Rear sag is one of the most troublesome suspension issues associated with hauling a truck camper. Rear sag occurs when a truck is either overloaded or when a truck is hauling a load near its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Not only does rear sag look bad, but it can also make a truck wallow in turns and feel light when steering. Each condition is potentially dangerous since each affects the way the truck handles. This is especially true in an emergency situation if a sharp turn of the wheel or emergency braking is needed. Most pickups are engineered with a nose-down rake to offset heavy loads, but rear sag can still happen, especially when hauling a heavy load like a truck camper. Fortunately, several suspension modifications can be made to correct this troublesome issue. Of these, the air spring (or air bag) is the probably the most popular.
Constructed of inflatable rubber, the air spring comes with a number of benefits not found in other suspension products. First, the air spring is adjustable. This gives the owner the ability to adjust the air pressure in each air spring as needed. If the truck is empty, less air pressure is needed. Conversely, if the truck is hauling a heavy load like a truck camper, more air pressure is required. Second, the air spring provides a better ride since it is adjustable. When the truck is empty the air pressure in each spring can be reduced to soften the suspension and ride of the truck. You can’t do this with rubber bump stops or steel helper springs. These adjustments to the air pressure can be done either from the comfort of your truck by employing a remote-controlled onboard air compressor or by manually using an external air compressor like those found at gas stations.
Air springs are a terrific suspension modification, but they aren’t a cure-all for an over matched truck. Air springs are meant to address handling and suspension issues with your truck. In no way do they increase the GVWR or payload rating of a truck. It’s important to understand this. If you’re looking to increase the payload rating of your truck with a set of air springs—or any other suspension modification for that matter—you’re taking the wrong approach. To get a higher GVWR or higher payload, you’ll need to get a more capable truck. Sorry, but that’s the truth. However, if your truck is still under its GVWR and your truck is suffering from an acute case of rear end sag, a good set of air springs will be more than capable of correcting the issue. “Good” is the operative word here. Several companies make air springs for full-size pickup trucks, but none are better at correcting rear sag than the Big Wig air springs made by Hellwig Suspension Products.
Hellwig Suspension Products is a family-owned, American company based out of Visalia, California. The company is known for producing a wide-range of towing, hauling and suspension products, primarily for trucks. In the early 2000s, the company released its first Big Wig Air Spring Kit to wide acclaim. The “Big Wig” name fits. Hellwig’s double convoluted air springs are simply bigger and better than the competition. Hellwig uses a special weave in the rubber that produces a softer expansion and a longer extension. As a result, each Hellwig Big Wig air spring is rated for 2,800 pounds, 300 pounds more than those made by the competition. Not only that, but each Hellwig Big Wig is 3 inches larger in diameter and up to 3 inches taller than the standard 2,500-pound air spring. This results in a higher air volume and a better load bearing performance than the air bags made by the competition.
Hellwig’s Big Wigs offer other benefits to the truck camper owner as well. Hellwig’s air springs require up to 40 percent less air pressure compared to the standard 2,500-pound air spring made by the competition. This lower pressure means you’ll enjoy not only a softer spring rate and better ride quality, but also less jarring and wear and tear on your truck and camper when bumps are encountered. Hellwig’s Big Wig also reduces the rebound effect from large bumps, a major improvement over the Timbren SES we recently had on our test rig. If you’re concerned about off-road performance, don’t be. Hellwig’s Big Wig can extend up to 14 inches for greater axle articulation. No other air spring in today’s marketplace even comes close to matching this figure. You can pickup the Hellwig Big Wig Air Spring Kit for $457 on Amazon.com.
The Hellwig Big Wig Air Spring Kit is shipped in a large, 36-pound box, measuring 13x10x8 inches. The kit includes all of the hardware, air lines, and air fittings needed for the installation. The kit also includes a small tube of locktite, which is used to secure eight threaded mounting studs. For the installation, you’ll need several tools: a torque wrench, a pair of socket wrenches with 3/4-inch sockets, an Allen wrench, and a PEX tube cutter for cutting the air lines. You’ll also need a flat-bladed screw driver to pry loose the brake line before installing the air springs. Before you can install the Big Wig’s, you’ll need to remove the factory bump stops first. For my 2013 Ram 3500, this required the removal of two bolts for each bump stop, a quick, five-minute job.
