9 Reasons You Should Ditch Your Tow-Behind Air Compressor

Tow-behind air compressors took the world by storm a few decades ago when they met a simple need: available compressed air, wherever you want it. It was a game-changer for a lot of industries.

But once the novelty of tow-behind air compressors wore off, their limitations became apparent. Manufacturers began to look at innovative ways to solve these problems and, in the 1980’s, companies began to invent new air compressors that would revolutionize mobile air once again.

Today, workers who need compressed air have a medley of compressor options, many of which make more sense than a tow-behind. Let’s talk about 9 reasons you may want to ditch your tow-behind air compressor:

9. Enjoy hassle-free driving and parking

If you have a tow-behind air compressor, chances are you’ve become a bit of a pro at dragging your trailer through busy freeways, reversing without jack-knifing, and circling job site lots until you find a suitable parking spot. This might even seem normal to you. But there’s a better way!

When you ditch your tow-behind air compressor and switch to a vehicle mounted air compressor instead, you’ll feel liberated. You’ll suddenly have more freedom! Driving, reversing, and parking all become second nature again, and you won’t be restricted by your trailer’s capabilities or driving expertise.

If you’re a business owner, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your staff aren’t trying to negotiate your expensive equipment in heavy traffic, park in precarious situations, or backup in environments where space can be highly limited.

Speaking of which…

8. Improve your access to job sites

Dropping your tow-behind can also improve your access to important job sites, as tow-behind compressors are clunky and can limit your work opportunities. A lot of mobile service work is in remote or off-road areas, requiring vehicles that can navigate the challenging terrain. Trailers don’t tend to do well in tricky environments, requiring additional time and care to get to the work site—if accessible at all.

7. Free up your hitch for other equipment

Tow-behind compressors take up a seriously underrated asset on your vehicle: the tow hitch! Many workers have equipment that can only be transported by a hitch, while others simply prefer to tow a trailer with their tools. If your air compressor is taking up that spot on the hitch, you’ll need to make other compromises to get your equipment where it needs to be.

In some cases, business owners send out an extra vehicle and driver just to get all the right equipment in one spot. In others, favorite pieces of equipment are left behind or require extra trips to retrieve. When you mount your air compressor to the truck itself, you free up your hitch and improve your productivity.

One fantastic example of this improved productivity is with asphalt crack sealing, where cracks need to be blown out before they can be sealed. A truck-mounted air compressor can be used to blow the dirt out of the cracks, as the hitch pulls the asphalt applicator immediately behind.

6. Have an air compressor that’s always with you

Imagine this: you’ve just arrived at your next job only to realize it needs the air compressor you left behind. You have to actively plan for every trip with your tow-behind compressor, and decide whether it’s worth bringing along. What a hassle!

Alternative mobile air compressor systems have the compressor mounted to the truck itself, which means it goes everywhere the truck goes. If you need air, it’s there. You’ll never have to experience the frustration of needing the air compressor that’s halfway across town.

5. Need fewer safety checks & measures

You probably already know that there’s more than just physical baggage with a tow-behind, and they carry the need for extra safety precautions everywhere they go. The hitch, taillights, and tires all need to be checked frequently and, if any of these parts are failing, you’re not going anywhere until they’re fixed.

In addition, tow-behind air compressors make it harder for vehicles to stop quickly and safely. That means you need to reduce your speed whenever you’re towing your compressor, wasting valuable time that could be spent on the job or with your family. Throw in tow bar regulations, a larger blind spot, and the need to monitor the compressor itself, and you’ve got a lot of extra safety checks in your day.

And let’s not forget about thieves. Tow-behind compressors are often targeted by thieves because the units can be stolen in just a few minutes. By contrast, compressors that are mounted directly to a vehicle are significantly harder to take, while UNDERHOOD air compressor systems are practically impossible to steal.

When you stop towing your air and upgrade to a mounted air compressor, a lot of these safety concerns are instantly eliminated. Your compressor becomes a part of your truck or van, requiring fewer checks and precautions, and driving becomes safer.

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4. Less engine maintenance

Tow-behind air compressors require their own engine, in addition to the engine that’s included in the vehicle that’s doing the towing. That means two engines need to be maintained for every tow-behind compressor. This maintenance takes up valuable time and money that could be used elsewhere.

