Air Suspension failure with very unpleasant results

Air Suspension failure with very unpleasant results

First the good part: Tesla 1-800 roadside folks were very good, the tow-truck driver was very good, and the service center was very good in repairing my Tesla in one day and then delivering it back in the evening. All very good, and I am enjoying the car again.

Now for the bad part: The right front air strut failed due to a leak which caused the whole front of the car to drop so much that the wheels were rubbing against the inside of the wheel well, and the front of the car was rubbing on the ground. The car became absolutely not drivable. Luckily I was parked when this happened. The tow truck driver could only do inch-by-inch turns to orient the car to face the tow truck, and then had to move it up again inch-by-inch using wooden blocks just so the wheel well and the bottom would not get damaged.

Why doesn’t Tesla air-suspension design incorporate some sort of a stopper to stop the car from going lower than the lowest functional air-suspension setting? The service center tech had the same idea!!!! At least it would be drivable when the system failed. I am very concerned how the car would handle if this air suspension failure occurred while driving 70 mph.

I hope a retrofit kit comes out soon for all of us with air suspension. Given my experience, I can't recommend getting the air suspension feature to anyone buying the car until there is some sort of a mechanism to allow for a controlled safe system degradation when it fails.

Son of a Gunn | July 30, 2015

Why didn't the tow truck driver use speed dollies or wheel dollies instead of a wood block hack job?

SoCal Buzz | July 30, 2015

This is a common issue with air suspension design. We had a similar unpleasant experience with an Audi A8... 3 times in 1 year. This was both very expensive out of warranty and disabling when on the road. I vowed never to get air again after that.

Red70D.Martinez.CA | July 30, 2015

After reading this, I'll stop whining about not having my car. I'll be happy the factory is fixing it before I pick it up.

LizzieG | July 30, 2015

Air Suspension works really well and this is no reason to not get one but the OP is absolutely correct in that the system should have a fail safe that prevents the suspension from going any lower than the lowest setting.

We've had Airmatic fail once on a Mercedes and it got very low but not so low that the front of the car touched the ground.

I'd never get a car without Airmatic but the system should not be designed so that if you have a strut failure it does not destroy the front of the car,

Pungoteague_Dave | July 30, 2015

They cannot put in stop bumpers at the lowest suspension setting because that would eliminate all suspension compliance - the wheel does go up further than the lowest suspension setting while in motion. This is the first reported suspension service issue on this forum, so it does not indicate a trend as far as we can tell. Sorry for your experience, but it is likely a one time thing.

Anthony J. Parisio | July 30, 2015

This has been a known problem with air suspensions for decades with all car makes. (after all they come from the same suppliers) It is not common place for them to fail but when they do the car is not drive-able. However it is easy to fix.

LizzieG | July 30, 2015

Could they do something to put a stop somewhere between the lowest setting for the suspension and when the front end of the car would hit the ground?

sorka95032 | July 30, 2015

Maybe not a stop but a stiff spring that starts to engage at the lowest point. Yes, if you're on the lowest setting, there will be some air and spring overlap but if you lose a bag, the car can deflate all the other bags and your riding on coils at the lowest setting, but not low enough to rub.

Panoz | July 30, 2015

So Tesla air suspension components are the same as other cars? I've heard absolute horror stories related to cost and reliability of air suspension systems. On one of my test drives, my friend went off on their Audi's air suspension system reliability (terrible) and repair cost (even more terrible), asking if Tesla would be any better than an Audi.

I'm watching this thread closely...

DonS | July 30, 2015

I would wager the horror stories about the cost of air suspension repair is mostly because the cars mentioned are German. Exorbitant repair costs is not information that salesmen for German cars would ever volunteer.

LizzieG | July 30, 2015

We've had multiple cars with air suspension and the ride is definitely worth it and they have been pretty reliable. One of our car's is 8 years old and the air suspension is still performing extremely well *knock on wood.*

This is about the only story I remember reading on the forums that has to do with an issue with the air suspension so any issues it seems are extremely rare.

