Every vehicle and home garage should have a portable tire inflator on hand. They’re compact, easy to use, and ideal for pumping up tires in a jam. Not only can you make small adjustments to the tires as needed, but they also work well to pump up your spare. You’ll also want to use them on your bike and mower tires for convenience. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top ten choices when looking for the best portable tire inflator.
While there are lots of great portable tire inflators on the market, there are also some scams. Some of them don’t feature enough power to blow up a pool toy, let alone a tire. You might need a portable tire inflator to get you out of a jam one day, so you need the best.
That’s why we compared dozens of units by looking at their power ratings, price, durability, portability and reviews. After our extensive research, we were left with the following ten options that we feel good about recommending.
In our guide, you’ll find a little something for everyone. Some are smaller than others, while a few are feature-rich and top-of-the-line car tire pump units. There are also some choices available if you need to operate on a budget.
What’s So Important about Tire Pressure?
Properly inflated tires affect both your safety on the road and your wallet. If they’re underinflated, you end up with premature wear and worse fuel economy. These two factors combined might cost you hundreds if not taken care of.
If your vehicle is equipped with the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), you can’t rely on that to check your pressures. Most of them only warn you when the pressure reaches 25% below what’s recommended. By that time, you’re already feeling the effect of driving on underinflated tires.
You can lose pressure without puncturing your tire. Even if your tires are only 3 PSI below what’s recommended, you use 1% more fuel and tack on 10% more wear. Don’t add in more air to overcompensate either. Overinflated tires are damaged easier and create a rough ride.
USA Today says that if your tire is 25% below the recommended pressure, you are three times more likely to get into a crash. If it’s 25% above where it should be, your chances of crash double. With statistics like that, you should be monitoring your tire pressures often; not just to save money, but to also keep you safe on the road. Checking your pressures should be a regular part of your car care routine.
Recommended PSI for Your Tires
If you aren’t sure what the right pressures are for your tires, you should find a sticker in the driver’s side doorjamb. That’s where the recommended pressures from your automaker are located. Be careful! Some cars recommend different pressures for the front and rear tires.
If you’re unable to find the sticker in that location, try referring to your owner’s manual instead. If all else fails, you could always contact the dealership for help.
How to Use a Portable Tire Inflator
Once you purchase the best portable tire inflator for a car, you’ll be able to refill your tires anywhere. Some compressors plug right into your 12V outlet while others need a standard household outlet. When you’re ready to use your portable tire inflator, here are the steps you’ll want to follow:
1 – Put your compressor as close to the tire as possible.
2 – Remove the valve stem cap from the wheel and place it in your pocket.
3 – Power on the compressor and push down on the hose fitting attached on your valve stem. You’ll know that the tire is being inflated.
4 – If you have a portable tire inflator with gauge, you’ll keep an eye on the air pressure that way. A digital air compressor allows you to set the desired pressure and then shuts off when it reaches that level.
5 – Remember, you can also overinflate the tire slightly and then let a little air out when you’re done.
6 – If you refill your tires after you’ve been driving, inflate them about 3 PSI over the recommended number. We recommend checking the pressures while they are cold if at all possible.
7 – It’s always good to recheck your tire pressures with a gauge when you’re done just to ensure the job is done.
8 – Replace your valve stem cap and hit the road. Don’t forget to use the best tire shine so that your inflated tires look as good as possible.
Choosing the Best Portable Air Compressor
Many people ask what is the best portable tire inflator? To answer that question, there are several factors you’ll want to consider.
You’ll find products on the market that range from as low as $15 all the way up to around $100. While we understand operating on a budget, it’s hard to get something for less than $25 that’s really going to last. Otherwise, you might end up with a unit that’s too weak to inflate your tires correctly.
If you don’t drive a lot, you don’t need the highest end model. Your portable tire inflator would be just for the extreme emergency, and you can perform your regular checks and maintenance at the gas station. On the other hand, if you commute every day or spend a good amount of time in the car, it would be wise to invest in a higher priced model for peace of mind.
The biggest difference you’ll find between your cheap portable tire inflator and the expensive models is durability. The cheap inflator is usually made with plastic parts and features small motors. You have to be careful with these units, as they can fall apart or crack easily.
Many of the cheaper models don’t feature any type of thermal overload protection. This causes them to become hot during use and eventually burn out. You might be able to get a few uses out of them before they break, but they’re technically disposable units.
A higher-end model is going to feature metal parts that hold up over time. Many of them also come with alligator clamps as a power supply instead of the typical cigarette lighter socket plug. These models also have more powerful and larger motors. They run quick and remain cool plus they often combine thermal overload protection for safety. These are the best portable tire inflators to have in the car for emergencies.
While your low-cost model might be gentle on your budget, they can often be a pain to use. They work very slowly and require breaks to cool at times. You could spend up to three times longer trying to inflate tires than is necessary.
If you plan to service your tires frequently or have multiple vehicles to look after, you want a powerhouse. Time adds up quickly for every four tires you need to wait around on.
With that said, if you just need a portable tire inflator for the emergency moments on the road, you aren’t going to mind spending ten minutes pumping up a tire if it means avoiding using a tow truck.
10 Best Portable Tire Inflators
Without further ado, here are our picks for the top ten portable tire inflators on the market. You are sure to find something in this list that fits your budget and your needs nicely.