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With some modern vehicles coming equipped with run flat tires and tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), a common misconception is that a portable tire inflator or air compressor is no longer a necessity. But that’s not the case because tires can lose air over time even if you don’t have a puncture. Owning your own tire inflator means you can conveniently and routinely check your tire pressure, making sure they’re in an optimal range. Underinflated or overinflated tires can have a myriad of adverse effects on your driving experience, potentially affecting your fuel economy and tire wear. Purchasing a tire inflator is a small investment in helping make sure your tires last as long as possible, saving you money in the long run.
Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot differentiating the portable tire inflators or air compressors available on the market. But some are manufactured better than others, which makes them more reliable and likely to last a long time. If time is important to you, you’ll want to see which products inflate a tire quicker, while others have a maximum pressure limit. Lastly, you’ll want to pay attention to whether the product uses a 12-volt car outlet or a standard power outlet. It’s more convenient to purchase a 12-volt air compressor, this way you can keep it in your car and use it on the go. But keep in mind some of today’s vehicles are equipped with a standard power outlet, so we include a few recommendations for those as well. Here are our picks for the best portable tire inflators.
Updated 09/11/2020 with new product recommendations.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
- 2. Best for Heavy Duty Use: TIREWELL 12V Heavy Duty Tire Inflator
- 3. Best Cordless Unit: Ryobi P737 18V ONE+ Portable Cordless Power Inflator
- 4. Audew Portable Air Compressor Pump
- 5. AAA Lifeline 300 PSI 12V DC Air Compressor
- 6. Helteko Portable Air Compressor Pump
- 7. Fortem Digital Tire Inflator
- 8. Kensun AC/DC Rapid Performance Portable Air Compressor
- 9. P.I. Auto Store Premium 12V DC Tire Air Compressor Pump
- 10. VIAIR 85P Portable Air Compressor
- Why is Tire Pressure Important?
- How do I know the recommended PSI for my tires?
- How to Properly Check your Tire Pressure
- How to Properly Inflate your Tires
1. Editor's Pick: EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
One of the highest-rated portable inflators on Amazon is the EPAuto 12-volt DC portable air compressor pump. Rated at 120 watts with an inflation speed of 1.06 CFM, this pump has a maximum working pressure of 100 PSI. There’s a digital gauge that reads in four display units: PSI, KPA, BAR, and kg/cm. Like similarly priced products, EPAuto’s inflator has an auto shutoff feature once it reaches the desired air pressure. The product also has an overheat protection, which automatically shuts off the compressor when it overloads.
Designed to inflate tires on cars, bikes, sedans, and midsize SUVs, this compressor does not support LT, HT, and truck tires. It does, however, come with adapters so it can be used on other inflatables. There is also a bright LED flashlight built-in for nighttime use.
The EPAuto portable air compressor pump weighs 3.81 lbs while measuring 9.6 inches by 7.8 inches by 5.4 inches.
2. Best for Heavy Duty Use: TIREWELL 12V Heavy Duty Tire Inflator
For heavy duty use, TIREWELL offers a tire inflator with a double cylinder direct drive inflation pump. Designed to work on all sorts of vehicles, including SUVs, trucks, vans, RVs, crossovers, campers, trailers, and more, this tire inflator supports a maximum pressure of up to 150 PSI. Air flow is rated at 50L/min on this unit, which allows you to inflate a standard 15-inch tire from 0-to-35 PSI in about 2 minutes.
For power, it uses a high quality 12v adapter with a built-in 15A fuse, attached to an 11.5-foot power cable. The inflation tube measures 1.8 feet and features a screw connector. The pump also includes battery clamps, 3 adapters for household items (bicycles, balls, pool toys, sporting equipment, etc.) and an Oxford bag for convenient storage. The handle on this portable inflator is also wrapped with sponge, so it’s a bit more comfortable to carry around.
3. Best Cordless Unit: Ryobi P737 18V ONE+ Portable Cordless Power Inflator
A trusted brand in the power tools industry, Ryobi offers a battery-powered, cordless tire inflator. The inflator itself isn’t very expensive, but keep in mind you will have to purchase a separate battery and charger if you don’t already have a plethora of Ryobi tools in your garage. Capable of inflating tires and small inflatables from zero-to-150 PSI, the cordless convenience of the tool makes it easy for you to go from tire to tire without worrying about any power cords or air hoses.
The attached hose measures 20 inches and can be stored on the tool itself. There’s a built-in two-inch pressure gauge for easy reading. Included with the tool is a sports equipment needle and two high-pressure nozzles. The Ryobi P737 18V ONE+ Portable Cordless Power Inflator comes with a three-year limited warranty.
There are a variety of packages available online if you’re shopping for the Ryobi P737 and need a battery and a charger. There is even a 12-volt charger option, so you could charge the P737’s battery from your car.
4. Audew Portable Air Compressor Pump
We previously did a hands-on review of Audew’s older-generation portable air compressor, which you can read here. Since then, the company has released a new offering featuring an upgraded motor. This recommendation is capable of a 38L/min air flow rate, allowing you to inflate a tire from 0 to 35 PSI in 3 to 5 minutes. Like the company’s previous offering, this tire inflator has an auto shut-off function, so you simply set your desired pressure and let it do its job. Once the tire are inflated to your preset value, it’ll automatically turn off.
