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portable tire inflator

Choosing the Best Portable Tire Inflator

Ensure your tires have enough air before heading out on the road.

Updated October 27, 2018

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 units. There are also some choices available if you need to operate on a budget but still want the best portable tire inflator.

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.

Recommended PSI for Your Tires

tire pressuresIf 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.

Price

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. 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.

Durability

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 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.

Convenience

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 your tires than needed.

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.

Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor

Viair Heavy Duty Portable CompressorThis is one of the most popular options on the market and a great choice for a midrange budget. It’s ideal for both regular usage and emergency backup. It tends to be rated as one of the best 12V portable compressors available.

It costs more than the cheaper versions, but it’s not a top of the line unit. If you need something reliable for regular use but aren’t a home mechanic, this should fit the bill perfectly. It’s heavy-duty with the metal motor housing and magnetic motor. You aren’t going to need to worry about cracks from usage.

There’s even a brass chuck which is a big step up from the cheaper units’ plastic nozzles. The best part is the compact size and the fact that it weighs just about five pounds. You won’t feel burdened when you take it on the road.

The maximum working rate is 100 PSI, which is more than enough for most needs. On top of that, they used vibration insulators to reduce the noise when in operation. You know this isn’t going to jump around on the ground.

As far as the gauge goes, this measures your pressure even when the pump is shut off. This allows for an accurate reading. In addition, the four-foot air hose combined with a sixteen-foot power cord makes this easy to use, even on longer vehicles.

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor

If you want to take things up a notch, upgrade to this best portable tire inflator instead. It’s powerful, rugged, and great for anyone that spends a lot of time in the car. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything with more power because this pumps out about 1/3 more than the previous model we told you about.

It’s made from metal parts, so it’s incredibly durable as well. It also comes equipped with the same brass chuck we told you about on the 70P.

What’s different about this option is that it is quiet. With the noise-isolating features and rubber feet, the vibration and noise are at a minimum during operation. Instead of a 12V plug, it operates with alligator clamps directly connected to your battery. If you know how to jump-start your car, you’ll be able to use this.

There’s also a built-in fuse, so you don’t have to worry about blowing a fuse in your car. This one simply trips its own fuse if there’s too much power. In total, you’ll have 21 feet of air hose and power cord reach; plenty to get around the biggest vehicles.

Other features include thermal overload protection and an extremely accurate gauge. Because it operates at a maximum of 120 PSI, we feel comfortable choosing this as the best portable tire inflator for trucks.

Lifeline AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor

Lifeline AAA DC Air Compressor

Because AAA makes this, you know it’s a quality road tool. Plus, the most significant selling feature is the low price. It’s affordable, compact and convenient, when in a jam. Many people that use this model aren’t home mechanics, but average drivers without a lot of car knowledge.

It’s ideal for anyone that drives but doesn’t know much about maintenance because it’s simple to use. On top of that, it’s also lightweight and can fit in most standard glove boxes.

Don’t let the smaller size fool you; it’s rated up to 300 PSI. While it might not actually put out that much pressure, users confirm it’s surprisingly strong. Just plug it into the 12V outlet, attach it to your tire, and turn it on.

The reach is a little smaller than others with a ten-foot power cord and 1.5-foot air hose. For this reason, we only recommend it for smaller or medium-sized vehicles. The two accessory nozzles it comes with are great for inflating other objects like pool toys or balls. You could even maintain your bike tires with this unit.

If you don’t need the top-of-the-line air compressor, it makes sense to save money and purchase this instead.

Kensun AC/DC Rapid Performance Portable Air Compressor

Kensun Portable Air Compressor

A little higher up on the price scale, we find this Kensun portable air compressor. It’s versatile enough that it works with car DC sockets as well as your home AC outlets. That means you can use it in the car or around the house.

It’s only five pounds, so it’s easy to tote along with you. There’s also an auto shut off function which makes sure you don’t over-inflate. Before pumping up your tire, you simply select the PSI level you desire on the LCD screen.

With the LED lamp, you’ll be able to illuminate small, dark areas which helps to provide more visibility when you need to work on your tires at night. Considering emergencies happen at any time of day, this is a great additional feature.

When you want to transport or carry the unit, you’ll find that the provided grab handle makes it easier than most other models. In addition, this machine reaches a maximum of 90 PSI, which is more than enough for most passenger vehicles on the road. Plus, there are three varying connector types so you can blow up inflatables and bike tires as well.

EPAuto 12V DC Auto Portable Air Compressor Pump

tire inflator

If you prefer a budget-friendly option that still has enough features, this might be your best choice. It’s hard to beat the price, but it doesn’t lack much on perks. Plug this unit directly into your car’s 12-volt outlet and the handy display shows you everything you need to know.

There are simple-to-use navigation buttons for picking the appropriate PSI for your needs. Then, the unit shuts off automatically once that pressure is reached. With a maximum 100 PSI, this has plenty of power to fill up tires on compacts, sedans, and most SUVs.

Some additional adaptors come with the unit; perfect for filling up sports equipment, inflatables, balls, and bike tires. The LED Torchlight illuminates dark areas when visibility is compromised. This helps to keep you safe on the side of the road at night.

