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On-Board Air: Which Is Right For You?

Posted in Features on October 26, 2016
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Off-roaders have a lot of uses for compressed air. The most common of which would be airing your tires back up after a good trail ride. It’s also helpful for operating air-powered lockers, running air tools, and dusting you off after a day on the trail in an open-top Jeep. There is certainly a need for compressed air, and there are many options on the market to serve the purpose, each with their own pros and cons.

With so many ways to skin the cat, wading through them all can be a chore. Especially if you are on a budget and don’t want to spend money on it twice because some key need was not met. Here are some of the typical and most used options: a stand-alone compressed air tank, portable compressor, and an on-board air compressor with and without tank. They all perform well, but which of these compressed air source options is right for you?

Every user and vehicle is slightly different in space availability, intended use, and the amount of money you’re willing to spend. Let’s look at three examples from a few manufacturers and break down their specifications, analyze the advertised performance for each, and further explore their uses.

Air Tanks

Stand-alone air tanks provide ample mobility and enough punch to run air tools. The downside is the size and professional fill-up requirements. Many companies on the market offer tanks, but we’ll focus on a familiar brand–Power Tank.

Power Tank 10-Pound Air Tank

Capacity: Power Tank states that its 10-pound tank can increase a 35x12.50x15-inch tire from 10 to 30 psi as many as 16 times. Power Tank also specifies 13 fillings for a 37x12.50x17-inch tire from its 10-pound tank.
Dimensions: 24 inches tall and 7 inches in diameter.
Weight: 27 pounds filled
Output PSI: Power Tank’s standard regulator puts out a maximum of 250 psi.
Install Time: Zero, unless you get the optional mounting bracket, which can be 5 to 30 minutes of work, depending upon where you install it on the vehicle.
Duty Cycle: Zero. This is one of the major benefits of a CO2 tank. There is no waiting for pressure to build up or for motors to cool off.
Air Tool Usage: Yes. The adjustable regulator allows pressure to be controlled.
Portability: Extreme. It’s capable of being taken from vehicle to vehicle, so long as the user can muscle the weight around.
Air-up time from 10 to 30 psi: Power Tank charts 38 seconds to air up a single 35x12.50x15 tire and 45 seconds for a single 37x12.50x17.
Cost: Average cost taken from five different retailers puts the Power Tank at $440. A refill costs between $15 and $30, depending on location.

Portable Compressor

Air compressors are the answer to situations where you don’t know how much you’ll need or don’t want to hassle finding a location to refill your tank. Portable compressors range from barely usable to high-functioning standalone units. We will not be covering the auto parts store units that struggle to air up even a passenger car tire. Viair and ARB both produce high performance and self-contained portable compressor packages that just need a battery hook-up.

Viair 400P-Auto Portable Compressor

Capacity: 0. The downfall of a standalone compressor is that it will need to run the entire time it is being used.
Dimensions: 10.9 inches long, 5.8 inches wide, and 7.5 inches high.
Weight: 10.7 pounds.
Output PSI: 150 psi maximum.
Install Time: 0. Comes with a carry bag to hold compressor and accessories.
Duty Cycle: 33 percent, meaning for 20 minutes of use, it needs to rest for another 40 minutes.
Air Tool Usage: Not recommended. Viair does say its higher-level compressors can handle some air tool usage for emergencies, though even that use is limited.
Portability: Extreme. Not being mounted to the vehicle provides easy use anywhere there is a battery.
Air-up time from 15 to 30 psi: Viair states that its compressor will fill up a 35x12.50x15-inch tire from 15 to 30psi in 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
Cost: Average cost taken from five different retailers puts the Viair 400P-Auto at $231. This is where the benefit of a compressor really hits the mark. Lower entry cost with no fill-up cost later on.

ARB CKMP12 Portable High Performance Air Compressor

Capacity: 0. Standalone compressor with no tank.
Dimensions: 17.3 inches long, 9.4 inches wide, and 8.2 inches high.
Weight: 14 1/2 pounds.
Output PSI: 100 psi maximum.
Install Time: 0. Comes in a self-contained box.
Duty Cycle: 50 percent, or 30 minutes of use needs 30 minutes of downtime.
Air Tool Usage: You would need to add either an auxiliary tank or use the twin compressor system.
Portability: Extreme. Only needs to have a battery to connect to.
Air-up time from 15 to 30 psi: ARB states the compressor will fill up a 35x12.50x15-inch tire from 15psi to 30psi in three minutes even.
Cost: Average cost taken from five different retailers has the ARB CKMP12 at $328. Portable with no need for a special fill up.

