Onboard air compressors are meant to be able to power multiple applications. With just one system, you can rapidly fill up large off-road tires to the correct PSI after a long day out on the trails.

These systems are also generally permanently installed on the vehicle. You can use it for tire inflation, air lockers, load leveling, air horns, air suspension, and various air tools. 

Onboard systems are also great for applications that require higher CFM ratings than your standard portable air compressor. If you don’t have enough CFM, you won’t be able to run your pneumatic tools continuously.

Certain onboard compressors are capable of air up to 200 PSI. So if you’re constantly on the road or cruising the outdoor trails, you would certainly benefit from an onboard air compressor. 

Pressure and airflow are the two most important things to consider when buying an onboard air compressor.

The reason is, that your tire size affects the air pressure and airflow into your onboard air compressor. Large tires mean more pressure and small tires mean less pressure and airflow.

Most people choose onboard compressors with a rating of more than 2.5 CFM @ 90 PSI, but ultimately it depends on what you plan on using it for.

Below, we have compiled a list of 5 onboard air compressors we tested, one for each application that you may need it for. 

Top Onboard Air Compressors

ProductCFMMax PSIWeightWarrantyDuty
ARB CKMA122.4 @ 29 PSI1508.6 lbs2 years100%
Viair 200011.86 @ 200 PSI200 34 lbs1 year100%
GSPSCN5.65 @ 150 PSI1506 lbs1 yearN/A
Viair 400P2.30 CFM @ 150 PSI15010.4 lbs1 year33%
Smittybilt 27815.65 CFM @ 150 PSI150 20.3 lbs5 years100%

1. ARB CKMA12 – Best For Jeeps

We chose the ARB CKMA as the best for jeeps due to its powerful 100% duty cycle motor and CFM rating of 2.4 @ 29 PSI

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill cheap 12V air compressor. It’s a durable machine with a hard-anodized cylinder bore and high shock cylindrical roller to ensure longevity. We found that this also enhances the compressor’s flow rate.

The use of a 100% ball bearing in the motor gives it just a little more efficiency while using the same amount of power from the battery as other compressors. 

We were rather impressed by how quickly it inflates tires for its compact size. It has a 100% duty cycle that can fill 4 35” tires in a single duty. This is partially due to the CFM rating of 2.4 @ 29 PSI. It starts at 130 PSI and stops at 150 PSI, but you can use the 70/100 pressure switch that’s available. 

ARB CKMA12 Air Compressor High Output On-Board 12V Air Compressor

Pros

  • Compact enough to be mounted
  • 100% duty cycle
  • Inflates quickly
  • Lightweight
  • Durable construction

Cons

  • Heats up if running for a long time
  • The O’ring nozzle is a little thick
  • Battery clips are a tad small

Even though this compressor packs quite the punch, it’s rather small. It measures 5.7” x 7.5” x 3.8” and weighs just 8.6 lbs (this is only the compressor weight and size).

Due to its small build, it can easily be mounted. Wiring it is a cinch, too. It’s generally straightforward. It comes with all of the mounting hardware and a mountain plate. We also thought that the pressure switch, air filter, and safety valve installation were easy. 

ARB CKMA12 On-Board Air Compressor High Performance 12 Volt for Air Locker Differentials and Tire Inflation

$312.90  in stock
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2. GSPSCN Air Compressor – Best for Overlanding

We liked the GSPSCN Air Compressor as the best for Overlanding because of its high 5.65 CFM rating and exceptional 1.5 minute inflation time and 2.3 CFM rating at 150 PSI. 

If you’re Overlanding and find yourself constantly needing an onboard air compressor, look no further than the GSPSCN Air Compressor. It’s a budget-friendly design that’s ideal for Overlanding.

It’s a compact design that can be easily stored out of the way until you absolutely need it. Not to mention, its solid construction can handle all the bumps in the road while traveling.

This air compressor can reach a maximum of 150 PSI and inflate a standard-sized tire in 1.5 minutes with a CFM rating of 5.65. It has the capability to run for 40 minutes at 40 PSI at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a 28ft self-coiling hose that comes with this 12v compressor. Additionally, there’s a 6.5 heavy-duty power cord and alligator clips that attach to a vehicle’s battery. 

