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The Best Air Compressors for Cars: Keep Your Tires at Optimal Pressure

Never face a flat again with these top-rated air compressors for cars.

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BY Corrina Murdoch / LAST UPDATED ON May 15, 2021

Ever driven down the road, heard that harrowing pop, and felt your wheel tug at you? Flat tires are never fun, but, thankfully, you can avoid them by keeping your tires at the proper pressure, which is why air compressors for cars are so important. Sure, you can pull into a gas station and pay to inflate them, but what about the miles in between? If your car is going to get proper fuel efficiency and drive safely, you need to keep the tires at the correct PSI. 

 

Air compressors for cars connect to a power source (usually your car’s 12-volt DC outlet) and force pressurized air into the tire via the valve. Simple to use and relatively compact, these devices are essential in any season — especially if you want to get triple-A off your speed dial. To help you track down the best air compressors for cars, we’ve broken down the top options, along with some tips on making the right pick.

Best Overall
Prow Portable Air Compressor Tire Inflator
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Summary
Summary

Compatible with both AC and DC power, this air compressor uses an analog gauge to inflate tires up to 35 PSI in less than five minutes. 

Pros
Pros
  • Measures pressure in multiple metrics
  • Simple-to-use controls
  • Lightweight and compact
Cons
Cons
  • Lacks any digital display
  • May require adaptor for specialized devices
  • Relatively short AC power cord
Best Overall
Prow Portable Air Compressor Tire Inflator
Best Value
Movsou Tire Inflator Air Compressor
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Summary
Summary

With a straightforward design and digital interface, this compressor inflates tires efficiently. It can reach a tire pressure of 150 PSI.

Pros
Pros
  • Includes LED flashlight for dark conditions
  • Measures in imperial and metric
  • Simple on/off switch
Cons
Cons
  • Can overheat if airflow openings are covered
  • Digital display is vulnerable to scratches and cracks
Best Value
Movsou Tire Inflator Air Compressor
Honorable Mention
Dewalt Portable Jump Starter with Air Compressor
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Summary
Summary

Touting impressive power, this compressor can fill tires, jump start a car, and works as a 500-watt inverter. Compact and easy to control, it is ideal to keep in the event of an emergency.

Pros
Pros
  • Performs multiple tasks
  • Fairly compact design
  • Inflates tires to 120 pounds per square inch
  • Automatic shutoff features
Cons
Cons
  • Comes at a higher price point
  • Draws substantial power to inflate tires
  • Isn’t waterproof and requires indoor storage
Honorable Mention
Dewalt Portable Jump Starter with Air Compressor
Closeup Of Air Compressor for Car
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Benefits of Air Compressors for Cars

  • Improves fuel efficiency. Keeping your tires at the proper pressure can improve gas mileage by an average of over half a percent. In some cases, it saves up to three percent. That might sound small, but that reduces your carbon emissions by around 304 pounds every year. 
  • Safety benefits. All drivers know that if the car’s tires aren’t filled correctly, the vehicle doesn’t respond appropriately. This can impact everything from braking ability, likelihood to hydroplane to turning. An air compressor lets you adjust the pressure whenever you need to. 
  • Cost-effective. In addition to the savings on gas (or diesel) by having properly inflated tires, there are smaller savings. Once you factor in the time driving to an air compressor and the change it takes to run it, an upfront investment in a compressor can save you money down the line. 
  • Versatile and convenient. Just because air compressors for cars are primarily designed for cars doesn’t mean the utility ends there. You can use them to inflate a beach tube, bike tires, and air mattresses. Since they go in the vehicle and run off of its battery, you can always have it at your disposal.  
  • Portable and compact. When you add up all the necessary supplies to drive safely, it takes up a lot of space. Especially if you drive a vehicle without a truck bed, finding space can be a struggle. Air compressors for cars are built to take up very little space, so it’s easy to bring them along.

