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How To Install Air Bags For Better Towing With Your CUV

Upgrade Your Crossover Utility Vehicle With Air Lift 1000 Air Bags

Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install

When most automotive enthusiasts hear about upgrading a vehicle’s rear suspension with “air bags” they immediately think of heavy-duty pickups towing monster travel trailers or hauling huge slide-in campers. However, airbags can also be a great addition to your CUV. Let’s dive into how to install air bags in a CUV (crossover utility vehicles).

Installing air-helper springs in coil-sprung CUVs such as Mazdas, Jeeps, Subarus, and dozens of other crossovers can improve ride, handling, and overall safety when the vehicle’s load and towing limits are pushed to the limits, which can easily happen when towing some of the nicely outfitted adventure-style travel trailers that are popular today.

Air Lift 1000 Air Bags
Air bags (aka air-helper springs) like these Air Lift 1000s, help lift-and-level the rear of heavily loaded CUVs. This kit was installed under a 2018 Mazda CX-5 AWD.

The unibody design and independent, coil-sprung rear suspension of CUVs provides a very car-like ride. But like all suspensions, they sag under heavy load, creating ground clearance issues. Upgrade your crossover with Air Lift 1000 Air Helper Springs and they will carry much of the added weight, keeping the rear of the vehicle level, just like they do on full-size pickups and SUVs. (Air bags don’t increase load/tow capacity, they only lift/level the vehicle.)

How To Choose The Right Air Bags

Air bags for CUVs, such as those used in the Air Lift 1000 kits by aftermarket manufacturer Air Lift Company, are placed inside the rear coil springs with air lines running to inflation valve(s) at the hitch or rear bumper. Changing the air pressure inside these little air bladders allows you to adjust the height of the vehicle’s rear according to the load. The Air Lift 1000 versions can support up to 1,000 pounds of added load.

Air Lift makes finding the correct universal air-helper-spring kit for your CUV simple with an easy-to-use sizing chart. Just input the inside diameter and height of the coil springs used on your vehicle and the automated system generates the part number. In the case of my 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD those numbers ended up being Air Lift P/N 60910.


Air Lift 1000 Air Bags
This Air Lift 1000 kit, p/n 60910, is what we installed on a 2018 Mazda CX-5 AWD. The kit comes with two air bladders capable of supporting 1,000 pounds, air line, inflation valves, and related hardware. Kits like these typically cost around $100.

How To Install Air Bags In A CUV

Installing air bags in your CUV is best done with the vehicle on a hoist and the rear tires removed. But they can be installed using an appropriate floor jack and properly placed jack stands. The more the rear coils can be extended, the easier the air bags can be inserted inside each one.

We found it also helps to disconnect the rear shocks. Again, not absolutely necessary, but with the shocks disconnected, the rear suspension can drop another inch, opening up the space between the coils even more to get the bladder shoved into place. If you find yourself tackling such an install and want to know how to install Air Lift 1000 air bags under your CUV, Air Lift provides excellent instructions with the kit.

Mazda CX-5 on lift with mechanic
Using a hoist and removing the rear wheels of your CUV makes the installation of the Air Lift 1000 kit much easier than doing the job using floor jacks. Rubin Vellalobos at Mobile Diesel Service in Sutherlin, Oregon, handled or install.

Once the air bladders are positioned inside the coil springs the air lines are routed above the muffler and on to the inflation valve or valves, depending on whether you want one inflator to fill both air bags or be able to fill the bags independently using two valves. The whole job can be done in less than two hours using the most basic of hand tools.

Driving A Mazda CX-5 With Air Lift 1000 Air Bags

After a week of driving the 2018 Mazda CX-5 AWD with air bags, I can say the Air Lift 1000 kit, inflated with the minimum of 5 psi, makes the ride a little firmer in the rear when it’s unloaded, or with the family aboard. (This vehicle had 37,453 miles on it before the upgrade and new Bilstein B6 shocks in the rear).

When a 2,000-pound travel trailer with 200 pounds tongue weight was in tow, the cargo area filled with gear, and enough air in the bladders to keep the rear level, the ride was very pleasant—and the handling in corners much more stable than it was without the Air Lift 1000s in play.

