So you want to bag your truck. Good call — we’re obviously big fans. But now you need to figure out some of the fundamentals and put together your kit. And key to the whole thing is your air line selection. Do you want hard lines or soft lines?
This isn’t that easy of a question to answer with a simple “yes” or “no,” so let’s dive into it.
The pros and cons of soft lines.
Soft lines are the fastest, easiest way to plumb your truck, bar none. You can run them fast, secure them with some padded hose clamps and call it a day. So you should pick soft lines, right? Well sure. Maybe.
The downside here is that soft lines can puncture; hard lines can be rubbed through as well, but it takes a lot more work. Sometimes the heat in a line will cause it to bubble and burst, and since they’re often run nearby your exhaust or headers, this is a serious issue. And if you’re not careful about how you run them, rubbing can also be a problem. You don’t want to rub on your lines every time you turn a corner, right?
So then never run soft lines, right? Nope. In fact, soft lines are so easy to run that it’s a better solution, particularly for the first-time builder. They give you more flexibility (literally) to work with, and don’t require any fancy fittings to plumb into your system. You just have to be careful with how you run them, and most of that comes down to common sense. Don’t put your lines in the path of your exhaust. Keep them away from any moving components, and make sure they’re locked in place tight — use bolts, not screws, on your clamps. If you do all that, you can have a soft lined system that will function flawlessly for years.
The pros and cons of hard lines
Hard lines are super pretty. At the end of the day, if you want a setup that looks amazing, having polished stainless steel hard lines are tough to beat. But are they the best option? Sometimes, yes. But it’s not always a simple decision.
First, let’s talk about the different types of hard line. There’s stainless steel, aluminum and copper. Stainless steel is the most durable, but it’s also a bit more difficult to work with. We carry PTC fittings that will work with stainless, but you need to notch a groove in the tubing for it to grip on. Alternatively, you can use reusable compression fittings by companies like Swagelock, but they’re not cheap. We also carry aluminum tubing, which is a nice compromise. It can also be polished up to a good sheen, and works with all sorts of fittings. Copper is cool, but it will corrode and change color, so take that in mind.
The obvious problem is installation. It takes specialized tools to bend and shape hard line to your needs, and it can be tricky to figure out. Many a piece of complex line has been scrapped because of a mistaken bend, and that can get expensive. Hard line isn’t cheap, after all, and every mistake you make can up your costs a lot. Plus, what if you make a change? Sometimes a shift in plans can’t be helped, and it’s easier to make those shifts with soft line as opposed to hard line.
So what are the good sides? Well we’ve already talked about the looks, which are typically amazing. But then there’s the durability. Hard lines don’t flex, so there’s no worry about them shifting around on your chassis whenever you air up or down, so that’s good to know. Also, rubbing is almost a non-issue. Sure, you can drag through a metal air line, but it takes an almost dedicated effort to do so (or a tragically misrouted line). So if you’re building your air setup for durability, this is a good way to go.
Why not do both?
It’s a good question, right? Fact is, there are going to be scenarios where one option doesn’t work as well as the other. Let’s say you’re running manual gauges. Do you really want to route a 1/8-inch hard line through your cab? Or what if you have a particularly challenging section where running hard line would be almost impossible.
Then there’s the “fake it” option. If you want pretty hard lines in your trunk, but don’t want the hassle of running it under the chassis, then you can always do that, too. Just run the hard lines into bulkhead fittings, and go with soft lines from the other end forward. It’s not the ideal option, but it’s one way to have a pretty setup in your bed or trunk, and still be easy to run in the meantime.