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On-Board Air Systems: Compressor Confessor

Posted in How To on September 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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On-Board Air Systems: Compressor Confessor
Photographers: Jp Magazine Staff

This isn’t a buyer’s guide. This is a hands-on overview of some of the air-up systems the staffers of Jp magazine have used in the real world. We selected them, we installed them, and we used them. Some are more simplistic, like Advance Air System’s Power Tank, some are more complex, like the Kilby Enterprises’ Air Boss, and some fall in between. But one thing is for sure, no matter what your preference, airing down on the trail vastly increases your rig’s off-road performance, comfort, and safety. So don’t let an inability to air up prevent you from getting the most out of your off-road forays. No matter what your budget or experience level, you should be able to find a method of obtaining compressed air on the trail from one or more of these selections.

Viair Constant Duty Onboard Air System
Overview:
Viair’s party piece is the fact it offers complete, ready-to-rock systems. There’s no need to go chasing down fittings, wiring, connectors, or components. It all comes packaged neatly in one box. The company offers its onboard air systems from light-to-super-duty with a range of single or multiple compressors in varying degrees of gnarliness. Individual parts and pieces are also available.

System Tested:
We chose the company’s PN 1007 Constant Duty onboard air system that features its 100-percent duty cycle 450C compressor, 2.5-gallon air tank, 35 feet of coiled air hose, a dash panel with gauge and on/off switch, fittings, line, wiring, mounting hardware, pressure switch, and blowoff valve. The PN 1005 Heavy Duty system comes with a 400C compressor that’s much faster, but only has a 33-percent duty cycle. Of course, other systems are available with larger or multiple compressors, but we feel these two systems best fill the needs of the average Jeep owner.

Setup and Installation:
There are a lot of components and admittedly the instructions could be a bit clearer—especially if you unbag everything for a magazine photo and forget what it’s for! It’s almost a lost cause trying to fit the big 2.5-gallon tank in a Wrangler, but if you’re running a lift it will fit in the space underneath the floor and behind the T-case. Just check driveshaft clearance at full-bump. The compressor wouldn’t really like a dunking. There is just room to squeeze in on the top of the fender, but most will want to probably mount it low to the firewall or find a space for it in the cabin. In all, packaging isn’t fun in a Wrangler, but larger vehicles can probably swallow the full system more easily.

Real World Performance:
Let’s be honest: forget the air tank. You’ll blow through the volume quickly and then you’ll be running off the compressor anyway. It’s only good for busting off a lug nut with an impact and running air horns—both of which aren’t really necessary. The 450C isn’t the fastest compressor we’ve ever used, but it’s not maddeningly slow either. The fact we don’t need to let it cool down or rest really takes the pressure off. Just set the locking chuck and walk away for a couple minutes while your tire inflates, then repeat for the others.

Highlights:
Complete system with nothing else to purchase and a durable 100-percent duty cycle compressor that can chug out the air all day long.

Regrets:
You’ve got to have a little patience and remember it’s not your home compressor or a CO2 system. Trying to cram all the supplied components into a tight Wrangler can be irksome.

Bottom Line:
When you add up the extra costs of installation components not included with others, the Viair system represents an incredible value for a solid performer.

Power Tank
Overview:
Advanced Air System’s Power Tank is the original CO2-powered inflation system. In a nutshell, liquid CO2 is held inside a 5-, 10-, 15-, or 20-pound-capacity tank. As it exits through the high-flow regulator, the liquid CO2 expands and turns from liquid to gas. The use of CO2 liquid allows much more energy to be stored than if the tank held compressed gas, but the amount of inflation is still finite. Once your CO2 supply is depleted you’ll have to visit your local gas distributor to have your bottle recharged.

System Tested:
We’ve been Power Tank users for over ten years, but our latest test version is the company’s PN PT10-5240, dubbed the Package A System. The A System includes all the basics like the company’s SuperFlow HP 250 regulator, handle, tank bracket, boot, regulator cover, and 25-feet of HP1200 braided air hose. In reality, the company is always coming up with some new and improved regulator, coupler, or chuck so it’s hard to stay current. An exchange program is in place that credits you $90 towards the company’s newest regulator if you turn in your old Power Tank regulator, no matter what its condition.