On-Board Compressor

If you have the space for an on-board air compressor, you are instantly at an advantage. Hard mounting to the vehicle insures never forgetting it at home or having to extend wires to make a connection to the battery. Generally, a compressor can fit in a tight spot, making more room for gear. An air tank can also be added to the vehicle, space allowing. An air tank significantly increases usability and decreases compressor run time. Both Viair and ARB offer multiple compressor models, but these two are the basic models.

Viair 400H Compressor

Capacity: 0. No built-in capacity. Though when hard mounting, an auxiliary tank can be mounted and plumbed to work with the compressor.
Dimensions: 11.25 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 6.75 inches high.
Weight: 8.95 pounds.
Output PSI: 150 psi maximum.
Install Time: 15 minutes to 2 hours. Each vehicle is different and likely will require custom work to mount and wire the unit.
Duty Cycle: 33 percent, or 20 minutes of use needs 40 minutes of downtime.
Air Tool Usage: Not recommended. Viair does say its higher-level compressors can handle some air tool usage for emergencies, though use is limited.
Portability: As portable as the vehicle.
Air-up time from 15 to 30 psi: Viair uses 15 psi as a baseline and states that the compressor will fill up a 35x12.50x15-inch tire to 30 psi in 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
Cost: Average cost taken from five different retailers puts the Viair 400P-Auto at $231. This is where the benefit of a compressor really hits the mark. Lower entry cost with no fill-up cost later on.

ARB CKMA12 On-Board High Performance Compressor

Capacity: Zero. No built-in capacity, though when hard mounting, an auxiliary tank can be mounted and plumbed to work with the compressor.
Dimensions: 7.5 inches long, 3.9 inches wide, and 5.7 inches high.
Weight: 7.7 pounds.
Output PSI: 100 psi maximum.
Install Time: 15 minutes to 2 hours. Each vehicle is different and likely will require custom work to mount and wire the unit.
Duty Cycle: 50 percent, or 30 minutes of use needs 30 minutes of downtime.
Air Tool Usage: You would need to add either an auxiliary tank or use the twin compressor system.
Portability: As portable as the vehicle.
Air-up time from 15 to 30 psi: ARB states that its compressor will fill up a 35x12.50x15-inch tire from 15 to 30 psi in 3 minutes even.
Cost: Cost average taken from five different retailers has the ARB CKMA12 at $286. Low entry cost and no need for special fill up.

The ARB CKMP12 comes in a handy carrying case and is fully self-contained. It can be a bit bulky, but it is extremely portable.
Being fully self-contained, the ARB CKMP12 only needs a battery hook up for power and can be easily transferred from vehicle to vehicle.
ARB’s High Output On-Board Air Supply is a great entry-level compressor to serve the purpose. The relatively compact size makes it easy to find a hard-mount home for it.
Each ARB CKMA12 compressor comes with the necessary wiring and connectors for an average install. Each install is different, though, so you may need more or different wiring, hardware, and connectors.
A Power Tank can make use of space otherwise unused on many vehicles with the help of different mounts. A roll bar clamp system allows the Power Tank to be easily assessable without taking up valuable floor space.
The mount is the only thing even semi-permanently attached to the vehicle, making the Power Tank ideal for moving between a daily driver and a weekend play toy.
The Power Tank comes with a powerful punch and can run air tools without trouble. Keep in mind that it needs to be professionally refilled.
VIAIR’s portable compressor system makes use with multiple vehicles easy. Everything stows in the optional easy carry bag.
The optional air tank greatly expands the usability of the VIAIR compressor. Unfortunately, that extra usability comes at the price of space in the vehicle.
With a hard-mounted compressor, you never have to worry about forgetting your compressed air supply at home.

Sources

VIAIR Corporation
Irvine, CA 92618
949-585-0011
www.viaircorp.com
Power Tank
Elk Grove, CA 95758
209-366-2163
http://www.powertank.com
ARB
866-293-9078
www.arbusa.com

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