Types of Air Compressors for Cars

Analog

As the more traditional type of compressor for cars, these rely on the same motor as other types. Analog models use a pressure-controlled gauge to assess the pressure. This type is often harder than its counterparts since overheating can’t damage circuitry that isn’t there. Most feature a simple on/off switch, a pressure gauge, power cord, and air hose. So long as it’s compatible with your tires’ valves and it can reach a high enough pressure, analog is sufficient. 

Digital 

Modern, digital air compressors for cars use the same fundamental technology as an analog model, but it incorporates an LCD screen. The benefit of this approach is that you can easily switch metrics and pre-program the ideal pressure. Most include automatic shutoff features to prevent overheating. Usually, these are a bit bulkier than their analog counterparts. However, since there are more demands on the structure, they are less noisy since there is more of a barrier to that sound. 

Top Brands

DeWalt

Opening its doors in 1922, this company began manufacturing woodworking supplies before expanding into larger-scale supplies. With the onset of World War II, demand for machinery skyrocketed, and DeWalt got a large share of the military and government contracts, solidifying its place as a leader in the industry. To this day, it remains an internationally-known company that continues to innovate with its product lineup that includes power tools, outdoor equipment, tool storage, and more.

Wagan

An impressive business in the tools industry for more than 38 years, this California-based company holds more than a dozen Design and Utility Patents. Winning awards for its unique products, Wagan deals in everything from solar energy to automotive supplies. 

AstroAI

It might have only commenced operations in 2016, but AstroAI shows continual growth in the automotive supply sector. By integrating its supply chain both internationally and domestically, it has garnered the trust of consumers. AstroAI offers quality gear, ranging from home improvement supplies to automotive tools

Air Compressors for Cars Pricing

  • Under $50: You can find many solid options in this category, with most ringing in at around $30. They will likely be a more basic model, but it will get the job done. 
  • Between $50 and $150: For air compressors for cars, you can get a high-quality model with several supplemental functions. Most are digital and incorporate all the necessary safeguards to extend the lifespan. 

Key Features

Power Source

Your air compressor needs to be able to draw power from somewhere. Most air compressors plug directly into the 12-volt port in your vehicle, pulling from the car battery. Be sure that the cord is long enough to reach properly. Many also have an AC power cord to plug into any standard wall outlet. You can find some with rechargeable batteries that are entirely cordless. As long as you have the reach and battery life necessary, you’ll be set. 

Motor

As perhaps the most critical feature of the compressor, the motor does all the legwork. Measured in watts, the more power it carries, the more efficiently it can pressurize your tires. It plays into the fill rate as well as the maximum pressure it can reach. Look for motors in the range of 120 to 180 watts to get the most power. These can handle the heaviest-duty tires, but for smaller cars, 100 watts is safe. 

Air Hose 

The air hose is the part that relays the compressed air into the tire through the valve. You connect it directly to the tire, holding a tight seal, and turn on the air compressor. Keep in mind that there are different types of valves, and the set requires compatible extensions to work. Most sets include more than one extension, so compatibility is not usually an issue.

Gauge

Essential to assess the current pressure of your tire, the gauge can be either analog or digital. Analog models have a clear lens that covers a dial. Most gauges measure in more than one metric, with the most common in the industry being PSI (pounds per square inch). Digital interfaces give you a reading and let you change metrics with the push of a button. Analog is more traditional and hardier, while digital gauges are better in the dark. 

Other Considerations

  • Calibration. Reading your tire pressure is essential to properly fill your tires, as long as it’s an accurate reading. While there are ANSI standards that require it to be accurate within two percent, some models are more precise. Digital interfaces usually have a smaller margin of error due to the sensitivity of the sensors. 
  • Maximum pressure. Finding an air compressor is a balancing act of size and power. Naturally, a bulkier compressor will fill to a higher pressure, but it’s also heavier and takes up a lot of space. Familiarize yourself with the optimal pressure of your tires and make sure the compressor exceeds those requirements. 
  • Extra features. Many air compressors for cars are pre-programmable. You input the optimum pressure for the tire and hit go. It fills the tire and shuts down automatically.  Others incorporate an air compressor into another device like a power inverter or a jump starter. These other features give it added purpose and help save space in the trunk. 
  • Overheating. A lot of air compressors are prone to overheating. Sure, any machine that runs for too long will overheat and run into issues. You’ll always need to take a break every 15 minutes, but some heat up much quicker. Look for good airflow through vented openings on the structure to avoid this issue.

