There have been a lot of long-standing head-to-head competitions over time: Coke versus Pepsi, McDonald's versus Burger King, and hydraulics versus airbags. When it comes to adjustable suspensions, the debate never seems to end. Which method of lifting and lowering your truck is the best, and how do you know?
The thing is, comparing hydraulics with airbags is a little like comparing apples with oranges. Each method has its advantages, and its disadvantages, but they are significantly in their function. Because of that, we're here to help you make an educated decision in which method of adjustable suspension is best suited for you. We'll explain the advantages and disadvantages of each method. We're here to clear up the gunk.
A few things that you should know before doing either method:
1. Don't do this unless you're willing to get dirty.
Adjustable suspensions, be it airbags or hydraulics, require some form of maintenance. From the simple things such as cleaning out your valves, to the more complicated rebuilding of a cylinder, an adjustable suspension needs work occasionally. Most of the work is generally no more complicated than changing your oil, but you'd better know what a wrench looks like, or you're in trouble.
2. How much work are you willing to do or pay for?
Every install is different for every truck, so keep that in mind. You may cruise your S-10 into the local shop and ask them to lay it on the frame on 17s. On the other hand, you could ask them to body-drop your truck on 22s and make sure it clears the tires to turn. Whichever method you use to lift your truck off its pavement-scraping stance can affect how easy or how hard it's going to be to clear those tires.
How It Works: Hydraulics
Hydraulics get a bad rap. Plain and simple, a lot of people have a misconception about hydraulics and their place in the custom-truck industry. Hydraulic adjustable suspension systems, also known as juice or lifts, are the original adjustable suspension. Back in the '60s, early lowriders adapted pumps from the landing gear of planes to their rides so they could lift them up and down. The problems came in the form of leaks, broken pumps, and poor installations. A lot of people associate hydraulics with messy oil spills, hopping cars, and tons of batteries, but we're here to explain what you can really do with juice.
The premise is simple enough: Use a hydraulic pump to extend a cylinder, and use that to lift your ride. That's the easy part, so let's dig a little deeper.
A hydraulic pump is made up of a few different parts. The pump assembly is anchored to a block. Attached to one end of the block is a motor, and at the other end is a tank. Inside of the tank, attached to the block, is a pump head. When the motor is given power, it turns the pump head, which pushes the fluid out to the cylinders. The fluid is controlled by valves, called dumps, which direct the pressurized fluid into the cylinders to extend and lift your truck. When you want to drop the truck, you open the dumps, causing pressure to release and push the fluid through to a needle valve called a slow-down valve, and through the slow-down you can adjust how fast your truck drops.
The pump has to get power somehow, though, and that's where batteries come into play. You can use any number of batteries, and the more you use, the faster your truck lifts. Each battery is wired in series, so the voltage on the last battery in the series is what ends up going to the pump. To switch the power from the batteries to the pump, a solenoid is used. A solenoid is basically a heavy-duty relay that you activate by hitting a switch. When the circuit is activated, the solenoid opens and power is given to the pump.
Your basic hydraulic setup requires the following: pump(s), dump(s), fittings, hydraulic hoses, cylinders, switches, batteries and solenoids. For more information, check out www.prohopper.com. It has a wealth of custom pictures and even an install guide to putting hydraulics into an S-10.