Best On Board Air Compressor

An on board air compressor is just an air compressor kept on a vehicle – either permanently attached/built-in, or a portable one that’s stored on board. They’re great for a variety of tasks (see below for more on this), from inflating flat tires to powering air tools, and most 4×4 truck owners would never leave home without one! It is easy to get overwhelmed while trying to choose the best onboard air compressor due to the sheer number of options that are available. You have no need to be worried, though, since I will guide you through the process. If you are unsure of what features to look for in an onboard air compressor for your vehicle, I have outlined some of them below in a guide that you can use to help you make a decision. Scroll down to see our top picks for on board air compressors, or use our contents menu to read more about the requirements you’re looking for.


  • CFM is the most important factor, as you’ll likely be filling tires – so 3 CFM and over recommended
  • Tank size is also very important – 4 gallons and over is recommended for on board compressors
  • Portability is important if you’re going to take it with you on every trip

The 5 Best On Board Air Compressors

VIAIR 400P - 40045, Automatic Function Portable Compressor Kit, Tire Pump, Truck/SUV Tire Inflator, Silver, For up to 35 Inch Tires

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Vixen Air Suspension Kit for Truck/Car Bag/Air Ride/Spring. On Board System- 200psi Compressor, 4 Gallon Tank. for Boat Lift,Towing,Lowering,Leveling Bags,Onboard Train Horn,Semi/SUV VXO4841B

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Viair 10000 Onboard Air System

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  • 1-gallon air system kit designed to work with air horns and lockers
  • Includes: Air tank, air compressor, omega bracket with mounting hardware, pressure switch (85 PSI on, 105 PSI off), 40-amp relay, 145 PSI safety valve, t-fittings, 1/4-inch drain cock, 1/4-inch compression fitting, 1/4-inch plug, pair of 1/4-inch NPT to 1/8-inch BSP, 20-foot 16-gauge wire with inline fuse holder, accessory airline, and electrical connections
  • 1-gallon air tank and 98C compressor combine for plenty of power
  • For air horn use, air lockers, and a host of other light duty pneumatic needs
  • Reliable air source in a smaller volume and a cost-effective package

Ballmers CKMTA12 Universal High Output 12V On-Board Twin High Performance Air Compressor for Inflating Tyres

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What is an On Board Air Compressor for?

There’s a multitude of uses for air compressors on board a truck or 4×4, which I’ll detail below. Air compressors usually run off of the vehicle’s 12-volt power supply. The compressor can be permanently mounted to the vehicle or stowed away in a portable toolbox. For maximum power and air displacement (over 250 psi/1,724 kilopascals and up to 8 cfm/0.23 cubic meters per minute), you can modify an engine-mounted air conditioner pump to work as an air compressor. Many people use air compressors in conjunction with on-board air tanks. The tank can be filled with compressed air before a drive to have 5 or 10 gallons (19 to 38 liters) of on-demand pressurized air without waiting for the compressor to power up.

Adjusting Air Springs

Air springs are one of the best ways to improve the ride quality of your truck. They allow you to level the chassis and provide additional ground clearance without having to jack up the frame. But one of the biggest issues with air springs is the fact that they don’t offer much adjustment once they’ve been installed. If you need to raise the height of the truck bed, you’ll need to jack up the frame and install jacks under each corner of the box. This isn’t ideal because it takes time and effort. A better solution is to use an on-board air compressor system. These systems are easy to use and give you complete control over how high or low you want your truck to sit.

Inflating Tires

Off-roaders use on board air compressors for many reasons, but the most common is inflating a flat tire. The compressor hose can be attached to a tire pressure gauge to achieve the desired psi rating. In addition to filling a flat tire, air compressors are also essential for re-seating a tire that has slipped off the rim.

Air Tools

Off-roaders also travel with pneumatic tools like impact wrenches, ratchet wrenches and screwdrivers powered by compressed air. Another useful pneumatic tool is an extendible blow gun, which (via an air compressor) can be used to shoot targeted blasts of compressed air on filthy, hard-to-reach engine or suspension parts.

Air Lockers

For serious off-roaders, compressed air is used to power air lockers. These devices can instantly lock the differential on all four tires, creating intense traction over extreme terrain.

Portable or Permanent Installation?

One of the most common debates about onboard air compressors is whether built-in or portable air compressors are best. I would normally recommend that onboard air compressors should be something that is permanently attached. But there are some drawbacks for this option – such as the fact you can’t really use it for anything else except your truck! So, if going down the portable air compressor route, one option is to buy a toolbox specifically designed for carrying air compressors. Many manufacturers offer models that fold down flat so you can store them in the trunk of your car or even in the bed of your pickup. If you’re looking to save money, check out Amazon or even eBay; sellers frequently sell used boxes that cost less than $10. Finally, there are also plenty of companies that manufacture special cases that attach directly to your existing toolbox. For example, the Case Compressor Tool Box attaches to the side of your current box and provides easy access to all of your tools.

Does it matter where an onboard air compressor is installed?

