One of the most common and dangerous problems RVers encounter is tire failures. Most of these are due to improper inflation. Because of this it’s critical to regularly monitor your tire pressure and inflate as necessary.
This makes an essential piece of RV equipment the portable air compressor. These devices can save the day in various situations and help you stay safe on the road. However, it can be hard to narrow down your options, especially if you don’t know what you need.
We have used many different air compressors over the years and today, we’re sharing everything you should know to choose the suitable RV air compressor.
What Is an RV Air Compressor?
An RV air compressor is portable and designed with RVs in mind. It functions like a standard air compressor but is typically lightweight and compact without a tank but with correct pressures and long enough hoses, making it perfect for RVers. Most models usually utilize a 12-volt outlet or connect to the battery of the RV or tow vehicle.
Many RV air compressors can deliver up to 150 PSI of pressure, more than enough for most tires on campers. Additionally, they’ll usually come with attachments to help make it convenient to check and adjust tire pressure.
If you’re an RVer, we consider these devices essential for any adventure. You never know when having one will come in handy or help you avoid a dangerous situation. So don’t hit the road without purchasing an RV air compressor.
What Size Air Compressor Do You Need for an RV?
You must consider several factors when selecting the size of an air compressor for your RV. You must factor in the size of your RV, the number of tires, and the recommended PSI. Getting an air compressor that’s too small could extend the time it takes to fill up your tires or prohibit you from reaching the required PSI.
Generally, you want an RV air compressor with a solid CFM (cubic feet per minute) and PSI (pounds per square inch). This will allow you to quickly and effectively get your tires to the proper tire pressure.
Typically, a unit with 2.0 CFM (at 0 psi) and 90 PSI max will suffice for most trailer tires. However, a larger RV, like a toy hauler or class A, may require a larger air compressor with a higher CFM and PSI rating. Many large class A tires run up to 120 PSI and require a lot of air.
Before shopping for an air compressor, know your tires’ PSI requirements. You can find all the information you need on the tires’ sidewalls. Don’t forget to consider other possible uses requiring a higher PSI.
Should You Get An Air Compressor With or Without a Tank?
Most time if using a compressor to fill a tire, a tank is not required. An air tank acts like a battery that gets charged up and then can discharge more air quickly. Tanked air compressors work better with air tools, however, but unless the tank is very large will not have a lot of benefit for filling a tire.
Another benefit tanks offer is to allow an air compressor to shut off. Once the tank is full, the compressor can shut dow and cool off, you also don’t need to listen to it run all the time. This is best for shop use but is not a huge benefit when filling tires and will just take up more space.
Why Every RVer Should Have an Air Compressor
There are a handful of reasons why every RVer should have an air compressor readily available. Let’s examine why we consider these essential and why you shouldn’t hit the road without one.
Maintain Proper Air Pressure on Your Tires
You should do a pre-trip inspection before every excursion. One step of this inspection should be to check the air pressure in your tires. Temperature changes can severely impact your tires and mess with their pressure. As a result, you may need to add a few shots of air to each tire before hitting the road.
Additionally, if you’re using a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), you’ll want to adjust your tires when it alerts you. Driving on tires at an incorrect PSI is dangerous and can significantly reduce the life of the tires. You should also expect that it will substantially impact your fuel economy.
Pro Tip: Make checking your tire pressure quick and easy with one of these Best RV Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems.
One of the first lessons RVers learn is that the lifestyle can be unpredictable. Letting the air out of your tires can help you escape a scary situation where your vehicle or trailer is stuck. This often happens with individuals traveling on unpacked sand.
Lowering the PSi of the tires to a range of 15 to 20 PSI helps improve traction, reducing the odds of getting stuck. However, once you return to a solid road, you must put air in your tires. If not, you could severely damage your tires and potentially even your rig.
Winterizing the Rig
If you want to keep your rig safe while it sits in storage during the off-season, you’ll need to winterize it. This involves removing as much water from the plumbing system as possible. Many owners purchase blow-out adapters to use air compressors to push air through the lines and remove any water in the system.
While some RV owners will come back through and add RV-safe antifreeze to their lines, it’s not always necessary. As long as the lines are water-free, they’ll likely not experience any damage from freezing temperatures. Just ensure you use a pressure regulator to avoid subjecting your plumbing system to unsafe pressure and causing extensive damage.
Pro Tip: New to winterizing your rig? Use our guide on How to Winterize Your RV with Air Compressor (Without Messy Antifreeze)
If you’re camping in a campground with a pool or a lake, you may want to bring some inflatable toys. However, these items can take forever to inflate manually. Inflating some of these massive toys could take hours, and you’ll feel like you’re about to pass out when you finish.
Using an air compressor to complete the job can allow you to inflate these toys in minutes. It requires practically zero effort, so you won’t worry about feeling dizzy from running low on air.
How to Choose the Right RV Air Compressor
You want to look for several crucial characteristics in an RV air compressor. Let’s examine a handful of things you must consider when shopping for the right one to accompany you on your adventures.
When buying almost anything for your RV, portability is essential. Many RVers complain about the lack of storage space in their campers. As a result, you want your RV air compressor to be spacious enough to do the job but not so giant that you’re wasting space.
