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Second-rate parts mean second-rate results

When it comes to diagnosing a problem, one of the biggest mistakes is thinking that the problem is gone after you’ve installed a new part. I’ve had vehicles brought in countless times with the same old story attached to them. The customer will say:...

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GearWrench Launches Street Team, a New Mobile Driver Program

GearWrench, a premier hand tool brand from Apex Tool Group, has announced Street Team, a new program that gives independent mobile distributors the support of an established tool brand without the restrictions of a franchise. "Response to the program...

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AUTO 7 Named Approved Vendor For Automotive Parts Associates

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Internal Engine Oil Consumption Diagnostics

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Hyundai Fuel System, Emissions Diagnostics

Hyundai has done a good job of improving its ­offerings over the years from both an aesthetic and mechanical viewpoint. Complemented by a strong warranty and good value, the carmaker has been able to increase its market share year over year. If you aren’t...

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Curing Volvo Manual Transmission Rattle

In an effort to increase fuel efficiency, today’s engines produce more torque so they can be ­driven at extremely low rpm. ­Reduced viscosity engine and gearbox oils, less vehicle weight and improved aerodynamics also contribute to better fuel economy....

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Servicing The Electronically Adjustable Shocks Of Full-Sized GM Trucks

Since the 2000 model year, GM has offered electronically adjustable suspension as an option on Chevy, Cadillac and GMC full-size trucks. The system actuates the valving in the shocks to control ­suspension position and body attitude. The electronic...

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Diagnosing Clutch Assembly Noises

Noise can resonate from many areas of a ­vehicle’s driveline. There are several types of noises associated with the clutch assembly. The release bearing is most often blamed for being the cause of noise when, in many cases, it is not the release...

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Making Sense Of Steering Angle Sensor Input And Data

Measuring the­ ­position angle, rate of turn and force of the steering wheel is critical for Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems. Scan tools call these Steering Angle Sensors (SAS) and typically display the information in degrees. The SAS...

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Talk To All Available Modules With Autel's MaxiDiag Elite MD802

Derived from Autel’s Professional Series tool, the MaxiDAS DS708, the MaxiDiag Elite MD802 enables the user to not only get into the OE enhanced OBD II system with mode 6 access and live data graphing, but it also allows a technician to scan the...

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Reflashing & Reprogramming Tools

In the first half of 2014, NHTSA has issued more than 15 recalls where the fix was to reflash a module on a vehicle. In the same time frame, more than 100 TSBs have also been issued where the solution is to reflash a module. These recalls and TSBs...

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Pulling Codes: An Advanced Misfire Story The Story of P0301

This article will document code P0301 — Misfire Activity on Cylinder No. 1 — a code many of you have run into, but sometimes we have case studies that are worthy of mention. Our subject vehicle is a 2007 Mercury Mountaineer. The vehicle has...

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Home Electrical Battery Air Ride: Compressor Diagnostics

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On most modern vehicles, the compressor and air ride control unit are very intelligent components. Most communicate with the Body Control Module (BCM) on a high-speed serial data bus. These systems have malfunction indicator lights on the dash and require the use of a scan tool to diagnose the system. 
 
Servicing modern air ride systems requires the right service information to interpret the “C” or chassis codes the air ride system can generate. A failure code and an illuminated dash light could be just a failure of the air ride module to communicate with the BCM. This could be due to electrical problems and not a leak in the air system or a compressor failure. 
 

With an enhanced or factory scan tool, it is possible to perform bi-direction tests on the compressor and valves during inspection. This can save you hours of diagnostic time waiting for a compressor to turn on and drain the battery or testing for an intermittent condition. Throwing parts at these vehicles without performing a proper diagnosis can result in an unhappy customer and lost productivity.  
 
The air ride module does more than control the ride height. The software controls the temperature of the compressor so it does not damage itself trying to inflate a leaking air bag. It can also change the characteristics of the air bag in response to how fast the vehicle is going and if it is in sport or towing mode. But most of all, it helps to filter out erroneous ride height readings so the best possible ride is achieved.  
  
Compressor Killers
Most passenger and light-truck compressors are diaphragm types that supply an oil-free air supply to the springs. A piston-type compressor can be found on applications that require a higher volume of air. 
 
Running the compressor for extended periods can over heat the compressor and damage the diaphragm or piston. It is very important to ensure that the source of air for the compressor is clean and as dry as possible.
 