Pros

  • Low operating noise level
  • Durable construction
  • Quick inflation
  • 1 year warranty
  • Fills to 15-35 PSI in 90 seconds

Cons

  • Inaccurate air pressure gauge

We feel that we should mention how durable this compressor is. There are dual cylinders in the motor that help with the speed of inflation.

The motor is also direct driven which lowers the rotating speed for high efficiency and low noise. It also keeps the motor from working too hard, thus allowing it to last longer. We recommend that you turn it off for 5-10 minutes after every 20 minutes of use. 

GSPSCN Silver Tire Inflator Heavy Duty Double Cylinders with Portable Bag, Metal 12V Air Compressor Pump 150PSI with Adapter for Car, Truck, SUV Tires, Dinghy, Air Bed etc

$80.00
$62.99
 in stock
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as of July 5, 2022 1:22 pm

3. Viair 40047 400P – Best for RV

The Viair 40047 400P was the clear winner for best onboard compressor for an RV because of its inflation time of 0 to 30 PSI in less than 5 minutes. 

We loved using the Viair 40047 400P for our RV. It was one of the best 12v off-road air compressors we’ve ever used for any of our recreational vehicles. It’s a high-powered lightweight device that doesn’t take up a ton of space under the RV when it’s not in use. 

This compressor can inflate up to 35” tires from 0 to 30 PSI in less than 5 minutes. It can handle just about any tire size and is ideal for just topping off your tires before you get back on the road.

The 5-in-1 inflator/deflator tool ensures you have what you need when it comes to tending to your tires. This 33% duty cycle unit can put out pressures up to 150 PSI and can operate for 40 minutes before needing to be rested. 

Pros

  • High PSI rating
  • Auto shutoff feature
  • 30 ft air hose
  • Long power cord
  • Compact design
  • Comes with kits
  • Quiet & lightweight

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Draws a max of 30 amps

We couldn’t believe just how powerful this compact compressor was. It can put out 2.3 CFM @ 150 PSI and has a maximum rating of 150 PSI. It’s important to remember that as the pressure inside of your tires increases, the flow rate will decrease, but the lowest will be 0.71 CFM @ 150 PSI.

This special design helps protect your tires from over-inflation. However, there’s also an automatic shutoff feature that allows you to pre-set your specific PSI to avoid over-inflation. 

Viair 40047 400P-RV Automatic Portable Compressor Kit, Silver

$369.95
$332.95
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1 used from $312.74
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4. Smittybilt 2781 – Best Budget Onboard Compressor

The Smittybilt 2781 is just under $100 and since we can’t all afford expensive compressors, this is why we put a budget pick on our list. It’s a small, cheap compressor, but it packs a punch in our opinion. It’s a fantastic universal product that won’t cost you a whole paycheck. 

This compressor has a 5.65 CFM rating and a 150 maximum PSI rating. It can work continuously at 40 PSI for 40 minutes before needing a break. This is more likely at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

More so, this compressor delivers 72 liters per minute, allowing quicker and more efficient work. This is all thanks to the ⅓ horsepower motor that’s designed to be powerful and lightweight. 

Pros

  • Auto shutoff feature
  • Decent CFM rating
  • Oil-free for less maintenance
  • ⅓ HP motor
  • Maximum PSI of 150
  • Can be stationary or mounted

Cons

  • It May not work well for large tires

Some features we think are worth mentioning include the auto thermal cutoff switch which keeps the motor from overheating and overextending, which can cause damage. The motor is oil-free and provides you with optimal durability.  Lastly, you can choose to operate it as a portable device or stationary on the vehicle you’re using. 

Smittybilt 2781 5.65 CFM Universal Air Compressor

$169.99  in stock
34 new from $169.99
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as of July 5, 2022 1:22 pm

5. Full Metal Fab Works Adventure Air Compressor —Onboard Air Compressor for Polaris RZR XP 1000

Most onboard compressors are designed for trucks or 4 x 4s.  But tires on a RZR need to be aired up also, and sometimes a dune rider needs to use a power tool. So what’s a dune buggy rider to do?

Full Metal has answered that question by designing a kit that will fit both 2- and 4-door Polaris RZR XP 1000.  The lightweight unit weighs 6 pounds and has a built-in pressure gauge.   

