Equipment

Best Tire Inflator and Air Compressor – And Our Best Picks for 2018 Are…

best tire inflator

You know the feeling, you get up on a cold morning and start up your car and that light comes on. The one that says your tire pressure has gone down.

Now, you know that keeping your tires at the optimal pressure will give you the best ride and the longest tire life. But it is cold, you have to get to work and the gas stations either charge for use of the air compressor, has a long line of people waiting to fill their tires or have a broken compressor. But what if there was another option?

Luckily there is, there are a number of home air compressors that can work to fill your tires at home, or even on the go. The question becomes how do you find the best tire inflator? What should you look for to separate the best tire air compressor from the worthless junk that will break down? Well, as always, Garage Chief got you covered.

Not only have we done the work to track down six of the best air compressors for tires but we have given you a buyer’s guide to help you note down all the important differences. This will ensure that you have everything that you need to pick the right model for you.


Best Tire Inflator for a Car – Our Top Picks Compared

Before we start, here is a look at a comparison table of tire inflators we will detail review later on.

editors-choiceBest ProductBest Value    
editors-choiceBest ProductBest Value
ImageEPAuto Portable Air Compressor PumpAAA Lifeline 12 Volt Air Compressordigital tire inflator PI Auto StoreViair Portable Air CompressorJACO Digital Tire Inflator PumpAudew Portable Air Compressor Pump
item-titleEPAuto 12V DC Best Portable Air Compressor PumpLifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Tire InflatorP.I. Auto Store 12V DC Portable Digital Auto Tire InflatorViair 00088 88P Best Portable Air Pump for Car TiresJACO SmartPro Best Portable Tire InflatorAUDEW Portable Tire Inflator with Digital Gauge
item-reviewread review read review read review read review read review read review
TypeType
Air Compressor
(Portable, Digital Tire Inflator)
Type
Tire Inflator
(Portable, 12V DC)
Type
Tire Inflator
(Portable, Digital, 12V DC)
Type
Air Compressor
(Portable, Analog Tire Inflator)
Type
Tire Inflator
(Portable, Digital, 12V DC)
Type
Tire Inflator
(Portable, Digital, 12V DC)
Pressure GaugePressure Gauge
Digital
Pressure Gauge
Analog
Pressure Gauge
Digital
Pressure Gauge
Analog
Pressure Gauge
Digital
Pressure Gauge
Digital
Power SourcePower Source
12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
Power Source
12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
Power Source
12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
Power Source
12V DC (Battery Clamps)
Power Source
12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
Power Source
12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
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Best Tire Inflator and Air Compressor – Which One To Choose?

Now it is time to go into some of our picks for the best portable air pump for car tires. We have gone through various options that are currently on the market and whittled the list down to six top choices that could each make a claim for being the best tire air compressor.

We’ll dive into each of them to not only let you know some of the most important details, like price, maximum pressure and more but also give you a brief write up on each of these options to give you a great feeling as to how they will work.

You’ll need to consider the specifics of how you will end up using them. This means that you will want to take a little bit of time as you are going through each write up to think how it would fit into your needs and workflow.


EPAuto Portable Air Compressor Pump


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Best Product

EPAuto 12V DC Best Portable Air Compressor Pump

  • Type: Portable Air Compressor Pump w/ Digital Tire Inflator
  • Pressure Gauge: Digital
  • Power Source: 12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
  • Weight: 3.9 Pounds

This small lightweight model is made to easily stow into your car so that you never have to worry about your tire deflating while away from home. The EPAuto 12V DC Best Portable Air Compressor Pump is clearly the best tire air compressor for a car and that is why it tops our list as our pick for best product.

This product is made for ease of use. Plug it into the cigarette lighter of your car, connect the hose and set the desired pressure. The inflator will pump air in, periodically checking the pressure level of your tire. It is set up to automatically shut off when it reaches the pressure you’ve set, so there is no worry about over inflating with this model.

The end of the pump sports a power LED flashlight, so even if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere on a moonless night you don’t need to be concerned.