While some mobile air compressors require their own engine, many don’t. Recent air compressor innovation has been highly focused on utilizing existing energy sources to power mobile air compressors. For example, gas and diesel vehicle engines, transmissions, and PTOs that run hydraulics can all be used to power an air compressor.

3. Finish your jobs fasters

Time is money. The faster you finish your work, the more time you have to wrap up your “to do” list, take on more jobs, or even just enjoy an extra long break or two. Tow-behind compressors take time to properly position, set up and use.

When you upgrade a tow-behind to an UNDERHOOD, underdeck or abovedeck mobile compressor, you’ll be amazed at how quick and easy it is to get a job done. In some cases, the prep is as fast as flipping the “on” switch and grabbing the tool, while the job itself can be just as quick.

If you’d like more time in your day (and who wouldn’t), it might be time to give your tow-behind the boot.

2. Enjoy fuel & weight savings

Tow-behind air compressors are beasts. They’re notorious for being overweight monsters and they got that reputation for a reason… The Atlas Copco XAS 110 is a relatively small tow-behind compressor that can produce 110 CFM and weighs in at 1100 lbs. By contrast, the VMAC UNDERHOOD 150 air compressor provides similar air power and weighs about 200 lbs. That’s a huge difference! Choosing a lightweight air compressor means you’ll be able to add more tools and equipment to your truck, carry more materials, or take advantage of better fuel economy.

1. Discover more innovative alternatives

One of the best reasons to ditch a tow-behind air compressor is because there are much better options out there! Tow-behinds have the luxury of being overweight space-hogs, while other compressor styles have continually adapted to market demands with fresh innovations. For example, vehicle-mounted compressors can deliver more than enough air for light to medium duty applications, and do so in a system that’s significantly smaller, lighter and more compact than a tow-behind.

With modern compressor technology, you can enjoy all the benefits of having mobile air, while also freeing up cargo space, reducing gross vehicle weight, and working more efficiently. These benefits are why you’ll see onboard air compressors mounted to the vehicles of hard-working people like construction workers, military personnel, public works and utility workers, and fleet managers.

Vehicle mounted compressors are the smart choice for people who:

  • Need mobile air regularly
  • Have light/medium-duty applications, such as
    • Post pounding
    • Pressurizing gas lines
    • Road repair & crack sealing
    • Pavement breaking
    • Sandblasting
    • Sprinkler irrigation
    • Fiber optic cable shooting
    • Utility servicing
  • Want more space for cargo or other equipment
  • Prefer less weight and strain on their vehicles
  • Have the budget to make a long-term investment

At the end of the day, you deserve equipment that helps you get your job done quickly, easily, and safely. Tow-behind air compressors are necessary for some types of work, but there are a lot of downsides that you may have to endure. If you have the option to upgrade to a modern mobile air solution, then it’s time to ditch your tow-behind air compressor!

View this post as a shareable infographic here!

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How to Choose A Mobile Air Compressor For Your Work

Mobile air compressors are a beautiful thing. They make life easy by offering mobile air on demand, wherever you are, and can power high-quality pneumatic tools. But choosing a mobile air compressor can feel overwhelming, with an abundance of information and decisions to consider.

Fortunately, we’re going to make it easy for you to narrow down your options. In this blog, we’ll talk about the simple steps you should follow to choose the best mobile air compressor for the jobs you do.

1: Determine your CFM and PSI requirements

The very first thing you should do is determine your air needs. Pneumatic tools all require different amounts of air and these needs vary quite a bit, even within a single type of tool, which is why you should find out what your tools need as your first step.

Air power is typically measured in two metrics: CFM and PSI. CFM or “Cubic Feet per Minute”, is the amount of air that’s being delivered. PSI or “Pounds per Square Inch” is the amount of force behind that air.

Most tools are rated to run optimally at 80 to 110 PSI, so you’ll want to find an air compressor that can deliver the right CFM at the PSI your tools require. The best way to determine your PSI and CFM requirements is to review all the tools you will be using and check with the manual or manufacturer. If you plan to use more than one air tool at the exact same time, you’ll need to add the CFM requirements of each tool together to determine your total CFM requirements.

