VMAC recently surveyed 1,464 visitors on the VMACAIR.com website to ask the question, “How many years do you expect your truck mounted air compressor to last?” The poll results showed a clear winning expectation, with 40.51% of respondents choosing 6-10 years.
When combining those results with the 19.19% of respondents who chose 1-5 years and the 17.76% who chose 11-15 years, a whopping 77.46% of respondents expect their truck mounted air compressor to last within the 1-15 years range.
This aligns with the average age of services trucks, which is 11.5 to 16.5 years, and is consistent with our understanding of the relationship between air compressors and work trucks. Fleet managers and owners typically install truck mounted air compressors on brand new work trucks, then expect those air compressors to last the life of the truck. The air compressors are then retired or resold at the same time as the service vehicle.
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However, some poll results were interesting and revealed surprisingly low and surprisingly high expectations of truck-mounted air compressors.
Nearly one-fifth of all respondents expect their truck-mounted air compressor to only last 1-5 years, suggesting a massive turnover of compressed air on these trucks. Without further context from these respondents, it’s impossible to know why their expectations are so low. Still, it seems probable that these survey respondents purchase older trucks that turnover regularly or are only familiar with low-quality, temporary air solutions.
Another significant number of respondents expect their truck mounted air compressor to last more than 25 years. While this is certainly possible with the right air compressor system and preventative maintenance schedule, it is certainly well above the average expectations.
Of course, the work truck industry has always had individuals who are proud of their ability to maintain vehicles and equipment for several decades. So it’s not that surprising that a similar cohort would expect the same lifespan from their truck mounted air compressor.
Rotary Screw Air Compressors
Rotary screw air compressors are the best option for fleet managers, operators, and owners who want their air compressor to last the lifespan of their truck—whatever that vehicle cycle time is.
All three major truck mounted air compressor manufacturers in North America, including VMAC, offer a limited lifetime warranty on their rotary screw air ends. This warranty makes sense, as quality rotary screw air compressors can easily last the lifespan of the truck they are installed on.
However, it’s important to recognize that the air compressor itself is only one part of a larger system. Other components in the system may not be as hardy, which is why it’s critical to take care of truck mounted air compressors and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.
SGS Engineers states that reciprocating air compressors can have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years (Source). However, our field experience at VMAC suggests that reciprocating air compressors rarely last this length of time, and 5-10 years is a more realistic estimate with appropriate maintenance.
This shortened estimated lifespan may be due to the more challenging conditions that truck mounted equipment endures compared to more stationary reciprocating air compressors. In addition to significant movement and vibration, vehicle mounted air compressors are often subjected to extreme climates and environments.
When Should I Replace My Truck Mounted Air Compressor?
If you’re wondering when you should replace a truck mounted air compressor, the short answer is, “when you need to.” If your air compressor is functioning properly, there is no need to replace it early or on a pre-determined schedule.
Chris Marshall supports this sentiment in an article by Rockler, saying, “I don’t think there are general guidelines about when an air compressor should be retired. I’ve never read or been informed about any, at any rate. If the condensation in the tank doesn’t have flakes of rust in it, the air seals are still holding, and the motor is running strong, I’d just keep right on using it.”
Of course, many fleets replace their truck mounted air compressors at regular intervals, based on their own equipment estimates. Fleets outfitted with rotary screw air compressors can typically cycle their air compressors at the same time as their trucks. However, those with reciprocating air compressors will need to plan for a much shorter interval.
Factors That Impact The Lifespan of Air Compressors
Four primary factors impact the lifespan of every vehicle mounted air compressor. By understanding these factors better, fleet managers and air compressor owners can choose the best air compressor for their long-term needs and extend the longevity of their systems.
Rotary Screw vs. Reciprocating
The first and foremost factor in air compressor longevity is the style. Rotary screw air compressors are hardy and powerful systems that have a significantly longer lifespan than reciprocating air compressors. If you plan to use your truck mounted air compressor for more than 5 to 10 years, a rotary screw air compressor is usually the smart way to go.
Product quality has a direct impact on air compressor longevity. For this reason, fleet managers, owners, and operators must look closely at the manufacturer or company they are purchasing from. Here are a couple of things to look for:
- Manufacturing Location – Many people within the industry believe that air compressors manufactured start-to-finish in North America are better quality than air compressors imported or only assembled in North America. While it’s impossible to collect data that would prove this sentiment, keep it in mind when assessing your options. Be wary of companies that represent themselves as manufacturers while importing or outsourcing their critical components. When possible, choose truck mounted air compressors that are genuinely manufactured within North America by a company such as VMAC.
- Quality Control – Manufacturers who are serious about quality have stringent quality control management processes. Companies who take this seriously will maintain their ISO 9001 certification, making them easy to identify. Ask to see a company’s ISO 9001 certification before purchasing an air compressor from them. (Note that ISO 9001:2015, which was introduced in 2015, is the latest ISO standard.)
Truck mounted air compressors need to be regularly maintained, per the maintenance schedule outlined by the manufacturer. This maintenance helps keep the air compressor in peak working condition and helps prevent unexpected breakdowns. As the saying goes, “the best downtime is scheduled downtime.” Learn more about rotary screw air compressor maintenance schedules.
An air compressor’s working conditions will also have some impact on its lifespan. For example, an air compressor that sits in the corner of a clean and tidy shop can easily last several decades due to its ideal location. However, truck mounted air compressors are subjected to weather, road wear, vibrations, dirt, grime, and other harsh elements throughout the course of day-to-day work.
Protective covers and quality compressor design can help minimize the wear and tear of these working conditions, but it is important to recognize that harsh working conditions will have an impact of air compressor longevity.
VMAC’s web poll has revealed that a significant majority of respondents expect their truck mounted air compressor to last somewhere between 1 to 15 years, with the largest single segment of respondents expecting their air compressor to last 6-10 years.
Truck mounted air compressors should meet these expectations easily, as long as fleet managers and owners choose high quality, rotary screw compressors and perform the scheduled preventative maintenance.