Portable air compressors are a priceless tool for anyone who is interested in taking their truck off-road. The ability to «air down» your tires before hitting the trails gives you an instant capability boost that expands where your truck can take you while also preventing pesky slashed tires that can occur when rocks come into contact with a fully-inflated sidewall.
Lowering your tire air pressure for off-roading makes tackling rugged trails easier and more comfortable by allowing your tires to deflect around obstacles, minimizing bounce and slippage. Having a reliable and efficient portable air compressor makes airing down easy by giving you the capability to fine-tune your tire pressure and the peace of mind that you can re-inflate your tires when the fun is over and it’s time to hit the pavement.
There are a few characteristics that you will see referenced time and again in air compressor specifications. Some are more important than others, but here’s a brief overview of what they are and what they mean.
The duty cycle of an air compressor refers to how long it can run before it needs a break to cool down, as well as how long that cool down period lasts. Duty cycles are measured in a percentage of total run time, so a compressor with a 50% duty cycle might be able to run for 30 minutes before requiring thirty minutes to cool down. A duty cycle rating gives you some understanding of the type of use a compressor is designed for, but because cycles are represented as a percentage, it is important to also note the compressor’s run time. It is possible for a portable air compressor to offer a 45-minute run time but only a 30% duty cycle, which would mean that after running for 45 minutes, it needs well over an hour to cool back down. Similarly, a different compressor might only offer a 25-minute run time but offer a 90% duty cycle, which means after a quick break it is ready to return to heavy operation.
Understanding the continuous run time and duty cycle of a given compressor should give you a better idea of how it is designed to perform; only you can determine which one is right for your intended use case.
CFM-cubic feet per minute is the most important metric for a portable air compressor for truck tires. This measures how much air a compressor can move in a set period of time. When filling a large off-road truck tire, you want a lot of air to move very quickly. Bicycle air pumps are narrow tubes designed to create a high pressure (PSI) very quickly. Because bicycle tires are so small, it is easy to fill them without much volume. They also have much higher pressure ratings than automobile tires. Portable air compressors are typically much larger, stockier cylinders that do not create nearly as much internal pressure but instead move lots of air to reach the target volume quicker.
Pounds per square inch is not really an important metric for a portable air compressor, because most car and truck tires rarely run more than 40–45 PSI. Every consumer-grade air pump can reach these volumes, and some manufacturers may try to bury low CFM ratings by highlighting a high PSI capability. Just remember-you’d rather fill your tires to the right pressure quickly than have the ability to slowly reach a catastrophically high air pressure!
Portable air compressors are also helpful with today’s space-saver spare tires and run-flat tire solutions that many passenger cars and trucks are equipped with. Below are four of my favorite portable air compressors for truck tires.
|VIAIR 400P Portable Compressor||2.3||150||Check Price|
|Smittybilt 2781||5.65||150||Check Price|
|Q Industries MV50 SuperFlow||2.54||90||Check Price|
|Viair 00088 88P Portable||1.47||120||Check Price|
Viair 400P Series Air Compressors
Specifications and Features
- Motor voltage — 12 volt
- Motor type — Permanent magnetic
- Max. duty cycle: 33% @ 100 PSI
- Max. working pressure — 150 PSI
- Max. Amp draw — 30 Amps
- Max. ambient temperature — 158°F
- Min. ambient temperature — -40°F
- CFM @ 0 PSI — 2.54
- Inline pressure gauge — 100 PSI
- Dimensions – 11.25″L x 4.00″W x 7.00″H
- Net weight — 8.50 lbs
Viair is known for its impressive array of air compressor systems. From in-vehicle mounted options to these portable compressors, Viair is known across the truck world for its powerful and reliable tools. The 400P is a portable compressor from Viair’s Heavyweight Series that boasts a 33 percent duty cycle, while the ultra-serious 450P is part of the Extreme Series and offers a 100 percent duty cycle for the most extreme inflation needs. The difference comes down to speed and frequency of use. The 400P is faster for quick bursts of reinflation, while the 450P’s heavier-duty materials inside and out inflate slower but last longer and operate more smoothly and quietly.
Understanding duty cycles can be confusing; while a higher percentage duty cycle offers longer uninterrupted run time before cooldown is needed, this often comes at the expense of inflation speed. If you are planning to use your compressor to inflate multiple vehicles’ tires or routinely drop down to extremely low PSI and then need to air all four tires back to highway pressures, a higher duty cycle is worth the performance tradeoff. Generally-speaking, the 400P can safely inflate a single truck’s tires up to 35s before a cooldown period is required. It does so quickly, but with a bit of harshness. Conversely, the 450P moves more slowly but can inflate larger tires or more vehicles before requiring a cooldown period.
Put simply, the 400P inflates tires an average of a minute faster than the 450P, which means it can inflate four tires on a single vehicle before it reaches its required cooldown period. If your use case involves inflating more than four tires, though, you’ll have to wait up to thirty minutes for the 400P to cooldown before running it to inflate again after a set of four tires. Both compressors have clamp-on inflation guns that offer a consistent and reliable connection with tire valves, while their hoses are plenty long to allow for four-tire inflation without repeat cable gymnastics.