Setup & Installation:
You’ll have to find a welding supply shop to fill your tank and then you simply install your regulator. It’s pretty easy. The company offers several different mounting bracket and roll bar clamps. Our newest system rides an upgraded Super Bracket (PN BKT-2261-BK), but since the bottle sizes are pretty standard you can use less-fancy mounts from your local welding supply shop. The Power Tank must be at a minimum 30-degree angle when in use, so we normally just mount it upright along the roll cage or body tub.

Real-World Performance:
The company has plenty of performance figures citing inflation time for different size tires and different pressures on its web site, but the short story, it’s blazingly fast. As long as your tank has juice it’ll air up four average-size tires while your buddy with the electric compressor is still working on his first. It only slows down slightly once the CO2 level drops to nearly empty. You’ll get more fill-ups than you think you should out of your tank. The company claims you’ll air up a 35x12.50R15 tires from 10-30 psi 12 times with a PT10 setup, but we feel like we’ve gotten more out of our tanks. We have found that the CO2 seems to go rather quickly when working with air tools on the trail. Perhaps that’s because unlike an electric compressor, there’s no need to pause and fill the tank after a couple seconds of tool use. It’s the perfect system for the impatient or those who don’t air up and down more than a couple times on a wheeling trip.

Highlights:
It’s friggin’ fast, versatile, and extremely portable. We have mounts in several of our vehicles and then chuck our Power Tank in whichever rig is hitting the trail. We’ve never run out of CO2 with simple air-ups; only when using power tools.

Regrets:
The limited supply of CO2 has never caused us pause to question the Power Tank as an onboard air supply, but its portability makes it an easy theft target. We always pull it out and bring it in our hotel room or try to hide it from the sight of sticky fingers.

Bottom Line:
Once you get one you’ll wonder why you didn’t get one sooner.

Firestone Ride Rite 9285
Overview:
The Firestone Ride Rite compressor is tailored to work with the company’s Ride Rite load leveling air bag system for towing, but it’s well-suited to tire inflation as well.

System Tested:
The Ride Rite PN 9285 compressor comes with an intake filter, wiring leads, and instructions. The company offers individual components like a 2.5-gallon tank, hose, and brass fittings as well.

Setup and Installation:
We mounted the compressor low on the driver-side firewall of our YJ Wrangler and wired it up to a relay with a simple on/off switch at the dash. We had some air line and fittings left over from installing Firestone’s Ride Rite airbag system in our tow vehicle, so we plumbed a quick-connector within easy reach under hood.

Real World Performance:
In reality, for airing up tires this compressor is kinda slow, but it’s better than using the hand pump. We didn’t bust out the stopwatch, but it’ll inflate a 31-inch tire from trail to street pressure in several minutes. The fill rate isn’t as bad as needing to stop to let the compressor cool. If it were a 100-percent duty cycle the slower fill rate would be easier to live with, but the compressor’s diminutive size makes it easy to fit in a Wrangler, so it’s a trade-off we’re willing to make.

Highlights:
Easy setup, small size, and will get the job done.

Regrets:
Slow fill rate coupled with required cool-down periods makes for long fills.

Bottom Line:
It’s very affordable and compact. If your main goal is powering air-actuated lockers or filling suspension bags, tire inflation is a sweet bonus.

Warn PowerPlant HP
Overview:
The Warn PowerPlant HP is a two-for. It’s both an air compressor and a powerful Warn 9,500-pound winch in one versatile unit. The winch features a three-stage planetary geartrain, a Gen II series-wound motor with a thermal protection switch, a free-spooling clutch, an integrated direct-drive cone brake, 9,500-pound pulling capacity, and 125-feet of 5⁄16-inch wire rope.

The air compressor delivers enough air to operate a variety of air tools or quickly inflate a raft. Onboard features include: integrated intercooler, pressure switch, thermal protection shutoff switch, and air hose quick disconnect. The PowerPlant HP includes a next-generation remote control, air hose, and basic air fittings and couplings. There is also a PowerPlant HD which is a 12,000-pound version.