Like I said earlier I would never buy a car without air suspension or similar technology that dynamically adjusts the suspension. Having said that I really like @Sorka's idea as I think what we need is some type of a limp home mode. A stiff spring at the lowest point would offer limited suspension travel while ensuring you can limp back home or to a service center.

Rowlie | July 30, 2015

I had a poor air leveling suspension on a 1979 Buick Riviera which could never be fixed by the dealer and the car always sagged in the rear.

Several cars later, I had a 2001 Mercedes S-class with Active Body Control (their advanced hydraulic suspension). While it never failed outright, it did frequently send error messages indicating suspension failure and advising me to pull over immediately. I could then restart the car and the message would go away. It took several attempts for the dealer to fix the problem under warranty and I was advised that the repair would approach $20k if it were out of warranty due to the fact that the engine had to be pulled to access the sensor which was the problem.

My last car was a 2004 Audi A8l with an air suspension which worked flawlessly for the 10 years and nearly 200k miles I had the car.

I'm hopeful that my MS will be like my Audi in that regard.

Rowlie | July 30, 2015

I guess I can also add that I have a 1976 GMC Motorhome with an air suspension which frequently needs repair, but in that instance I can jack it up and put a block of wood where the air bag goes and limp home that way. ;-))

Panoz | July 30, 2015

Everyone telling a good air suspension story is a shill from Audi. I do believe the motor home story, having owned one. Do all you Audi folks cash your checks in the same bank, or do direct deposit?

Red70D.Martinez.CA | July 30, 2015

All I know for sure is my DES called and said there was/is a problem with the Smart Air Suspension on my MS. I am happy they caught it there and not after I drove off.

douglasstuckey | July 30, 2015

I have Tesla air suspension, albeit for only a couple of months, but is is worth getting in my view, as I have seen no major complaints other than people who talk about how expensive it is to fix.
I have had two Mercedes for many years without one single problem, so I am confident that problems in Tesla will be minimal.

SoCal Buzz | July 30, 2015

@panoz, actually the Audi feedback is balanced. Notice the negative points including mine above. $7500 out of pocket when my 2004 A8 hit around 85,000 miles.

prp | July 31, 2015

Agree douglasstuckey, in any case its at tesla's full cost for the very long warraty period. I figured the car will be upgraded before the warranty expires.

Anthony J. Parisio | July 31, 2015

What Panoz said is true. I have heard of high cost of repair for Audi, Merc., Lincoln and others. But this was not a common repair. It is not like cars have not made it past 100,000 miles before any failure. However, when others have tried to restore older cars they often replace the Air Ride with less costly standard types. There is an after market company who specializes in making kits for many makes of cars to do just that. Their name escapes me but it is easy to find them online.

In any case I am confident that it will last as long as I have the car. Also I do like the ride. I have had two Model S with and without Air. The Air is only slightly better but a very nice ride. Plus the no more bottoming out as I leave my sisters drive way is great! I do feel low aerodynamic cars need height adjustable suspensions be able to everywhere. There are many steep drive ways in NYC and other places.

Pungoteague_Dave | July 31, 2015

@Panoz "So Tesla air suspension components are the same as other cars?"

No, the Tesla air suspension is a newly-developed (in 2012) unit by Continental, specifically for Tesla.

Anthony J. Parisio | July 31, 2015

You are right but it is not that different than the ones they have done in the past for others.

prp | July 31, 2015

Its (sorry did it again "it's") a bit like the autopilot sensors, same brand, just slightly different.

DBlueS85 | July 31, 2015

Given the experience of the air suspension failing when the car was parked, it seems to be a very high risk safety issue if the air suspension fails while driving at 70 mph.

As others have commented on this thread, some sort of stopper engineered/retrofitted into the system may keep the car drivable and safe at normal speeds.

Rocky_H | July 31, 2015

@Panoz, Quote: "I've heard absolute horror stories related to cost and reliability of air suspension systems."

Yeah, hence why I was very glad not to get it, since I do plan to keep the car for a very long time.

@LizzieG, Quote: "This is about the only story I remember reading on the forums that has to do with an issue with the air suspension so any issues it seems are extremely rare."