Best Air Compressors for Cars Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Prow Portable Air Compressor Tire Inflator

This air compressor features a compact design and is one of the smallest compressors around. The system runs on both AC and DC currents so that you can plug it into a wall outlet or your car’s 12-volt adapter. The analog dial highlights the pressure in three metrics, going up to 100 pounds per square inch. It’s capable of inflating tires up to 35 PSI in just a few minutes. It comes with a standard nozzle and two extra attachments so that you can use it with any tire. The controls are user-friendly and straightforward, taking any guesswork out of filling your tires.  


While ideal for filling tires on cars and light trucks, this pump won’t be powerful enough to perform heavy-duty tasks. Everything from a bicycle tire to a 1-ton truck works, but anything requiring more pressure needs a more powerful compressor. 

Best Value
Movsou Tire Inflator Air Compressor

This air compressor comes at an affordable price point yet can provide up to 150 pounds per square inch of pressure. Designed to work faster and more powerfully than standard tire pumps, it’s excellent for those focused on efficiency. Made out of tough materials, it incorporates a digital monitoring system: you program in the ideal pressure, and it shuts down automatically when the tire is properly filled. Since it can inflate to such a high pressure, you can use it on most vehicles. Incorporating a flashlight for night-time tire inflating, this system runs on a copper motor to optimize power and improve energy efficiency. 


Keep in mind that this system needs to be charged separately, as it’s a cordless model. Be sure that you plan ahead and keep it powered up if you need it in an emergency. The interface also snaps on and off quickly, so it takes little effort to charge it back up.

Premium Pick
DeWalt Portable Jump Starter with Air Compressor

The DeWalt Portable Jump Starter with Air Compressor works as an inflator and as a booster for car batteries. It also functions as a 500-watt AC inverter, making it one of the most versatile models around. The 120 PSI compressor is compatible with USB power and incorporates an LED flashlight. Coming with a brass-tipped nozzle for the valve stem, simply hook it up, program the desired pressure, and it will fill the tire and turn it off automatically. Featuring a sturdy base and a convenient handle, it fits in your trunk easily. The tough exterior prevents damage, and, considering the high-quality design, this model will last over the long term. 


Since this compressor comes with so many extra features, it does have a heftier price tag. However, when you factor in the separate cost of a compressor, jump starter, and inverter, it can end up offering you serious savings. 

Best Lightweight
AstroAI Air Compressor Tire Inflator

Incorporating a digital interface and simple controls, this highly compact air compressor can fit anywhere in your vehicle. It includes a well-sized 12-volt attachment cord. This connects the machine easily to the car and your tire with 10 feet of leeway. Featuring a handle at the top for easy carrying, you can even fit this model in some glove compartments. It comes with all the hardware you need to connect it, including multiple nozzles to improve compatibility. Getting standard car tires up to 35 pounds per square inch in a matter of minutes, it is calibrated to read the tire pressure to within less than 2 percent. 


It’s worth noting that if you leave it running for too long, it is likely to overheat—be sure to let it cool off every 10 minutes or so. So long as you don’t work the compressor too hard, it will keep performing for quite some time.

Most Versatile
Kensun Analog Tire Inflator

With the Kensun Analog Tire Inflator’s small size, you won’t have to sacrifice safety for vacation supplies. This air compressor connects to your car’s DC outlet, in addition to any standard wall plug-in. The 120-watt motor works powerfully, including all types of materials quickly. With a simple, rectangular structure, you hold it by the handle, and the front can double as a flashlight. On top of the handle is a crisp LCD screen that highlights the simple controls. Coming with extra nozzles so you can use it both on tires and other inflatables, it’s pretty convenient to have when camping. Durable and built to last, this compressor is a handy tool to keep around. 


