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Air When You Need It: Portable and Handy 12-Volt Air Compressors

These 12-volt air compressors will be a go-to accessory in your car or workshop.

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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON September 6, 2021

Depending on your chosen vocation or favorite hobbies, a reliable 12-volt air compressor may very well be one of your key pieces of equipment. It’s a versatile tool that can come in handy for so much more than just inflating car and bike tires. Kept in your garage, workshop, or in the back of your car, SUV, or pickup truck, you can use a 12-volt air compressor to run small pneumatic tools, boost air suspension systems, blow off dirty filters, power air horns, and much more. For larger power tools and more extensive automotive and workshop power supplies, you might need something stronger than a 12-volt air compressor.

 

If you are in the market for a reliable and tough 12-volt air compressor, The Drive has got you covered with our informative buying guide that will help you familiarize yourself with the various options. A quick read through and you’ll be ready to make a confident purchase of the perfect 12-volt compressor to suit your needs.

Best Overall
Kensun Portable 12V Air Compressor
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Summary
Summary

A lightweight and compact AC/DC powered 120 PSI air compressor suitable for inflating tires and sporting equipment.

Pros
Pros
  • Dual power sources make this unit super versatile
  • Large, easy-to-read display measures PSI, BAR, and KPA
  • Compact enough to fit inconspicuously in most trunks
Cons
Cons
  • Not suitable for powering small pneumatic tools
  • Some concern over long-term durability of the unit itself
Best Overall
Kensun Portable 12V Air Compressor
Best Value
EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
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Summary
Summary

Weighing around 1 pound, this is one of the lightest and least expensive 12-volt air compressors on the market. Suitable for most car and mid-size SUV tires.

Pros
Pros
  • Very affordable
  • Large, bright display has auto shut-off once desired tire pressure is reached
  • This unit is also equipped with a bright LED flashlight
Cons
Cons
  • Not suitable for any size truck tires, even light duty
  • Not strong enough to power tools or air sprayers
  • Max air pressure of 70 PSI
Best Value
EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
Honorable Mention
GSPSCN Portable 12V Air Compressor Pump
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Summary
Summary

A heavy-duty 150 PSI 12-volt air compressor that runs directly off your vehicle’s battery with two rugged alligator clips.

Pros
Pros
  • Strong enough to inflate truck, RV, and ATV tires.
  • Equipped with a heavy-duty dust cap for use in sandy, desert-like climates
  • Has an external in-line 40-amp fuse for added safety during use
Cons
Cons
  • No AC power supply, and can’t plug into your car’s cigarette lighter
  • Inflation of larger tires can take up to 20 minutes
  • Larger power draw than many compressors
Honorable Mention
GSPSCN Portable 12V Air Compressor Pump
Closeup Of 12-Volt Air Compressor
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Benefits of 12-Volt Air Compressors

  • Portability. Probably one of the top key benefits of a 12-volt air compressor is how compact and portable they are. Many can be kept in your car or truck all the time for whenever the need arises. 
  • Multifunctional. Most 12-volt air compressors can do much more than just inflate car and bicycle tires. They can be used to inflate sporting equipment and some more powerful models can be used to run smaller pneumatic tools.
  • Economical. Twelve-volt air compressors are an inexpensive source of compressed air. If you have tools that you need to use briefly or need to top up your car or bike tires, the right 12-volt air compressor can do the job without costing you as much as a larger, more heavy-duty model.
  • Time-saving. Having the ability to quickly plug in your 12-volt air compressor to any 12-volt power supply can save you from having to drive all the way to the shop or the gas station, and can get the job done in a quick and easy manner.
  • Emergency preparedness. One of the primary reasons for owning a 12-volt air compressor is to be able to keep it in your vehicle in the event of a slow leak or unplanned flat tire. It can often top you up enough to get you to the nearest garage.

Types of 12-Volt Air Compressors

Box

As the name implies, this type of compressor has a box-like shape to it. These are generally very compact and easy to stow and transport. They come in a range of PSI capacities, depending on what you need it for. They’re quite inexpensive compared to some other models on the market, but also not as durably built.

