Motorhome advice: A guide to motorhome suspension systems
Motorhomes are heavy beasts and the additional weight of equipment and height of the bodywork can increase the loads on the suspension. Manufacturers allow for the extra loads with the chassis and suspension systems they specify, but it’s possible to make significant improvements over the standard set-up.
As well as improving ride comfort, uprated springs or air suspension can significantly improve handling and safety, as well as other added benefits.
One method to prevent a motorhome’s suspension sagging is to uprate the original springs with stiffened aftermarket versions. These are available to suit both the front MacPherson struts of the vehicle, as well as the rear leaf springs, while some are available to fit inside the original springs for greater stiffness. They’re available for most common base vehicles.
The massive black drum-like structures above the rear axle on lorries are air-filled bags that link to a powerful compressor and can be adjusted to keep the vehicle level and stable. It’s tried and trusted technology that is widely available on motorhomes.
Air suspension allows the motorhome to carry a heavier load (ideal if you are up-plating for greater payload). It can also level the ’van and allow the driver to adjust the pressure to give optimum ride comfort and on-road stability.
Air suspension systems range from bolt-on assistance kits that can be fitted by a competent DIYer that sit in place of the bump stop or spring assistor – often referred to as semi-air – to more sophisticated ‘full air’ systems that replace the original springs and dampers with air bellows.
The most basic kits can be inflated manually with a bicycle or foot pump, while posher models have built-in compressors that allow the suspension to be stiffened/raised or softened/lowered at the touch of a button.
Air suspension systems can level a motorhome on the road and can also help level it on a campsite. However, dedicated levelling systems that use drop-down hydraulic rams to automatically level the static vehicle are best for this. If you hate the hassle of levelling blocks (and the storage space they gobble up) then a dedicated levelling system is what you need.
These systems create a completely level vehicle, even on uneven ground, giving flat beds, level tables and helping to ensure that less tilt-tolerant items (like fridges) function perfectly.
Expensive A-classes come with these systems as standard. Happily, you don’t need a six-figure motorhome to enjoy the benefits as they can be retrofitted to almost any motorhome.
An additional plus with a hydraulic system is that it can lift all four wheels off the ground, making replacing a wheel far easier. They can also tilt the vehicle to help drain tanks.
Will it fit my motorhome?
Most motorhome base vehicles are catered for by most of the nine systems featured here but, for comparisons, all the prices listed are for the most common Fiat Ducato/Peugeot Boxer/Citroën Relay base vehicles.
Basic air-assistors – such as air bags that replace the rear axle spring assistor – are relatively simple to fit and can be tackled by experienced home mechanics.
However, to fit uprated front springs, you’ll need a hefty spring compressor, which most home mechanics will not have access to. And, levelling systems and suspension upgrades that involve replacing the whole spring assembly are also best left to the professionals.
Certain systems also need to be linked into the braking system so we advise that all the systems detailed here are fitted by professionals.
Dunlop Air Suspension Kit: Fiat Ducato X250 (2006 onwards)
Price from £422
This tried and tested air suspension kit is available to suit the majority of base vehicles (most models of Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, etc) and replaces the original spring assistor on the rear axle with a bolt-on air bag unit made by Dunlop.
The kit is supplied with a manual pressure valve and air hosing as standard, but you can always add a compressor, plus a couple of pressure gauges and switches if you’d prefer (Marcle offers a complete kit with two gauges, two switches and a compressor for an extra £352).
As it’s a largely bolt-on kit, it’s not a difficult system to fit to your motorhome or campervan and you don’t need to jack the vehicle up or remove the wheels to fit it, so there’s no need for access to a ramp or jack when fitting.
With this system fitted you’ll be able to vary the pressure of the two air bags acting on the motorhome’s rear axle to achieve your desired ride height and it can be used to gain more clearance when boarding a ferry or going across an uneven campsite slope.
Varying the pressure in the air bags will also have a pronounced effect on body stability when you’re driving and will therefore mean much less body sway when cornering or tackling roundabouts a little quicker.
- Semi-air kit for rear axle
- Manual adjustment of pressure
- Bolt-on kit is easy to fit
Ma-ve Automatic Hydraulic Levelling System
Price from £4,495
At first glance, the Ma-Ve system seems to cost an awful lot at nearly £4,500 but, when you realise that this is a fully fitted price and it includes levelling rams on all four corners of the motorhome, plus all the plumbing and electrics, it offers a lot for your cash.
It does need plenty of man hours to fit and is not a DIY kit. Ma-Ve has fitting centres across the UK – see its website to find your nearest.
The system uses four hydraulic struts that are bolted to the chassis rails close to each wheel and each have a capacity of up to three tonnes (12 tonnes in total).