Keep in mind that this is small but mighty — and that means it can overheat. If you plan to use it on multiple items back to back, take a break after 10 minutes—it shouldn’t need much time to cool down, but it drastically improves the lifespan.

Honorable Mention
Wagan 12-Volt Direct Drive Air Compressor

The Wagan 12-Volt Direct Drive Air Compressor is of exceptionally high quality, backed by a one-year warranty. It fills tires quickly, pushing 25 liters of compressed air into your flat tire and quickly returning it to the proper pressure. It comes with a standard 10-foot power cord and a sturdy air hose. Designed to reliably reach 100 pounds per square inch, it is designed for lighter trucks, SUVs, and cars. It takes up very little space and uses an analog gauge at the top of it to let you read the pressure. With a simple on/off switch and straightforward design, it makes a great addition to your truck’s emergency gear. Basic and affordable, it’s a good pick if you want to keep it simple and keep the compressor as a backup for whenever you need to inflate something. 


Because the machine is so sleek, it doesn’t have much of a body covering the compressor itself, meaning there’s nothing to buffer the noise. While it has no impact on performance, it can get pretty loud. 

Honorable Mention
AUGIENB Portable Electric Air Compressor Pump

The AUGIENB Portable Air Compressor features a simple yet effective design. The analog gauge is easy to read, and since it uses a physical pressure reading instead of digital interpreters, you can rely on it. It’s accurate to within 2 percent on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) scale. It can inflate to pressures as high as 150 PSI, meaning it works on even really large trucks. Plugging into the 12-volt port in your car, it comes with three extra adapters to expand its utility. The controls are straightforward, featuring a power and light switch that takes the guesswork out of controlling it. 


However, the old-school design comes with some drawbacks: this model only reads in PSI and BAR. It also doesn’t shut down automatically when it hits the desired pressure, so be sure to keep an eye on it.

Tips

  • Let your car's air compressor cool down for a while after using it to prevent circuit damage from overheating. 
  • When using it, put the air compressor in an open place so it can breathe properly. It helps it perform more efficiently. 
  • Check the compatibility of the hose extensions and make sure it works with your tires before you make your pick. 
  • Aim to store it indoors in a place that won't get dusty, especially if you're in a humid environment. 
  • Keep the air compressor and the hoses or extensions needed in the car as a part of your emergency kit. 

FAQs

Q: What is the best car air compressor? 

The best car air compressor is compact, powerful, and accurate. Models like the Prow Portable Air Compressor Tire Inflator are a good pick. It works on AC and DC power sources and has a long cord and an efficient motor. 

Q: How much is an air compressor for a car?

A standard air compressor for cars will run between $30 and $50. The price is determined by materials, the motor's power, whether it's digital or analog, and its hose. The most important thing is that it's powerful enough to fill your tires since it won't be of use without that ability.  

Q: What size air compressor do I need to inflate car tires? 

Car tires don't usually go above 32 PSI. As long as the pressure can get up to 35 PSI, it will work for a car. Higher pressure abilities are ideal, so long as it doesn't add unnecessary bulk for power that you won't end up using. 

Q: Is it OK to overinflate tires? 

Your car’s performance relies on properly working tires. If you can avoid it, don't overfill them. That said, don’t worry too much since it takes 200 PSI to burst a car tire. Aim to fill them correctly, according to the weather. Heat adds pressure while the cold drops it, so keep that in mind when inflating your tires. 

Q: Is an 80-gallon air compressor too big for a car?

The only time you need an 80-gallon air compressor is for commercial applications. You’ll find many of these in auto shops or contractors’ workshops. However, it’s definitely too big for a vehicle. Any fuel-saving benefits you get from properly inflated tires are lost by carrying that much weight. In this case, less is more, and opting for a smaller compressor is a far better approach for cars. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the ins and outs of air compressors for cars, you can get that perfect pressure. We like the Prow Portable Air Compressor Tire Inflator for its quality motor, plus the AC and DC applications. If you're feeling budget-conscious, the Movsou Tire Inflator Air Compressor is affordable and convenient.