System Tested:
For most Jeep applications the PowerPlant HP that we used (PN 71800) is more than adequate. The PowerPlant HD is better suited for ¾- or 1-ton truck use.

Setup and Installation:
The PowerPlant HP bolts up almost like any other electric recovery winch. You’ll need a winch mounting plate with a standard 10x4.5-inch pattern. It’s a little wider and a lot taller than a typical winch so the PowerPlant HP will not fit in some winch bumpers. It’s best used in conjunction with a submerged winch mount to avoid blocking airflow to the radiator. In addition to the positive and negative power leads that are routed to the battery, there is an air intake hose and filter that should be routed into the engine compartment as high as possible to avoid water intrusion.

Real World Performance:
It’s fast. With the Warn PowerPlant HP we were able to fill a 30-inch tire from 0 to 25psi in 1 minute. We were also able to run some air tools off of the PowerPlant. It’s perfect for tools like nail guns that don’t require a lot of cfm. Although we were able to use an impact gun to remove lug nuts, but you can only do one at a time because the compressor can’t keep up and the PowerPlant’s air tank is small. The included coiled hose and tire chuck fit nicely into tight spaces when not in use but the hose is a little short for anything bigger than a two-door Wrangler.

Highlights:
It moves a lot of air and it’s a winch. It’s the perfect on-board-air solution for vehicles that have very little interior or under hood space.

Regrets:
It’s not the fastest winch ever, but it’s not the slowest either. You can’t easily add a larger air tank because you can’t hold compressed air and winch at the same time. We wish we could turn the compressor on and off without plugging in the winch remote.

Bottom Line:
Great for ’07-up Wranglers and other Jeeps that see a lot of trail use where space is at a premium.

TJM
Overview:
The TJM air compressor is a portable unit that can also be hard-mounted and hard-wired to your vehicle if you desire. It’s designed to be able to operate in temperatures from 140 degrees down to -67 degrees Fahrenheit. An automatic thermal cut off is built in to protect the unit from overheating. The TJM compressor also comes with a 5-year warranty.

System Tested:
We used the TJM compressor (PN 013TJMCOMP) just as it came from the factory, as a portable unit. It includes a wiring harness with large alligator clips (to clamp to the battery), a 7.2-Meter (over 23 feet) quick-connect fill hose, a fill nozzle for inflatable toys, a spare fuse, and a rugged easy-store carry bag. The compressor features a 120 psi working pressure, an air filter, a built-in gauge, and it’s bolted to a sand tray to keep the compressor internals away from grit and other foreign objects when in use.

Setup and Installation:
Setup is easy. Pull the pump and hose from the bag, attach the air filter, clamp the large alligator clips onto your battery, connect the air hose, and you’re ready to go.

Real World Performance:
The TJM compressor is impressive for its somewhat compact size. We were able to fill a 30-inch tire from 0 to 35 psi in just over 3 minutes. At just over 12-pounds for the entire kit, that ain’t bad.

Highlights:
The extra-long air hose was a real bonus. You can easily reach all four tires without moving the pump, even on a large pickup. The threaded air chuck was also a plus.

Regrets:
It takes a pretty good magician to get everything to fit back into the storage bag. It will not run air tools.

Bottom Line:
If you’re looking for a complete, heavy-duty, all-terrain, portable compressor this could be it, as long as you are meticulous about winding hose and wire.

Slime Power Spair
Overview:
Slime is best known for its green snot that seals holes and leaks up to ¼-inch in tires and inner tubes, but the company now offers several different inflation devices and complete tire repair kits. Many of these kits include the Slime product.

System Tested:
We think the best Slime compressor kit for the Jeep and 4x4 enthusiast is the Power Spair flat tire repair kit (PN 70004). It’s a 48-piece kit that includes a heavy-duty tire inflator with a built-in light and gauge, 24 ounces of Slime tire sealant, a 16-foot coiled air hose and an adapter for inflatables, a 10-piece tire tackle kit containing: valve cores, valve core removal tool, and valve caps, 30 tire plugs, a T-handle reamer and plugger, a tire gauge, alligator clip adaptor, and a rugged storage case.

