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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi, I just joined this forum a couple days ago and this is my first post, so thanks in advance for allowing me to ask a question and tap into the vast collective knowledge of the members here.

I traded-in my Jeep Wrangler for a 2013 Frontier PRO-4X king cab a couple weeks ago. I moved from a Jeep to a truck so I could carry a camper in the truck's bed rather than camping on the ground all the time. I've ordered a pop-up camper (which I guess some refer to as a 'canopy') similar to the one in this pic that davidshourd posted on this forum back in 2009:
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The pop-up camper I'm getting is a stripped-down empty shell Bobcat model made by All-Terrain Campers. The camper will weigh about 500 lbs empty, and I imagine could be a few hundred pounds heavier when packed with water, food, gear, etc for long road trips (plus up to maybe 350 lbs in the truck's cab for 2 passengers plus gear), all within the truck's listed max payload of 1215 lbs (for a PRO-4X automatic).

I'm completely ignorant about suspensions, but I gather from the searches I've done so far on this forum that some modification to my truck's suspension may be useful to counter sag and improve ride & handling for continuously carrying a 500-800 lb bed load on paved and unpaved roads. From the various threads I've read, there appear to be lots of different options with various pros/cons and cost/benefit trade-offs for different people's situations and preferences. Options I've seen recommended include adding air bags, rubber helper/overload springs, an AAL extra leaf spring, or a custom leaf spring pack. For example, …
Add a leaf and get airbags (firestone ride-rite comes to mind) and you will be fine. Aftermarket complete leaf pack is another option.
I just ordered Timbren Hollow rubber springs today in lieu of bags. they are cheaper and no air required. I am told they will limit travel, but I have come up with a cotter pin attachment that will allow me to pull them off or slap them back on with little effort.
I have an Four Wheel Camper. Took it to GoneMoab last year and up some crazy stuff. all handles fine. you will need some overload springs like Timbren or a custom AAL/spring pack. I had the timbren when I went to Gone last year. now I have 3" AAL and it handles great. plenty of power in our trucks for these. only about 700 pounds dry, maybe another 200 wet.
love my air bags. IMO, helper springs are the simplest and cheapest options. The ones that sit on top of the leaf pack and do not effect the leaf pack spring rate till things start to sagg. Hellwig makes some I think. Not talking about add a leaves.
So far I'm pretty happy with the single leaf I added to my pack. It's the $80 one from Nisstec. pretty affordable. I left my overload spring in place. It does lift the back over stock height by about 2", although for me I only got 2" of lift by using their angle shim and leaving the overload spring in place - those two things are equivalent to 3/4" just in the space they take up. Even with a pop up camper attached and a load of luggage in the bed I'm still up off of the overload springs. Before the extra leaf I was flat onto the overload spring with the cap and camping gear.
do a AAL and that will help but will almost provide some lift in the rear. might be worth it to look for new leaf packs.
Deaver AAL kit is great for gentle street use and hauling groceries But won't last more than a few trips off road or hauling a quad before sagging or snapping. Removing the overload is a bad idea for going off road or hauling any sort of weight (which must be done with Deaver AAL kit)
Ride-rite air bags are where it's at. They're reasonably priced, and they offer excellent versatility, I swear by mine, I love being able to easily adjust the rear suspension to handle whatever scenario I come across.
Call Alcan. They'll custom make springs to your specs. Worth every cent
OME dakar leaf spring medium duty. Better ride, higher stance, non sagging rear, better handling, on and off road, will never poncture like airbag, don't need compressor. Easy install, can handle heavier load
Those will probably give you a bit more lift than you're wanting. I have the same ones and they put the rear 4" higher than the front. With my 2.5" spacers on the front, I'm back to stock rake. Custom springs are likely your best option if you don't want the lift. A company like Alcan can custom make you springs based on how much lift you want and how much payload capacity you want, but they come at a price. You could buy the OME's and a front lift for cheaper than a custom set of springs. It all comes down to what is more important to you, the cost, or staying at stock height.
The air bags in the kit are fully compressed at 2.8" and fully extended at 7"... that only gives you 4.2" of wheel travel. Fine for on-road and towing, not so great for off-roading. Firestone makes the #6410 bag which is the same config as the kit bag, except that it allows full extension to 8.3", giving you 5.5" overall travel. This helps some, but it's also an additional $140 online. That combined with the complexity and durability issues that come with an airbag system and the warnings I've heard/read in various places to not off-road with airbags because they are so susceptible to damage. I only want to counteract sag when loaded down with camping gear or towing, so I decided to go the far simpler, cheaper, and more reliable option of the Hellwig EZ-550 (well under $62 from Summit Racing) which will add 500 lbs. load balancing capacity to the rear springs. Eventually I'll do it right and get new leaf packs.
…and the various recommendations go on & on.

