Whether it’s a glass company delivering an expensive new display or a snowplow keeping your grocery store parking lot clear, maintaining a stable load on the road is the name of the game.
And while today’s ride stability systems may not be as complex as those serving the big rigs, they are every bit as important at keeping accidents and costs down and keeping things moving smoothly and safely.
Here are a few of the more popular ride stability systems on the market that can improve suspension and handling, reduce wear of parts and help prevent accidents.
Available on the Mercedes Sprinter for years in Europe for recreational and utility purposes, Firestone’s Ride-Rites have found their way to many hard-working light duty fleets here in the states to help manage loads.
“Most of the trucks today are outfitted for commercial usage,” says Firestone Ride-Rite product manager Paul Gibson. “They end up having a load on them all the time.”
To Gibson, ride stability is simple: Maintain vehicle height and position in the face of heavy, non-centered loads.
”If it’s a glass truck or plumbers’ truck or a van, most for years have had a right-hand sliding door,” Gibson says. “So people put their racks and things on the other side, so depending on the industry it was being used in, all of a sudden you had 500, 600 or 1,000 pounds of pipe fittings on one side, and maybe a 250-pound driver, and they can’t figure out why the vehicle kind of leans.”
The same can be said for the thousands of snowplows trudging across North America these days. But variable or off-set loads are no problem, Gibson says, because you can keep the air springs separate and inflate or deflate to keep proper vehicle balance.
“You take a 600 to 700-pound plow and stick on a three-foot lever arm and now the front axle is seeing close to 1,000 or more pounds,” Gibson says. “So we’ve developed kits for most of those vehicles so they can support the load of the plow, so when the plow is on, the truck still maintains ride and handling characteristics that were intended by the manufacturer, and when the plow is taken off, you can reduce the pressure and still keep the front end in alignment.”
Gibson said one reason pick-up trucks ride much better than in the past is because they are now so commonly used purely as passenger vehicles.
“They just kept softening them up so they would be acceptable,” he says. “That’s where air really comes into play, because you can inflate or deflate, depending on what the load is, and keep the vehicle square and maintain the ride and handling characteristics the (OEM) intended.”
Gibson says the bottom line is that stability systems ensure that vehicles handle and perform the way the manufacturer intended, even when loaded past capacity.
”No one tells you what that vehicle is going to look like or handle at maximum (load-carrying capacity) without any additional support,” Gibson says. “So suddenly the back’s down, the front’s up, braking is not as effective, steering is affected. (You want) the headlights pointing in the right direction, and not hunting ‘coons. It makes it a lot safer and handle better and corner better.”
The more a fleet uses its vehicles, the more these systems can provide a benefit, Gibson says.
”A guy who’s got a load in there, day after day after day—those steel springs start to lose their supporting ability as time goes on,” Gibson says. “It may have started out life two or three inches high on the rear end, but after 75,000 miles on it, it’s level or something below that, especially if a utility body or power tailgate is installed on the back end.”
Short of making sure that the installation is done correctly and the system has full pressure, Gibson says there’s really very little for technicians do, as far as troubleshooting and maintenance.