These are bolted to the chassis via laser-cut brackets (coated five times for rust resistance) and are linked via hoses to a hydraulic pump and reservoir mounted underneath the vehicle.
This Italian-made pump runs at between 120 to 200 bar (that’s serious pressure) and includes a manual release valve for emergency use (or if you suffer a flat battery).
An electronic control panel mounted in the cab allows you to either raise the jacks individually or to automatically lift all four simultaneously to get your motorhome perfectly level. It can also be linked to your smartphone via an app, so you don’t even have to be in your motorhome to level it.
- Fully automatic hydraulic levelling system
- 12-tonne capacity for heaviest motorhome
- 341mm stroke length on Ducato X250 front
E&P Hydraulic Levelling System
Price from £4,995
Featuring a hydraulic pump linked to a set of four powerful hydraulic rams, this E&P levelling system can be fitted to any motorhome and truck-based conversion and can lift vehicles weighing up to 24 tonnes. So it’s not going to struggle with a four-tonne coachbuilt!
Systems for campervans of up to 5.5 tonnes weigh 55kg, while systems for vehicles of up to 10 tonnes are typically around 125kg in weight.
The system is said to be able to lift and level the vehicle in under two minutes and can be supplied with either a push-button control panel, a remote control panel, or a newer touchscreen control panel (some dealers were offering this £200 upgrade for free at the time of press, it’s worth noting).
This hydraulic levelling system uses electronic sensors to work out the optimum level position.
The jacks are raised and lowered hydraulically at a pressure of up to 160 bar (so they can pull themselves out of frozen ground for example) and are designed to be maintenance free.
If you visit the company’s website you’ll find a list of all its UK dealers which fit these systems – many also work with dealers so it’s worth asking your local motorhome retailer as a first step.
It can take around two days to fit a full motorhome levelling system, so always check when booking.
- Fully automatic hydraulic levelling system
- Suitable for motorhomes up to 24 tonnes in weight
- Can level in under two minutes
Al-Ko Air Top and Comfort Suspension
Price from £645
As well as chassis, Al-Ko also offers a wide range of air suspension systems as well as a levelling system for the Fiat Ducato. These systems can be fitted to panel van conversions, as well as coachbuilts and A-class models equipped with an Al-Ko chassis.
This Air Top suspension system bolts in place of the original Fiat spring assistors and can be specified in either manual or automatic inflation versions, depending on the model of cab they’re fitted to. As well as improving road holding, they can lift the vehicle by up to 50mm – useful for steep ferry port ramps.
For the X250 generation (from 2006 onwards), Al-Ko also offers the Comfort suspension system for the front of the vehicle. This replaces the front MacPherson strut – which includes both the spring and damper unit – with a complete new air-filled strut. This can then be tailored in terms of pressure and ride height to suit whatever vehicle they’re going on.
A separate system offered by Al-Ko is the HY4 hydraulic levelling system, which uses four hydraulic rams linked to a pump system that’s controlled by a dedicated control panel. These are reckoned to be able to level the vehicle in one minute.
- Air Top for X230, X244 and X250 Ducato/Relay/Boxer models
- Comfort suspension for X250 Ducato/Relay/Boxer models
- Levelling system for X250 Ducato/Relay/Boxer models
Goldschmitt Air Suspension and Levelling
Price from £4,495
Part of the Erwin Hymer Group, Goldschmitt has been around for over three decades and its range of suspension upgrades and levelling equipment is designed to suit most motorhomes from smaller coachbuilts to mighty liners.
The products it offers range from uprated steel springs to fully air-suspended systems, which fit all the popular base vehicles.
Goldschmitt is a one-stop shop for those looking for suspension upgrades and, as the current catalogue details over 80 pages of suspension systems for most models of base vehicle and motorhome, suffice to say it is very likely to offer something to suit whatever suspension requirement you have.
From anti-roll bar kits for the rear axle of a Ducato, to Air Drive suspension for a Mercedes Sprinter, or fully adjustable OmniRoad air suspension for a VW Transporter, Goldschmitt sells it.
The range of hydraulic levelling systems – some with touchscreen controls – is equally extensive.
A full air system for a single-axle Fiat Ducato motorhome will cost £8,575, while the tag-axle version is priced at £9,325.
Both come with a three-year warranty and are sold via Erwin Hymer Centre, Travelworld dealership in Staffordshire.
- Mechanical spring and anti-roll bar upgrades for all models
- Semi and full air suspension packages
- Hydraulic levelling systems
Mad Suspension Springs and Air Helpers
Price from £245
MAD offers a range of uprated helper springs and assistor springs that are designed to fit both the front and rear axles of many models of motorhome base vehicle.
Some of these replace the original spring entirely, while others are designed to sit inside the original coil spring, or bolt next to the original leaf spring.
These extra springs give increased resistance to suspension compression and aim to reduce sag.
