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F150 Onboard Air Systems Overview

By:  Connor MC  / Jun 20 2019
F150 Onboard Air Systems Overview

Equipping your F150 pickup truck with an onboard air system is a great way to increase its off-road functionality and on-road fun. Automotive air compressor systems are constructed to face the elements and fit into smaller spaces, usually built as a high pressure but lower volume system.

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The addition of an air system can greatly increase your truck's versatility for both work and play. By equipping an onboard air system you can travel knowing your truck can respond to a variety of obstacles or you can have some fun with a personalized air horn. Your truck will gain an air of confidence thanks to the flexibility of this multiple use upgrade.

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What will an Onboard Air Compressor Do for Me?

There are many reasons to outfit your F150 with an onboard air system. The first reason(s) involves off-road functionality. When heading off the paved road onto some tough trails, depending on the climate and the exact weather for the day, often times airing down your truck's tires can better help you navigate said trails without getting stuck. Of course, running low pressure in the tire certainly helps with traction off-road, but it significantly increases tire wear and decreases fuel economy when heading back into town. An onboard air compressor gives you the freedom to air down and re-inflate your F150’s tires as needed and when needed, providing the necessary versatility to get the best tire performance in both on-road and off-road applications.

Furthermore, with ever-increasing payload and towing capacities, F150s are made to haul. Those that haul frequently often opt to install an airbag suspension system in their truck, as airbags help greatly with ride leveling and can easily eliminate any sag in the back. Just like the tires, an onboard air system makes working with an airbag suspension system effortless and extra versatile.

F150 with Adjustable Suspension Towing a Mustang

Can I use an Air Compressor Outside the Jobsite?

Of course, an onboard air compressor need not be all about work – they are more than capable of having fun. It can be a handy item to have at a beach or campsite, easily inflating air mattresses, tubes, rafts and the like. Moreover, an onboard air system is needed to energize an air-powered horn. Semis, ships, trains – all of the big boys are using these kinds of horns; the kind of horn that not only do you hear, but you also feel. Why might you need one?  Think about this.

Richard Toadhead swerves out of his lane and into yours, causing you to hit the brakes and spill your coffee. You might swear angrily, perhaps give a one finger salute, hit the horn – unfortunately, Richard is oblivious to all of this and he’ll never learn of his wrongdoing. An air horn, on the other hand, totally changes the equation. The next time Richard pulls a dick move, you can voice 150 decibels of raw displeasure. This, Richard is going to notice. Richard might even stain his shorts, and it probably won’t be coffee. Lesson learned.

Alternatively (and less vengefully), an air horn is a good means of pinpointing your location should your F150 become immobilized or stranded somewhere in the backcountry. Or you can scare Richard.

F150 Cut Off By a Clunker

Synopsis of an F150 Oboard Air System

Compared to homeowner compressors, automotive air systems are a little different. First and foremost, it is rare to find an onboard air system that permanently attaches the compressor onto the tank. Rather, most aftermarket onboard air systems keep the compressor separate from the holding tank in order to create a smaller footprint and facilitate mounting. Furthermore, onboard air systems, due to their size restraints, will not be as powerful as a regular homeowner air system. Most onboard systems have a holding tank of between 2-3 gallons and a have a maximum pressure of between 100-150 PSI (model dependent). Compressor flow rate is typically between 1.5-2.5 CFM, which by no means is enough to sustain a ½” impact wrench but may be sufficient for light duty air powered tools (mind you, a heavy duty rolling workshop does not really fit into the scope of an onboard air system). The compressors are built to be in the open (meaning : weather-proofed) and are electric – usually running a fused switch off the battery. Electrical load is regularly in the 30 Ampere range.

A proper onboard system will also come with an adjustable regulator and many kits also include a hose and tire inflating tool. Some systems have multiple outlets on the holding tank – for instance to run a dedicated line to the air horn and a secondary accessory line (to inflate tires) – where others may only have one outlet and a T-fitting is required in order to run multiple lines.

F150 Onboard Air Compressor

Where Do I Install an Onboard Air System on My F150?

Most (but not all, some kits are year specific) onboard air systems come with universal mounting hardware that will work with any F150 from 1997-2018. That said, where is the best place to mount one of these systems? Well, there are a few options. Option number one, and the most obvious, is in the bed of the truck. There is plenty of real estate back there and is extremely easy to access. Of course, while installing a compressor and tank in the bed is pretty easy, you lose some cargo space in the back. Alternatively, some owners mount the compressor in the bed, on top of the wheel well and under the bed rail where it is still easy to access but does not obscure as much of the box. If you a toolbox in the bed (up against the cab), that serves as another good installation location.

A more elegant solution, and one that is more popular, is to mount the entire system underneath the bed or on a frame rail. Which frame rail and where under the bed, well you’ll have to determine where there is sufficient space from the ground and any moving or articulating parts. Tucking the system under the truck makes the install a little more difficult, but once done, keeps the noise down and the bed fully usable.

Now, if you opt to keep the compressor and tank out of sight somewhere under the truck, you likely won’t want to leave the air hose down there all the time too. A neat solution to this (and so you don’t have to crawl under every time you want to use the compressor) is to install a quick connect fitting on the rear bumper (near the license plate) and have a short line run from the tank to the quick connect. You can then keep a longer hose coiled under the seat in the cab and when you need to inflate something, grab the hose, walk around back and clip into place.


F150 with Inflatable Cargo
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