If you are reading this, there is a high chance that you are experiencing certain problems with your Mercedes Airmatic air suspension. Airmatic air suspension is a great thing for new cars. The ride itself is comfortable, so comfortable in fact that you barely feel road bumps and smaller potholes. The Airmatic air suspension system, however, is a bit less great for the second and the third owner of the car which is when bigger problems start appearing. If you buy a used Mercedes with air suspension, you simply have to be ready for those problems, both mentally and financially. Overall, we would say that taking care of a car with air suspension is not a big deal, most of the problems are already known so nothing particularly new or unresolvable can happen to you. Here is our list of the most common Airmatic air suspension symptoms, problems, and the solutions to those problems.
What is the Mercedes-Benz Airmatic system?
The Airmatic system is essentially a standard air suspension system that has been around for quite some time, Mercedes-Benz just decided to call their air suspension system, the Airmatic. The Airmatic air suspension system uses compressed air to inflate and deflate the air struts or airbags as they are commonly called. The system then reacts to the road surface and adjusts the amount of compressed air in the airbags to provide you with a comfortable ride and the right vehicle height based on the amount of weight inside the car.
How do I know if I have Airmatic suspension?
The easiest way to know if you have Airmatic is by looking in the interior of your car and looking for ride height controls. They are either on the dashboard or beside the shifter.
Another way of knowing if you have Airmatic is by looking behind the front wheel. If you see a regular strut and springs, you can be sure that your car is not equipped with Airmatic.
The third option is to use a free Mercedes-Benz VIN number decoder, like this one here. Insert your car’s VIN number into the decoder and you will receive a full list of your vehicle’s specifications, including the suspension information. The final way is to ask the seller from whom you bought your Mercedes-Benz if it is equipped with the Airmatic air suspension.
Can you have air suspension but not Airmatic?
Yes, you can, E-Class estates or R-Class Mercedes vehicles do feature rear air suspension that keeps the car at the perfect level, no matter the load. They still have regular suspension in the front but they do have rear suspension in the back without having Airmatic or ride height controls in the cabin. Cars with rear air suspension only, are always kept at the optimal height which you cannot control.
What are the essential Airmatic System components?
Air suspension might sound simple, it’s essentially an air compressor sending out pressurized air to the airbags and struts. Well, it is far more complex in reality. Here is a list of all the components that ensure you enjoy a smooth ride at the right ride height.
Airmatic Control Module
This module is the brains behind the entire operation. It gathers information from several sensors to determine the behaviors of the air suspension. By gathering data from speed, brake, and other sensors it can react in milliseconds to ensure a safe and smooth ride.
Air springs (aka airbags)
Air springs or airbags are located at the back of the vehicle. They are fitted directly onto the rear subframe and the lower control arm.
Rear-axle distribution block
The rear-axle distribution block is responsible for distributing the air into the rear air springs.
Struts and Dampers
An array of struts and dampers is used for the front axle of the Airmatic equipped vehicles. This assembly consists of a monotube shock absorber and an air spring assembly that is responsible for the correct ride height and damping.
Main air reservoir
Without an air reservoir, the air compressor would be under constant stress. To relieve his function, each Mercedes with an Airmatic suspension has an air reservoir filled with compressed air which serves as a backup for leveling the car when you load the car before the engine is ignited.
Valve block assembly
This valve block is responsible for correctly distributing the pressurized air between the front and the rear axle. The valve block is directly connected to the air compressor and the air pressure sensor.
As the name suggests, the level sensors are responsible for keeping the vehicle at a level by sending their voltage readings to the before-mentioned Airmatic control module which translated the data into axle height information. The front axle has two level sensors, that are mounted on brackets near the upper control arms. The back axle has a single level sensor.
Several acceleration sensors around your vehicle are sending data to the Airmatic control module to reduce body roll. Incredibly smart engineering.
Air compressor and the compressor relay
The compressor does what his name suggests, it fills the system with compressed air which is sent to all the air springs and struts. The compressor relay makes sure that the compressor turns on and off. The compressor is commonly located near the front left wheel. The relay of the compressor is located in or near the car’s fuse box.
Instrument cluster, level, and damping controls
The instrument cluster is responsible for displaying any errors in the system. The level and damping controls are the buttons you find on every Airmatic vehicle. They are located somewhere in the interior and allow you to raise and lower the vehicle, and you can choose how stiff or comfortable you want the vehicle to be.
Mercedes Airmatic Problems: Common Airmatic Air Suspension Problems, Symptoms, and Solutions
Airmatic air suspension is not a new thing, which is a good thing. All the common problems are already known and the air suspension malfunction on a Mercedes can be easily diagnosed. Take into account that before you set a definite diagnosis through guides like this, a qualified mechanic will use Mercedes Star analytics to confirm the Airmatic malfunction.
Faulty or a weak Airmatic air compressor
The entire vehicle sits on the ground, the compressor is not able to lift the vehicle back up, you cannot hear any buzzing from the air compressor.
Seeing an entire vehicle pinned to the ground immediately means that something is wrong with the air compressor or the air compressor relay. It is very unlikely that all 4 air suspension units have malfunctioned. A leak in the system would also mean that the air compressor would still try and lift the vehicle, you would see some effort and the compressor would still be able to partially lift the vehicle.
In a case of a dead compressor, a replacement compressor is needed. While you are at it, replace the relay as well. Before replacing the compressor, make sure that the air compressor replay is in working order.