Sporting an interesting design, the front of this inflator has an LCD digital display that accommodates PSI, BAR, KPA, and kg/cm. Additional features include onboard storage for the power cord and an SOS warning light mode. This unit offers up to 10 feet of reach, so you can easily inflate both tires on a single side of your car. Three extra nozzles are included so you can inflate various household accessories, such as air mattresses, sports equipment, and more. The unit is constructed from ABS material and stainless steel.
5. AAA Lifeline 300 PSI 12V DC Air Compressor
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has its own branded air compressor, which is a 12-volt option that uses your car’s cigarette lighter. One of the cheaper options available, AAA says its product can inflate a standard spare tire in eight minutes. It features a heavy duty and powerful motor, with a 10-foot power cable and 1.5-foot quick connect hose. The compressor measures 8 inches by 6 inches by 4 inches while weighing just 2 pounds.
The product is designed to be portable and stored in your car, so you always have access to it when on the road. It includes three nozzle adapters for different size inputs, in case you need to inflate something other than your car’s tire. And like most portable inflators, it has a built-in pressure gauge on the exterior.
6. Helteko Portable Air Compressor Pump
It may just be a portable tire compressor, but if you want something that’s stylish and looks good, Helteko’s portable air compressor pump is an excellent option. Constructed from durable ABS plastic and stainless steel, this portable tire inflator is available in red or yellow and features an LCD digital display that shows tire pressure in PSI, BAR, KPA, and kg/cm.
This air compressor is rated at 35L/min can inflate a standard midsize car tire in 3 to 5 minutes. You can set the desired air pressure on this unit, which will automatically shut off once it reaches that value. It connects to any vehicle’s 12-volt cigarette lighter receptacle with an 11.5-foot long cable for extra reach. It comes with 3 additional nozzles so you can inflate household items such as basketballs and other sports equipment.
Helteko also provides an 18-month warranty with its portable tire inflator.
7. Fortem Digital Tire Inflator
If you care about how your inflator looks, then Fortem’s digital tire inflator might interest you. Featuring a stylish design, this 12-volt system comes with a built-in LED flashlight and a bright LCD display for easy reading. The product is simple to use with controls on the face, with cord storage on the back so everything stays nice and tidy when it isn’t being used.
Along with the air compressor, the product comes with three nozzle attachments, an extra fuse, and a carrying case. The power cord measures 9.84 feet, while the hose is 1.64 feet. Those figures are a little shorter than some of the competition, but the inflator only weighs 1.9 lbs so it’s not as big of a deal to move around. Overall dimensions are 8 inches by 6.5 inches by 3.3 inches, making it one of the more compact inflators available.
It has a maximum pressure value of 150 PSI, although that’s only for bicycle tires. It can continuously work for 8 minutes before needing to cool off.
8. Kensun AC/DC Rapid Performance Portable Air Compressor
One of the most expensive options on the list is the Kensun AC/DC Rapid Performance Portable Air Compressor Tire Inflator. As its name indicates, Kensun’s inflator works both with a standard power outlet or your car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter. It’s designed to work with a variety of inflatables in addition to your car’s tires, with a digital pressure gauge, LCD display, and unit conversion. There are even digital presets to easily deliver the ideal pressure to whatever you’re inflating.
Kensun says the unit is capable of working for a continuous 30 minutes at 35 psi. On the front of the device is a white LED work light for easy illumination in the dark. It comes with a pair of attachment nozzles for other inflatables.
Airflow rate is 30L/min, making it one of the faster inflating pumps on the list. The black woven hose measures 23.6 inches, while the DC power cord is 10 feet and 9.9 inches. The AC power cord is shorter at 5 feet and 10.8 inches. This inflator is heavier than most of the competition, weighing 5 lbs. It measures 11.8 inches by 4.3 inches by 6.7 inches. Lastly, it comes with a two-year warranty.
9. P.I. Auto Store Premium 12V DC Tire Air Compressor Pump
Featuring what P.I. Auto Store claims is a best-in-class pump, the Premium 12-volt DC tire air compressor has an airflow rate of 35L/min. That makes it capable of inflating a mid-sized car tire from flat to 30 PSI in under 3 minutes. The company says it is also the quietest in its category.
Since it is as 12-volt inflator, it uses your car’s cigarette lighter for power. There’s a backlit LCD display gauge so it’s easy to read your car’s tire pressure and this unit also has an auto shutoff feature. Weighing at 2.3 lbs, it’s a fairly lightweight unit and measures 7 inches by 3 inches by 6.5 inches, making it compact. It’s priced in the middle of the pack, making it a competitive offering with all its features.
Overall, the unit has 13 feet of total reach and a snap-on connector on the hose makes for easy attachment to your tire valve. Included with the unit is a carrying case, four spare dust caps, valve adapter for bicycles, and an exclusive digital guide to tire care.
Some users have reported overheating issues with this inflator.