Bottom Line

Full Metal’s is focused on the off-road enthusiast, whether it be winches, lights and light mounts, axle parts, or trail tools. 

If you want an onboard air compressor for a Polaris RZR, this is your best (and maybe only) bet.

Full Metal FabWorks Adventure Air Compressor Polaris RZR XP 1000

$299.00  in stock
2 new from $299.00
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6. Jegs Dragster Air CompressorOnboard Air Compressor for Drag Racing

If you need to pressurize throttle stops, air shifters, and starting line controls, then the JEGS Dragster Air Compressor is what you need. 

Many onboard air compressors are too large for dragsters, but this system is small enough at 12.5 inches long, to fit in front of the foot box.  

  • The pump has a max work pressure of 130 PSI and can fill from 0-120 PSI in one minute.
  • The air tank has a half-gallon capacity and is rated for 150 PSI.  The adjustable regulator provides consistent pressure.  You will also like the quick connect fitting on the air hose.
  • The 12 ½ inch by 6-inch steel mounting plate comes with vibration isolators that will reduce vibration and noise.

7. Air lift 25980 74000EZ  – Best Onboard Air Compressor Airlift

If you have been making air spring suspension products for 70 years, you have the know-how to deliver products to fit over 540 vehicles.  In the 1950s, Air Lift was a pioneer in the coil suspension field. 

They introduced sleeve-type air springs for pick-ups in the 1960s.  Continued innovation included air springs for motor homes and lowered vehicles of the 90s. 

The Air Lift 25980 is the industry’s best airlift.  The features are almost too many to list, but these are the highlights:

This system is ideal if you carry equally distributed loads, as it is a single-path system.  

Because of the standard-duty air compressor and small manifold, the installation process is simpler than other compressors. 

If you can do a battery hook-up and have a few hours, you can do the installation yourself. Three programmable presets for pressures you use frequently.

Bottom Line

Some companies rest on their laurels while others keep innovating.  Air Lift has done the latter and provides airlift solutions for every situation.  If you need a single-path system, the 25980 is perfect, but if you tow a pick-up camper, check out Airlift’s dual-path system

Bottom Line

If you are looking for a small onboard air compressor system that is geared toward drag racing and is reasonably-priced, the JEGS is an excellent choice.  Installation is straightforward and shouldn’t take but a few hours and you’re off to the races.

Note: JEGS recommends against mounting the unit inside the driver’s compartment.  Mount it in front of a dragster’s foot box or in the trunk of a car.

Airlift 25980 74000EZ WirelessOne Compressor with WirelessAir Control System and EZ Mount

$1,183.56  in stock
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Onboard Air Compressors For Airbags & Airhorns

8. Vixen Air Compressor VXO4852GCF Suspension Kit – Best Onboard Air Compressor for Air Bags

If you are tired of your truck sagging in the back when you are towing or carrying a heavy load, then you need suspension airbags.  These adjustable bags provide additional pressure when your vehicle’s suspension needs it, ensuring your vehicle’s weight is evenly distributed.

Vixen’s focus is on air suspension, so their onboard air compressors are designed with air suspension in mind.  For example, the compressor has four 1/2-inch ports in case you want to use air springs for each wheel.     

A feature that not all air compressor manufacturers offer is water traps.  Keeping moisture out of an air tank helps prolong its life.  This Vixen system comes with two filters—one to keep water out of your tank, and a second to keep any water that makes it into the tank from getting into the manifold.   

The Vixen Air ½” Air Spring Quad Pack is the perfect airbags to go along with the Vixen Air Compressor.  They have a load range of 349-3,055 pounds and a 9.7-inch usable stroke.  With a maximum pressure rating of 600, these airbags are made to last.

Vixen Air Suspension Kit for Truck/Car Bag/Air Ride/Spring. On Board System- 200psi Compressor, 5 Gallon Tank. for Boat Lift,Towing,Lowering,Leveling Bags,Onboard Train Horn,Semi/SUV VXO4852GCF

$377.08  in stock
Amazon.com
as of July 5, 2022 1:22 pm

Bottom Line

If you are planning on using airbags to lighten the load on your vehicle’s suspension, it makes sense to buy the compressor and airbags from the same manufacturer.  Vixen’s focus on air suspension makes their onboard systems stand out.

Warning:  Some people think that airbags will increase their vehicle’s load capacity.  This is a misconception. 

