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Thursday, May 23, 2024

How to Install an Onboard Air System in Your Off-Road Vehicle

Image by CHAINFOTO24 via ShutterStock

When you’re miles from the nearest service station and tackling challenging terrain, an onboard air system can become a vital component of your off-road vehicle’s toolkit. Installing an onboard air system is a straightforward project that can have profound benefits for any off-roading enthusiast. It might look scary but it only requires a bit of technical know-how, some basic tools, and the willingness to dive into your vehicle’s mechanics. 

If you’re ready to upgrade your vehicle with this indispensable tool, our step-by-step guide will help you through the process. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get into the nuts and bolts of setting up your onboard air system, transforming your vehicle into a self-reliant off-road machine.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Onboard Air Systems

Person inflating a tire off roading

Image by maradon 333 via ShutterStock

Onboard air systems are an essential upgrade for any serious off-road vehicle, designed to meet a variety of needs in challenging environments. At their core, these systems consist of an air compressor installed within your vehicle that can be used for multiple purposes.

The primary benefit of having an onboard air system is the ability to quickly adjust tire pressure. However, these systems aren’t just about tire management. They also power essential tools like impact wrenches or enable quick fixes with air-powered sealants, which can be lifesavers far from traditional help. 

For those with air suspension systems, onboard air can also facilitate adjustments to the vehicle’s ride height, adapting to different load conditions or improving clearance when necessary.

Selecting the Right Onboard Air System

morrflate tensix psi pro gen2

When outfitting your off-road vehicle with an onboard air system, the first step is to choose the right type of compressor. You can opt for a piston compressor, which is affordable and adequate for occasional use, making it a popular choice among casual adventurers. For more intensive needs, a rotary screw compressor offers durability and a continuous supply of air, ideal for those who venture off-road more frequently.

Installation location is the next consideration. An under-hood mount protects the compressor from the elements and saves space, though it may require additional cooling to manage heat. Alternatively, an external mount provides easy access and better cooling but exposes the unit to potential damage from dirt and debris, which might necessitate additional protective measures.

morrflate tensix psi pro gen2 with 4 hose kit

For those seeking the utmost in performance and reliability, specialized compressors like MORRFlate’s TenSix PSI Pro Gen2 are designed specifically for off-road challenges. This system offers rapid inflation capabilities and high CFM outputs at various pressures, ensuring you can quickly adjust to any terrain. 

Not only that, but you can install it virtually anywhere you like on your vehicle, or you can do like I do and keep it mobile. I stow it under the front passenger seat, that way, it’s ready to go when I need it (or when a trail buddy needs it).

Gathering Necessary Tools and Materials

installing an onboard air system in an off-road vehicle

Image by BELL KA PANG via ShutterStock

To begin installing an onboard air system in your off-road vehicle, you’ll need to gather essential tools and materials. Start with the air compressor and an air tank, which expands the system’s capacity for extended usage. Ensure you have robust mounting brackets to secure these components firmly within your vehicle, maintaining stability over rough terrain.

For connecting the compressor to the air tank and vehicle outlets, you’ll require durable air lines and various fittings. These fittings are crucial for creating secure, airtight seals that prevent leaks and maintain system efficiency. Choose these components based on the specific requirements of your setup to optimize performance.

Electrical components are also vital to the installation process. This includes quality wiring, appropriate fuses, and potentially a relay to integrate the system seamlessly with your vehicle’s existing electrical setup. A vehicle-specific wiring diagram can be invaluable here, helping to avoid mistakes and ensure a reliable installation.

Step-by-Step Installation Guide 

Installing an onboard air system in your off-road vehicle can significantly enhance your adventures by providing on-demand air for tire adjustments and more. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Select Mounting Locations: Start by choosing where to install the compressor and air tank. Common locations include under the hood for protection from elements or in the trunk area for easy access. Ensure the selected spot allows for adequate airflow to prevent overheating and is accessible for maintenance.
  2. Install the Compressor and Air Tank: Once you’ve chosen your location, securely mount the compressor and air tank using the brackets. It’s crucial that these components are firmly attached to avoid any movement while driving. Use vibration dampers to reduce noise and wear.
  3. Route Air Lines: Next, route the air lines from the compressor to the air tank and from the tank to the points where air will be used. Ensure the routes are clear of any moving parts or heat sources to prevent damage. Use clips to secure the lines along the body of the vehicle to keep them in place.
  4. Wire Electrical Connections: Wire the compressor to your vehicle’s electrical system. Connect it to an ignition-switched power source to ensure it operates only when the engine is on, preserving battery life. Include a relay to handle the high current demand and a fuse to protect against electrical faults.


Incorporating a small, portable air compressor like the MORRFlate TenSix PSI Pro Gen2 can be especially advantageous for off-roaders. These units are easier to install due to their compact size and offer flexibility if you decide to transfer them between different vehicles. The bright neon coloring is a nice touch, too!

Integration with Existing Vehicle Systems

Mechanic works with car electrics

Image by KONSTANTIN_SHISHKIN via ShutterStock

When integrating an onboard air system, it’s essential to connect the compressor to a power source activated only with the vehicle’s ignition. This setup prevents the system from draining your battery when the engine is off. Adding a relay can manage the high current load effectively, and a dedicated fuse within the power line will protect against potential electrical faults.

Additionally, ensure that the installation of the onboard air system doesn’t overload your vehicle’s electrical system, especially if you have other high-demand accessories. If necessary, upgrade your alternator or battery to support the increased power requirements. This will help maintain electrical balance and ensure that all systems function efficiently without impacting each other.

Testing and Troubleshooting

testing by running the compressor

Image by SURAKIT SAWANGCHIT via ShutterStock

Once your onboard air system is installed, begin testing by running the compressor to build pressure up to the recommended PSI. Check for leaks by applying soapy water to all connections and watching for bubbles, which indicate a need for tightening or replacement. Verify that the system maintains stable pressure, especially important for tasks like tire inflation and using air-powered tools.

If you encounter issues such as fluctuating pressures or slow pressure build-up, these may be signs of leaks, blockages, or electrical problems. Regularly inspect the system, focusing on hose connections and electrical wiring for signs of wear or damage. Routine checks will help ensure the system’s reliability and functionality during your off-road adventures.

Just so you know, some of the cool stuff we mention comes with affiliate links, meaning we earn a commission if you buy (no extra charge to you!). Plus, we occasionally feature sponsored content, but rest assured, we only shout out products we genuinely stand behind.

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