It is important to know that this model, while it is available in black or blue, does not support truck tires, it is sized more for cars, sedans, bikes and mid-sized SUVs. This one will max out at 100 PSI, so if you are running pressures greater than that you might need to step up to a larger unit. It does, however, come with adapters for sports balls and other inflatables.

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AAA Lifeline 12 Volt Air Compressor


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LifeLine AAA Best 12v Tire Inflator

  • Type: Portable 12v Tire Inflator
  • Pressure Gauge: Analog
  • Power Source: 12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
  • Weight: 2 Pounds

If you are looking for an inexpensive model that is still got plenty of power where it counts, you’ll probably agree with us that the LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Tire Inflator is the best 12V air compressor on the market.

This may be available for under $20 but it tops off at a maximum pressure of 300 PSI, which would cover most all uses around your home. To add to that diversity of usage the pump comes with adapters so that you can not only fill car and bike tires, but also all of your sports balls and other inflatable products.

Some compressors that are designed to plug into a cigarette lighter have a short power cord, sometimes it is so short that you can just barley get things attached to the tires. This model doesn’t fall into that camp though, it sports a cord that is ten feet long, giving you enough reach to get to any tire on your vehicle and even the ability to pull up next to a friends car and have space to work.

And you don’t have to worry about it taking forever, this model can take a standard sized tire (P195/65 R15) from completely deflated, at 0 PSI, all the way up to 35 PSI in just 8 minutes. Since you are probably starting with a little more air in your tire than that you could be done even quicker.

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digital tire inflator PI Auto Store


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P.I. Auto Store 12V DC Portable Digital Auto Tire Inflator

  • Type: 12V DC Portable Digital Auto Tire Inflator
  • Pressure Gauge: Digital
  • Power Source: 12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
  • Weight: 2 pounds

The P.I. Auto Store 12V DC Portable Digital Auto Tire Inflator deserves to be considered as one of the best tire inflators. This model may only tip the scale at 2 pounds, but it was made with plenty of power in mind.

The first issue to tackle is making sure you have plenty of power cord and hose length to get to any tire, while having your device plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. This set up from the P.I. Auto Store gives you 13 feet to work with, which should more than cover your needs. The next feature that you’ll love is that you can easily set the desired pressure on the backlit screen and the pump will turn off once that pressure is reached.

This system is also fast, the company claims that it can take a mid-sized tire from 0 PSI up to 30 PSI in just 3.5 minutes. This means you won’t be waiting around to get your tires filled and you can just get on with your journey. Plus the set up has a LED flashlight that can be set to either standard mode, flashing red or emergency SOS.

This device additionally comes with its own carry case to keep it safe and secure in your car trunk.

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Viair Portable Air Compressor


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Viair 00088 88P Best Portable Air Pump Compressor for Car Tires

  • Type: Portable Air Pump Compressor for Car Tires
  • Pressure Gauge: Analog
  • Power Source: 12V DC (Battery Clamps)
  • Weight: 4.5 pounds

If you are looking for one of the best portable air pumps for car tires you need to check out the Viair 00088 88P Best Portable Air Pump for Car Tires. This may look a little different from some of the other tire inflators on our list as the folks at Viair have taken a slightly different approach on a number of the options.

First, you will note that instead of having a cigarette lighter plug, this set up has clamps to be connected directly to the battery. The company states that the engine needs to be running, not just have the clamps hooked up to get power flowing to the pump.

Also, you may notice that instead of the common push-on head at the end of the air hose this model goes with a screw-on chuck. While this might take a small amount of time more to get connected it will result in a more secure connection.

This model has plenty of space to work with though. The power cable is a full 10 foot long and then the air hose gives you another 16 feet to work with. You can easily reach any tire with that much length.

This one has been designed for cars, ATVs, SUVs and trucks and can go all the way to 120 PSI for inflation. It sports an inflation rate of 1.47 CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) at 0 PSI.