Drill 

This type of air compressor, as you can probably imagine, resembles the size and shape of a handheld drill. It’s super lightweight and easy to use, with a very short hose and a trigger-like application. This is a great option to fit in the smallest of spaces, like your glove compartment. The drawback is that these are also the least powerful option and, depending on the size of your tires, they may not be powerful enough. This is also a common design for tire pressure gauges, so don't get confused between the two. 

Pancake

A pancake compressor has a tank that looks like a round, flat donut, or one that is also known as a hotdog compressor, in which the tank looks, well, you can probably guess. These are the more rugged and durable of the 12-volt air compressors and usually get the most PSIs. Some of them are even powerful enough to run some light-duty pneumatic tools. They’re also pricier than most of our other options.

12-Volt Air Compressor Pricing

  • Under $50: In this price range, you’ll find the most basic 12-volt air compressors. Really, they’re more likely to be just tire inflators. Compact, usually with plastic housings, they’re just strong enough to inflate your car’s tires.
  • $50-$150: This is the price range in which you’ll find the majority of decent air compressors that are powerful enough to inflate almost any car tire, or even some that will be strong enough to run small pneumatic tools.
  • $150 and up: This is where the high-end, stronger, and larger 12-volt air compressors will be found. Many of them will be constructed with heavy-duty metal tanks and will be on the heavier side, making them the better choice for job sites and workshops.

Key Features

PSI 

"Pounds per Square Inch" is the number one feature to pay attention to. Most decent 12-volt air compressors will have a PSI rating of 100, which is just enough to inflate most regular-sized car tires. For truck or SUV tires, you might need something stronger, in the range of 120 to 150 PSI. For small power tools, you’ll likely want to look for a 12-volt compressor with a PSI above 150.

Portability

If you’re planning on keeping your compressor in your trunk or the bed of your truck, you’ll want something highly portable, with a durable body or case that won’t rust or crack easily if it rolls around. If you’re looking for a compressor for your workshop or to take between job sites, you’ll want something rugged with a higher power capacity that might be somewhat less portable than just an air compressor that’s used for tire management.

Power Consumption

Since you’re likely using your car’s battery to run your 12-volt air compressor, you’ll need to be mindful of how much power it draws. You don’t want to over-tax or damage your battery, so look for an air compressor that pulls about 120 watts or less.

Other Considerations

  • Single-Stage vs. Two-Stage Compressors. This refers to how many times the air in the unit is compressed. In a single-stage air compressor, the air is compressed once, but in a two-stage compressor, it’s compressed twice, giving you double the pressure. This is key in running larger tools and installations, but not such a big concern if you’re just inflating car or bike tires.
  • Display. A large, backlit display will be easier to read from a distance than a smaller, unlit display. Also check to see if the compressor you’re buying displays only PSI, or if you get other information from it, like BAR and KPA.
  • Warranty. Consider buying a 12-volt air compressor that’s backed by a solid warranty. The best companies will offer at least a one-year warranty, but some will offer even a two- or three-year protection plan against manufacturer’s defects.

 12-Volt Air Compressors Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Kensun Portable 12V Air Compressor

When it comes to the overall combination of versatility, functionality, durability, and price, we like the Kensun Portable 12V Air Compressor. It features dual solid metal motors that provide powerful and quick tire inflation. One of the best features of this particular model is that while it is a 12-volt powered air compressor, it also comes with an AC plug for use in your home’s 110-volt wall outlet, giving you plenty of options for where and when to use it.


This air compressor is equipped with a large and bright, easy-to-read display that measures PSI, BAR, and KPA. It measures up to 120 PSI, which is capable of inflating most standard car, bike, and midsize SUV tires. It also comes with an adaptor set for sporting equipment, pool inflatables, and air mattresses. Unfortunately, this model doesn’t come equipped with a Presta valve adapter, so check your bike tires prior to purchase to see if you need to buy one separately.


This compressor is quite compact and is easy to store or transport in your car or truck. It’s definitely not powerful enough or set up to run small tools, however. There are some concerns about long-term durability of this unit, but reports of stellar customer service indicate that it’s quick and easy to get a replacement unit if necessary.