Airbags help you reach and maintain load capacity so your vehicle remains level.  Exceeding the manufacturer’s maximum load recommendations can damage your truck.

9. Horn Blasters Outlaw 127 – Best Onboard Air Compressor For Air Horns 

If you want a train horn kit with small install footprint but plenty of volume, then the Outlaw 127 sounds about right. 

This kit has a 1 ½ gallon tank gives you 5 seconds of continuous blast time.  The 35 second recharge time of 90-120 psi is lightning fast.  

Like all Horn Blaster kits, all components you need to get started are included.  Installation is easy and straightforward. 

The compressor tank is prewired, the horn’s solenoid valve is installed, and mounting hardware makes installing it to your vehicle easy.  The hardest part of installation might be plumbing in the air supply.

Horn Blaster uses a Viair 275C Air Compressor to power the horns, but since the unit is not enclosed, it needs to be kept in a dry space free from debris.  Drivers usually install them in the trunk or a truck toolbox.

Compressor size dimensions

  • 6.5 inches long
  • 3.5 inches wide
  • 4.5 inches high

Since you’re getting the Horn Blaster kit for the horns, here’s what you need to know.  The stainless-steel diaphragms are designed to last a long time and not rust.  The large throat gives the horns a deep tone.  Other drivers will definitely be alerted that you are coming.

Horn Blasters offers a wireless remote, a useful feature. 

HornBlasters Outlaw 1.5 Gallon 150PSI Train Horn Kit - All-In-One Air System - Easy Install - Big Sound

$561.99  in stock
5 new from $561.99
Free shipping
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as of July 5, 2022 1:22 pm

Bottom Line

There are many things to like about this kit, but since the compressor is not weather resistant, it needs to be installed in an enclosed area. Still, the easy installation, quick recharge time, and loud horns make up for that shortcoming.

Homemade Onboard Air Compressor

Why You Need a Built-in Air Compressor in Your Truck?

One of the most common uses is to pump tire air pressure so you’re ready for on-road driving.  But that’s not the only reason to invest in one.

  • Air horns.  Send warnings to other drivers.
  • Powering small tools.  Instead of having to buy separate compressors, use onboard air to power small tools on the road or in your shop or garage.
  • Overlanding Conveniences.  Use to fill air mattresses, power a refrigerator, or warm water for a shower.
  • To fill airbags that level your vehicle.

But why install a compressor when there is plenty you can take along when you need them?

  • Space.  Onboard compressors can fit into tight spaces, such as under the hood or under the car.
  • Convenience.  Once you have installed your compressor, you have the convenience of knowing it’s available when you need it.
  • Time.  You’ll get back the initial investment time investment in installation in all the time trying to remember where you put it, making room for it, or having to turn around because you forgot your portable compressor.

Why An Onboard Compressor Is Needed For Off-Roading

An onboard air compressor is a must-have for off-roading because if you decrease your tire pressure, you’re then increasing traction and comfort while on rough terrain.

Your tire pressure should be lowered to about 15 PSI for optimal traction and comfort, but you can only do this if you have a way to fill your tires back up, hence the onboard compressor. 

Not only that, but you can use it to inflate a bike tire, air mattress for camping, and more.

Belt-driven Onboard Air Compressors

Imagine being able to fill a tire in 55 seconds.  Or an onboard compressor that has 200 psi and 8.0 CMF.  That would be possible with a belt-driven onboard air compressor.  But does such a thing exist?

Instead of running from your battery, the belt-driven compressor would be driven by your engine’s fan belt.  So you would get increased power with very little power loss and without draining your car’s battery.  But does such a thing exist?  

Yes and no.  You could buy a York or Sanden compressor.  But installing one is not easy.

  • It would need to be lined up with the fan or air conditioner belt.
  • Then you would need to find room to mount it.
  • The air manifold would need to be mounted on the vehicle’s firewall.
  • Proper electrical connections would need to be made.
  • The system would need to be fitted with a pressure relief valve.

To make this work, you would need to have a car that has room for a larger compressor.  You would also want lots of experience with this type of installation.

If you are interested in doing this, contact us and we will get you a quote.

Homemade Onboard Air Compressor – Is It Worth It? 