Mounting each air spring was relatively straightforward with well-written instructions provided by Hellwig. When mounting each air spring, care must be taken to use the correct mounting holes on each top mounting plate to ensure proper alignment with the axle below and to allow proper mounting of the heat shield on the passenger side air spring. Basically, the air springs mount to a reinforcement bracket and frame adapter plate with two threaded studs on top and to a saddle plate mounted to the axle on the bottom. The screws attached to the saddle are about 8 inches long and connect the bottom of the air spring to the aforementioned saddle on the bottom of the axle. When attaching the screws to each saddle, extreme care must be taken not to pinch the brake lines running along the rear axle. Also, when cutting the air lines, care must be taken to ensure each cut is clean and “square.” Failure to do this, may result in a poor connection and a leak. Overall, the installation took about two hours and was pretty easy, though a couple of hours to completely digest the instructions and planning will be needed beforehand.
The Hellwig Big Wig Air Spring Kit comes with all of the hoses and air fittings needed to fill the air springs manually with an external air compressor. Rather than go the manual route, I opted to install an onboard air compressor instead. Hellwig offers two excellent air compressors for this job, including an excellent heavy-duty model that comes with a storage tank and an analog dash panel with dual valve control that allows for front to rear and left to right leveling. Unfortunately, to install Hellwig’s onboard air compressors, you need to drill into the cab of the truck to pass the air lines. Ultimately, this is something I decided against doing and opted to go with a wireless Air Lift 72000 Automatic Leveling Digital On-Board Compressor System instead. The Air Lift compressor I bought isn’t as powerful as Hellwig’s heavy-duty air compressor, but it doesn’t need to be since inflating the air bags isn’t done very often. All things considered, while I appreciate the “no-drill” approach of Air Lift’s wireless system, Hellwig’s analog system is bigger and more robust and not prone to “flaking out” like Air Lift’s wireless system is prone to do at times.
How It Performs
How does the Hellwig Big Wig Air Spring Kit perform in real life? Incredibly well! In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well they’ve performed on-pavement and off-road. I had a set of Firestone Ride Rite air bags on a Ford F-250 several years ago and wasn’t impressed with them at all. In fact, I regretted even buying them—one Firestone air bag leaked and the overall performance of the system over bumps and uneven surfaces was poor. Not so with the Hellwig Big Wigs. Hellwig’s air springs are bullet-proof and truly provide a superior ride over all types of surfaces. We particularly like how they “soften” our truck’s suspension. Are there any cons? Not really. The only negative relates to all air springs in general, that being that you have to periodically check and maintain the air pressure in them to ensure they’re operating at the desired air pressure and that they never fall below 10 psi to avoid damage. You don’t have to do this with Timbrens or steel helper springs, but that’s the advantage of going with an air suspension system like the Big Wig. The air springs provide a superior, adjustable ride. The other suspension solutions don’t.
What’s the bottom line? Well, as you can probably tell, we’re big fans of Hellwig’s Big Wig air springs. Having conducted an extensive survey of the air spring kits in today’s market, we can honestly say that the Hellwig Big Wigs are the best air bags that you can buy for your truck. When you consider the big name, high volume competition Hellwig is going against, this is somewhat surprising, but it’s the truth. Hellwig’s Big Wig air springs are simply bigger, better made, and provide a much softer ride than the air springs made by Firestone and Air Lift. Not only that, but having a remote-controlled onboard air compressor makes the Hellwig Big Wigs even better and more convenient to use. What would we rate the Hellwig Big Wig Air Spring Kit? On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, we enthusiastically give the Hellwig Big Wig a rating of 5 stars.