If you have a towable RV, we recommend getting an air compressor that you can easily store in the tow vehicle. This helps ensure it’s readily available and easy to access when you need to use it.
Most RV air compressors use a 12-volt outlet or connect directly to the vehicle’s battery. You can find portable air compressors that utilize a 120-volt electrical outlet. However, these could limit your ability to use them, especially if your vehicle doesn’t have an electrical outlet or the air compressor overloads the outlet. You could end up blowing a fuse, which would leave you in a sticky situation.
It’s essential to consider the maximum PSI for your tires. Most camper tires will have a max PSI between 65 and 80 PSI. However, some of the largest RVs require 80 to 120 PSI. Many budget-friendly RV air compressors max out at 80 PSI, so you wouldn’t be able to finish the job if you have beefier tires.
It’s better to have an RV air compressor that’s a bit overkill than not enough. Most owners upgrade their camper after a handful of years. Just because your tires are 60 or 80 PSI now doesn’t mean your next rig will be the same. Buying a more capable air compressor now helps you avoid rebuying some equipment.
What Is Air Compressor Duty Cycle
The duty cycle for an air compressor refers to the time the device can run continuously before you need to give it a break. This allows the components to cool and avoid overheating. This significant number is a percentage representing the time it can work compared to its run time.
An air compressor with a 50% duty cycle can run for 30 minutes out of every hour before needing a break. However, a duty cycle of 100% means you can run the air compressor continuously. There’s no need to let it rest or cool down.
For RVing, a 50% duty cycle is typically sufficient. However, if you’re regularly inflating and deflating your tires, you’ll want an air compressor with a 100% duty cycle. It can take some time to inflate your tires, and you don’t want to cause any damage to your equipment.
For example, in our overland truck camper, we regularly air up and down the tires, so we have a 100% high-flow air compressor built in that can help us get our tires inflated.
Most air compressors come with various attachments and accessories to assist with tasks requiring air. While you may not always use every extension, they’re good to have. You never know when you’ll need to use them during your adventures.
Make sure you note the length of the air hose. Depending on where you’re using your air compressor, you may need 30 to 60 feet of hose. Luckily, these are often very flexible and convenient to store.
Some standard accessories for these units are an air chuck, pressure gauge, and nozzle adapters.
RV Air Compressors Worth Considering
We have a few suggestions if you’re shopping for an RV air compressor. Which one you choose will significantly depend on your situation and your RV type. Let’s look at a few options we think are worth considering.
Good: Dual Cylinder 12V Air Compressor Pump
The GSPSCN Silver Dual Cylinder 12V Air Compressor is a budget-friendly RV air compressor. It has a 150 PSI maximum pressure rating and a 2.12 CFM. It can inflate a standard vehicle tire from 0 PSi to 35 PSI in 90 seconds.
You can expect to pay around $50 for this unit. However, it’s crucial to remind you that it’s a budget-friendly option. You should avoid using it for more than 15 minutes before giving it a rest.
While it’s excellent for topping off tires and general maintenance needs, it’s not a heavy-duty model. Those looking to use their air compressor heavily might want to spend a few extra bucks. Will it do the job? Absolutely. However, with such a low-duty cycle, it will take considerable time if you’re putting a significant amount of air in each of your tires.
Better: Greenworks 24V Portable Air Compressor
The Greenworks 24V Portable Air Compressor is a mid-range unit with a roughly $100 price tag. It comes with multiple adapters, allowing you to use it in various ways. The 160 PSI maximum pressure ensures it’s up for any job you throw at it.
One of the best features of this unit is the automatic shut-off. You only need to set the desired pressure, and the unit will shut off at the right time. You can power the unit with the 24-volt rechargeable battery or use the 12-volt power outlet in your vehicle.
It can take a standard-size tire from 28 PSi to 35 PSi in less than a minute. You’ll spend less time messing with your tires and more time enjoying your adventures. This model proves you don’t have to break the bank to get a quality unit.
Best: VIAIR 450P RV Portable Compressor Kit
The VIAIR 450P RV Portable Compressor Kit is the cream of the crop regarding RV air compressors. Not only does it come with a host of attachments and accessories, but it can inflate tires up to 150 PSI. While we have used many other compressors over the years, most have failed us. This is the unit we currently use and it has been reliable and functions very well.
This unit has a 100% duty cycle (almost 40 min run time), so you can run it continuously without worrying about overheating or experiencing damage. However, the manufacturer doesn’t recommend running it for more than 40 minutes without a break.
While the VIAIR 450P is the best and most capable, it’s also the most expensive. You’ll typically pay anywhere from $350 to $375 for one of their kits. However, those who own them generally feel they’re worth every penny. Their 4.8 rating from more than 1,600 reviews on Amazon shows what people think about them.
Choose Your RV Air Compressor Wisely
There’s no shortage of options for RV air compressors. However, some are more capable than others. Ensure you take your time to research and consider how you’ll use the unit. You don’t want to waste your hard-earned money on a unit that won’t do the job. Take the time to read reviews and consider the various capabilities of each unit. Doing so can help you to make a wise purchase.
Which of the RV air compressors on our list would work best for you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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