ECUs and other air control systems

What is an ECU?

An ECU is a digital Electronic Control Unit (or computer). ECUs are easy to install, compact, user-friendly and have lots of different features. They are an integral part of many air suspension systems, but are not absolutely necessary.

They are commonly known as computers, air control, or management.

How does a basic ECU work?

All the solenoids (and sometimes the compressors) in an air suspension system are controlled by the ECU. A display fitted to the dashboard of your vehicle shows a digital readout of the pressure in each bag or the height of each corner (or even both).

The user has several pre-sets which allow the height of the vehicle to be set with a single touch of a button. The number of pre-sets varies but there are often three – fully-up, fully-down and ride, although they can be set as you wish within certain limits.

computer airride air suspension

The computer system display can be mounted on your dashboard

What kind of ECUs do we offer?

At the deluxe level, we offer a system with three programmable pre-sets that will allow you to adjust to a pre-set height. This comes with a four-corner controller that allows you to adjust each corner individually. This system is the most automated and includes height maintenance, which means it will automatically adjust itself to the load and road conditions. It is controlled either from a phone app or from an on-board wireless controller.

The standard computer system includes five programmable pre-sets and a full four-corner controller that allows individual adjustments to each corner and precise levelling. However, this system works from pressure sensors alone, rather than height sensors, and so may not necessarily maintain the height or balance loads automatically. It is also controlled from an in-car wired controller or from a phone app.

To be able to adjust using any form of remote requires solenoids.

What other air control is there?

You do not have to control your air with an ECU - there are ways to do it manually as well:

  • Schrader valves

Simple Schrader valve kits have historically been the first choice for motorhome owners, although many are now seeing the benefit of more control. With a Schrader valve kit, you simply inflate your system with a tyre inflator or at a petrol station or garage every time it needs a top-up. These systems do not involve a compressor or solenoids and so cannot be controlled.

  • MPCs

Controllers can simply be basic non-solenoid manual paddle controllers (MPCs) which are very simple and relatively cheap but quite slow.

These are the controllers of choice for motorhomes and vans but they can also work very well on cars. They are used on more subtle systems and usually take between 10 and 20 seconds to lift a vehicle from fully-down to fully-up. This allows you to adjust each of the four corners and set your own ride heights.

  • Solenoid controllers

You can also use a solenoid system that does not require an ECU. Electric solenoid controllers can be as simple as switches like those used for electric windows, although you can also control solenoids in more complex ways, including switch boxes, multi-function remotes and ECUs.

Solenoid kits are faster and more compact than manual paddle kits.

With both MPCs and solenoid kits, the controllers are used by simply pressing up to inflate and down to deflate. The gauge needles will give a very good approximation of the height of each corner. It is simple to learn what pressure is needed to drive without catching, what is most comfortable, and how much to increase the rear by if you have extra passengers.

Which type of air control is right for me?

Make sure you only choose an FBSS (Front Back, Side-to-Side), four-circuit system. Anything else is not safe for road use, and therefore not legal. We don’t supply any system which is not fully independent for each wheel.

When choosing what is right for you, it depends on whether you are looking for pure practicality or whether you are also after lots of extra features.

For customers wanting pure function and no play then the manual paddle controller or small solenoid kits are perfect.

For users wanting pre-sets, to lift to a specific height with the touch of a button, or to go to a specific height when the ignition is switched on (not only is this convenient but it also saves damage if you have been playing with the height and forget) then an ECU is the best way forward. You also need an ECU if you want to control your air with your phone.

Using a phone app (or remote or key fob), you can control at least the three pre-sets from a distance. You can also get out of the car and drop the height to the ground as you are walking away!

The phone app is compatible with both Apple and Android phones.

AirLift 3P by airRide

The AirLift 3P digital computer system can be used with a phone app

Which controller is best?

All controllers are quite similar in function, and there is no simple answer. It depends upon the use and to a certain degree the display you like best.

We sell a variety of controllers that work with any air suspension kits with solenoids, but many customers now choose to exclusively use their phone as a controller. Game controller remotes (such as a Playstation controller) are also popular but we do not sell them.

What kind of ECUs do AirRide sell?

At AirRide we do numerous ECUs, including the AirLift V2, AirLift 3P, the AccuAir and the RidePro.

Some ECUs, such as the AirLift computers, have integral internal solenoids that come in the box, but most ECUs require you to buy solenoids separately.

If you want to discuss which ECU would be best for you, please don’t hesitate to email us or give us a call.