10. VIAIR 85P Portable Air Compressor
If you follow the automotive aftermarket, you may have heard of VIAIR for its air suspension systems. The company also offers a portable air compressor, that weighs 4.3 lbs while measuring 9.1 inches by 3.1 inches by 5.6 inches. It is capable of filling a 225/60/R18 tire from zero-to-30 PSI in under three minutes with a maximum working pressure of 60 PSI. It has a duty cycle of 20 minutes, meaning it needs to cooldown after 20 minutes of use.
The compressor features an LED work light, a 100-PSI pressure gauge, solid brass twist-on tire chuck and includes an accessory power plug, three-piece inflation tips kit, and a deluxe carry bag. The 85P compressor is capable of inflating tires up to 31 inches in diameter. Its power cord measures 10-feet long, while its air hose is 3-feet long.
It’s the most powerful compressor VIAIR offers that uses a car’s 12-volt outlet. If you want something more powerful from VIAIR, it will have to connect to the car’s battery for power.
Why is Tire Pressure Important?
Having properly inflated tires not only makes driving safer, but it can have an impact on your wallet. Underinflated tires have an adverse effect on both fuel economy and premature wear, potentially costing you hundreds of dollars if you don’t check it periodically. Even if your car is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), you don’t want to wait until the light illuminates to check your tire’s pressure. That’s because most TPMS only warn you when the pressure is 25 percent below the manufacturer’s recommendation, and by then, you’re already sacrificing your fuel economy.
You don’t necessarily need to have a puncture or a leak for your tire to lose pressure. It is estimated that for every 3 PSI below the recommendation, your vehicle is using one percent more fuel and adding 10 percent more tire wear. Doesn’t that mean you can just overinflate your tires and not have to worry about any pressure loss? Not quite, as overinflated tires make for a rougher ride and are more easily damaged by potholes since they’re stiffer.
You’ll want to get in the habit of routinely checking your tire pressure once a month or so, to make sure they’re as close to spec as possible. This will ensure your tires last as long as possible while maintaining estimated fuel economy figures.
How do I know the recommended PSI for my tires?
Almost all vehicles have a sticker located on the driver’s side doorjamb with the recommended tire pressure. Pay close attention to the values listed on the sticker, as some vehicles have different recommended pressures for the front and rear tires. If you aren’t able to locate the sticker inside your driver’s side doorjamb, the car’s manual will also have the recommended tire pressure values.
How to Properly Check your Tire Pressure
- First, you will want to get yourself a digital tire pressure gauge. Although standard tire pressure gauges are cheaper and do the job, a digital gauge is more accurate and easier to use.
- Find your recommended tire pressure in the driver’s side doorjamb or in your manual, making sure you note whether the front and rear tires have different values.
- You will want to check your tire pressure when your tires are cold, or hasn’t been driven for at least 30 minutes. Tires heat up as you drive and the pressure will increase, giving you an inaccurate reading. The recommended tire pressures listed on the sticker in the doorjamb or in the manual are for cold tires.
- Remove the valve stem caps from your tires and put them in your pocket or somewhere safe, where you won’t lose them.
- Press the tire pressure gauge onto the valve stem and a reading should appear on your tire pressure gauge. If you’re using a standard gauge, it doesn’t hurt to do the check two or even three times to make sure you have an accurate reading.
- If any of your tires have pressures lower than their recommended values, you will want to inflate them to ensure you’re getting the best fuel economy possible, while making sure your tires don’t experience premature wear.
- Reinstall your valve stem caps before you forget!
How to Properly Inflate your Tires
It’s recommended that you purchase your own portable tire inflator or air compressor so you can refill your tires at home. There’s a wide range of portable inflators and air compressors available, some that use your car’s built-in 12-volt cigarette lighter, or a standard power outlet. More powerful compressors that fill up tires quicker will need to hook up to your car’s battery. Most 12-volt inflators won’t do the job quickly, but they’re more convenient and you won’t have to pay to use an air compressor at a gas station.
If you don’t want to purchase a portable inflator, most gas stations will have an air compressor. Some stations charge and some don’t. Once you’ve determined which method you’ll be using to refill your tires, follow these steps:
- Pull in as close to the compressor as possible, if you’re using one at a gas station. This way you can easily access all four tires without having to move your vehicle.
- Remove the valve stem caps from all four wheels and put them in your pocket or somewhere you won’t lose them.
- Turn on the compressor and push the hose fitting down on the valve stem. You should be able to tell if the tire is being inflated.
- Most air compressors will have a built-in gauge so you can check your tire pressure while you are refilling. Digital air compressors, some of which are available at gas stations, allow you to set your desired tire pressure and the compressor will automatically shut off once it reaches that value.
- It’s better to overinflate your tires when using a compressor, since it’s easy to let air back out of your tires afterwards.
- Adjust all four tires the same way. If you are refilling after your tires are warmed up, you will want to inflate about 3 PSI over the recommended value. Make sure to check your tire pressure once your tires are cold.
- Once you’re done refilling all four tires, do a final check on the pressure with your digital gauge. You will want to do this when the tires are cold.
- Reinstall your valve stem caps.
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