The same ride and handling was true when the rear seats in this  CX-5 were folded flat and the rear cargo area filled with seasoned-and-split oak firewood, which is one of the many ways I use my Mazda as a utility vehicle. Loaded this way the rear suspension squats a full 3-inches, and the front rises in a similar fashion, making handling feel mushy without the Air Lift 1000 kit in play.

These little CUV air bags really shine when the fully loaded Mazda AWD encounters sharper corners, dips, and off-camber sections of the road, reducing body lean and porpoising that was quite noticeable without the air-helper springs.

CX-5 towing into sunset
I found towing a travel trailer with a CUV is a lot more comfortable when equipped with Air Lift 1000s. Air bags improve stability and overall handling of CUVs when they are nearing maximum cargo/towing limits.

Is an Air Lift 1000 kit an absolute necessity for crossover utility vehicles? No. But these simple and easy-to-install Air Lift 1000 kits, which usually cost around $100, make an excellent improvement in the ride and overall handling of coil-sprung CUVs that are being used to tow small travel or adventure-style trailers, or are nearing the vehicle’s maximum load capacity with passengers and cargo.

How To Install Air Lift 1000 Air Bag in 9 Easy Steps

Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 1: Squeeze the air out of the air bladder, fold it up like a hot dog bun, then push it up into the coil spring. The air inlet can be up or down, depending on your application.
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 2: Install the supplied Air Lift plastic spacers under and above each air bladder to protect it from any sharp edges. Remove the cap on the air inlet to let each bladder re-inflate.
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 3: Run one end of the plastic air line up through the bottom spacer and push the line over the barbed air inlet on the bladder.
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 4: We routed the plastic air line from each air bladder down through the lower control arm, using holes already there,  them up and over the muffler’s heat shield to the rear bumper/hitch. Make sure the air lines are not in contact with sharp edges or making tight bends. where they could kink. Use plastic zip ties to secure the lines so they don’t come in contact with the exhaust system. (We cut the supplied air line into two equal lengths before attaching them to the air bladders.)
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 5: Push the two feed air lines onto the plastic opposing nipples of “T” and cut off a short piece of the air line to connect the inflation valve to the leg of “T” fitting.
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 6:  Drill a 5/16″ hole in the flat-4 trailer wiring plug bracket and install the supplied inflation valve. Air Lift supplies two inflation valves in the kit, so you have the choice of filling each bag separately or both at once. I’d use two valves if there was a lot of weight added to the top of the vehicle, such as a rooftop tent system or heavy cargo carrier. Otherwise, I prefer a single inflation valve going to both air bags so they fill equally and simultaneously.The filler valve can be located anywhere that’s convenient. Mounting it on the same bracket as the trailer wiring plug worked great on my 2018 Mazda Cx-5 AWD.
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 7: It’s important to secure the air lines so they don;t move around and are kept away from the exhaust. Heavy-duty zip ties work fine to hold the air lines to the lower control arms of a CX-5 to reduce chances of ground contact.
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 8: For this application, the minimum air pressure Air Lift recommends in each Air Lift 1000 air bladder is 5psi and a maximum of 35psi. Of note, Air Lift’s instructions also say to inflate the air bags to 30psi before adding the payload (cargo and/or hitch up the trailer) so the bag can “properly mesh with the coil spring.”
Air Lift 1000 Air Bags install
Step 9: This one little air inflation fitting feeding the Air Lift 1000 air bladders inside the rear coils springs makes it easy to quickly lift-and-level your CUV for whatever load it’s carrying. Keep air pressure at 5psi when your CUV is unloaded, and up to a maximum of 35 psi depending on load.


Air Lift Company

Mobile Diesel Service

Bruce W. Smith
About Bruce W. Smith

A veteran automotive photojournalist with more than 30 years experience as editor, writer, photographer for national 4x4, RV, boating and outdoor consumer magazines. Over the years Bruce has been a regular contributor to such titles as Four Wheeler, Diesel Power, Off Road Adventures, Jp, Offroad, Sports Afield, Truck Trend, Motortrend, Trailer Life, Motorhome and several boating publications. Also book author: https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Trailering-Your-Boat/dp/0071471642