Smittybilt 2781 5.65 CFM Universal Air Compressor
Specifications and Features
- Universal application
- Powerful 12V motor
- Quick release 24′ coil hose
- Heavy-duty easy clip connectors
- 10′ power cord
- Nylon carry bag
- 20.3 pounds
- 40 minute continuous cycle time
Smittybuilt is a well-known brand in the off-road world that has built its reputation as an affordable, high-quality supplier of critical hardware like winches and air compressors. The Smittybuilt 2871 Air Compressor works quickly and consistently, and its performance per dollar and portability are hard to match.
The Smittybuilt 2871 offers extremely high performance for its size and price. It offers a sufficient duty cycle and speed to inflate four off road truck tires from rock crawling pressure back to safe highway pressure quickly and consistently. It is smooth and consistent without becoming coarse like many affordable air compressors, but it does get quite hot even while it is still within safe operating parameters.
For the off-roader who wants a fast compressor with enough continuous run time to inflate multiple vehicles’ tires, the Smittybuilt 2871 is a great choice. Its affordable price and recognized brand name and warranty mean you can rely on the Smittybuilt to work as-advertised for years to come. Some reviewers note that the compressor’s proprietary fittings and connectors made for some frustrating experiences, but with the right adapters for your application, the Smittybuilt is a foolproof solution for quick and consistent portable tire inflation.
Q Industries MV50 SuperFlow
Specifications and Features
- Inflates a full size truck tire in under 4 minutes
- Inflates a passenger car tire in under 1 minute
- Powerful 12-volt motor
- Powers directly from a car battery
- Quick release 16 ft. coil hose
- E-Z twist brass inflator
- 8 Ft power Cord
- Convenient nylon carry bag
- Includes 3 adapter nozzles for inflating sports balls, rafts, and toys
The Q Industries MV50 SuperFlow is one of the most affordable portable air compressors on the market, but that doesn’t mean quality is sacrificed. With quick inflation times and low cost replacement parts, the MV50 SuperFlow is the perfect option for those who need a portable tire inflator for occasional use without the higher priced commitment of some alternatives. The SuperFlow includes attachments for most inflatable goods, which increases its functionality as a portable air compressor for everything.
The MV50 SuperFlow inflates car tires in as little as one minute and most truck tires in under 4 minutes, which is fast enough to account for its less effective heat dissipation and long-term performance. As long as tires are inflated efficiently, the MV50 can inflate your truck’s tires from off-road to highway settings before it needs a chance to cool down.
With its affordable price of entry and competitive performance specifications, the SuperFlow is the perfect compressor for those who need an extra for the occasional flat tire or off road foray. The value-oriented pricing and included attachments make the SuperFlow one of the most useful portable air compressors for someone who simply needs to add an inflation device to their home tool arsenal.
Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor
Features and Specifications
- Weight: 4.5 pounds
- Size: 6.8×6.2×10.8 inches
- Max Tire Size: 33 inches
- Max PSI: 120
The Viair 88P is one of the most common portable air compressors on the market. As the value-oriented offering from a well-known compressor company, the 88P is the perfect device for those who need occasional tire inflation from a brand that has an established reputation.
The 88P offers an impressive 25% duty cycle, which is ample for topping off the air pressure of vehicles with smaller truck tires before cooldown is required. Its built-in pressure gauge and impressive heat-dissipation make it easy to nail off-road tire inflation after moderate off roading adventures. Many reviewers note that large truck tires with high PSI highway requirements are difficult for the small motor to fully inflate, but as an affordable offering for light truck applications, the 88P performs impressively close to its larger and more expensive brand siblings.
At less than half the price of the other compressors reviewed here, the 88P offers an impressive value proposition. While the casual user likely will not notice a difference between this and larger compressors, it is worth noting that its smaller, more portable size and lower cost do come with some tradeoffs. The 88P cannot air up multiple larger off road tires without a cooldown period, nor should it be expected to bring E-rated tires up to pressures beyond approximately 40–45 PSI. As long as your application is more mild, the 88P is the perfect tool for adding some off-road functionality without breaking the bank.
What Size Air Compressor Do You Need to Fill Truck Tires?
While it never hurts to have more compressor capability than you truly need, there are always size, weight, and price tradeoffs associated with every model of air compressor. If your truck has oversized off road tires like 33s or 35s, only the largest and most powerful compressors can be counted on to consistently reinflate all four tires, especially as ambient temperatures rise.
If you are still running a more stock tire size, only occasionally go off road, or don’t find yourself often airing down more than 5 or 10 PSI below highway ratings, then smaller, lighter compressors offer portability, speed, and price advantages that may be worth it for your application. However, if you already find yourself interested in the off road lifestyle and foresee truck upgrades or more frequent trips deeper into the trails in your future, it is certainly worth the small premium that the larger and more powerful compressors command as they will b able to keep up with changes to your vehicle setup as well as help your friends out when one of their compressors fails in a group setting.
Taking reliability, value, and capability into consideration, the Smittybuilt 2871 is the best overall option for the widest range of users. The compressor is routinely offered at sale prices and its speed, capability, and continuous runtime make it a powerful tool for reinflating tires of all sizes while offering capability to spare for additional trucks on the trail or even maintenance and tire swap duties. With a recognized name in value and reliability, the Smittybuilt is the best buy for most people.
The Viair 88P offer impressive value and performance for the customer who is on the fence about the use and benefits of a portable air compressor as well as the user who does not specifically plan on using one but believes in being prepared for all scenarios. With its impressively small and lightweight package, the 88P can easily be tucked alongside a toolkit and first aid supplies in the trunk and can provide a priceless inflation when the need arises.