Power Tank vs high-ouput compressor

compressor versus Power Tank

So you know you need a way to air up your tires after a day of off-roading but you're not sure whether to go with a Power Tank or a 'high-output' compressor for your on-board air (OBA). You may have bought a small compressor when you started out but have since put on bigger tires or maybe your compressor failed on you out in the field and you're looking to replace it with something better. While off roaders have and will continue to debate the merits of CO2 vs 12 v compressors, we'll give you our take and present facts over opinion.

While on paper, Power Tanks and compressors look to serve the same purpose, they function very differently, and it is difficult to make a comparison without first addressing some basics. For the purposes of this article, 'gas' may mean CO2 or compressed air. 

What is PSI? What is CFM?

PSI stands for Pounds per Square Inch or the amount of force applied to the area of one square inch. CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute or the amount of a fluid or gas passing a location per unit of time.

Take a look at these shower heads. They have different settings for different water pressures (PSI). However, the amount of water flowing through the shower head is constant. All settings will fill a bucket with water at the same rate. That's CFM.

Low pressure and high pressure shower heads

When we air up tires, the CFM rating is more important to air up speeds than PSI but that’s not to say PSI is meaningless. We want to move a high volume of air into the tire very quickly but as we add air to the tire, the PSI of the tire increases and starts to push back or resist more air flowing in. This push pressure is why you can’t air your tires up with an electric fan, even though a fan has a very high CFM. As you add air to your tire, it will resist more air being added. Therefore, your compressor may list 6 CFM @ 0 PSI but only 4 CFM @ 30 PSI. A higher output pressure will lead to a lower reduction in flow rate as push pressure increases.

  High-output compressor Power Tank with HP250i regulator
Output pressure 150 psi 250 psi
Flow rate 6 cfm @ 0 psi 45 cfm @ 0 psi

Do I need to be concerned with the duty cycle?

One more thing to consider is duty cycle. As a compressor works, it generates heat. If it gets too hot, it will shut itself off and enter a cooling cycle to prevent damage. The amount of time working vs the amount of time cooling is the duty cycle, shown as a percentage. A 50% duty cycle means that in one hour, 30 minutes are spent working, and 30 minutes are spent cooling. The cycle does not necessarily have to be consecutive; a compressor may only work for 10 minutes before needing 10 minutes to cool. If it takes 10 minutes to fill two of your tires, then you will actually wait 20 minutes before you can start on your third tire.

A Power Tank has no duty cycle and will continue to run as long as there is CO2 in the tank. 

Functionality and versatility

Power Tank powering Nail Gun

We want to maximize the limited space on our off-road vehicles and one way to do that is to carry multi-taskers, tools that have more than one function. Along with airing up tires, Power Tanks can be used for all manner of tasks on or off the vehicle. With a flow rate and output pressure that exceeds any air tool requirements, Power Tanks work great to power everything from impact wrenches to nail guns. CO2 is devoid of any water and is great at cleaning firearms, computers, camera equipment, or the inside of your rig using a blow gun. The high cfm makes reseating tires easy. A Power Tank has been used to reseat a 46 inch tire on the trail. The adjustable regulator allows the use of air lockers and air powered sway bar disconnects.

The best part is that a Power Tank can be removed from the bracket to be used outside of the vehicle. It’s easy to walk your Power Tank over if someone ahead of you on the trail needs some assistance. It also means the Power Tank is a great home improvement tool. Because it doesn’t need to be plugged in to power, it can be moved all over your property to fix a fence, nail down some base boards, clean your gutters, clear out your sprinkler lines for Winter, and more. The only limit is your creativity.

A compressor can do some of these things, with assistance. When installed and plumbed in your vehicle, it can easily power air lockers. High-output compressors also do a good job airing up tires. They do not have the cfm to easily reseat them, however, and compressors require much effort on behalf of the operator including removing the tire from the vehicle.