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VIAIR’s Portable Tire Inflators – There’s more than just model to choose from. This video will help you pick the right one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxi4Pu4T44A

JACO Digital Tire Inflator Pump


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JACO SmartPro Best Portable Tire Inflator

  • Type: Portable Digital Tire Inflator
  • Pressure Gauge: Digital
  • Power Source: 12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
  • Weight: 2 pounds

And as one of the best portable tire inflators, we have the handsome JACO SmartPro Best Portable Tire Inflator.

This one has been set up for ease of use. There is a larger power button and a button for the LED light that is easily visible due to their contrasting color. Then, under the LCD display there are three more buttons to dial in the exact pressure that you want and then engage inflation. The LCD is also backlit to aid in filling your tires in the dark.

You’ll find that the system is set up to go from 0 to 45 PSI for car tires, but can take bike tires from 0 to 100 PSI, due to their smaller size. This model fills at an impressive 25 Liters per minute so you won’t have to wait forever to get your tire full and ready to go.

The air hose opts for a screw-on chuck to provide the most secure connection to your valve stem.

Read customer reviews on Amazon right here


Audew Portable Air Compressor Pump


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AUDEW Portable Tire Inflator with Digital Gauge

  • Type: Portable Tire Inflator with Digital Gauge
  • Pressure Gauge: Digital
  • Power Source: 12V DC (Vehicle Cigarette Lighter)
  • Weight: 2.6 pounds

Sporting one of the most unique designs of any tire inflator on the market the AUDEW Portable Air Compressor Pump / Tire Inflator with Digital Gauge is perhaps the best tire inflator with a digital gauge.

This model is made to be user-friendly and sports a 3-meter long power cord, letting you easily reach to the rear tires while you have it plugged into the cigarette lighter of your car. Then, you simply set the optimal pressure for your car’s tires and the pump will inflate them and automatically shut off when it gets to the desired pressure.

The space-saving design not only makes it easy to stow in your car for whenever you may need it, but also ensures that it is less likely to roll around than most models that are available today.

The inflator ranges up to 150 PSI, meaning that is can handle not only car tires, but also those from bikes, RVs, ATVs and SUVs.

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Picking the Best Tire Inflator – A Practical Buyer’s Guide

No doubt you know that the air pressure in your tires is rather important. But the question becomes, how do you get the air into your tires? You’ll need either a tire air compressor or a tire inflator.

You can often find these at gas stations. The problems you can run into with using their inflators are numerous. The first issue that you could run into is that sometimes you are required to pay for the use of the station’s inflator.

To make matters worse, often times these require the use of coins and if you can’t find the right combination of coins you are out of luck. There are a number of gas stations that don’t require you to pay for the use of the air compressor.

However, often times when you really need to fill your tires, like on a cold morning, there tends to be a lot of people so you’ll have to wait in line, so if you only have a little bit of time, you might be out of luck.

Finally, there are times that these systems are broken, which won’t help you at all.

However, if you have your own system, while you have to pay up-front you won’t have to pay for each time that you use it. You won’t have to sit around and wait for other people to use your inflator and if it is broken you will be aware of it before you head off to other places to see if the system is working.

You’ll be able to use this whenever you need to add air to your tires. But depending on which model you go with you may also be able to inflate other things like sports balls or rafts as well. Some compressors will even allow you to work with air powered tools (like one of those), meaning that you will have a whole new world of tools and gear that can be used.

While tires generally don’t lose a lot of pressure in the warmer months, you’ll find that colder months will call for more frequent checks and inflations. This is due to the fact that as the weather gets colder the air in your tires contracts.

As this happens the seal that keeps the air in your tires doesn’t always seal as well, meaning that some air can escape. As the day warms up the air in your tires will expand out again. Generally, this won’t refill to the same level that it was originally. With your own tire inflator, you will be able to fill your car’s tires as needed.


Air Compressor vs. Tire Inflator

When you start looking into inflating your tires at home you need to consider if an inflator or an air compressor is the right option for you.