The springs it uses are also progressive, meaning that they get increasingly stiff as they’re compressed (as opposed to a linear spring where the stiffness remains constant throughout its compression stroke).
It also sells a variety of air bag suspension kits to suit most base vehicle applications and these can either take the form of air assistors that fit inside existing coil springs, or separate air bag units that bolt between the axle and chassis on purpose-built brackets.
Whether you’re seeking to reduce body sag on your motorhome or campervan, raise the ride height or improve its on-road handling, MAD is likely to have a system that will suit your needs.
The systems have the assurance of a three-year warranty.
- Mechanical spring and air upgraders for most models
- Springs add extra stiffness at full compression
- Three-year warranty on springs
VB Fullair 4C Suspension
Price from £6,450
VB offers a wide range of suspension upgrades to suit most base vehicles made from 2006 onwards.
As well as uprated coil springs, leaf springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, the company is known for its air suspension systems and offers both semi-air systems for the rear or full air systems for both the front and rear of the motorhome.
The FullAir 4C system replaces the front MacPherson strut on a Ducato with a complete new air bag-equipped strut, while the rear leaf spring is replaced with a new trailing arm and air bag system.
It offers the FullAir 4C system for the Fiat Ducato (van conversions and Al-Ko chassis models), Iveco Daily, Mercedes Vito, Renault Master and VW Transporter.
VB’s FullAir suspension is set lower than the original ride height to help improve vehicle stability on the move.
The driver can alter all the settings via the control panel and can raise the vehicle for loading (or boarding a ferry, etc) or lower it to give extra stability on a campsite and make accessing the vehicle easier. The system maintains a constant ride height when driving, automatically keeping the vehicle level, giving a great improvement in ride comfort.
The cost of fitting the FullAir 4C system varies from around £4,850 for a VW Transporter to around £6,450 for a Ducato van conversion and about £7,450 for an Al-Ko chassis Ducato motorhome.
- Full air ride system for front and rear
- For most base vehicles made after 2006
- Also has kits for Al-Ko chassis motorhomes
Glide-Rite Al-Ko Semi Air
Price from £1,750
As well as offering a wide range of air bag and mechanical suspension upgrades, Glide-Rite also fits hydraulic levelling systems. This particular system was developed exclusively by Glide-Rite for motorhomes on single axle or tag-axle Al-Ko chassis. The kit bolts onto the rear axle on bespoke brackets and is a semi-air system. It uses Firestone air bags linked to a heavy duty 12V compressor and allows the driver to adjust the air bag pressure to the desired ride height/stiffness via the supplied digital gauge. It is designed to level the ride height and will increase stability and improve handling.
The single-axle Al-Ko chassis kit costs £1,750 including fitting, while the tag-axle kit is £2,500. Both come with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty on all parts and a five-year warranty on the air bags.
As well as this semi-air kit, Glide-Rite offers a four-air-bag full air rear suspension system for the Fiat Ducato/Citroën Relay/Peugeot Boxer, as well as the five-tonne versions of the Mercedes Sprinter and VW Crafter.
It also offers the Intelliride Full Rear Air system for the 3.5-tonne Mercedes Sprinter, VW Crafter, Renault Master and VW T6. This electronically controlled twin air bag system can automatically adjust the ride height and actively adjust itself to suit road conditions. All very high tech!
- Compressor-controlled rear air bag system
- Fits single and tag axle Al-Ko chassis
- Three-year, 60,000-mile warranty (five-year for air bags)
Tesa Auto Lift 4 Levelling System
Price from £3,600
Unlike most other levelling systems on the market, the Italian-made Tesa kit sold via RoadPro uses electric actuators to power the lifting mechanism.
Tesa has been making the Autolift system since 2010 and has sold thousands of kits across Europe. The kit comprises of four legs that sit flush to the chassis when not in use. At the touch of a button in the internally mounted control panel, the legs rotate through 90 degrees and then extend vertically to give up to 160mm of extension. They can also be actuated via the supplied remote key fob so you don’t even have to get up from your chair to level it.
They’re designed to lift motorhomes of up to 6,000kg and, as they do not need a separate compressor to power them, they’re pretty light for this type of system, only reducing your payload by some 50kg.
As there are no hydraulic lines to run – just a central control box linked by a neat conduit-covered wiring loom to each of the four struts – it also makes for an easier installation as there are fewer components to physically find room for under the vehicle.
The system is powered by 12V, is maintenance-free and comes with a three-year warranty.
As with all the products it sells, RoadPro can fit it for you and prices for a typical installation start from £3,600.
- 12V electrically actuated ram system
- Can lift motorhome up to 6,000kg, weighs 50-60kg
- Three-year warranty
This feature was published in the July 2019 issue of MMM - click here to buy a digital edition of the magazine