A portable air compressor is one of the most valuable pieces of equipment you will need to keep accessible in your RV. But are all air compressors created the same? What features should you look at when selecting this type of equipment to inflate your tires?
With a bit of research, we found the best portable air compressor for each RV type; including a camper van, pickup truck and automobile.
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What is the Best Portable Air Compressor for RVs?
Motorhome, Trailer, Van or Truck Tires
What is an air compressor?
An air compressor is a pneumatic device that uses an electric motor, diesel or gasoline engine convert power into potential energy into useable kinetic energy.
Portable air compressors or commonly called tire inflators used in RVs or automobiles are typically powered by electricity through an inverter or battery terminals.
Why should you have a portable air compressor for your RV?
Traveling in your RV is stressful enough without having to deal with tire blowouts, flat tires or low tire pressure issues.
To help alleviate tire emergencies, you need to keep your tires at the correct tire pressure prescribed by the tire manufacturer. But it’s not feasible to have to rely on air stations at fuel stations or truck stops.
Having an indispensable tire inflator in your RV at all times will prevent wasting time locating the nearest fuel station. Thus reducing risk of being stuck on the side of the road.
So, a portable air compressor is one of the wisest pieces of equipment you should keep with your RV and/or tow vehicle.
A tire inflator is as important as everything in your tool kit. You will use it often; not just for when you get a flat tire. And, you’ll find you’ll use it for more than just your tires.
Most importantly, you will need to add air to your RV tires so you don’t end up stranded alongside the road. Because there’s times and locations where you won’t be able to rely on your Coach-Net or AAA to come inflate a tire.
This is precisely why you need to carry your own portable RV air compressor that suits your RV and other vehicle.
Reasons to facilitate using a portable air compressor:
- Airing your vehicle or RV tires due to elevation or fluctuation of outside air temperatures
- Inflating a spare before installation
- Golf cart tires
- Accessible mobility equipment
- Bicycle tires
- Inflatable kayaks or paddle boards
- Air mattresses
- Inflatable beach toys
Also, a portable air compressor is super handy to use to blow the debris off your RV roof or slide outs. And, they’re super helpful to blow out dust and dirt out of your engine compartment.
They’re also instrumental in blowing leaves and debris from your camping mat.
You can also use an air compressor to blow water out of your water lines when you winterize your RV.
✰ PRO TIP ✰ Tires are the most important piece of equipment on your RV. Therefore, it’s important to take care of them. READ: RV Tire Maintenance – How to Maximize the Life of Your RV Tires
What type of air compressor do you need for your RV?
Before purchasing, you need to know which type and size portable air compressor is best for your RV.
We first suggest buying one that is of course, “portable” because after all, tire emergencies never happen in your driveway at home.
Second, because RVs are so weight critical, your portable air compressor needs to be lightweight. But also, you need ample storage space. Some are larger than others and take up valuable space.
And lastly, based on the type and size of your RV, it needs to be of the appropriate size. RV air compressors either use 12 volts or 120 volts for power.
Air compressors powered by 12 volts are run off your RV’s batteries. Operating a 12 volt air compressor is similar to hooking up jumper cables to your automobile.
Simply attach the positive and negative compressor cable clamps onto the appropriate battery terminals. Then power your vehicle which will then power your portable air compressor.
Aside from using it for an RV, 12 volt portable air compressors are also ideal for airing the tires on your toad or tow vehicle for emergencies or otherwise.
They’re also good for Jeep enthusiasts that need to air up and down to go off roading or rock crawling.
Other types of RV portable air compressors use 120 volt power. However, you do need to plug these electric powered air compressors into a 120 volt outlet to use them.
In your RV, this is fine as long as you can power it from your inverter. Or, you can also plug your air pump into a portable solar generator power unit.
The benefit of using a portable 120 volt air compressors is versatility. You can use them at home, in your garage as well as on the road with your RV.
Finally, cordless battery powered portable air compressors are available. One of these might just be what you need. Light weight, compact and very mobile are great qualities in these compressors.
