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 your tire pressure as needed, but you can also use them to pump up your spare tire. You can also use them on bikes, mowers, or tractor tires too for added convenience.
And while there are lots of great portable tire inflators on the market, there are also some scams. Some portable tire inflators don’t have enough power to blow up a pool toy, let alone a tire. And, given that you might need a portable tire inflator to get you out of a jam one day, you want the best portable tire inflators money can buy. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top ten choices when looking for the best portable tire inflator.
In this buying guide, you’ll find a portable tire inflator option for everyone. Some portable tire inflators are smaller than others, while a few are feature-rich, top-of-the-line units. We also included a couple of budget-friendly choices.
What’s so Important About Tire Pressure?
Properly inflated tires affect both your safety on the road and your wallet. If your tires are underinflated, you’ll end up with premature wear and poor fuel economy. These two factors combined might cost you hundreds of dollars.
Even if your vehicle is equipped with a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), you can’t always rely on this system to check your tire pressures. Most of the time, the TPMS warning light will only come on when the pressure falls 25% below the recommended tire pressure. By that time, you’re already feeling the effect of driving on underinflated tires.
What many drivers might not realize is you can lose tire pressure even without puncturing your tire. If your tires are only 3 PSI below what’s recommended, you use 1% more fuel and tack on 10% more wear. And you don’t want to overcompensate either. Overinflated tires can be damages 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 a crash double. With statistics like that, you should be monitoring your tire pressures often; not just to save money, but also to keep you safe on the road. Make checking your tire pressures a regular part of your car care routine.
Choosing the Best Portable Air Compressor
Many people wonder what to look for in the best portable tire inflators. 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. Though we understand operating on a budget, just be aware that it’s hard to get something for less than $25 that’s really going to last. If you can, shell out a little bit extra to make sure you get a unit that is strong enough to inflate your tires properly.
If you don’t drive a lot, you don’t need the highest-end model. A middle-of-the-road portable tire inflator would be just for the occasional emergency and the occasional at-home fill-up. You can also perform your regular tire pressure 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 added peace of mind.
The biggest difference you’ll find between the cheap portable tire inflator and the expensive models is durability. The cheap inflators are usually made with plastic parts and feature 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. They will heat up during use and may eventually burn out. You might be able to get a few uses out of them before they break, but they’re not really designed to last.
A higher-end portable tire inflator model is going to feature metal parts that hold up well 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, larger motors. They run quickly and remain cool, plus they often come with thermal overload protection for safety and to prevent overheating.
While a low-cost model might be gentle on your budget, it can often be a pain to use. They work very slowly and require breaks to cool off. With a cheaper model, you could spend up to three times longer trying to inflate tires than 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 are waiting to fill.
With that said, if you just want a portable tire inflator in case of emergencies, you probably aren’t going to mind spending ten minutes pumping up a tire if it means avoiding calling a tow truck.
10 Best Portable Tire Inflators
Without further ado, here are our picks for the top ten best portable tire inflators on the market. You are sure to find something in this list that fits your budget and your needs.