Best Value
EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump

If you’re in the market for a compact and user-friendly 12-volt air compressor, but don’t want to invest a ton of cash into one, check out the EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump. It’s a straightforward, compact air compressor that plugs right into your car’s 12-volt power socket. This model weighs around one pound, so it’s very lightweight and easy to carry in compact cars.


With a max PSI of 70, this compressor works well with smaller cars and SUVs whose engines are less than 3.5 liters. It’s not strong enough to inflate truck tires, unfortunately. It comes equipped with a universal valve connector for Schrader tires, as well as additional adaptors for sporting equipment and swimming pool accessories.


While we like the portability and price point of this air compressor, it’s really more of an inflator than anything else and is limited in its capabilities. That said, it does have a very easy-to-read display, a bright LED flashlight, and an auto shut-off feature once the tire’s desired pressure is reached. It’s an all-around great value.

Honorable Mention
GSPSCN Portable 12V Air Compressor Pump

When you can’t mess around and need guaranteed air delivery quickly and efficiently, the GSPSCN Portable 12V Air Compressor Pump won’t disappoint. It’s equipped with a maximum pressure of 150 PSI and an airflow capacity of 72 liters per minute, allowing it to inflate a standard 17-inch tire in approximately one minute. 


Unlike some units, this compressor powers directly from your vehicle’s battery with a 2.5-meter heavy-duty power cord and strong alligator clips. This model also comes with a generously long 5.5-meter self-coiling air hose. This model isn’t nearly as compact as some others on our list, but it’s strong enough to inflate car, truck, RV, and ATV tires, and can still fit easily behind most truck seats.


For larger tires, to inflate from flat, it can take much longer to reach the desired PSI, sometimes up to 20 or 30 minutes, so be mindful not to over-drain your vehicle battery if this is the case. This compressor also comes with a handy nylon carrying bag and two extra adapters for sporting equipment inflation.

Honorable Mention
Viair 10000 Onboard Air System

For bigger jobs, like powering air horns, air lockers, or running light-duty pneumatic tools, the Viair 10000 Onboard Air System is ideal for the bed of your truck. This powerful one-gallon air tank features a 98C compressor with a maximum working pressure of 150 PSI. This isn’t your typical portable 12-volt compressor; it's more suited for a truck, van, or RV.


This unit is equipped with a permanent magnetic motor that gives you 2.54 CFM or max airflow and a 10 percent duty cycle. This is meant to be a permanently installed onboard air compressor, so it’s not the best option if you’re looking for portability. If you’re looking for guaranteed power for your RV, off-road vehicle, or workshop, however, this is a great unit.


Keep in mind that this unit is more powerful than many others on our list and, as such, it also functions much more loudly. It also takes up a lot more space. However, it's also able to run continuously for more than 15 minutes, and the unit comes equipped with all the necessary parts to power small pneumatic tools and maintain your vehicle’s tires.

Honorable Mention
Ablegrid 12V DC Portable 150PSI Air Compressor

The Ablegrid 12V DC Portable 150PSI Air Compressor deserves a nod for being a powerful and lightweight air compressor that comes backed by a solid two-year warranty to protect you from any unforeseen manufacturer’s defects. It’s also sold at a great price point, making it an even better value. With a maximum capacity of 150 PSI and an airflow rate of 35 liters per minute, this unit is a strong contender, and can inflate your tire from flat to 30 PSI in as little as two minutes and 45 seconds. 


It comes equipped with a convenient PSI preset that shuts off automatically once your desired air pressure is reached. The brightly lit LCD display shows you PSI, KAP, BAR, and KG/CM. This model easily and quickly plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter. It also has four bright LED lights to allow for easy and safe nighttime operation.


While this unit is powerful enough to inflate your car, truck, and SUV tires, it takes much longer to inflate larger tires than smaller, more compact car tires, so be patient. It also comes with the necessary adapters for inflating sporting equipment and air mattresses.

 Honorable Mention
VacLife Touchscreen Air Compressor

The VacLife Touchscreen Air Compressor is a slim, high-tech air compressor that’s compact enough to keep permanently stored in almost any vehicle as part of your roadside emergency kit. Like many other models on our list, it easily plugs into your car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter. Unlike many other models on our list, this compressor features a sensitive touchscreen that makes it easy to read and use.


