Your vehicle’s suspension system is an important safety feature. How it is set up determines how it handles the movement of the vehicle and how it keeps all four wheels on the tarmac (or dirt).
Lowered suspension also changes the aesthetic, and car enthusiasts love a sports car that sits low, or off-road vehicles that are high.
In this article, we discuss what you should know about static and bagged suspension and outline the key things to think about when comparing the two.
What is Static suspension?
Most vehicles come with non-adjustable, “static” setups so the vehicle height remains the same.
Suspension components like shock absorber rates can still be altered to change the ride and handling, but the height remains the same.
Modified street cars achieve a lower, more aggressive ride height by changing to shorter springs or height-adjustable coilovers.
While it is the most conventional choice, it is worthwhile to assess if static is still the way to go.
Static suspension considerations
Installation and packaging
Installation is generally very easy as parts are replaced like-for-like. Installing lowering springs is about as easy as spannering gets on many cars, while coilovers replace the standard shocks as well so will take a bit longer.
Many coilovers offer adjustable damping, directly on the damper itself or electronically.
A full alignment will be necessary afterwards to adjust the ride height and damper rates, and ensure the ride and handling is satisfactory.
While the sky is the limit (like most vehicle modifications), lowering springs can start from just a couple of hundred bucks.
Several thousand can be spent on the most sophisticated coilovers with adjustable monotube dampers.
One motivating factor to install coilovers is to improve the handling of your vehicle, and for track use they make perfect sense.
A lower centre of gravity and stiffer springs and dampers sharpen up a car’s handling and help reduce roll.
It is, however, possible to make the handling worse. This can come down to a poor choice of spring rates and wheel alignments.
Given the setup is a “static” fixed ride height, a low car can be uncompromising to drive daily. Speed bumps, for example, are a frequent problem.
Front wheels can scrub inner guard liners turning on any lock and tyres can rub against bodywork if fitment is too aggressive. Hitting gutters and parking stops is a danger to any front bumper bar as well.
Lowering springs or coilovers will in most cases make your car stiffer and more uncomfortable as a result.
You cannot have a lower car without stiffening the springs, otherwise, your suspension will bottom out over every bump in the road.
Quality components should still offer a final result that is satisfactory and doesn’t pogo about uncontrollably with every change in road surface.
A stiffer car will be a noisier car as well, and every squeak and rattle will soon become obvious.
There are hundreds of companies offering aftermarket suspension components.
Some will be well-developed kits with loads of research, some will just be copies of established brands, and some will be cheap and you’ll get exactly what you pay for.
A static setup requires no more maintenance than standard suspension.
Springs can corrode and snap while dampers can leak and fail, but these are wear and tear components after all.
Higher-end coilover dampers can normally be rebuilt, but cheaper units may not be designed for servicing.
What is Bagged suspension?
In this section, we focus mainly on street cars that replace standard suspension with an air ride system.
For owners of 4x4s looking at airbags as a heavy towing solution, the installation is straightforward and relatively painless.
Airbags are added to the existing setup and inflation is often just as easy as inflating a tyre.
Modern cars with air suspension as standard have incredibly complex systems that automatically adjust the height to keep the car level when heavily loaded and lower it at high speeds for aerodynamics.
Settings alter the damper rates as well, and all this is often controlled with a separate ECU.
Air suspension systems have a rubber airbag that replaces the steel spring built into the upright damper/shock absorber (but sometimes the spring and damper are separate depending on the car). A controller allows height adjustment from the cabin and potentially damper rates as well.
Very cheap systems come with no air tank or compressors, but most kits are complete with all the required components.
Bagged cars are renowned for parking up and sitting on (or close enough to) the ground, but there is a lot to consider before going down this route.
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Bagged suspension considerations
Installation and packaging
For car owners looking at airbags (or air ride), the biggest headache is likely the packaging for an air tank and compressor. These are required so the car can be raised and lowered as desired.
The air tank is a lot like a small LPG tank. Air lines need to be installed between the air tank and each corner of the car, too.
Small air tanks can be used, but then the compressor will work more often to compensate.
A fully adjustable air suspension system will cost much more than coilovers.
The cheapest kit we found for front and rear bags for mini pickup trucks started at $1,100.
From there it only gets more and more expensive, but $2,000 to $3,000 seems to buy a kit that is reasonable in quality and complete.
Handling isn’t necessarily a priority for those looking at an air ride system, but with similar levels of adjustabilty to coilovers it should be possible to improve the ride, too.
This is no doubt air ride’s biggest advantage. An owner can adjust the suspension height at the push of a button, and a drop-down to the ground is possible.
The steep entrance of a car park is no problem as the car can be lifted to accommodate.
Air suspension should be comfortable and able to tackle any speed bump or pot hole.
Not only that, other benefits like reductions in noise and other vibrations should be achievable and far better than with coilovers.
Air suspension is more popular than ever before but cannot match the popularity of coilovers, or the choice.
Air suspension introduces some more electrical components that can potentially fail; the compressor and solenoids controlling height and damper valving.
It is hard to justify the labour costs to repair a leaking airbag or failed damper, so more often than not the entire upright is replaced.
static vs bagged Suspension: Which to Choose?
The terms “static” and “bagged” come up around modified cars, when discussing how a car’s ride height is achieved.
How low a car is, legalities aside is all some car enthusiasts care about.
Apart from overall cost, there are two major considerations that will determine which way a car owner will go:
1. Coilovers for outright performance
If performance is your #1 aim, coil overs are the best choice.
While modern air suspension can adjust within hundredths of a second, most racers and driving enthusiasts prefer the predictable handling a traditional suspension setup offers.
2. Airbags for stance and easy adjustability
If aesthetics are your only concern, air suspension is the way to go.
Lowered springs offer no scope for adjustment, and coilovers require manual adjustment on each corner.
With airbags, a car can be dropped to the ground within seconds and raised to its maximum height again in not much more time.
A coilover setup can obviously have the height adjusted, but it often requires the removal of the wheels to access the threaded spring seat.
Due diligence is very important and buying quality suspension components should be the highest priority.
Ensuring your car stays roadworthy is equally as important.
After that, determine what your car is going to be used for and what will bring you the most satisfaction before you decide on a static stance or bagged stance. There is no right or wrong choice here.