How to Install an Onboard Air Compressor on Your Tow Rig

Have you checked your tire pressure lately?

85 percent of all tire air pressure losses are the result of slow leaks that occur over a period of hours, days, or months. NHTSA

The Project

I’m also guilty of not checking tire pressure as often as I should. As I started thinking transitioning to an RV-based lifestyle I had nasty visions of attempting to finagle the truck and trailer combination into gas stations to check the tire pressure.  I’d rather not do that.

I had already put an on-board air compressor on the Jeep I used to own. I knew that decent-quality 12v pumps were now available for under $100. I set out to outfit our tow vehicle with a similar setup.

In this post I’ll show what it took to install a 12V onboard air compressor on our 2002 Chevy Silverado 2500 with the 8.1L gas engine.

Hardmount or Portable?

You could just carry the 12V compressor in a bag and get it all out when you needed it.

I wanted a more permanent installation that would make it easier and quicker to use.

I envisioned:

  • The pump mounted away under the hood
  • A dash-mounted switch to turn it on
  • An exterior-mounted air connection to hook an air hose to

Do you lose portability this way? I don’t think so - I can either just string a long hose or move the truck close to where the pump is needed.

Steps Involved

Overall the process requires the following steps:

  • Sourcing the Air Compressor
  • Adapting the Air Compressor
  • Mounting the Air Compressor
  • Wiring up the Air Compressor
  • Plumbing an air outlet in the truck bumper
  • Creating an inflation tool

Sourcing the Air Compressor

I started with a Q Industries MV50 SuperFlow High-Volume 12-Volt Air Compressor purchased from Amazon.

5 Comments How to Install an Onboard Air Compressor on Your Tow Rig

  1. Picture of Kairi Gainsborough Kairi Gainsborough March 14, 2016

    I never thought about installing an air compressor on a truck before. This seems like such a smart idea, because you would never have to worry about low tire pressure. I wonder if this can be done on any type of vehicle, or does it have to be a big tow truck?

  2. Picture of Boyink Boyink March 14, 2016

    The only constraint is the available space - the compressor doesn’t care if it’s mounted to a truck or a Yugo. :)

    Many off-roaders have similar setups in their Jeeps, Broncos, blazers or Four Runners. They air down to go off road for better traction. This lets them air back up when they hit pavement.

  3. Picture of Kairi Gainsborough Kairi Gainsborough March 15, 2016

    That’s a good point. I’m definitely going to have to look into doing this myself! Thanks for your reply!

  4. Picture of jason Lee jason Lee April 30, 2016

    My good buddy has a compressor set up in his super off road jeep. He is always going deep in the mountains. I go with him often and i can tell you we have used that dang compressor more than you would think. I recommend hooking one up regardless of where you drive. I finally put one on my f150 and have used it many times already to help stranded folks out.

  5. Picture of Bry Carter Bry Carter June 18, 2016

    Great job.  Looks very handy. To answer your question, I prefer the mobility of my portable unit for airing up tires/things.  The problem I ran into was power cord length to reach my RV tires so I installed marine grade 12v cigarette outlets near the tires on my RV (both sides).  It was simple to permanently connect them to the RV battery and if I ever upgrade my compressor or have to borrow one I am ready to plug it in.

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