How do you choose a quality air compressor?
Portable RV air compressors come in a variety of sizes.
We recommend choosing an air compressor that is bigger than your current needs. That way if you end up upsizing your RV later, you will not have to purchase a new compressor.
That said, realize that you will need to consider the size and weight of a portable air compressor that is conducive with where you’ll be storing it.
The quality of portable RV air compressors comes down to a few things. One of which is what the air compressor components are made of.
Also, the size of the air compressor and how high PSI it can produce is a big determining factor on which would be ideal for your vehicle.
A high quality tire inflator is made of metal and is durable. Beware of cheap RV air compressors that are made of plastic. They will burnout the piston and components if the demand on them is too great.
Look for a compressor with a 100% or 33% duty cycle. This means the air compressor runs longer without needing time to cool off in between duty cycles. Thus refilling your tires faster. Less run timer equals less noise.
Finally look at the accessories that come with the compressor. You need to ensure the hoses are high quality.
Also, check the inflation nozzle and attachments for fit and finish. If the compressor has a built in pressure gauge make sure you can read it easily.
What size air compressor do you need to inflate your RV tires
Before buying a portable air compressor you need to know the size of your RV tires. Tire size determines the PSI (pounds per square inch) of pressure needed for the proper inflation of the tire.
Check the sidewall of the tires for this information. A good rule of thumb is the bigger the RV tire, the bigger the compressor needed.
Large Size Motorhomes and Fifth Wheels
On a big Class A motorhome or large 5th wheel, those monster 22″ tires require more air pressure to fill. Oftentimes, they require up to 150 PSI or pounds of air pressure.
Mid-Size Motorhomes and Campers
Mid size RVs, like travel trailers, smaller 5th wheels and small Class C motorhomes, require less air pressure to inflate their tires. So a mid-sized portable air compressor is more suited for them. Most of the mid sized RVs have tires that you inflate to about 80 PSI.
Small Motorhomes and Campers
Smaller RVs, vans, little towable campers and most automobiles do not need nearly as much air pressure. So, a smaller portable air compressor will suffice. Most smaller units with their smaller tires are inflated to no more than 65 pounds of pressure.
Is a higher PSI air compressor better?
In actuality, the higher the PSI air compressor you can afford to buy, the better off you are. Purchasing a cheap low pressure poorly designed portable air compressor will only cost you more money in the long run. Buy once cry once as they say.
Lower pressure air compressors also will be working harder to fill your tires and meet your needs. They will get hot and take for ever to get the job done. Eventually they will burn out and leave you stranded.
✰ PRO TIP ✰ Breakdown When you’re on the road, you’re subject to emergency breakdowns. READ: Roadside Safety Gear for RV Breakdowns or Emergency
Top Picks for Portable Air Compressors
Best Affordable Portable Air Compressors for Small Towable RVs and Cars
Husky 120-Volt Tire Inflator
The Husky 120-Volt Tire Inflator is a budget minded entry level air compressor. It has a 28″ air hose and a clip on air nozzle and is 120 volt powered so you need to plug it into an inverter or generator for power.
The Husky 120 Volt Tire Inflator is listed for tires up to 130 PSI. It has a built in air pressure gauge and comes with a few minor attachments for inflating inner tubes, mattresses, etc.
Although it’s not the biggest air compressor on the block, it’s quite sufficient for most smaller RV and automobile tires. It’s also the least expensive of the air compressors listed here.
If you don’t want to carry a generator we recommend a portable power source. We carry onboard our micro C motorhome the Southwire Elite 500 series with 100 watt solar panel watt bundle.
VIAIR 89P-RVS 12 Volt Portable Air Compressor
If you don’t have an inverter or carry a portable power source, this 12 volt portable air compressor is ideal.
The VIAIR 89P is a compact 12-volt portable tire inflator specifically designed for small RVs and cars. This RV tire inflator will fill most Class B tires from 80 to 90 PSI in less than 2 minutes.
