Best Portable Tire Inflators: Avoid Getting Stranded With These Top Inflators
Quickly and efficiently add air to your tires with these top portable tire inflators
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BY Mike Viera / LAST UPDATED ON September 30, 2021
Tire inflators are small electrical pumps that use compressed air to inflate truck and car tires in a pinch. The best portable tire inflators can fit into the trunk or cargo area of your vehicle so you’ll have easy access to them during a roadside emergency. Because of their small size, they're best for quick pump-ups and emergencies only; inflating a completely flat tire to spec with one might take an hour—or more. If you’re looking for the best portable tire inflator on the market, check out our choices below.
This inflator has an automatic shutoff, adapters for different stems, a storage bag, and an LED light with four settings. It also has a 12-month warranty.
- Compact, quiet, and easy to use
- AC/DC power adapter (sold separately) lets you use it with a standard household wall outlet
- Some reviewers claim it blew the corresponding fuse in their car
This 12V portable tire inflator has four pressure units: PSI, KPA, BAR, and KG/CM2. There’s a battery indicator on the screen, and there are lights by the plug. It also has a USB outlet for charging.
- Both a rechargeable battery pack and a 12V car cable included
- Lightweight and has an LED light to see better while you’re working
- May struggle to hold a charge long-term
- Slow air pumping power
This cordless tire inflator runs on Ryobi's One+ 18-volt lithium-ion battery (not included, hence the low price). It's small, ergonomic, and pumps up to 150 PSI. It also has two high-pressure nozzles.
- Extremely affordable
- Trusted brand
- Lightweight, extremely portable, and requires little storage space
- One charge can inflate several tires
- Only works with the Ryobi One+ cordless battery—which is not included here
- Trigger does not lock
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Benefits of Portable Tire Inflators
- Fill your tires anywhere. The most convenient way to put air into your vehicle's tires is by using a portable car tire inflator. It takes just a few minutes, and you don't have to go anywhere.
- Safety. Fill your tire at home or on the shoulder instead of some sketchy filling station in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Plus, you can be confident you'll get air, versus some gas stations that have dilapidated pumps that are out of service or require quarters to operate.
- Make your tires last longer. Overinflated or underinflated tires can cause a number of problems—or worse, accidents. To get the most life out of your tires, check your tire pressure every so often to make sure they are properly inflated.
Types of Portable Tire Inflators
You can fill up your tire using the cigarette lighter socket/12v power source in your vehicle. This is particularly useful if your car or truck has 12v DC outlets in more than one place. Some inflators also operate on 110v power (with an adapter), so you can plug them into an outside power source.
The best cordless inflator is typically powered by a lithium-ion battery. They are generally easy to use and are very portable. These inflators are handheld and provide a good amount of power. It's critical that you keep the battery charged, though, or else you may get stuck with a flat tire and a useless gadget.
These tire inflators attach directly to the battery for maximum power. However, a tire pump can suck the charge out of a stand-alone battery in about 20 minutes.
While their most popular products are aftermarket vehicle headlights such as HID and Xenon bulbs, Kensun also produces inflators for tires, such as the Kensun Tire Inflator AC/DC Portable Air Compressor Pump.
VIAIR, based in Irvine, Calif., was founded in 1998 and produces oil-less air compressors and air accessories for on-road, off-road, and industrial markets.
Helteko makes consumer products for cars, including vacuum cleaners, car seat protectors, and digital air compressors. One popular product is the Helteko Portable Air Compressor Pump 150PSI 12V Digital Tire Inflator.
JACO is an automotive accessory company that began as a two-person enterprise in 1983. The original warehouse and office remain in Crystal Lake, Ill., where the company also does quality testing. One of its top products is the JACO FlowPro Tire Inflator with Pressure Gauge.
Portable Tire Inflator Pricing
- $30-$40: There are many high-quality, small, and portable tire inflators in this price range, particularly if they are on sale. You don't need to spend a lot of money to find one that successfully inflates tires on passenger cars and SUVs.
- $40-$100: Portable tire inflators in this price range typically have more features and may work faster than their less expensive counterparts.