Air compressor relay/fuse malfunction
The entire vehicle is pinned to the ground, the relay has no voltage and does not engage the air compressor, the air compressor might constantly run and eventually malfunction in cases when the relay will not disengage the compressor.
Before replacing the air compressor, have your mechanic check the air compressor relay. Replacing the relay is even cheaper and it is a common problem. If the relay gets stuck and does not disengage the air compressor you can expect the air compressor to fail due to over-exhaustion.
Check the state of the relay and replace it if needed. If you hear or feel your air compressor working without stopping, check if the relay is stuck.
Airmatic valve block failure
The entire or just a single side of the car can be pinned to the ground. Symptoms overlap with those of an air spring or air compressor failure.
As we mentioned before, the valve block is responsible for distributing the compressed air from the air compressor to each of the air springs. A faulty valve block can either not deliver the air to a certain wheel. In some cases, the valve block can also send the compressed air back into the air compressor causing it to malfunction.
A professional diagnostic tool will help a lot when identifying issues with the valve block. A faulty valve block can be diagnosed once the mechanic determines that all the air springs are fine and that the air compressor is in working order.
A single side of the car is sagging, at first, you might suspect a failure of an airbag or an air spring.
If the drop of the vehicle is sudden, it is very likely that an air leak is responsible for the sudden drop of the vehicle. The Airmatic air suspension system is made out of a number of airlines, connectors and seals. Any of those is a potential point for a leak. A common source of leaks is also at the top of the air strut at the brass valves. This happens due to a metal-on-metal placement between the strut connection and the brass valve. Other common locations of leaks include air compressor fittings, airlines, valve block fittings, air reservoir connectors, level control valve blocks.
An easy solution to this is a soapy water test. Spray the air lines, connectors and seals with a mixture of water and soap then observe if there are any bubbles forming around the affected area. This method is often used by professionals, however, there are professional tools for locating leaks that a good mechanic should own.
Failed air struts and air bags/springs
The whole rear or front of the car is sagging to the ground. The sagging can also happen at a single wheel. In the case of big leaks, you can actually hear hissing air as the compressor tries hard to fill up the air spring.
Do not ignore a sagging car, just because the compressor still manages to fill up the failed air strut, you are putting additional stress on the air compressor as well. The sagging starts off slowly but in time, you will find your car sagging to the ground in a matter of minutes.
Replace both air struts or air bags in a pair. Choose high-quality replacement parts.
Faulty level sensors
Your car’s height might be unaffected, yet you are welcomed by the Airmatic failure message on the dashboard.
Level sensors are located both on the front axle and the rear axle of your Mercedes. Faulty level sensors might leave your car extraordinarily high, low, or at a normal height. When the sensor fails, you receive a warning message on the dashboard. Sometimes a faulty level sensor might just send wrongful readings to the Airmatic Control Module, causing the car to sit unevenly.
Diagnostics should reveal the faulty level sensors, replacing them is fast and fairly cheap. Done.
Frequently asked questions about Mercedes Airmatic problems
Does the Airmatic air suspension have any maintenance planned?
Yes, there is something you can do. The air compressor actually has a filter which not many people and even mechanics know about. Replacing the filter is recommended. A clogged filter significantly reduces the lifespan of the air compressor. The filter itself costs a couple of bucks.
Can you convert an Airmatic air suspension to a regular coil spring suspension?
Yes, you can, but we do not recommend it. Just buy a car without the Airmatic suspension and call it a day. If you insist, there are conversion kits that will cost you around 1400$. These kits can include a module that deletes the Airmatic warning lights from the dashboard as well.
What kind of warning lights does an Airmatic failure engage?
In case of Airmatic air suspension problems you can expect the following error messages on your dashboard:
- Vehicle is too low. Visit workshop.
- Airmatic visit workshop!
- Airmatic – Stop, Car too low!
Are there any specific Mercedes Airmatic problems with the Mercedes S class?
Generally, no, all Airmatic systems are generally the same. This means that all the problems and solutions listed above apply to your Mercedes S class Airmatic problems, your CLS Mercedes, GL, or to your Mercedes ML Airmatic air suspensions. The W220 S-Class Mercedes was the only one known for its many and specific early Airmatic problems.
My W211, W212, W213 E class Estate T-model only has rear air suspension, can I expect the same problems?
Yes, you can, all the problems above are applicable to you. You just don’t have to worry about the front air struts which mean you carry half the risk.
How often do Airmatic components need replacement? How often can you expect Mercedes Airmatic problems?
This depends on how the car is used, maintained and where is it driven. A GL or an ML Mercedes that is often driven off-road will more likely have more problems with Airmatic components. An S-Class which is driven mainly on the highway will cover way more miles on the first pair of Airmatic air springs and struts. Here are the general lifespans of each component:
- Rear air springs/bags: 110,000 miles
- Dampers: 110,000 miles
- Front Air Struts: 100,000 miles
- Valve block: should not fail, fails on rare occasions
- Ride height sensors: should not fail, fails on rare occasions
- Air compressor: there is no fixed lifetime
Is it normal for my car’s air suspension to drop down in colder weather?
Yes, completely normal. This happens due to thermal contraction and is expected. The drop should not exceed 3 cm.
Mercedes Airmatic Problems: Conclusion and recommendation
We hope you found information about some of the common issues affecting Mercedes Airmatic malfunctions useful. Hopefully, it will help you quickly troubleshoot any possible problems with your air suspension when or if it starts behaving strangely. We always recommend contacting an Airmatic specialist for a proper diagnosis and having them examine the issue before you buy any expensive replacement parts.
Check out our other guides and how-to’s here!