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
Rotary Screw Cons:
- More expensive up front
- Requires skilled maintenance
- Capable of high pressures
- Less expensive
- Easier maintenance
- Interrupted flow rates
- Low life expectancy
- Maintenance costs
- Excessive heat
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:
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:
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:
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:
- Kal Tire Tests VMAC’s Gas Engine Driven Air Compressor
- Cullen Diesel Chooses An UNDERHOOD™ Van Series Air Compressor
- Mountaineer Gas Company Upgrades to UNDERHOOD™ 150 Air Compressors