Setup and Installation:
The Slime Power Spair compressor is easily removed from its storage bag and sets up in seconds. It features a power plug that fits a cigarette lighter. An adapter with alligator clips is included that allows the compressor to be wired directly to the battery. A quick-connect air hose and thread-on air chuck make tire filling painless.

Real World Performance:
The Slime Power Spair is just slightly slower than the larger TJM compressor. The components easily fit back into the bag with some room to spare. The bag doubles as a reflective warning marker when stranded on the side of the road.

Highlights:
The Power Spair kit contains just about everything you could possibly need to repair and or refill an aired-down, flat, or damaged tire.

Regrets:
It will never run air tools.

Bottom Line:
It’s the basic compressor kit that pretty much every off- and even on-road vehicle should come with from the factory.

Air Zenith
Overview:
Air Zenith specializes in large high-pressure, high-cfm air systems to power up air horns, air locking differentials, air suspensions, and airing up big off-road tires. With a 200 psi shutoff and 100-percent duty cycle the OB2 pumps pack a lot of punch. Several different kits are available ranging from twin compressor, twin 5-gallon tank kits to the single OB2 Off-Road kit. All Air Zenith kits come with a 2-year manufacturer warranty.

System Tested:
We tested the Single OB2 Off-Road kit. While many of the other Air Zenith kits would work very well in an off-road application, thanks to their incredible cfm output and high pressure, their size and complexity make them less desirable. Our Off-Road kit included one OB2 black air compressor, a 220 psi digital pressure gauge, a 5-gallon black anodized aluminum air tank, a 200 psi pressure switch, a 1⁄2-inch DOT stainless steel braided air hose, an 80-amp heavy-duty relay, and a pre-wired relay socket. The compressor features oil-free design, non-lube piston and cylinder, a long-life PTFE-compound piston ring, a balanced connecting rod for low vibration and low sound levels, a direct-driven motor with an automatic reset thermal overload protector, a built-in IP55-certified waterproof cooling fan, a heavy duty check valve, and a remote mountable waterproof air filter.

Setup and Installation:
The OB2 Off-Road kit requires a lot of space to install because the compressor needs to be mounted close to the tank. You can forget about fitting the assembly under the hood of most newer Jeeps where space is at a premium. However, we found that the pump and tank do fit well under the bed of an FSJ pickup. Both the compressor and tank have mounting feet with pre-drilled holes. The compressor can be clocked to three different positions for clearance. It took the better part of a day to find a location, mount, and wire the OB2 Off-Road kit and we didn’t even use the digital dash-mounted gauge.

Real World Performance:
It’s almost like having a home compressor in the back of your Jeep. You can even run air tools for short periods of time. The OB2 Off-Road kit works best if you pressurize the tank prior to use. This is not such a big deal since we found that the OB2 compressor can fill the 5-gallon tank to 200 psi in about five minutes. At this pressure, airing up tires is fast.

Highlights:
High-cfm, high-pressure, and a large storage tank result in fast tire fill times.

Regrets:
You’ll spend a small fortune purchasing the required brass fittings, 6- or 4-Gauge wiring, and a 70-amp fuse (we used a 100-amp circuit breaker) that are not included with the kit.

Bottom Line:
It’s hard to beat the versatility and speed with this kind of output, but the OB2 Off-Road kit will not fit on most smaller Jeeps.

Harbor Freight Hand Pump
Overview:
Taking a hand pump on the trail is like bringing pork sandwiches to a vegetarian hippie drum circle. But having a hand pump on hand can be better than having nothing at all. In the past we’ve actually reseated the beads on 35-inch tires with nothing more than a bicycle pump and a ratchet strap. The key to making this work is finding the correct pump. Look for a hand pump that is high-volume and low-pressure (If it has a steel housing even better). These can be identified by their large diameter pump cylinder housings. The high-pressure hand pumps typically have smaller diameter housings and move a smaller volume of air per stroke. In some cases a good high-volume hand pump is a better option than some of the cheapie $20 electric pumps.