If you are a DIY person, you might be wondering if buying the parts for an onboard compressor separately and building your own system is worth it.

  That depends on several factors:

  • How much time you are willing to invest
  • Your level of comfort working with electronics
  • Your ability to improvise

To give you an idea of what you will need to do, here are the steps you might need to take:

  1. First, you will need to find a 110-volt air compressor and make sure it has the valves you need (pressure relief, drain, and check) as well as a pressure switch.  It should also be rated to fill the tank size you will be using.
  2. If the compressor no longer works (which is why it was so cheap in the first place), you will need to buy and attach a new 12-volt DC compressor motor.  
  3. Next, you will need to make sure the pressure switch is rated to turn off at the psi you want. This could mean reconfiguring the switch.  
  4. After mounting the compressor motor to the tank, you must run wires from the compressor to the car’s battery.  Another pair of wires need to be run into the cab to attach to a remote on and off switch.  

Assembling and finding parts will take longer than opening a package with all the parts you need.  Making sure you connect everything correctly is easier if you have the directions that are included in a complete system. 

If you don’t have a lot of experience with things like relays, solenoid valves, and up-fitter switches, then a kit will save you time.

Having said that, if you have the time and experience with electronics, then building your own system will let you customize it.  It may even be a little cheaper although the savings will be minimal.

 How To Hook Up An Onboard Air Compressor

If you need to find out how to install an onboard air compressor,  read our detailed installation guide.

Do You Need A Tank For Onboard Air?

This is a common question that is asked from people who are new to onboard compressors. No, you don’t need a tank for onboard air unless you plan to use a lot of pneumatic tools.

The only thing the additional air tank will do for you is giving you an extra boost of volume for the first tire inflation. Tankless compressors inflate a 35” tire at an average of 5 minutes per tire. 

 Why Install When You Can Carry On?

Some people wonder why you would install a compressor on your vehicle when you can simply pack it up and take it with you anywhere you go. There are actually a few reasons why somebody would install it permanently.

First, is the space. Onboard compressors can fit into tight spaces such as under the hood of a car. Second, they’re convenient.

Once you install the compressor, it’s there whenever you need it without any extra steps needed to be taken. Third, they’re time-saving. You’ll never have to turn the car around because you forgot it. 

Can It Be Installed In A Toolbox?

The main goal of an onboard air compressor is to be accessible, dry, clean, and stay cool when in operation.

An overheating air compressor is the easiest way to have it fail prematurely. You can certainly mount it in a toolbox to achieve all of those goals. Being mounted within a toolbox will keep it protected from the elements and when it’s open, the compressor will get adequate ventilation. 

If you decide to mount it in a toolbox, you should mount it so it does not slide around. If you’re using a smaller toolbox, mount it to the bed so it doesn’t slide. Additionally, drill a hole near the bottom of the toolbox and deburr it before running cables. 

What Is The Best Onboard Air Compressor For Tires?

We thought that the ARB CKMA12 was the best overall onboard compressor for tires because it can quickly inflate small to large tires in just under 5 minutes, depending on the size.

Since there is a generous CFM, it has the capability to not only inflate tires but work for a variety of applications. It’s small and lightweight enough to mount to just about anything and has a generous 2-year warranty. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can a portable air compressor be installed as an onboard one?

Not all portable air compressors are suitable for performing at onboard standards. Most are not weight-optimized and can’t be installed onboard.

There would actually be more problems with it than the headache is worth. So with that being said, we don’t suggest you use your portable air compressor as an onboard one. 

Does it really matter where my onboard air compressor is installed?

No, it doesn’t. You can install the onboard compressor virtually anywhere as long as there’s space and scope available. Some trucks will actually come with a space for it. However, you should remember to install it where it will stay dry and less prone to shaking. 

Does a perfectly sealed air compressor matter?

Since the compressor will be exposed to many outside elements, it’s important to purchase a properly sealed one to ensure longevity. If it’s not sealed correctly, dust, dirt, and other debris can enter the compressor and make its operation hazardous. 

Final Thoughts

In our opinion, onboard air compressors should come standard on certain vehicles. They are a handy tool to have around in case of an emergency or just for fun.

They’re perfect for Overlanding and if you go off-roading. It’s now up to you to choose the best one for your particular needs and it is our hope that we’ve assisted with that in this article.