Since it only weighs 2 pounds, it’s also one of the most portable options on the market. There’s also a nine-foot cable, so you should be able to reach all of your tires from your power port.

Q Industries 12 Volt Air Compressor

Portable Air Pump

If you need the best portable tire inflator for working on all sorts of products, this versatile option might be right for you. It is one of the higher priced considerations, but it’s capable of inflating truck, RV, and full-size SUV tires. Some of the cheaper air compressors can’t do that.

At ten pounds, it does weigh a little more than most, but the features make up for that. To create a durable option, this unit runs a 1/3-horsepower oil-less direct-drive single cylinder motor. That’s what also helps it to inflate a tire an additional 10 PSI in just less than a minute.

It doesn’t use the typical 12-volt outlet but provides battery clamps instead. The eight-foot-long power cord gets connected directly to your car battery. For an extended reach, it also comes with a 16-foot air hose, so you should have no trouble reaching all four of your tires.

Inside the box, you get the portable tire inflator, air hose, three adapter nozzles, power cord, plus a handy carrying bag.

Viair 85P Portable Air Compressor

Portable Air CompressorWe have one more Viair product for your consideration. This portable air compressor weighs 4.3 pounds and fills 18-inch tires to 30 PSI in just less than three minutes. It has a working pressure of 60 PSI and a duty cycle of 20 minutes.

Some of the features on this machine include an LED work light, solid brass twist-on tire chuck, accessory power plug, and 100-PSI gauge. There’s also a three-piece tip kit and convenient carrying bag included in the package. You’ll have plenty of room to reach all your tires with the ten-foot-long power cord and additional three-foot long air hose.

This unit is one of the best 12V portable tire inflators on the market. If you need something stronger, you’ll want to examine the models that connect directly to the car battery instead.

P.I. Auto Store – Premium 12V DC Tire Air Compressor Pump

Tire Air Compressor

Another mid-range option is this one from the P.I. Auto Store. Because it features a premium 12-volt DC connection, it’s capable of inflating most mid-size car tires to 30 PSI in just less than three minutes. In addition to that, the company makes claims that this is one of the quietest around.

This 12-volt option utilizes the car’s outlet for power. There’s also a backlit LCD so you can evaluate the tire pressure easily. With the auto shutoff feature, you won’t have to worry about overinflating your tire.

In addition, this machine only weighs two pounds, so it’s quite compact and easy to take on the go. It’s priced in the middle of most of the options we’ve shown you, so ideal for sticking to a budget while getting a high-quality machine.

Between the air hose and power cord, you’ll have about 13 feet to work with, which should be plenty for most users. There’s also a snap-on connector to make attachment to the tire valves simple. Use the included carrying case, bicycle valve adapter or four spare dust caps as a bonus.

Fortem Digital Tire Inflator

Digital Tire Inflator

There’s no doubt that this portable tire inflator is the most stylish on our list. If you care what your compressor looks like, then this might be an option for you. The 12-volt unit comes complete with an LCD screen and built-in LED light. This makes reading your measurements simple and easy, no matter what kind of lighting you’re in.

The easy-to-use controls are simple, even for someone that’s never inflated a tire. There’s also handy cord storage located on the back of the machine to make transportation a little easier. At just under two pounds, anyone can carry this with them in the car without an issue.

It also features a 150 PSI maximum pressure, so this isn’t a joke. Inflate your bike tires and sports equipment as well without any trouble. This unit will run for eight minutes before it needs to cool off. Most of the time, you shouldn’t need to run it longer than that.

Along with the inflator, you’ll also get an extra fuse, carrying case, and three additional nozzle attachments. In total, there’s about 12-feet of length between the air hose and power cord.

EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump

Portable Air Compressor Pump

One of the best portable tire inflator models according to Amazon reviews is this unit from EPAuto. The 12-volt air compressor runs with a maximum PSI of 100. There’s also an included digital gauge which reaches a PSI of 100. Plus, you can use the included digital gauge which reads kg/cm, BAR, KPA, or PSI.

The auto shutoff feature ensures you don’t over-inflate your tires. It also includes overheat protection which shuts down the compressor if it becomes overloaded. Many models don’t come with this added protection, so it’s worth spending more for.

If you need to fill your tires at night, you’ll be thankful for the LED flashlight that’s already built-in. Weighing under four pounds, you’ll find that this inflator is easy to carry around with you. It’s also relatively inexpensive considering some of the models we’ve evaluated earlier.

Final Thoughts

When you look for the best portable tire inflator, you need to evaluate what you’re looking for first. If you want something lightweight and compact, it won’t be hard to fulfill those desires. If you prefer something heavy-duty that’s going to fill up truck tires; you might need to spend a little more money.

Either way, it’s easy to find something that works for everyone on our list. Read through the reviews carefully until you see the model that’s best for you. Then, you won’t have to worry if you need to fill up a tire on the side of the road; everything you need will be available to you in a small, compact package. Save yourself some money and protect yourself from danger on the road by ensuring that all of your tires are properly inflated.

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Brian Jones
About Brian Jones

I am an ASE Certified Master Tech, but spend more time with my awesome family now than I do on cars. In my spare time, you'll still find me playing with tools, cars and many other "manly" gadgets.

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