Nope! The onboard compressor may be installed nearly anywhere on the vehicle as long as there is sufficient room and scope to do so. There are actually certain vehicles that come equipped with a spot for it. You must, however, keep in mind that installation must take place in a location that is both stable and free from moisture.

What are the drawbacks of on board air compressors?

On board air compressors are great tools for people who work outside and travel frequently. These devices are extremely useful because they allow drivers to inflate tires quickly and easily without having to stop at gas stations along the way. However, there are some drawbacks to using onboard air compressors. For example, it takes longer to fill these tanks than it does to pump air into a tire via a hand compressor. The price of these machines varies depending on the brand and model. Some models cost less than $100 while others cost over $1,000. In addition, many of these units don’t come with a gauge for measuring pressure levels. If you’re looking for something cheap, check out our list of air compressors under $300 or even under $200.

Gas or electric / 12V air compressor?

Electric air compressors tend to be much quieter than gas-powered units. These compressors operate on either an induction motor, which tends to be heavy, or a universal motor, which is lighter and more adaptable. While induction motors usually produce less power, they are generally cheaper to buy and maintain. Universal motors, however, are heavier and require more maintenance. Gas-powered air compressors are typically louder than their electric counterparts. However, they do offer greater output. Since they run off a diesel engine, they are also more powerful than those powered by electricity.

How much Air Flow / CFM?

The airflow is another important factor that needs to be considered while buying an air compressor. This measure is used to determine how much air a compressor can produce per hour. A compressor with a low airflow capacity might not be able to pump enough air into your tire fast enough, making it difficult to inflate it, or it might not be able to power the pneumatic tool you want to use. You should buy a compressor that has a maximum flow rate of 1.5 CFM or above. In case you don’t want to compromise on performance, you can opt for a 2.0 CFM air compressor. However, it is recommended to go with a 3.0 CFM or even 4.0 CFM model. If you are looking for something powerful, a 5.0 CFM or 6.0 CFM compressor is what you need. See the guide I wrote called What Is Air Compressor CFM for more info.

How much Air Pressure / PSI?

The air pressure level from the compressor determines how fast the air flows. It is measured in pounds per square inch, abbreviated to PSI. A quick inflation speed not only saves time but also keeps the motor from overheating. The PSI level normally runs between 30 and 150. The max pressure level is the maximum PSI that the air compressor can achieve. You must first determine what PSI level you want before making a purchase, which is determined by the pneumatic tools you want to power. It is preferable to choose an air compressor with a greater or just the correct amount of PSI since you will have a larger maximum PSI level, but you may also alter the level if you want a lower PSI level.

What Duty Cycle?

A duty cycle refers to the amount of time a compressor spends running per hour. For example, suppose your compressor offers a duty cycling of 50%. This means its runtime and the cooling off period are both equal and about 30 minutes long. In such cases, you can use this information to determine whether buying a particular model makes sense. If you plan to run the compressor for less than half an hour, you might want to opt for one with a longer runtime. On the other hand, if you plan to run the device for more than half an hour, then you should choose one with shorter runtime. Again, this largely depends on which pneumatic tools you are using it for. Read our article on Air Compressor Duty Cycle for more information.

What Weight and Size?

There are many different types of compressors out there, and each one has its pros and cons. If its a portable compressor you’ll be lifting in and out, then a good rule of thumb is to look for something that weighs less than 50 pounds, and does not require too much space. If you do happen to find a great deal on a heavy duty unit, make sure that it still fits comfortably in your vehicle.

What Tank Capacity?

How often the compressor has to rest depends in part on the tank capacity. Less breaks are necessary with a larger tank. Your vehicle will determine the majority of the compressor’s capacity requirements. For something like a truck, go with a larger capacity, such as 4 gallons or more. 2 or 3 gallons will also work, however they are better suited for smaller cars.

How Noisy?

Air compressors tend to be noisy little beasts, which can be very unpleasant, especially if you’re using them up close on a truck, where the noise level can be intolerable! So, when looking for one, aim for something that is on the quieter end of the noise levels, to give your ears some relief.

Do you want a Pressure Gauge?

A gauge that you may use to check the air pressure level is frequently included with good air compressors. This is a useful feature since it lets you monitor the pressure output.

Can you install it yourself?

If you’re going to install an onboard compressor or an external compressor yourself, then you might want to consider one that is fairly easy to install and comes with detailed instructions for doing so.

Is It Waterproof?

Because they’re designed for outdoor use, onboard air compressors need to be protected against moisture and even extreme temperatures. If you live in an area where there are harsh seasonal changes, this will help keep them safe during these times.

Can you afford it?

Before making a purchase, you should take into account all of the aforementioned aspects. All of this, however, is meaningless if the compressor’s cost puts you much beyond your spending limit. There are many less costly but still great on board compressors available however – as we’ve covered at the top of this article.

Jeff Stelling

Jeff Stelling is an air compressor obsessive who has been working with compressors for over 25 years, since he was an apprentice engineer in the mid 90’s. He designed to offer technical guidance and buying advice for compressors.

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