Feeling the Pressure over Compressors

The departure date for our big road trip to Nova Scotia is getting closer. Our 5th wheel has had its first annual propane inspection, brake inspection and bearings re-packed. The next thing on my list was tire pressure. There are lots and lots of YouTube videos and RV blogs that stress how important proper tire pressure is, and that you should always measure it cold, that is to say, before you drive away. But there is really not much out there on how to keep them inflated.

Those cheap little 12 volt cigarette lighter air pumps sorta kinda do the job, but for me at least there’s a couple of problems. Our 5th wheel rig requires 65 psi. The pump can get there, in a “little engine that could” kind of way, but only by using the 12 volt outlet on the truck. I purchased a 20′ extension cord to ensure the pump could reach the rig’s tires, but its little fuse blew, as did the replacement that I ordered.

I was only able to inflate the tires slo-o-o-o-o-wly by pulling the truck right up alongside the rig, running the pump, and then driving to the other side to do the same thing over there. This is not good for campground grass, and would mean unhooking at a truck stop. Not very practical. And the air hoses at highway gas stations are not always in convenient places, especially when you and your trailer together are 45 feet long.

So I went and purchased a real air compressor. Boy! Who knew getting air into a tire was so complicated? Growing up, I used a hand pump for my bicycle. When I used to camp in a tent I used a cute foot pump, and then later a chintzy little electric one.

Now, it seems you have to buy a serious tool with valves and dials and a motor and everything in order to reliably get to 65 psi or higher. People who own diesel pushers have the luxury of an on-board compressor, but even they tend to prefer using a portable one in order to reduce the time spent idling their engine.

NOTE to any enterprising campground operators: It seems like this would be an excellent value-add for RV campsites. Bringing a compressor around for a morning-of-departure top-up.

These air compressors can be quite intimidating. Once again there is precious little available teaching in terms of how to operate one, supplied by the manufacturers. I bought a 2 gallon oil-free Husky (see how natural I sounded there?). It turns out Husky is a Home Depot brand, so all of the Husky web domains just go straight back there. You have to choose the size of tank (where the compressed air goes), its PSI capability and the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM or SCFM) rating. It’s also important to choose between 120 volt power (like a regular 3-pin household plug), or one that connects to your truck batteries. And oh, yes, don’t shop for compressors if you’re hungry, because they come in two main types: hot dog and pancake. I kid you not.

So, YouTube to the rescue. Meet my new best friend. Her name is Leah, and she runs one of the best how-to YouTube channels I have ever seen. It’s called SeeJaneDrill. Her video on using a compressor is easy to follow and is amazingly friendly. She is a fantastic, experienced instructor who really takes the mystery out of doing hands-on tool stuff. She is patient and clear, and just the absolute best. You can check out the short introductory trailer here, and the specific video on using a compressor is here.

So now I have an air compressor. I have not used it yet, but thanks to Leah, I know how. With the wheels and the tires being so important to successful RVing, this is an investment that I expect to see pay off.


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