For now, you can get a general idea of your CFM requirements here.

2: Decide on a Rotary or Reciprocating Air Compressor

The next step is to determine what type of compressor you need. VMAC exclusively manufactures rotary screw air compressors because they last significantly longer, are a higher quality, can provide air instantly while maintaining constant air flow, and are smaller and lighter. But let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of both types of air compressors:

Rotary Screw Pros:

  • Continuous airflow / 100% duty cycle
  • Longer lifespan
  • Larger quantities of air
  • Higher CFM per hp
  • Quieter
  • Smaller
  • Lighter

Rotary Screw Cons:

  • More expensive up front
  • Requires skilled maintenance

Reciprocating Pros:

  • Capable of high pressures
  • Less expensive
  • Easier maintenance

Reciprocating Cons:

  • Interrupted flow rates
  • Low life expectancy
  • Maintenance costs
  • Excessive heat
  • Louder
  • Heavy
  • Bulky
In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a cheap way to get your jobs done for the next year or two, a reciprocating air compressor is probably the way to go. But if you need reliable mobile air for the next 5 to 10 years and are willing to pay more for a better-quality solution, rotary screw air compressors are your best bet.

You can read more about reciprocating air compressors versus rotary screw air compressors in this blog.

3: Consider Tow-Behind or Vehicle-mounted

Now it’s time to think about how you want to move your air compressor around. There are two major contenders that you can consider:

  • Tow-Behind Air Compressors
  • Vehicle-mounted Air Compressors

Tow-behind air compressors are air compressors that are mounted onto a trailer and towed by the hitch of your vehicle. They’re not our favorite option and we outline the reasons why don’t love tow-behind air compressors in this blog. However, if you need high CFMs, plan to leave your air compressor in the same spot for weeks or months at a time, or you simply love towing things around, a tow-behind air compressor may be worth considering.

Otherwise, you’re looking at vehicle-mounted air compressors as your best bet. There are two common ways that air compressors are mounted to a vehicle:

1. The simplest way to mount an air compressor is to simply attach a compressor with its own diesel or gas engine onto the back of a truck (or in a van’s cargo hold). Here’s a photo from TiNik Inc. that shows off this style perfectly:

TiNik-Inc-Service-Truck

Mounting air compressors in this way is relatively easy and inexpensive, which is why a lot of operators love this style.

2. The other way to mount an air compressor is to intertwine the air compressor components with a vehicle’s existing components. These installs are sophisticated and most people can’t even see the air compressor because it’s tucked away in the engine compartment. Take a look:

VMAC-Underhood-Air-Compressor

Engineers at companies like VMAC work with vehicle manufacturers to determine the best way to install these air compressors, ensuring the vehicle warranties are always still in effect. However, whether an air compressor can be mounted in this manner depends on the specific vehicle. You can see if your vehicle is compatible here!

4: Determine Your Power Source

Air compressors can be powered by many different sources. If you’ve decided on a tow-behind air compressor, you’ll be limited to gas or diesel engines. In this case, it makes sense to just go with an air compressor that uses whatever type of fuel your vehicle already takes, for simplicity.

But if you’re going ahead with a vehicle-mounted mobile air compressor, you have options! Some air compressors have their own gas or diesel engines, while others can integrate into a truck’s existing engine or hydraulics. Air compressors that mount under the hood use these existing systems, which makes them convenient.

As one example, here are the product lines that VMAC offers for various power sources:

VMAC Systems table

Consider what type of power sources you already have available and think about whether they will work for your air compressor. Using your vehicle’s engine or existing hydraulics can be a highly convenient way to power an air compressor. However, if that doesn’t work for you or your vehicle isn’t compatible, air compressors with their own gas engine or diesel engine can be just as effective in getting the job done.

5: Find An Upfitter That Knows Air Compressors

By this point, you should have an idea of what you’re looking for in an air compressor and be able to answer some simple questions. Let’s break them down:

  • How much CFM do you need?
  • Rotary screw or reciprocating?
  • Tow-behind or vehicle-mounted?
  • What is the power source?