In my case, since I don't have a separate storage spot for a camper, it will probably be on my truck full-time, again weighing about 500 lbs empty when I'm home and maybe a few hundred pounds heavier when packed for long road trips, with most of the miles on pavement but sometimes on rough dirt tracks (rarely in snow). According to Nissan's spec sheet, my 2013 PRO-4X comes with a Dana 44 rear axle and Bilstein off-road shocks, which I'm guessing are stiffer than normal shocks. I'm not intending to lift kit my truck and would like to avoid having to make other modifications to accommodate added lift. I don't plan to do any hardcore off-roading with a camper on, but I'll likely find myself on 4x4 roads from time to time. I'm willing to pay for a durable long term solution that is adequate for the load and conditions, but I'd prefer not to over-engineer this and spend unnecessarily.

The helpful folks at All-Terrain Campers recommended Firestone Ride-Rite air bags, which they said should cost about $350-$400 installed. I'm thinking they have a lot of direct experience with their truck campers and probably know what they're talking about. But I've read mixed reviews about air bags not lasting very long and also limiting suspension travel when driving on rough roads, and given all the various options I've seen recommended on this forum, I'm curious what Frontier owners like yourselves might recommend for my particular situation?

Thanks a lot, and sorry for such a long post right off the bat.
 

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I have AAL and there already flat although I do a bit of hauling and towing with the truck. If your going to be carrying around that camper more often than not I wouldn't bother with them and just upgrade the leaf springs. Air bags work great but do have some limitations, leaks, articulation offroad etc. My last truck had air bags and a big camper on it so it was nice to be able to air up when i needed the extra support but also be able to air down and have a smoother ride when the bed was empty. If it were me I'd start with leaf springs and if you find that isn't enough add air bags afterwards.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for the replies. I'm completely naive about suspension modifications, having never owned a truck or a camper before.

Does the relatively narrow range of the weight my truck bed will be continuously carrying (500 lbs when the camper is empty, up to 800 lbs when it's full of gear) make one option more suitable than another?

Also, I've heard air bags might cost $350-$400 installed. Any idea what other options like adding a leaf or upgrading the leaf springs might cost? (in a metro area like San Francisco)

Thanks a lot.
 

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I have both air bags and custom leaf packs from Alcan. I have a Northstar 700SC camper that is not a permanent fixture.

My suggestion is to call the guys at Alcan. Since the camper will be on full time it may be better to have the leafs tailor made to your application. I weighed my truck setup the way it is 90% of the time and told them the rear weight and the amount of lift I wanted(+600 pounds at 2"). You could specify no lift and they would match what you need. I think it was 6 weeks to my door. Something like $850 shipped along with new u bolts. And a morning under the truck. There is no issue with articulation off road. I was told my leafs would provide 16 inches of travel, if I ran shocks through the bed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks everyone for the suggestions and for taking the time to explain your thinking and your experience.
My last truck had air bags and a big camper on it so it was nice to be able to air up when i needed the extra support but also be able to air down and have a smoother ride when the bed was empty.
I guess if in the future I wanted to take the camper off when not using it then that's where air bags' inflate/deflate flexibility (without affecting lift) would be a big advantage over other options. Makes sense.

I have both air bags and custom leaf packs from Alcan. […] Something like $850 shipped along with new u bolts. And a morning under the truck.
I wouldn't try to tackle the installation myself, so I'm guessing upgrading to an Alcan custom leaf pack might end up costing me maybe $1150 assuming about $850(?) for parts and $300(?) for 2-3 hours installation labor? Ouch. This suddenly makes $400 for having air bags installed seem relatively inexpensive, unless the air bags had to replaced every 4 years while an Alcan leaf pack would last for 12 years. Is that a reasonable expectation for how long a set of air bags might last relative to an Alcan custom leaf pack?

