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12V Air Compressor Buyer's Guide

Bruce Smith August 1, 2012

Portable Onboard Air 

A 12-volt air compressor should be a must have item for every work truck; portable air power for light-duty jobs 

By Peter D. DuPre


One of the must-have pieces of equipment needed on every contractor’s or construction worker’s pickup is a good air compressor because the jobsites, by the very nature of the work, are frequently remote and there’s seldom a shop air compressor handy.

Onboard, shop-style air compressors are great for service trucks or pickups where there’s a need for a lot of air to run big air tools over a long period of time.

But for those who don’t need all that air muscle and like to keep open bed space maximized, having a compressor powered by 12 volts or driven via an engine-run belt is a nice convenience accessory.

These compact, light-duty compressors can run smaller air tools for short periods of time off companion air tanks and power air horns, inflate air-suspension systems, air-up tires or blow dirt and dust off dirty filters.



These 12-volt air compressors fall into two general categories: inflators and compressors.

An inflator is generally a small, 12-volt unit that plugs into the accessory socket and is designed for pumping up beach balls, air mattresses, small car tires and so on.

Generally these little inflators sell for less than $30 and often come with a built-in flashlight.

Most contractors will shy away from inflators and turn their attention to actual compressors, which have the ability to inflate a 35-inch truck tires, supply an auxiliary air storage (surge) tank, run a small impact wrench, or keep up with the demands of an air suspension.

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