System Tested:
Harbor Freight offers a Gordon high-flow hand pump (PN 94046). It doesn’t have a steel pump cylinder but it can get the job done. It comes with a quick lock valve adapter and four nozzle adapters, a two-way Schrader/Presto valve adapter, and a footplate for easy pumping. At just under 2 pounds it weighs less than that hamburger you had for lunch.

Setup and Installation:
If you need help using a bicycle pump you may need to rethink Jeeping as a hobby. It’s pretty straightforward.

Real World Performance:
You won’t win any races and your buddies will likely gather around, point, laugh, and shoot photos to update their Facebook page while they wait for you to fill your 44-inch tires back to street pressure.

Highlights:
It’s light and with all its included adapters it can fill just about any inflatable toy. You’ll be the hero of the day when you’re the only one with the needle required to fill the topless Swedish Bikini Team’s volleyball.

Regrets:
You’re gonna be here a while if you have big tires.

Bottom Line:
Perfect if you are on a budget and have no other option, or if you follow the topless Swedish Bikini Volley Ball Team waiting for your day in the sun.

ARB On-Board Twin Air Compressor
Overview:
ARB’s Twin Air Compressor is the company’s answer to demands for increased usability in the real world. As of press time, some kits and accessories were unavailable but we were able to get a hold of the compressor and some of the accessories for testing. The compressor is available in both 12- and 24-volt versions, features an integrated pressure switch, dust-and-water-proof cooling fan, twin compressor cylinders, and cool blue anodized heat sinks. Airing up multiple tires is no problem and when coupled with an air tank the system is capable of running air tools.

System Tested:
We chose the CKMTA12 kit, which includes the compressor, weather-resistant wiring harness, air-locker manifold, and Carlington-style ARB switch. To that we added the tire inflation kit, and the ARB 605 tire inflator with gauge. The tire inflation kit includes a special high-temperature-resistant hose with quick-connect fittings, a quick-connect coupler, and a high-flow tire chuck. By the time you read this, ARB will have a portable kit available as well as a forged aluminum air tank.

Setup & Installation:
We mounted the compressor under the bed of our MJ and ran the intake up between the inner and outer bed walls below the bed rail. While the compressor itself will survive the occasional swim, if it were to suck water in, it would be done. While it would air up tires with no tank, we wanted to try out the air-tool claims as well. Without a tank, not so much, so we added a 1.75-gallon tank from Kilby Enterprises and used an array of brass fittings and lines from the local big-box home store to get it plumbed in. The wiring harness comes pre-wired for front and rear Air Locker switches but we just taped those connections off and out of the way. We had to extend the power wires with some 4-gauge wire to get from our battery at the front of the truck to the compressor mounted under the front of the bed.

Real World Performance:
We tested it with both 33- and 35-inch tires from trail pressure to street pressure and from completely flat to street pressure. On a recent trail run, we were able to air eight 33-inch tires up from 10-15 psi trail pressure to 25-30 psi street pressure in about 10 minutes. As for air tools, it will run them, but you better be patient about it. Since the compressor kicks on at 135 psi and off at 150 psi there is plenty of pressure to run an air impact gun or air ratchet. However, even with the 1.75-gallon tank, one lug nut is about all an air impact gun is good for before we would have to wait for the compressor to catch up. If running air tools is your primary goal, a 5-gallon tank would be better for you. One concern we had was that whenever the switch is in the on position, the fan runs on the compressor. We were concerned about it pulling dirt through the housing and concerned about excessive use of power. Our concerns were unfounded however, as the fan is completely sealed and draws only 0.25 amps.

Highlights:
It is fast at airing up tires and the simple switch in the dash is all we need if we want air anywhere. The small size allows for many out of the way mounting options. The pressure that it runs means our air gun can bust nuts loose with authority. If we ever decide to run ARB Air Lockers we are ready to go, we just need to put the manifold in for the solenoids.

Regrets:
Had we paired it with a bigger tank it would have been better at running air tools. Having to install a snorkel of sorts for the intake complicated the installation. The high-temp hose is nice but we’d have preferred an air line that is permanently coiled-up.

Bottom Line:
If you want onboard air at the touch of a switch, the wiring and plumbing of this kit is straight-forward thanks to the included harness and having the pressure switch, one-way valves, and everything built into the unit. However you will have to come up with the lines and fittings to plumb the air tank in on your own.