@Pungoteague_Dave, Quote: " This is the first reported suspension service issue on this forum, so it does not indicate a trend as far as we can tell."

I wouldn't call it extremely rare. I've seen a few threads on air suspension failures/problems in this forum, and I thought you would have seen them too, P_D. True that this is the first I've read that was a complete failure, where the car rested on the ground. Most of the others were ones where the car just settled several inches and came to rest on a parking barrier and then scraped or broke off a bumper section when the person backed out. Also, there was one where one of the back corners was riding much lower than all of the others, to where the car looked crooked.

Rchop0 | July 31, 2015

Yet another thread that makes me feel good about skipping the air suspension option

jordanrichard | July 31, 2015

When ever I saw the "skateboard" in a Tesla store it is fitted with the air shocks and they say Bilstein on them.

I chose to not get the air ride because I am thinking about beyond warranty repairs. Air suspensions add more complexity and at some point will leak.

I have driven an air ride car and it does indeed ride real smooth and a bit quieter than my coils. However, my car handles turn better.

shivasmith | July 31, 2015

Glad I got my coils. ;) :)

The car rides like a dream… on the highway and everywhere.

Haggy | August 1, 2015

I don't have air and I'm generally fine without it. Whenever I get a loaner, they have air and I like it better. That's especially true in my neighborhood, which has speed bumps. But I don't feel a loss when I pick up my car and drive home. If I had to do it over again, I think I'd get air. But threads like this could shift the balance back to ambivalence.

DBlueS85 | August 3, 2015

Wouldn't this air-suspension failure be a very high risk safety issue when driving at 70 mph?

prp | August 3, 2015

I've had a coil failure at highway speed (not in a tesla), and that was incredibly dangerous. But I knew it was a rare event so no need to redesign every car over it.

drpatel | January 16, 2016

My p85D air suspension failed completely on the entire drivers side. I was backing out of my driveway, felt an odd shift in the car as I was reversing. Then the wheel got real stiff and could not turn. As the car continued to back out the driveway i heard a really large grinding noise...all of this took place in about 3-4 seconds....Now my car was in the middle of the road, so I had no choice but to drive it back up the driveway and since I could not turn the steering it clipped the edge of my 21' rim (a good 8 inches of rash, fortunately cosmetic). As I drove it up the driveway the grinding noise continued and wheel was locked.

I called local service center...they advised me to call roadside ASAP. I called Roadside and they were awesome, except they insinuated i must of done something wrong...anyways

Tow service had a difficult time getting the p85D onto the bed of the tow because the wheels were rubbing against the wheel well the they reversed the car onto the tow bed, the entire ball joint on front driver wheel dropped to the pavement. NOT GOOD!!!! I've only had the car for 3 weeks!!!!!

I will keep you all posted, but it sounds like a failure of the air suspension. I too am glad this happened while driving out of my driveway but I am extremely concerned about this scenario happening while driving above 40mpH.

I have tons of pictures...wish i could post them

KidDoc | January 16, 2016

I picked coil two years ago due to this concern plus I don't find the air ride to feel much different at all in the test drive and subsequent loaners I have had. Not worth the extra money upfront or down the road for me.

steilkurve | January 17, 2016

I got air suspension and love it. Have had the car for 10 months and no issue yet. I do wonder though if I should minimize raising/lowering the car to reduce likelihood of bugs. For instance, automatically raising the suspension at certain locations like my slanted driveway. How much does daily use of air suspension in those situations folks think increases wear and tear?

malcolm.hall1932 | January 17, 2016

PD:+1 I've had two coils fail, Mercedes A class and VW polo. Tesla with air is worth it for the ride quality in my opinion.

lolachampcar | January 17, 2016

Each spring damper unit has a one way check valve in the air spring just before the connection to the air line that feeds it. I really should disconnect the air line to one of the damper units (to simulate a supply line failure) and see how much spring rate is left when the damper bleeds down to the check valve level. I wonder if it will bleed down far enough to allow the damper unit to come to rest on its bump stops.

