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Honda Civic: Failed PCMs And CAN System Diagnostics

It’s not unusual for me to get help requests through my e-mail. Sometimes it’s from working technicians, other times it’s from vehicle owners who can’t get their problems solved through professional repair shops. In early 2014, I received one...

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Servicing Mercedes-Benz AIRMATIC Suspensions

The Mercedes-Benz AIRMATIC suspension system was introduced in 1999 on the S-Class and has subsequently been used on the E-Class and most of the automaker’s SUVs. The system employs electronically controlled air springs that provide an ideal balance...

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Mazda: Performing Regular Undercar Maintenance

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GM Power Steering Noise/Leaks

GM: Power Steering Noise/Leaks from Power Steering Pump, Gear or High Pressure Hose During Extreme Low Temperature Conditions MODELS: -2009-2015 Buick LaCrosse (Equipped with Hydraulic Power Steering) -2010-2013 Buick Regal -2012-2015 Buick...

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Ford Edge Brake Replacement

Ford Edge Brake Replacement Basics The Ford Edge is an SUV based on the CD3 platform. The brakes on these vehicles are straightforward and do not break any new ground. There were no major changes to the brake systems from 2007 to the current model. For...

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Live-Axle Wheel Bearing Replacement

Replacing wheel bearings on a vehicle with a live rear axle may not be one of the most frequent jobs, but it can be one of the most profitable. While the basics have not changed in more than 60 years, new seal materials and differential designs have...

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The Ins And Outs Of Sanders

Sanders are required tools in today’s collision repair shop. Body techs and painters rely upon them every day to achieve that perfect finish on your customers’ vehicles. Whether you’re prepping a panel for paint or removing imperfections before...

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Are You Regularly Maintaining Your Equipment?

Technicians who are idling because the welder won’t feed wire, the hydraulic ram won’t pull chains, the booth heater won’t heat or the air compressor won’t compress enough air is a costly mistake, as labor time is the most expensive thing in any...

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Celebrate 'Back To The Future' Day By Watching The Time Machine Get A 2015 Detail

    For many today is just another Wednesday, but for a lot of people it is more than just your average Wednesday, it is "Back to the Future" Day. It is a day that everyone who watched the cult classic trilogy Back to the Future recognizes...

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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 Underhood Service magazine. He has been with Babcox Media for 15 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]
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