Compressors also require an external air tank to run air tools. To operate impact wrenches, you would need at least a 5 gal air tank (or two 2.5 gal air tanks) somewhere on your vehicle. While you can buy portable ‘suitcase compressors’ that can be moved in or out of the vehicle, they still require 12 volt power to operate which means they are not truly portable. You also have to choose between a portable ‘suitcase compressor’ that can be moved around or a hard mounted compressor that is connected to auxiliary accessories on your vehicle like air lockers or an external air tank. A 1 gal air tank does not allow you to run any air tool that requires more CFM than a nail gun and will only help to air up a fraction of a single tire. 

 Complicated Compressor Install

Reliability

Power Tanks have no moving parts, no wear items, and do not require maintenance other than refilling. They are backed with a limited lifetime warranty. Like all gas cylinders sold in the USA, they do need to be hydrotested every five years from the date of manufacture. If the bottle does not pass, it is replaced for free. As long as you have gas in your bottle, a Power Tank will do what you need it to, every time. There are Power Tanks being used on the trails that are 20+ years old. A regulator trade-in program exists to exchange old regulators for a brand new one, making a Power Tank a sound long-term investment.

A compressor, on the other hand, is a mechanical device powered by electricity. There are multiple failure points that can happen unexpectedly and usually during the most inconvenient times. Fuses can blow, wiring can come loose, internal seals wear over time, motors can die, relays can melt. Simply troubleshooting a compressor can be difficult. Typical compressor warranties are no longer than two or three years. If your compressor dies outside of the warranty, then you’re stuck with buying a new replacement.

 Price

Power Tanks have a reputation for being expensive and when compared to a $50 plastic compressor from China, they are. But not many people are cross shopping a Power Tank with a toy like that. Let’s compare a Power Tank with a popular high-output compressor. The most popular 10 lb Package B Power Tank includes everything you need to air up tires and run air tools and comes with a universal bracket. The compressor we are looking at has all accessories sold separately.

Popular Top of the line Compressor 10 lb Power Tank Package B
Max Output Pressure 150 psi 250 psi
Max Flow Rate 6.2 CFM 45 CFM
Base Unit Price $559.00 $682.00
Hose 20 ft - sold separately $40.00 Coiled or straight 30 ft hose with Super Coupler Included
Tire Inflator with Gauge Digital Tire Inflator Gauge - 2 yr warranty - sold separately $55.00 60 psi or 160 psi liquid analog - 5 yr warranty Included - digital upgrade avail. ($33)
Can Operate Trail Air Tools Requires (2) 2.5 gal air tanks - sold separately $200.00 A Power Tank can run any air tool at full power Included
Can Operate Air Lockers Requires locker manifold kit $76 - optional Option 1 - Pneumatic toggle switch kit and pressure release valve $110.00 - optional
Option 2 - Manifold kit for use with electric toggle switches $120.00 - optional
Mounting Bracket Universal bracket mount - Sold separately $111 Universal Super Bracket Included
Portable (can you remove from vehicle) Must use portable kit ($899) - can not run lockers or air tools Power Tanks are easily carried from vehicle. Carry bags are also available. Included
Cost to operate idling engine = 1/2 gal gas/hour ~$20 to refill - can air up (28) 35" tires
Installation costs to hard mount Install brackets, electrical wiring, interior switches, external tanks, air lines $300-$800 - optional Easy DIY installation with common hand Tools
Reliability Electrical and mechanical moving parts No electronics, no moving parts, no wear items
Warranty 2 year Limited Lifetime Warranty
Total $965 $682
These costs are what is required to mount each system, air up tires, and run air tools.

 

One of the many advantages of a Power Tank is the fact that everything is bundled in a package for a painless shopping experience. With installation and auxiliary accessories, you can easily blow past $1000 on a compressor install to get the same functionality as a Power Tank. 

10 lb Power Tank Package B Components

Ready to take the plunge into the last air system you’ll ever buy?

To help get you started, we are offering a compressor trade-in program. If you came here looking for options to replace your broken compressor, fill in this form and mail it in to us. We’ll take it off your hands and exchange it for a $60 gift card towards the purchase of your new Power Tank.