would have reached the bump rubber had it still been there.

Stiffening the springs at either end of a car will transfer more weight to the outside tyre in a corner. So will increasing the load on either end and leaving the standard suspension there. The end with the greater load on it will be the one that slides out first.

As you keep increasing the load on a tyre in a corner, you keep reducing its traction. That is why they will hang on to a point then let go and slide and a steel belted radial will let go suddenly with little if any warning.

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Reply By: Gbc.. - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 10:11

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 10:11

You have a tank tank so bits are readily available. Just need to cross match the parts with the Aussie firestone guys. It states the the kit is ‘no drill’.
AnswerID: 618688

Follow Up By: Ron N - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:17

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:17
Being a Yank tank pretty much explains the soft suspension on the Pathfinder.

The engineers always used to "upgrade" the suspension on American-built cars to "cope with Australia's rougher road conditions".

I guess the engineers now think our roads have improved to the level, where they match America's highways.

Or maybe some senior manager decided they would save money, by keeping the suspension standard across the board, for every country they're sold in.

I reckon the heavier spring swap is the way to go.
Australian aftermarket improved springs use better steel than the OEM fitment - and airbags are a fairly dubious method of coping with more weight, because they concentrate the heavier load on a smaller area of the chassis or body.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Gbc.. - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:48

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:48
I concur. If springs are available I’d be going that way too. I didn’t see any from the usual suspects for that model during my cursory squizz though.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:55

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:55
GBC - I'm a little puzzled now - the 2017 Pathfinder review that I linked to in the post below, seems to indicate that the 2017 Pathfinder is built in Thailand - and the previous model was built in Spain?

Are you saying the Pathfinder was built specifically for the American market, not actually built in America?

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Gbc.. - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 12:00

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 12:00
Yep. Available on the USA market so good aftermarket opportunity for the OP.
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Reply By: Ron N - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:44

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 11:44
ss-ss - Here's an interesting thing to check out. Is your Pathfinder a Series II or a Series I?

The Series II was released in early 2017 as the 2017 model.
With the release of the Series II Pathfinder, Nissan bragged about a "suspension upgrade", that saw "stiffer suspension at every wheel".

It would be interesting to find when your Pathfinder was built - because I notice, in the Pathfinder "for sale" ads, for recent model Pathfinders, there can be up to 9 or 10 months between build date and compliance date.

This could mean, that even though you have listed your Pathfinder as a 2017 model, it could be that it's a 2016-build Series I with the softer suspension.

In that case, simply acquiring a set of the current Series II springs, could be the way to go.

Car Review - new 2017 Pathfinder

Cheers, Ron.
AnswerID: 618690

Follow Up By: KevinE - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 19:51

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 19:51
Ron, I'm still intrigued by your comment above re early Navaras having very bad suspension & linking that to the current Navara - please feel free to elaborate mate.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 21:02

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 21:02
KevinE - The first series of the current Navara body style follows the Navara trend of simply having a poorly set up suspension.

Virtually every review I have read on the current-shape Navara from when it was released, remarked on the poor rear coil suspension, that sagged too much under load, and which suspension setup delivered poor handling.

The current model Navara has apparently had suspension tweaks to address the issue. I understand these tweaks are a definite improvement to the rear coil setup.

New Navara to address suspension issues

Fisrt drive - New 2017 Navara

Previous Navara's always had a plethora of complaints about the suspension.

Problems and recalls - Nissan Navara - 2015-on

The D40 Navara didn't only have suspension problems, it just simply had a lot of build quality issues.

Product review - Nissan Navara D40

My middle nephew bought an early Navara D21 new (1986), and he ended up rolling it on a bend on a gravel road in 1988 - which we finally put down to poor suspension, and poor handling response.

I drove a D21 as a hire return for a couple of thousand kms, from the Pilbara back to Perth around 1989, and I have never experienced such a terrible ride and handling response from a vehicle - and I've driven a lot of vehicles.

That D21 Navara bucked and bounced and pitched like a rodeo bull. Any sunken culvert or dip in the road saw the back end bounce sky-high, and the kickback through the seat was something shocking.

When I got back to Perth, I was stiff and sore from the ride that thing gave, and the handling kept me on edge all the time I was behind the wheel. It was like two different groups of people had each designed the front and rear suspension, and neither group had talked to each other, such was the lack of suspension tuning.

A good mate also bought a new Patrol in 2009, and the rear springs on that, failed completely (sagged beyond belief) at around 25,000kms!
He was fortunate, Nissan "came to the party" and gave him a new set of rear springs.

However, it appears that Nissan's attention to suspension tuning, and suspension construction and build quality, has been poor for quite a long time.
The reviews on Product review appear to be largely genuine and the Navara doesn't come out of the owner reviews there with a very good report card.

Cheers, Ron.

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Follow Up By: KevinE - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 21:48

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 21:48
There ya go Ron!

I owned a D21 & found no the suspension to be fine, no matter where i took it. Also owned it's predecessor, the Datsun 720 & no complaints about that one from me either. Have also owned two of the model that superseded the D21, the D22 & have had no dramas there either.

Back to my question though, please feel free to elaborate on how you link an old leaf sprung D21 (which was a cracker of a Ute in its day by the way) to a new coil sprung D23. especially the latest model D23's where the suspension issues have been addressed?

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 22:23

Saturday, May 05, 2018 at 22:23
The only link is - they're all Nissan! And all Nissan ute suspensions are substandard to me!
But people buy what they love with rose-coloured glasses, and can't find fault, where many others do!
Just knowing about Nissan's history of the way they treat their customers when it comes to warranty claims, is enough to make me steer clear of buying a Nissan.

Cheers, Ron.

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Follow Up By: KevinE - Sunday, May 06, 2018 at 21:53

Sunday, May 06, 2018 at 21:53
Thanks Ron! :) your post clarifies that you simply don't like Nissan.

For the record, we've also had Holden's, Ford's, A Subaru, Mitsubishi's, a Mazda, and shock horror, Toyota's! (and a few others)

No rose coloured glasses here Ron! Nor brand loyalty!

The Datsun/Nissan utes have all been good, they do have faults, but suspension isn't one of them.

What a shame that the "many others" couldn't find the Navara forum to discuss their woes. If suspension was the issue that you seem to imagine it is, it would be all over that forum, but, it's not!

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