- Over $100: Tire inflators in this price range are generally more heavy-duty and can be used on vehicles such as RVs and trailers.
The best tire inflators show tire pressure on an LCD screen, while the more traditional products will display the pressure with dial and needle gauges. A digital display will give you readings that are a bit more precise. Another added benefit is you will be able to read it in low light.
The auto-shutoff feature enables you to set the desired PSI, and the car tire inflator will run until it reaches the desired pressure. This is practical because the tire inflator will not overinflate the tire. You can walk away from the device as it does its job.
- Inflation Speed: Generally, you’ll want to fill your tire with air as quickly as you can. Heavy-duty models that connect to a battery's terminals typically inflate tires much faster than 12v or battery-powered models.
- Extra Nozzle Attachments: The best tire air pump can serve multiple purposes. A model that comes with several attachments can be used on bicycle tires and sports equipment as well as car tires.
- Portability: The best handheld air compressors are small and lightweight. They generally weigh between two and six pounds; some smaller ones weigh less than one pound.
- Hose / Cord Length: The longer the cord and air hose are, the easier it will be for you to reach all four tires on your vehicle. The best tire inflator will usually have a hose that is 18 to 26 inches long and a power cord that is at least eight feet long.
- Cord Storage: Some models have a storage cavity that allows you to coil up the cord into a small compartment.
- Built-in Lights: This option is particularly beneficial in roadside emergencies. If it's dark outside, a tire inflator with a built-in flashlight will illuminate the tire and can also alert passing motorists.
- Noise: Portable inflators are notoriously loud, depending on their size and purpose. That's why it's best to get one you can walk away from while it's filling the tire.
- Duty Cycle: This is the amount of time the inflator needs to cool down before you can use it again. Inflators with short duty cycles are preferable because they don't require as much time to cool off.
Best Portable Tire Inflator Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Even the best portable tire inflator should be stored properly and kept in a dry environment. Since it is an electrical device, moisture can damage it. You’ll want to keep it as rust-free as possible.
- Carefully watch the gauges as you fill your tire. Unless the machine has an automatic shutoff feature, it's up to you to make sure to turn it off after it reaches the desired PSI.
- Do not underinflate your tire. This may lead to dry rot on the rubber on the sidewall of the tire. This damage will eventually lead to tire failure, which can be dangerous.
- Tires that are underinflated also use more energy, draining your car’s fuel faster than properly inflated tires. In addition, underinflated tires can contribute to handling issues, which may lead to an accident.
- Check your tire pressure about once a month. Tires lose air for several reasons, including a drop in air temperature or normal seepage. It can be a gradual loss, and you may not even realize it.
- Typically, portable tire inflators shouldn't be used for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. To avoid overheating, let them cool for 10 to 30 minutes after each use.
Q: What does PSI mean?
PSI stands for pounds per square inch, and it's used to measure tire pressure. For example, 300 PSI means 300 pounds per square inch. In air compressors, a PSI gauge tells you how much pressure is in the tire.
Q: How do I determine maximum PSI?
Look at the tire’s sidewall. Tire dealerships also have charts to give you PSI information that take into account factors such as the amount of weight your car or truck is carrying.
Q: How do I check my tire’s air pressure?
Remove the valve stem caps. When the tires are cold, meaning the vehicle hasn’t been driven in several hours, push the compressor's hose fitting onto the valve stem and check the gauge. Fill the tires to the recommended pressure. Reinstall the valve stem caps.
Q: How do I inflate my tires with a portable tire inflator?
Remove the valve stem caps. Push the compressor's hose fitting onto the valve stem and check the gauge. Fill the tires to the recommended pressure (it's best to do this when the tires are cold). Reinstall the valve stem caps.
Our pick for the best portable tire inflator is the JACO SmartPro Digital Tire Inflator Pump. It’s fast and efficient inflator from a trusted outdoor brand. Moreover, it falls in the sweet spot of price points—not pricy, but not "too cheap" either.
For something with even better value, consider the VacLife Air Compressor Tire Inflator. We actually purchased this model ourselves a while back, and it's been very reliable.