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 Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON April 5, 2019
Tire inflators are pumps that use compressed air to inflate truck and car tires. The compressed air enables you to do the job quickly and efficiently. The best portable tire inflators can fit into the trunk or cargo area of your vehicle so you’ll have easy access to it during a roadside emergency. If you’re looking for the best portable tire inflator on the market, check out our reviews below.
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Benefits of Portable Tire Inflators
- Fill your tires quickly. The fastest and easiest 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.
- Avoid the gas station. Instead of driving across town, fill your tire at home or on the road. You know it will work versus some gas stations that have pumps that are out of service and cost a little bit of money.
- Avoid the dealership. All new cars feature a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that informs you if your air pressure is low. Instead of driving to the dealership for a fix, pump the tire with air yourself.
- Make your tires last longer. Overinflated or underinflated tires can cause a number of problems. They may wear quickly, or worse, burst. To get the most life out of your tires, check every so often to make sure they are properly inflated, particularly if your vehicle does not have a TPMS.
Types of Portable Tire Inflators
The best portable car tire inflators and best portable truck tire inflators can be used while you're on the road. During an emergency, you can supply some models with power by plugging them into the cigarette lighter socket/12-volt power source in your vehicle. This is particularly useful if your car or truck has 12-volt DC outlets in more than one place.
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 or else you may get stuck with a flat tire.
These tire inflators clamp-on directly to the battery for maximum power so you don’t have to have the vehicle running. However, a tire pump can suck the charge out of a stand-alone battery in about 20 minutes.
The US-based Kensun, Inc. was established in 2009. While their most popular products are aftermarket vehicle headlights such as HID and Xenon bulbs, the company also produces inflators for tires, such as the Kensun Tire Inflator AC/DC Portable Air Compressor Pump.
VIAIR Corporation, based in Irvine, Calif., was founded in 1998 and produces fractional horsepower DC oil-less air compressors and air accessories for on-road, off-road, and industrial markets. One of its high-end tire inflators is the Viair 40047 400P-RV Automatic Portable Compressor Kit.
Helteko is a new company that was founded in 2017 by S.G. Royals. It 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 Superior Products
JACO is an automotive accessory company that began as a two-person enterprise in 1983. The original warehouse and office remains in Crystal Lake, Ill., where the company also does quality testing. They have another quality testing plant in Evergreen, Colo. 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 digital tire inflators will display the inflated pressure on the gauges. Some newer models will show this information 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 if the screen is backlit.
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 a practical feature because the tire inflator will not over inflate the tire. You can walk away from the device as it does its job and not worry about the tire bursting.
- 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 models that are plugged into a 12-volt outlet. It can take as little as two to three minutes for heavy-duty models to do the job versus four to 10 minutes for plug-in models.
- Extra Nozzle Attachments: The best tire air pump can serve multiple purposes. A model that comes with several attachments will be very useful at home and on the road. They can be used to pump air into bicycle tires and sports equipment as well as car tires. The added functionality is a big bonus.
- Portability: The best handheld air compressor for tires is typically lightweight. They generally weigh between two and six pounds, and some smaller ones weigh less than one pound. Some models have handles, while others don't. Weight and carrying capacity are two things to consider, especially if you're leaving the device in your vehicle.
- Hose and 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: If you like to keep your tools organized, this is a key option. Some models have a storage cavity that allows you to coil up the cord into a small compartment. Others do not offer this feature or have tiny cavities that make it challenging to contain the hose and cord.
- Built-in Lights: This option is particularly beneficial if you carry a portable air compressor with you when you're on the road. If it's dark outside, a tire inflator with a built-in flashlight can make your job a lot easier. Not only will it illuminate the tire you are inflating, but it will also alert passing motorists that you're stranded.
- Noise: Portable inflators are notoriously loud, depending on their size and purpose. When you're leaning on the ground to fill a tire while an air pump is rumbling next to you, it can be distracting and irritating if it's exceptionally loud. Be sure to select a product that won't bother your ears too much.
- 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. Tire inflators that have a 50-percent duty cycle don't require a cooling down period.
Best Portable Tire Inflator Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- 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?
A: 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 is the equivalent to a fuel gauge.
Q: How do I determine maximum PSI?
A: 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?
A: Remove the valve stem caps and press the tire pressure gauge into the valve stem. Check the reading on the pressure gauge to determine the tire’s air pressure. Reinstall the valve stem caps.
Q: How do I inflate my tires with a portable tire inflator?
A: 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 Avid Power Tire Inflator Air Compressor. It’s fast and efficient and includes an automatic shutoff feature.
For something with even better value, consider the Ryobi P737 18-Volt ONE+ Portable Cordless Power Inflator for Tires.