Air Compressor vs. Tire Inflator

A tire inflator takes the ambient air from wherever it is placed and then sends it through the attached hose to whatever you have the system. There is no storage of air and the system has to run as long as you are needing air.

An air compressor pump, on the other hand, is essentially an inflator with a storage tank attached. They come in a number of different sizes and will fill the tank. Then when you need some air you can attach a hose to the tank. The inflator will only kick on when the tank reaches a given level, but the system will fill the tank instead of sending it along the hose.

If you are looking for a lower cost more portable option you’ll want to go with an inflator. This will not offer as many options as a full compressor and it will have to run more while you are filling your tires, this means it could be a louder option.

There are a number of reasons to go with an air compressor. While these will end up being more expensive it does mean that you can also use a wide range of air powered tools. This style of system comes with a range of sizes of tank.

The smaller ones are somewhat portable, perhaps not as much as a simple inflator though. However, with larger options, you can fill your tires from the tank without having to kick the compressor into gear, which could give you a much quieter option.


Parameters to Consider

Whether you choose to go with an inflator or a compressor, you’ll need to consider a number of parameters based on how you plan to use the device.

  • Power Up

    The first thought should go into how to power this device. There are models out there that only use a standard power cord, this will require you to plug your inflator or compressor into a wall outlet. There are some models that will use a standard household 110V while a few models require 220V to make sure that you have enough energy to run your device.

    There are some models that you can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter to power it. There are also options on the market that will run off of batteries. Each different option as is pluses and minuses such as portability and ease of use.

  • Maximum Air Pressure

    You will also need to consider the maximum air pressure that can be put out the device that you pick. If you are only using it to inflate tires generally, even the most heavy duty tires need no more than 100 PSI to be filled. The higher the range of pressure that is achievable the more the cost will be. The higher range means that you will be able to use this for a wider range of things.

  • Power Cord and Air Hose

    best portable air pump for car tiresYou will need to look at the length of power cord and air hose. The length of the power cord can easily be expanded with an extension cord (like this one for example).

    This will however, mean that you will have to put out more funds if you don’t already have one. Generally, for most tire inflators the hose length is set. That is as far away from the tire you need to fill can be.

    You can often find different length air hoses to work with tire air compressors. This means that again, while you will need to pay a larger amount of money you can have different length hoses for different needs.

  • Pressure Flow

    Next, you will want to consider the pressure flow of your chosen device. This is merely a measure of how fast the air flows from your device to your tire, or other items that you are filling. Even the slowest flow can eventually fill your tire, however, it will take a longer time.

    A very fast flow can come with its own problems as well. If your pressure flow is too fast you’ll end up quickly blowing past your desired pressure setting. Then you will have to deflate your tire to a given level of inflation.


Design and Features

Once you have all the specs sorted out for what you need, you should take a moment and sift through some of the extra features that can be found on an inflator.

best air compressor for tires 12vPerhaps one of the most useful options is having a pressure gauge built in. Some models have a gauge built into the hose, this means that while taking breaks you can quickly tell the pressure that you are at. Other models have a built-in pressure sensor. This means that it will automatically stop when your desired pressure is reached.

Of course, no pressure gauge disqualifies such a device – you can always get them separately. Here, you will find out our recommendations, both analog and digital ones.

Another slick feature to consider is going for a model with a digital display. This means that you can quickly ensure that you have the system set just to the level that you want.

Some models will also sport a flashlight to help you find the pressure value in the middle of the night.

Finally, you can get models that will automatically shut off. If you plug it in this might not be as big of an issue but if you run on car batteries this could be vital.


Air Compressor & Tire Inflator FAQ – Find the Answer


Q

What Should be the Tire Pressure in My Car?

A

You know that you wouldn’t want to drive around with your tires looking all flat and deflated. That is easy to see that that is no good for them. Having your tires underinflated can wear the treads differently, meaning you will end up losing traction.