SbMD | January 17, 2016

I got the air suspension, and have been very happy with it. Prior to buying, I was digging back through air suspension across models, in admittedly a very unscientific way (i.e. looking for user reports on forums etc, and not having consistent data on which systems might be more affected), but my gestalt was that the number of issues appears to have dropped over the years as the technology has improved. Doesn't mean a suspension can't have problems, air or otherwise.

@lola makes a very good point. One would think clearance should be high enough to provide some limited mobility of the car, but perhaps not.

@drpatel - sorry this happened. Will be interested to see what they tell you. Had you recently encountered significant road debris prior to the failure? Curious if maybe debris had damaged the system.

priustech | January 17, 2016

In subzero temperatures I can hear my coils slightly, works well and comfortable when not subzero. Sort of squishy sound. Normally comfortable, but when subzero or single digits the ride feels slightly harsh.

zybane | January 17, 2016

I've had a lot of air suspension cars. The Tesla I have on order I will have for quite a long time and I decided on steel spring suspension. For longevity, always go with steel spring.

cdonepudi | March 27, 2016

This just happened to our MS 90D. Backing out of the garage, I suddenly heard a hissing sound. Didn't know what it meant at the time. Drove to the end of the driveway and something was not feeling right. At the end of the driveway, front of the car hit the street, which does not normally happen. When I tried to turn the wheel, it was more difficult than usual. I thought a flat tire. When I got out, both front tired were recessed into the wells and front of the car was almost on the ground.

Tow truck is taking it to the service center now. Will post again with more details when I have them. | March 27, 2016

No looking back for MX. Air suspension is standard.

AIA304 | March 28, 2016

I've had air suspension issues for sometime now. It's not a real big issue, but head over to and listen to our issue with air suspension. It's been in a number of times for service, but still occurs randomly.
To briefly recap our issue. The air suspension pump runs for 30 secs without adjusting any height the stops running pump, and is followed by a pressure release sound.

This typically repeats 3-4 times then stops. Have many videos of this happening, submitted to two service centers, both stated this was a first hearing this sound come from MS. I have read from Continental we and been told from Tesla air suspension is a closed air pneumatic system. This sound is not really easily heard, but it happens on ours.

How a closed system can vent to outside air is worth hearing more about, all ears.....

In closing, do love ride of air suspension.

rxlawdude | March 28, 2016

Springs have clear advantages over air. :-)

Rocky_H | March 28, 2016

@georgehawley, Quote: "No looking back for MX. Air suspension is standard."

Are you serious?! What a terrible idea!

Rocky_H | March 28, 2016

I would have paid extra to NOT have the air suspension just to avoid these kinds of reliability/maintenance/breakdown problems with it.

cdonepudi | March 28, 2016


Left front air strut needs replacement due to internal seal failing and not maintaining air pressure. Replacement part will come in tomorrow and they expect I will have the car back late afternoon.

I've had the car just over 2 months. Very disappointing that such a new car can have these problems. Seems like Continental's air suspension system is to blame. Tesla has been great to deal with as I have heard on these boards.

My5bAby | March 28, 2016

I have active air suspension. Not a single problem or issue with it in 179 thousand miles.

almiva | March 30, 2016

I picked air suspension because 21" rims plus coils=noise in the cabin. And that seemed dumb when one of the attractions of the car is it's low nvh.

almiva | March 30, 2016

I picked air suspension because 21" rims plus coils=noise in the cabin. And that seemed dumb when one of the attractions of the car is it's low nvh.

Superliner | September 8, 2016

Keep in mind most air spring failures happen as a matter of age not mileage per se'. As the actual bladders or air bags "if you will" age they like most materials begin to dry out and lose elasticity and develop cracks much like a tire sidewall on an aging tire which eventually will leak or fail in a spectacular manner (Bang!)
There can also be compressor and related height sensor issues along with check valves, air dryers, etc. Most air spring failures I've seen are about 8 to 10 years out. Electrical or control system issues are hit and miss as far as occurrence frequency or timeframe from delivery.

SeaP90D | September 8, 2016

Another good thing to come out of this, is there's maybe hope someday we can come up with a lower low setting on the air suspension, as the current low still looks to me like a monster truck compared to every other fast car you see on the road around here.