Set your desired tire pressure, push the start button, and sit back while the compressor quickly does the job, then automatically shuts off once the desired tire pressure is reached. While we like the slim, space-saving design of this air compressor, it leaves something to be desired in terms of power. With a maximum pressure rating of 50 PSI, it’s one of the lowest on our list.


This little air compressor is perfect for small and compact car tires, bike tires, and sporting equipment. It’s also equipped with a bright LED light for safe nighttime use. It’s backed by hassle-free customer service that promises to replace or refund your unit should it fail under normal working conditions.

Honorable Mention
Inclake Heavy Duty Portable Air Compressor Pump

The Inclake Heavy Duty Portable Air Compressor Pump is a tough and powerful option that’s specifically designed for rugged, off-road demands. This unit features a maximum PSI of 120. It draws 18 amps directly from your vehicle’s battery to give you ultra-fast inflation rates of 45 liters per minute, with an impressive continuous operating time of 50 minutes at 40 PSI. 


It’s equipped with an industrial coupler, a 9-foot self-coiling cable, a rugged tire pressure gauge, and four extra adapters. This unit is powerful enough to inflate pickup truck tires from flat in as little as six minutes. 


This model is on the pricier end of 12-volt air compressors on our list, but if you have a truck, full-size SUV, Jeep, or other off-road vehicle, it’s one of the only ones powerful enough to do the job. It is also a little noisier when operating than some other options, and it doesn’t come with a storage bag or case to keep everything protected and organized.

Tips

  • With so many 12-volt air compressors on the market, choose one that has a solid brand recognition, a great return policy, plenty of positive online reviews from multiple sources, and perhaps even a manufacturer’s warranty.
  • Know your required PSI before you buy. It’s frustrating when you have an underpowered air compressor that won’t be able to successfully inflate your vehicle’s specific tires.
  • Store your air compressor in a protective bag or case. If you’re keeping it in your car at all times, consider securing it so it doesn’t get tossed around while you’re driving. This will prevent it from being damaged, or getting dirt, dust, and debris in the motor and fan components. 
  • Consider a compressor with an auto shut-off feature for added ease of use. That way, if you get distracted and aren’t monitoring the unit constantly, you won’t be in danger of over-filling your tires.

FAQs

Q: How does a 12-volt air compressor work?

A 12-volt air compressor uses your vehicle’s battery, or any 12-volt battery, to power a motor which directly forces air into an object to inflate it to a certain pressure. Because they don’t store compressed air in the tank, they have less power and capacity to fill larger objects, but are usually fine for small automobile tires, bicycle tires, and sporting equipment.

Q: How do I maintain my 12-volt air compressor?

To properly maintain your 12-volt air compressor, be sure to read the user’s manual that comes with the unit. Be sure to store your compressor in a protective bag or carrying case when not in use to keep it from getting scratched or damaged, or allowing dust and dirt to clog the motor and its components. Regularly inspect the hoses, valves, and power cords for any damage and replace them at the earliest sign of wear.

Q: Who makes the best 12-volt air compressor?

If you’re looking for a 12-volt air compressor for general use in your car, truck, SUV, or for your bike, we like the versatility of the Kensun Portable 12V Air Compressor. That said, there really isn’t one brand that can be considered the best. Just be sure to get one that suits your pressure needs and comes backed by a good warranty.

Q: How many amps does a 12-volt air compressor draw?

If you have a 12-volt air compressor that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter, the typical power draw will be between 10 and 15 amps. For a 12-volt air compressor that clips directly to a 12-volt battery, the power draw can be between 20 and 40 amps.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a reliable and rugged 12-volt air compressor that’s strong enough to inflate your car tires, bike tires, or sporting equipment, our top pick is the Kensun Portable 12V Air Compressor. It’s dual AC/DC power supply, compact size, and large, easy-to-read display make it a great overall accessory for your car or garage.

For a stronger, more powerful option that can also run light-duty pneumatic tools and inflate larger truck and RV tires, consider the Viair 10000 Onboard Air System. One thing is certain: Whatever your power needs, there is a 12-volt compressor out there that can most likely meet them efficiently and affordably.