If you don’t have a good amount of air pressure in your tires, your car will also have to use more energy to turn the wheel. Remember that energy for your car comes in the form of gasoline and anything that causes you to use more energy means a lower average mile per gallon rating. This only results in paying for more gas, which no one wants to do.

correct tire pressure gauge

Additionally, underinflated tires don’t cushion your car as much, this means that you can end up with a less smooth ride. Lastly, this can cause your tires to make more noise which can be distracting while you drive.

At the same point maxing out the amount of pressure that you can put in your tires doesn’t help anymore. Sure, in this scenario you aren’t worried as much about the smoothness of the ride, but there are other issues. Once again, you will be wearing your treads differently than intended. This can result in a tire that wears out quicker than it otherwise would.

Also, there have been a number of studies showing that the best gasoline consumption happens at an optimal pressure level, meaning overly filled tires are still going to cost you more at the pump than it should.

Don’t forget that pressure is a powerful thing, and if you are maxing out the amount of pressure that a tire can handle, or even over pressuring it, you could be decreasing the lifetime of your tire. It could wear out from all the force and end up blowing out at the worst possible time. Also, a maximumly inflated tire has no give to it, meaning that if you bump into something like a curb there is a higher likelihood that your tire could give out.

car tire pressure gauge sticker doorAs you can see underinflating your tires is bad, but so is overinflating. There is a middle ground, an optimum inflation level, and luckily it isn’t hard to find.

You can usually come across the best level for your car inside the driver door. There will be a sticker that will show you the tire size as well as the optimum pressure level for both front and rear tires for the balance of your particular car.

The other place that you can look is on the tire itself. It will probably be in all black and blend into the tire, but it will have some notes on it to tell you the maximum pressure the tire can handle and the optimal pressure for the tire itself.

Generally, people have matching tires for their car. This means that if you go by the tire it will say the optimum pressure to fill to is one given number. For point of example, let’s say 32 PSI. Now if you check the sticker in your car, that number will probably match the recommended pressure for your front tires.

The back tires will generally be a touch lower. For our example, let’s say 30 PSI. This is due to the weight balance in your car. A heavier load will call for a higher pressure.

In most cases, the engine of your car sits up front and the back is open for whatever you choose to put in. Very few people can cram as much weight of groceries in their truck to equal the weight of their engine. Of course, if you have a rear engine car, the whole thing will be reversed.

The rating on the tire shows the optimum for that tire to carry its maximum load. The company didn’t know what kind of car you’d put their tire on. The pressures in the door jam show the balance for your particular car. While filling to the tires marked pressure isn’t terrible, it would be better if you filled according to what the sticker on your car said.


Q

How do I Inflate My Car Tires Using Portable Tire Inflator?

A

If you find that your tires need some air added, or even if they need a little bit of air taken out, you will need to see about using some kind of tire inflator.

You have some options, as you can go to a gas station and hope that their inflator works. If you have a set up at home you can use that. Most likely you need to refill your tires somewhere else. Luckily, if you have the best portable tire inflator, you can refill your tires anywhere that you happen to be. This gives you a wide range of possibilities and can make you feel a lot safer when you are heading off on a trip away from home.

First, you’ll need to make sure that you have all the required accessories. There aren’t a lot of them, so let’s take a look at them. Of course you will need your choice of portable tire inflator. Now, the exact type of inflator will lead you to the next item on our list.

This time it is power. Some inflators are battery powered. This means that you need to make sure that your battery is charged (if not, use best battery charger we recommend here) and ready. Other models have a plug that you put into your car’s cigarette lighter to power the inflator, this means that you don’t need to worry if your battery is still good, but it does mean it will pull power from your battery.

This can mean that if you aren’t careful you could drain your battery. The last piece of gear that you’ll want to have is a reliable tire pressure gauge. (If you don’t have one make sure you pick up one of the best on the market here on Amazon.)