The 89P-RVS features a new and improved longer air hose to reach your Class B or automobile tires.
Each tire inflator comes equipped with a 10′ power cord with dual battery clamps, 20 amp inline fuse and a 20 foot air hose with a built in PSI gauge. It’s long enough to reach all of your smaller RV tires.
It also comes with a convenient carry bag and all the necessary components to pump up your tires, beach toys or air mattress.
Best Portable Air Compressor for Mid-Size RVs
VIAIR 300P-RVS Portable Air Compressor
The VIAIR 300P portable air compressor is the perfect fit for mid-size RVs such as some Class C motorhomes, smaller fifth wheels, travel trailers, vans and super duty pickup trucks. It’s also perfect for budget-minded buyers who strive for quality.
This mid-sized portable air compressor will inflate tires up to 150 PSI with its 33% duty cycle compressor.
However, the 300P only comes with a 25 foot long hose and minimal accessories. That said, the VIAIR 300-P is equipped with a 100 PSI pressure gauge and canvas storage bag.
The VIAIR 300P powers via 12 volt and has 8 foot power cables to clip onto your RV’s battery terminals. This particular tire inflator is a great option for any RVer to carry on the road as it weighs just 8 pounds.
VIAIR 400P Automatic Portable Compressor Kit
Our highly recommended, go-to portable air compressor is the VIAIR 400P automatic portable air compressor kit.
This particular portable air compressor is more for large RVs such as Class A and C motorhomes. It can also be used for bigger truck tires and the big fifth wheels they tow.
We began using the VIAIR 400P-RV in 2014 when we started RVing and has been performing flawlessly since. With proper tire inflation and safety in mind, it was one of the first items we purchased for our first fifth wheel.
This little tire inflator weighs about 10 pounds. We used it to inflate the tires on both of our former fifth wheels to 125 PSI.
Although it has a lower duty cycle of 33%, the VIAIR 400P has a cubic foot per minute rating that is higher than some 100% duty cycle compressors. That means it adds air faster when topping off your tires and needs to run less time to do it.
In our opinion, the VIAIR 400P-RV is the total package including its’ rugged canvas storage bag. This air compressor kit comes equipped with:
- Two (2) 30 foot lengths of air hose with quick disconnect ends
- Quick tire inflation gun with an accurate PSI air pressure gauge
- 45 degree extended reach tire chuck
- Other miscellaneous accessories for inflating small items.
It uses 12 volt power and has an 8 foot long set of power cables that clamp onto your RV’s battery terminals.
Thus, allowing you to set the main compressor on the ground. Then you can reach all of the tires on your RV with the 60 foot of air hoses. No dragging the entire unit around with you.
Also the VIAIR 400P also has an awesome Winterization Kit available when it comes time to winterize your RV for storage.
✰ READ MORE ✰ How to Winterize Your RV for Storage
Other Precautionary Equipment for Added Safety
Other than frequently checking your tire pressure using a good quality air pressure gauge, our biggest recommendation is to monitor your tires for wear and tear. We prefer ones with the digital readout for a more accurate reading.
But also between tire changes, you should have already installed a good quality tire pressure and temperature monitoring system. They are ideal for not only RVs, but also your tow vehicle and toad.
In fact, they are one of our most recommended RV gear you should get before putting it in drive.
A TPMS will warn you of an impending tire issue or failure before catastrophic failure on the road.
And for those times when your tires are reading low pressure, this is the time to get out your portable RV air compressor to inflate your tires with ample air in accordance to your tire manufacturer recommendation.
✰ READ MORE ✰ Why every RV needs a TST 507 Tire Pressure Monitoring System for RVs and Towing
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Final thoughts on which is the best portable air compressor for your RV
Deciding which portable air compressor you should keep onboard your RV or when traveling in your car is as important as the fuel to get there.
By being prepared with this type of road safety gear, you lessen your chances of becoming stranded on the side of the road or the backcountry where you’re camping.
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