For the sake of comparison, it sounds like another option might be to add helper springs or add-a-leafs for, what, maybe $200 installed? Which again would not be any cheaper in the long run than an Alcan custom leaf pack if you had to replace flattened add-a-leafs every couple years while an Alcan custom leaf pack would last for 12 years. Is that a reasonable expectation for how long helper springs or add-a-leafs might last relative to an Alcan custom leaf pack?

Alcan […] told them the rear weight and the amount of lift I wanted(+600 pounds at 2"). You could specify no lift and they would match what you need.
The added rear lift it sounds like one gets from helper springs or add-a-leafs (or a custom leaf pack if designed to add lift) brings up another question in my head. I'm totally ignorant about this, but what's the benefit of adding lift if the clearance of the differential remains the same? Would added rear lift increase the clearance of the skid plates (under the oil pan, fuel tank, 4x4 transfer case) on my PRO-4X? Doesn't adding rear lift change the factory-intended dynamics and force you to make a series of other costly modifications to level things out and then accommodate the overall higher stance?

Sorry for so many questions. This is all new to me, so I've got LOTS to learn. Thanks for your help!
 

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If it was mine I would bag it and call it a day. Wait, I did? You are correct that changing one thing usually requires modifications to the other effected components. The bag install is super simple, especially on a stock truck. They will do what you want, when you want, for a very long time(I believe lifetime warranty on the ride rite). If you choose to lift it or perform other mods we can walk you thru that too!!
 

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I was in a similar predicament as you. I have three full toolboxes, a second battery, full ladder rack, and a miller engine driven welder in the bed of my truck at all times. It's a lot of weight for on road use and being that my job takes me off-road near daily the stock springs weren't cutting it. None of the spring options were lasting or working for me and so I bought Firestone Ride Rite bags for $273 shipped on sale from Autoanything. I installed them in under an hour and have been so very happy with the results. The truck drives and rides like there isn't even any weight in the bed and on the rare occasions that my skid is pulled out I can air the bags down to maintain the same kind of factory ride we all want.
 

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I was in a similar predicament as you. I have three full toolboxes, a second battery, full ladder rack, and a miller engine driven welder in the bed of my truck at all times. It's a lot of weight for on road use and being that my job takes me off-road near daily the stock springs weren't cutting it. None of the spring options were lasting or working for me and so I bought Firestone Ride Rite bags for $273 shipped on sale from Autoanything. I installed them in under an hour and have been so very happy with the results. The truck drives and rides like there isn't even any weight in the bed and on the rare occasions that my skid is pulled out I can air the bags down to maintain the same kind of factory ride we all want.
 

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It starts with air bags. Then you get tired of pulling out the jump pack/compressor to air them up. Then there is the on board air system, and OTRATTW switches in the dash, and custom wiring, along with solenoids under the bed to control air up and air down. Since you have onboard air and sometimes dont have access to a gas station to air up, or the line is too long coming off of the beach at the public compressor, you have to get hoses and an air chuck.

Pretty soon a $275ish air bag kit turns into an $800ish air bag/onboard air/air control system. With the battery moved to the bed and the compressor in the space the battery used to occupy.

Ask me how I know.
 

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+1 for RideRites.

I sport an extra tall bedshell, so worth checking clearance IFF parking in garage...whether entering unloaded with bags pumped up &/or considering a lift.
 

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It starts with air bags. Then you get tired of pulling out the jump pack/compressor to air them up. Then there is the on board air system, and OTRATTW switches in the dash, and custom wiring, along with solenoids under the bed to control air up and air down. Since you have onboard air and sometimes dont have access to a gas station to air up, or the line is too long coming off of the beach at the public compressor, you have to get hoses and an air chuck.

Pretty soon a $275ish air bag kit turns into an $800ish air bag/onboard air/air control system. With the battery moved to the bed and the compressor in the space the battery used to occupy.

Ask me how I know.
Lucky me I had a dual battery setup, aux work lighting, traffic strobe package, front winch, inverter, and onboard air first, so adding the bags was really simple.
 