Now you’re ready to talk about specific brands and options. If you’ve decided to go ahead with a vehicle-mounted rotary screw air compressor, your next step will be to find an upfitter. The upfitter will be able to share the specific options available to your vehicle and provide you with quotes for purchasing and installing the air compressor. Check out our Dealer Locator to see our favorite upfitters!

If you’d rather have a reciprocating compressor or a tow-behind air compressor, there are numerous options available. Again, we recommend working with an upfitter who knows air compressors well and can help you choose the best compressor for your individual needs.

Curious what other operators are using? Find out in these posts:

Fanelli Equipment Repair Upgrades to VMAC DTM70-H

Located in Hilmar, CA is Fanelli Equipment Repair. Owned by Phil Fanelli, this company has been operating in the Central Valley area for over 12 years, repairing and servicing all types of Caterpillar equipment, including landfill, recycling, and compost equipment for waste management companies, as well as servicing equipment used in the dairy industry.

Phil Fanelli has successfully grown his equipment repair business to include seven service trucks, each which puts on thousands of operating hours and up to 50,000 miles every year. “I work my trucks hard, and so I rotate through them every five years, to ensure there’s no downtime,” says Fanelli. “Because of this, I expect any piece of equipment to last me five years as well.”

Up until recently, Phil’s service truck was equipped with a reciprocating air compressor. This reciprocating air compressor resulted in a lot of challenges, the first and foremost being weight. The compressor was terribly heavy on his truck, which at the time was a Peterbilt with a 14-foot service body. Phil also found himself waiting for compressed air to be produced, resulting in downtime as his compressor tried to catch up to him. This slowed down his work.

When it was time to bring in a new service truck to the fleet, Phil seized the opportunity to “right-size” his truck. Because he’s often travelling to visit his technicians on different job sites, he chose to downsize to a Ford F550 truck. He also needed to address the weight and air supply concerns associated with reciprocating compressors. For this truck build and upfit, he went straight to Spencer Hinson, owner and GM of Lodi Truck and Equipment, located in West Sacramento.

“I’ve been getting Spencer at Lodi to build my trucks for over 10 years now, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else,” says Phil. “I go in, tell him what I want, and he keeps me involved in every step of the build.”

At first, Phil was interested in an UNDERHOOD™ 70 air compressor, which fits neatly in the engine compartment of the truck, supplies up to 70 CFM of air continuously, and weighs just 150 lbs, saving up to 260 lbs. But when it was time to start the truck build, Spencer recommended a different product: the newly released VMAC DTM70-H, a direct-transmission mounted PTO driven air compressor with hydraulic pump. The DTM70-H is the best choice for customers like Phil who are concerned with saving weight on their service truck, and who also need compressed air and hydraulic power at the same time.

“Spencer knows I’m really concerned about weight. It seems like I’m always overloaded, and he thought this set up would be the best fit,” explains Fanelli. And the weight savings were significant: “The VMAC DTM70-H saved 500 lbs, which is a big deal when you’re trying to set up an F550. With these weight savings, it was the only way to go. We were looking at aluminum doors and aluminum fuel tanks, but to save 500 lbs with one change tFinelli-VMACo the DTM70-H was a no-brainer.”

The VMAC DTM70-H weighs only 180 lbs, which frees up hundreds of pounds of weight, and allows customers like Phil to downsize their trucks, and at the same time load the truck up with more supplies. “I added more tools, a drawer set, tool boxes, and an oil tank, thanks to the weight savings,” says Fanelli.

It’s been several months since Phil picked up his new F550 truck from Lodi, and he’s been using the DTM70-H to power his air tools and crane simultaneously. Spencer’s expertise and recommendation was key in this new truck build and was exactly what Phil needed. “When I got the truck, it was show room quality, detailed, everything worked. It was exactly the way I wanted it.” And as for the DTM70-H? “It’s lightweight, which is what I needed, but it also produces the air I need, when I need it. It’s bulletproof.”

Subscribe to the VMAC blog to continue reading about Fanelli Equipment Repair’s experience with the VMAC DTM70-H, and to learn more about Lodi Truck & Equipment, located in West Sacramento, CA.

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