How to choose an air compressor?
Making sure your tyres are the right pressure is a safety must. It also prevents unnecessary petrol wastage and helps tyres last longer. Having an air compressor to inflate a flat tyre can save the day when you're miles away from anywhere, and you can use it to inflate airbeds and pool floaties fast. A compressor is essential when you need to increase your tyre pressure for the road after decreasing it for sand, mud or snow driving. Portable compressors run off your vehicle's 12V battery, and it's a good idea to have one with you when you're camping, off-roading or caravanning.
What's the best compressor for caravanning and four-wheel driving?
The compressor that's best for one person may not suit someone else because it depends on:
- What you want to use the compressor for (off-roading, air beds, toys, tools or maintenance?)
- Whether you'll be close to civilisation or in the middle of nowhere (so have to rely on yourself)
- How much space you'll have in the 4WD or caravan (after factoring in people and bags)
- How often you'll be going caravanning or off-roading (for a few days or for weeks at a time?)
- How long you want your compressor to last (only for a short time or for years to come?)
Which compressor should you buy?
Choosing the right compressor is easier when you break it down into these six steps:
1. Pressure & Volume
The compressor pressure is:
- The force of the compressed air.
- Expressed as PSI (Pounds per Square Inch).
Air Flow (output)
The air flow of a compressor is:
- Also called Free Air Delivery (FAD).
- The volume of compressed air pushed out when the compressor is free/not connected.
- Measured in litres per minute.
The theoretical capacity of a compressor:
- Determines how fast it will pump up tyres and inflate inflatables.
- Is determined by the size of the pump's cylinders and its operating speed.
- Is measured in litres per minute.
- Is generally between 30 and 150 litres per minute.
The duty cycle of a compressor is:
- The percentage of the time you can use a compressor before turning it off to cool down.
- For example, based on it being a 22-degree day and running the compressor at 100psi:
- A 50% duty cycle can be used for 30 minutes then must be turned off for 30 minutes.
- A 100% duty cycle can be used continuously (until it comes close to overheating).
A compressor can be used to power tools or machinery that need air pressure to function:
- Heavy-duty tools will need a lot more pressure and volume to power them.
- Make sure you know how much pressure and volume the tools you want to use require.
- They usually require a high air flow so may need a compressor with a tank.
- If your compressor isn't large enough you'll have to keep waiting for the tank to fill up.
Compressor volume, pressure and capacity is related to compressor size and how you'll use it:
A large compressor:
- Produces high-pressure power.
- Inflates large wheels faster.
- Draws more power.
A small compressor:
- Pumps in air at a lower pressure.
- Is perfect for smaller vehicles, toys, air beds and sports equipment.
Different compressors produce different levels of noise:
- Smaller tankless compressors make less noise than large compressors with tanks.
- To compare how loud they are, try a few in your nearest Anaconda store.
You want to choose a compressor that strikes a balance between:
- Giving you the amount of power you need.
- Not taking up too much space in your vehicle.
When it comes to comparing the size of different compressors, keep in mind:
- A bigger compressor is more powerful (but takes up more storage space and is heavier).
- Compressors can be 20-40 centimetres long and have 2-6 metre hoses.
- If the hose is long enough you can reach all your tyres without moving the compressor (which saves time and hassle).
- To pump up a tyre that's totally flat, you'll need a compressor with a higher air flow rate (or it could take forever!)
The materials you choose for your compressor depend on:
- How much weight you want to carry.
- How long you want it to last.
Stainless steel compressors and valves:
- Won't rust or corrode so they're durable.
- Can be heavy so hard to carry.
- Are lighter than steel compressors.
- Can be less durable than steel compressors.
Plastic compressors are:
- Lightweight so they're easy to carry.
- The most easily damaged so may need replacing more often.
When you're comparing different compressors also check whether they're waterproof.
When comparing compressors, you may want one with parts that make it easier to use:
- Air filters - that keep out dust particles and are:
- Removable and washable so they're easy to clean or
- Inside the compressor so they're protected from damage.
- A sand tray - so you can balance your compressor on sandy ground without it sinking.
- A pressure gauge - to check and monitor air pressure when inflating equipment.
- Protection - a soft bag or hard case to protect it and prevent damage between uses.
- Extra inflation nozzles - for different openings on bikes, prams, beds, toys and balls.
- Auto-off thermal protection - turns the compressor off for you so it won't overheat.
- Built-in deflator - to deflate and inflate tyres with the compressor when off-roading.
When you use a compressor it can get hot so always wear gloves to protect your hands.
5. Power Source
Portable compressors run on 12volts of battery power.
You can connect the compressor to your vehicle's battery via the:
- Alligator clips that you attach directly to your 4WD battery terminals.
- Cigarette lighter socket (this is slower because it's a less powerful current).
If you want to use alligator clips:
- Make sure your leads are long enough to reach from the 4WD battery to the compressor.
- Check whether the compressor comes with alligator clips (some do and others don't).
- Check how much power the compressor will take from your battery (in amps) - you may need to turn the car on while you use the compressor to avoid a flat battery.
For long-lasting compressor power, you may want to take a:
- Battery pack or battery box.
- Deep cycle battery.
When weighing up which compressor to buy, think about quality versus cost:
- A higher capacity compressor that pumps more litres per minute means gives you more power so inflates a lot faster (and won't overheat), which is why they're more expensive.
- A cheap compressor may not pump up a flat tyre fast enough or last as long, so as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
When it comes to how much you should spend, it depends on:
- If you're only going out in your four-wheel drive or caravan occasionally and you're not off-roading, a cheaper compressor will do.
- If you're travelling for a long time or going off-roading pretty frequently, invest in a compressor that inflates fast and is made to last.
How much are compressors?
Anaconda has compressors from $64 to $184.
When you go to the Camping & Hiking section on the Anaconda website and select 4WD, you'll see tick box filters down the left hand side of the page. Using these filters makes working out which compressor to buy simpler because you can choose to filter what you see by:
- Category - so you only see compressors (or other 4WD gear too if you want).
- Price - so you only see compressors that are within your budget on the page.
- Deal - so you only see compressors that are on sale or at clearance prices.
- Brand - so you can see compressors made by a specific brand.
You need to deflate and inflate your tyres to suit the driving you're doing (on sand, mud, snow, rocks or the road). Learn what you need to change your tyre pressure to for different driving conditions.