  1. The first step in the process is to determine what the pressure of your tire is. For this step, you’ll need to use your tire pressure gauge to determine the actual pressure in your tire. Once you have this information you need to compare it with your optimal pressure settings. These can be found inside the driver’s door jam of your car. If you are low, you’ll need to add more air, too much air in the tires and you need to release some.
  2. Now you need to make sure that your tire inflator is powered. This could be as simple as turning the device on or plugging it in. Some models, once they are powered will allow you to set the desired pressure. Often these models will turn off once they hit that level of inflation. Other models will have a gauge on the handle, so when you stop inflating you can read the pressure. A number of models have no such device and will cause you to have to stop and detach the inflator and check your pressure with another tire gauge. You’ll want to be sure of your particular set up prior to starting.
  3. As you attach the inflator to your tire’s valve stem, you will notice the sound of escaping air. This is in fact air leaving your tire. Generally, you can lock the valve into place before any significant amount of air is released. This can also be a method to drop pressure if you find your tires overinflated. If something happens and you take a very long time connecting the inflator you may end up losing more air then planned. In this situation that isn’t so bad, as you are going to be inflating the tire anyway. It just may take more time.
  4. Once everything is connected and your inflator is energized you’ll need to activate it. Many portable systems will have a start button or something similar. Some models may sport a switch to begin inflation. Some lower cost options might just start filling as soon as they get power. The manual that comes with your particular model should have clear instructions on how you’ll need to engage the inflation.
  5. The last step is to detach your inflator and pack it away. This is done after you have filled your tire to the optimal pressure. Once you have the system detached make sure that everything is stored properly. This is also a good time to give your system a once over to check for cords or hoses that look like they are wearing out. That way you know the next time you pull it out you should be good to go.

Tire Inflators and Air Compressors for Sale – Where To Buy?

Now that you know some of the features that go into the best tire air compressor, we’ll need to look at some other key points.

The first is the cost of the device. You will want to consider the entire price, not just the price of the model you pick, but also if you need an extra power cord or other air hoses to get you a good feel for how much this will set you back.

The models that we have selected run from the neighborhood of ~$10 (like the AAA Lifeline Tire Inflator) all the way up to around ~$50 (for the Viair Portable Air Compressor). Other models can be found for even more if you really want to have a given or specific feature.

The other consideration is the location that you’ll purchase these from. These can be a bit tricky to find in local stores. Often times a big box store will have a single option in stock, but that doesn’t give you the ability to pick one that is just right for you.

Auto parts stores may have a slightly larger selection, but that might only mean two or maybe three options. If they have the one that you want, that is great, but if not this selection really isn’t any better than a single wrong option.

With today’s technology often times the best and biggest selection is found on a large online store. One like Amazon tends to not only offer competitive prices and good shipping deals but have a huge selection, so it is much more likely that you will find just the right model for your needs.

Tire pressure can be critical to the longest life of your tires and the smoothness of your car’s ride. Both under or over inflating your tires can cause the tread pattern to wear unevenly. This means you have decreased traction which can be hazardous. Both can also cause a drop in your vehicle’s fuel efficiency, while this might not be dangerous, it does hurt the wallet. Over inflation of your tires can cause them to wear out faster and may increase your chances of a blowout. Under inflation of a serve enough level can mess up your rims.
One sure fire way to ensure that you don’t have to deal with any of these issues is to get a high quality inflator and keep your tires filled to the optimal pressure for your set up.

Best Tire Inflator And Air Compressors – Wrapping Up

We hope you now should have all the information you need to make sure that you have the best tire inflator safely stowed in the back of your car with the other emergency gear. However, unlike some pieces that end up in a car’s emergency kit, this one will no doubt get used rather often, especially if you live in an area that hits hard with cold winters.

We started off highlighting six of the top tire inflators on the market. Our stand out pick was the EPAuto Digital Tire Inflator.

After walking you through each of our choices we dove into a buyer’s guide to ensure that you know what to look for when considering which tire inflator will work best for you. Since everyone has needs and a style of work particular to them, it helps to not only know what our picks are, but what you should be looking at to find a quality piece.

Lastly, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts on our picks in the comment section below.


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