In the air is moisture that can damage not only the compressor, but the valves. When air is compressed, the water vapor contained in the air is condensed into a liquid. If there is no means of removing the water from the system, it will find its way to all parts of the system causing corrosion damage or freezing.
 
Most systems have a dryer that is connected to the compressor outlet to absorb the water entering the system. The dryer contains a moisture-absorbing desiccant such as silica gel. The desiccant can hold a given amount of water and once the desiccant is saturated with water, it will allow water to pass into the system.
 
The dryers that are installed on most systems do not have an indicator that will show when it is saturated and no longer able to absorb water. An additional dryer with a moisture indicator can be added to the original equipment dryer. It can be installed in the supply line and placed in a position where a periodic check can be made.
 
Some systems have filters on the air intake for the pump. The filter removes airborne particles and acts as a noise muffler for the compressor. Some systems even send purged air back through the filter. This filter should be replaced with the compressor, and often this filter is attached to the compressor’s casing. 
 
Another killer of air-ride components is the compressor. As the compressor over heats and wears, it can send debris and oil to the rest of the system. This oil and debris can degrade the air bellows even after the compressor is replaced. This is why it is critical to flush the lines if a compressor has failed.  
 
Some systems have air reserve tanks or accumulators located in the most inconvenient locations, like below the C-pillar or next to the frame rail. If the system experiences a catastrophic failure of the compressor or air bladder, replacement or flushing of the reserve might be required.    
The health of the entire system depends on the quality of the air supply. It is rare for just one component of an air suspension to fail.  
Mechanical and Solenoid Valves
There are various combinations of both mechanical and solenoid valves.

The function of the mechanical or solenoid valve is to exhaust air from the spring(s). Each spring can have a valve. For the Lincoln air suspension system, there are five solenoid valves — one for each air spring or strut and one to exhaust air from the system. 
 
Most valves are used for a pair of load-assist springs. The compressor unit contains a one-way check valve to isolate it from the springs or a reservoir. The Lincoln compressor has a combination one-way check valve and exhaust solenoid valve to inflate or exhaust the springs individually. Whether the valve is mechanical or solenoid, it needs dry air to operate properly.
 
Plastic line is used to transport air in the system in sizes 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”. Most fittings are push-on O-ring type ranging in size from 1/8” to 3/8” Male NPT.
 
Air struts for some import vehicles can have even more complex valves, air chambers and accumulators on the strut body to keep the suspension taut under certain conditions. These types of struts will have both an air and electrical connection to control the valves on the strut and the hydraulic valves of the dampener.  
Dynamic Vehicle Trim
The Lincoln Continental Mark VIII is equipped with ride height sensors at each front wheel and one for the live rear axle at the driver’s side control arm. The sensors provide input to the controller for ride height. The suspension controller is programmed for two different ride heights.
 
Parked, the vehicle will maintain this height by compensating for passengers and luggage. When the vehicle is put into gear, the controller will raise the suspension ride height 0.75 inch (20 mm). When vehicle speed exceeds 63 mph (105 kph), ride height is lowered by 0.75 inch (20 mm). When vehicle speed decreases to 45 mph (72 kph), the vehicle ride height is increased. The differential between 45 and 63 mph provides a dead band where the system will not adjust ride height. This prevents the system from cycling with small changes in vehicle speed. With the ignition off and doors closed, the vehicle returns to parked height.
 
The rear air struts on GM vehicles are used to assist the conventional coil springs. Cadillac vehicles with Road Sensing Suspension (RSS) have an electrically operated hydraulic valve located at the base of the air shock. There are sensors located at each wheel that supply input to the ride controller that operates the valves in the air shock and front struts. The suspension height sensor is located on the driver-side control arm and the compressor is located in the rear suspension cradle.
Alternatives
There are suppliers that can provide economical replacements for both springs and struts. These alternatives replace the air ride components with springs and conventional ride control units. On some vehicles that still have 100,000 of miles of useable service left, these kits can offer an economical option for the driver. Also, some remanufacturers are willing to pay for the worn air ride shock or strut cores that come off the vehicle. In some cases, the core could be worth $300! 
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Andrew Markel

Andrew Markel

Andrew Markel is the editor of Brake & Front End and Servicio Automotriz magazines. He has been with Babcox Media for more than 12 years. He is a technician and former service writer and holds several automotive certifications from ASE and ­aftermarket manufacturers. He can be reached at [email protected]
Andrew Markel

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