12 Volt On-Board Air Compressors What's Out There?


I would like to ask a question to anyone that may have some experience or knowledge on the subject of currently available on-board air compressors.
I am on the lookout for a small, durable, quality 12 volt air compressor that I can use to fill a 3-5 gallon tank for use on my air actuated lockers and air suspension.
I have no intention of running air tools but may use it to pressurize an on-board water system and air up a tire every now and then.

The funny thing is I used to design and build air suspension systems for a custom shop but generally we just used whatever crappy, cheap air compressors that we could find at any generic air bag shop.
Most of the stuff we built would just get used and abused for a show season and would be redesigned and rebuilt with new stuff for next season.
As such we never really got to test the durability of any of the compressors.

I have been out of the air suspension game for 10 years or more, I am not really sure what is available now days for compressors.
The emphasis on the compressor should be on quality and durability.
I do not want to run an engine driven compressor due to space constraints so I am looking specifically for a 12 volt electric compressor.

I understand that ARB and some of the other off road equipment companies sell compressors for such things but are they any good?
Does anyone have any experience with durability of such things?
I wondered if there might be some more industrial grade stuff out there.
Viair has their industrial grade compressors.
I wondered if that was just marketing mumbo jumbo or if they are the real deal.

I have also heard about these Puma 12 volt compressors that almost seem too good to be true but they get rave reviews in threads on forums of all sorts so maybe that is the answer.

Just curious what people have used and their experiences with any of them.


just a guy
another option is a 110V compressor with an inverter. I like the slower speed that they run, gotta be an issue with lasting longer I think. Plus the inverter opens up other uses


Hmm I will have solar, some batteries and an inverter on board.
I may explore this option a little bit.

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Ducky's Dad

For OP's described usage, the best bang for the buck is probably the ARB single cylinder portable. Small, reliable, mounts in any position, easy to wire, no plumbing required except the line to the tank. For this type of application, I like compressors with a built-in power switch and pressure switch. The ARB portables have these features, as do a couple of the Viairs and the small Warn (I think). Just find a place to bolt them into the truck, connect two wires to the battery, and you are good to go. Add a cutoff switch and a fuse to be extra secure. With the 3-5 gallon tank, OP can easily inflate tires and run most air tools if the need ever arises.


Check out the MV-50 as well.

Otherwise known as the MF-1050

Budget compressor, but has proven itself.

For the price, I dont think it can be beat.


The ARB high performance single compressor sounds ideal for your situation. It has 2 ports for accessories (lockers, etc) plus with their inflation kit (sold separately) a quick release port for attaching an air hose to fill up tires and pressurize your water tank. It's super high quality, easy to install, and doesn't take up much space in the engine bay. Here is mine installed:



just a guy
Hmm I will have solar, some batteries and an inverter on board.
I may explore this option a little bit.
I've been running this for 15 years - great solution. Got my compressor from Harbor Freight (Chicago Electric brand). I know sometimes HF stuff isn't top quality, but I've had zero issues with this. Not used daily by any means, but I consider it reliable.

LR Max

Local Oaf
X2 for ARB. Yes they are stupid expensive, but they are extremely awesome. Kinda "buy once" kind of deal.

Robert Bills

ARB, Viair and Puma are all quality units, the MV50/MF1050 not so much. The positive to the little red Chinese compressors is that they are cheap, but build quality is inconsistent and they won't stand up to hard use. You can modify them by drilling and tapping the ports to standard sizes and you can replace the flimsy reed valves with cut down feeler gauges, but why go to all that time and trouble to make a $50 compressor work properly when it still won't have the output of the other brands.

Another option that no one has mentioned yet is the Smittybilt P/N 2781. I have no personal experience with them, but a Google search should reveal some real world reviews.

I am currently using a Viair 400P portable compressor kit, which I have found to be more than sufficient for airing up 33-35" tires and a good value. The hard mount version is the 400C, P/N 40040. It would easily keep a 3 gal. tank filled for air suspension and air locker use. If duty cycle is of concern to you another option would be the 450C which can run longer but at lower CFM than the 400C.


Expedition Leader
Puma has no duty cycle and mine has run non stop for 4 hours in the past. If the size and performance will work for your application there is not a better value available.


I have 100's of running hours on my Puma set up over the last 10 years without issue.
Same here. I made the mistake of selling my first Puma along with the vehicle it was installed in, so after being disappointed with other compressors, I bought another Puma and I've kept it with me as I've cycled through multiple vehicles. Nothing can beat its price/performance ratio.

Robert Bills

I agree that the Puma provides great performance for the price. I would have one if I had room under the hood of my current truck. Alas, I don't even have room for the small ARB so this time I went with a portable kit for airing up tires.

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I picked up that Viair 400P a few weeks ago based in part on Robert Bills recommendation to someone in a different thread. I grew tired of my other two compressors blowing fuses and waiting for them to cycle back up after over heating. I despised plugging into the cigarette lighter because the plugs always got stuck in there. I love clipping right into the battery now.

I have since tossed the other two and am happy to report every tire I own along with every neighbor in a three house radius has proper PSI. Yes I was that excited when I figured out what I was missing.


Expedition Leader
Been using our little mv50 for almost 5 years, it will even air up the truck tires to 70psi without a hiccup, eventually it will be replaced by a Puma when it dies.
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