One of the most valuable pieces of gear you can have if you are into off-roading or overlanding is a quality portable compressor. There’s often a need in the wild to air down for sections of the trails, but what do you use to reinflate when it’s time to get back on the pavement?
With many new cars today, you might not even have a spare tire, just a can of Fix-a-Flat and hoping a tire shop is within safe driving distance. Something like this Smittybilt air compressor, one that’s on paper a lot more robust than others The Drive has tested, could be perfect to have with you all the time.
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How long are you willing to take to inflate your tires? Can your current unit do all four tires quickly? What if they’re 33-inch or larger tires? Can your air compressor do so without overheating or shutting down?
The Guides & Gear team wanted to find out if the right solution was to spend a little more money ($115 or so at the time of writing) on a Smittybilt 2.54-cfm air compressor. A lot more expensive than the other portable
compressors we’ve recently tested. We wanted to find out if you could just buy one and not worry about it again, rather than constantly buying less expensive units and hoping for the best.
The compressor, carrying bag, coiled hose and fill hose with built-in gauge.
Unboxing the Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor
We purchased the Smittybilt from 4wheelparts.com, and when it showed up, I could tell it was a more serious piece of kit than other compressors we have reviewed. The shipping label on the box listed the weight as 14 pounds; compare that to the five pounds and less crowd we’ve tested.
Opening the box, I was happy to see that this Smittybilt came with a nylon storage bag with two zippered pockets to keep everything organized. The larger of the two contained the compressor itself, along with a 30-inch hose with a built-in air pressure gauge and a valve-stem fitting.
In the smaller zippered pocket was a 16-foot coiled air hose, along with a small ziplock bag containing three adapters for inflating other types of things such as sports equipment and water-flotation items, as well as two spare 30-amp fuses.
The actual compressor checks in at 10.2 pounds, but it doesn’t feel that heavy. Physically, the unit is 10 inches long, 5.5 inches wide, and 7.5 inches tall. It’s not powered by your average 12-volt outlet but by your battery terminals with clip connectors. The power cord is seven feet long, so between that length and the 16 feet of coiled hose, you should be able to easily position this compressor to fill any tires on your vehicle, trailer, or RV.
There is an information plate on the unit that gives you some of the basic stats. It will pull a maximum voltage of 13.8 volts and 30 amps max. It’s rated for up to 150 psi and can flow 2.54 cubic feet per minute (72 liters of air per minute). Not listed on the plate but in the small instruction booklet is a maximum run time of 40 minutes with at least 20 minutes of cooling-off time before you use it again.
The compressor has rubber footings, and when it was running in my driveway, it didn’t move or buzz around. You can remove the plate that connects the footings to the compressor to permanently mount and hard-wire the Smittybilt to your vehicle for hardcore off-roaders. But for this review, I didn’t do that.
Getting After It With the Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor
- Good: It’s got excellent power and can inflate large tires quickly.
- Bad: The air-line connectors are proprietary, there is no trigger to start filling, and the built-in air gauge is off by 4-5 psi.
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To test this Smittybilt air compressor, I ran the same tests as the VacLife compressor — deflating the tires on a Honda Element and a Ford Edge to 19 psi and then reinflating to OEM spec — and then added two more. The differences in speed with the Smittybilt compared to the VacLife was immense.
On my Honda, it only took 87 seconds to inflate the tires compared to more than five minutes with the VacLife. Because the built-in air-pressure gauge read low by four to five pounds — I tested it using a gauge I know is accurate — 87 seconds actually returned 40 PSI. For my wife’s Edge, it took 95 seconds to get to 37 psi. The tires on my wife’s Edge are 245/60R-18 Michelin Latitude HP, and the tires on my Element are 215/70-R16 Cooper Discoverer AT3 4S. The tires on my wife’s car are much larger but took just a few seconds longer to air up.
I aimed for something hard for the final tests. Using 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 that I on loan for a review, I dropped the 275/65R-18 Goodyear Wrangler LT’s (31 inches tall) down from 42 psi to 20. I then re-inflated them to the OEM-specified 42 psi.
This took the Smittybilt 3 minutes and 27 seconds per tire on average for a total of 16 minutes and 22 seconds. Between each tire, the compressor was shut off for an average 30 seconds to switch from tire to tire. At the end of 16 minutes, the compressor was very warm but not uncomfortable to handle.
I also checked how loud the compressor was, and it measured between 98 and 102 decibels in my testing. For context, that’s about the level of a gas mower from three to five feet away.
This compressor is just slightly quieter than a gas lawn mower from three to five feet away.
What’s Good About Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor
The Smittybilt air compressor is well built, with good-quality materials such as the stamped-steel base plate. The hex bolts used in its assembly are solid, and the power cable didn’t get hot under constant load. Everything is finished and fits nicely.
Add to this, the Smittybilt is not obnoxiously loud, running at 98-102 decibels while under load. Again, its sound level is similar to a gas engine lawnmower.
Maybe the best thing about this compressor is that it has enough power to refill most tires quickly. Also, this unit has the ability to be permanently mounted and hard-wired into your vehicle so that you’ll never be without it.
What’s Not Great About Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor
The largest negative about the Smittybilt is that its hose connections are proprietary rather than standard. If you look on forums or sites where this unit is available, that particular thing tends to be the only negative feedback from customers. Replacement parts, then, are gonna cost you.
If you run very large tires, say 37 inches or larger, you may want to look at Smittybilt’s 5.65-cfm model for $165 because the demands of tires that large may push this 2.54-cfm unit to its limits.
Finally, the included coiled line may not be the most durable item. It seems OK, but it’s not heavy duty. The material used for the air line is a thin and hard material that looks and feels cheap. Think about the cheapest coiled air line you’ve seen at Harbor Freight, then imagine it even lower in cost and quality. That’s the impression the supplied line gives you. For those of you who have used this, please share your experiences in the comments.
The supplied pressure gauge was consistently 3-5 psi low in its readings
Our Verdict on Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor
Buy this. If you do any level of off-roading where you have to deflate your tires, or if you have an RV or trailer, Smittybilt’s air compressor is indispensable. Yes, it’s not cheap, but other units with similar performance such as the Viair 400P are nearly double the price. If you want the best of the best in the industry, arguably ARB’s air compressors, then you are looking at $400-600.
For 90 percent of drivers, 90 percent of the time, Smittybilt’s 2.54-cfm air compressor is more than enough. For those 10 percent of other drivers, and that 10 percent edge case, maybe look into Smittybilt’s bigger unit.
For 90 percent of drivers, 90 percent of the time, Smittybilt’s 2.54-cfm air compressor is more than enough.
FAQs About Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor
The Drive’s editors aren’t psychic, so to answer other frequently asked questions, we scrolled through Google’s “People also ask” box for anything that may be lingering in your head.
Q. Can I run air tools off this compressor?
A. You cannot. It does not have enough power.
Q. Where is the Smittybilt 2.54-CFM Air Compressor made?
A. This unit is made in China.
Q. Does the Smittybilt Air Compressor have a warranty?
A. Yes, it has a limited one-year warranty for repair or replacement from the date of purchase.
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