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One thing I am seeing that is being overlooked. Everyone is pretty much just looking at weight. But think of where that weight is going. It isn't just in the bed, the camper will put it above the bed as well. Looks like there is a decent discussion regarding restoring the ride height in the back but nobody is discussing stability. If you look at an Xterra (which is pretty close to a Frontier with a camper) they have a rear sway bar. Since you are considering this as a permanent addition, look at adding a rear sway bar. Yea, the hard core off-roader will whine "it hurts articulation". But you won't be hard core off-roading with a camper on the back. And since this is a first time truck owner, the more car like stability will be good. If you can't find an aftermarket rear sway bar, one from an Xterra should be able to be adapted. The welded axle brackets will probably be the hardest part.
 

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Will mention that if going w/ bags I'll recommend going with a dual circuit system...thus separating the 2 bags as opposed to a single loop one circuit system. The single loop could very well result in undesirable handling characteristics...especially on long curves like a hwy cloverleaf exit/entrance. Perhaps someone else can expound on this as I'm not wording this as well as I'd like at the moment. D'oh.
 

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Will mention that if going w/ bags I'll recommend going with a dual circuit system...thus separating the 2 bags as opposed to a single loop one circuit system. The single loop could very well result in undesirable handling characteristics...especially on long curves like a hwy cloverleaf exit/entrance. Perhaps someone else can expound on this as I'm not wording this as well as I'd like at the moment. D'oh.
they are not designed to be run together. It is alternative thinking that puts them on the same air line. It is a very bad idea btw. each should have its own schrader valve and air line.

note the two airlines just to the right of the tag.

 

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I have 1 air circuit for each bag and a ball valve in between mounted in my console. This allows me to air them both up simultaneously with the valve open, then close it for traveling. This gives me the option of additional anti sway when I'm on the road, and I can open it off hiway when it is less necessary. I ran both circuits into the console to hook into the gauges, so it wat easy to splice in a couple of tee's and the valve.

The initial kit came with 2 schrader valves, which I have kept in place so I can still air up if my onboard air is down for some reason. While I'm thinking of it, it might be nice to add in a schrader for the air tank as well, so I can fill it independently of the compressor. This won't help me if I need to fill a tire, but I would be able to adjust the bags on the fly.
 

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Will mention that if going w/ bags I'll recommend going with a dual circuit system...thus separating the 2 bags as opposed to a single loop one circuit system. The single loop could very well result in undesirable handling characteristics...especially on long curves like a hwy cloverleaf exit/entrance. Perhaps someone else can expound on this as I'm not wording this as well as I'd like at the moment. D'oh.
Agreed. Someone pointed out that if you tie the 2 bags together you get more articulation. Did this one a 4 wheel drive trip. Went off a ledge. Low side bag lost it's pressure and I almost rolled my truck.

It starts with air bags. Then you get tired of pulling out the jump pack/compressor to air them up. Then there is the on board air system, and OTRATTW switches in the dash, and custom wiring, along with solenoids under the bed to control air up and air down. Since you have onboard air and sometimes dont have access to a gas station to air up, or the line is too long coming off of the beach at the public compressor, you have to get hoses and an air chuck.

Pretty soon a $275ish air bag kit turns into an $800ish air bag/onboard air/air control system. With the battery moved to the bed and the compressor in the space the battery used to occupy.

Ask me how I know.
Not necessarily. I installed the bags and have not added anything else. Thought about it.
 

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While I would have a ton of fun w/ a compressor & in-cab controller...I opted for a manual high-volume bicycle pump. It is literally 4-6 pumps to go from 0 psi to 25 psi. Not trying/going to impress anyone w/ this, but I dig the simplicity.
 

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I have a slide in (1000#) on my 2016 LWB CC. Run it about 1/2 the mileage. Started with stock tire and Timbrens. It ran fine but sag after a week or two. Added tire ( BFG E rated) and felt better on the road. Added 2 inch lift (pucks and AAL) for clearance and put in airbags, just ran the 2 line as the directions said. Bags made a huge difference. Smooth ride, height was good, light level. My 2C, do the bags and think about tire with your permanent mount.

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