Kilby Enterprises Air Boss
Overview:
The Kilby engine-driven, York-based compressor systems have been around for a decade and include everything you need to install a system. The York compressor is capable of moving a huge amount of air and is likely still the fastest Jeep-mounted air pump on the market but will obviously only pump as long as your engine is running. It is capable of running air tools without having to wait for the system to recharge—buzzing 5 lug nuts off or on is not a problem. The company produces many Jeep-specific brackets including a couple for swapped-in Chevy engines so finding a kit to work with your Jeep isn’t difficult.

System Tested:
We installed the KE-2000-K Air Boss system on our ’01 Wrangler with A/C. Kilby lists kits for both A/C and non-A/C-equipped Jeeps. The primary difference between the kits is the length of the engine-driven accessory belt. Included is the York compressor, a 1.75-gallon air tank, a ¼-inch-thick zinc-coated bracket to bolt the compressor to the engine, a new accessory belt, and all the brass fittings needed to plumb the kit (including two quick-connect air chucks). The kit also includes a coalescing filter, one-way valve, drainback kit for the filter, an aluminum CNC air manifold, an air-pressure gauge, a safety (pop-off) valve, and a pressure switch. The kit includes a switch to turn the system on, but you are on your own for wire and connectors.

Setup & Installation:
There are a lot of fittings and components in this kit, but the included instructions are very complete and include good pictures. We had to get creative when mounting some of the components. The instructions state that the manifold can be mounted on the driver’s side inner fender but we were flat out of real estate in that location. In addition, the coalescing filter has to be at least three feet from the compressor outlet due to heat concerns. We ended up mounting both the coalescing filter and the manifold behind the grille in front of the radiator and the tank next to the driveshaft opposite the exhaust. We have an AEM Brute Force cold air intake on this Jeep, but we weren’t able to keep the heat shield. The compressor bracket and the heat shield wanted to occupy the same air space under the hood. We also had to massage the A/C lines to get the compressor in place.

Real World Performance:
The York puts out a lot of air and the smallish 1.75-gallon tank is the biggest we could fit in this Jeep. Airing up tires is actually faster with this system than with our home air compressor. Using the air impact gun poses no problems either, except for on the toughest-to-remove nuts or bolts. For those tough ones at idle, we were wishing we had a bigger air tank or hand throttle. Kilby does offer a 2.5-gallon tank, but there was no way we’d be able to fit it in this Jeep. As long as you’ve got fuel in your gas tank, the Air Boss system will take care of whatever compressed-air needs you have. The kit doesn’t come with an air hose or a tire inflator and Kilby does offer hoses in both 15- and 25-foot lengths and an inflator (but without gauge). We used a hose and inflator we had laying around for our testing purposes.

Highlights:
The Air boss is very fast at filling tires and decent at running air tools. The air impact gun and air ratchet work fine off the system, but an an-gle die grinder needs the engine RPMs brought up above idle to work well. The compressor is mounted high on the engine and safe from water inhalation. The bracket fits as though Jeep designed it and the sheer amount of included bolts and fittings means no running to the store in the middle of the installation.

Regrets:
We wish we could have fit the up-sized tank under the Jeep. We could have put it behind the rear seat, but we aren’t willing to lose our already meager storage space.

Bottom Line:
The Kilby Air Boss is a very capable air system with blazing speed, all in a very well thought-out package.

154 1109+compressor shootout+spec chart

Sources

Warn
Clackamas, OR 97015
800-543-9276
www.warn.com
Air-Zenith
Las Vegas, NV 89118
702-270-7988
http://www.air-zenith.com
Advance Air Systems
Elk Grove, CA 95758
800-574-3701
www.powertank.com
VIAIR Corporation
Irvine, CA 92618
949-585-0011
www.viaircorp.com
Kilby Enterprises
Burbank, CA 91504
818-565-5945
www.kilbyenterprises.com
TJM
888-951-4TJM
http://www.tjmusa.com
ARB USA
Renton, WA 98057
866-293-9078
http://www.arbusa.com
Slime
888-457-5463
http://www.slime.com

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