If there’s one thing I hate, it’s waiting. I especially hate waiting for help to come along when I know I can fix a problem, as long as I have the right tools. That’s why I carry a portable tire inflator in my car just in case I find myself somewhere with a low or flat tire. It’s just a little bit of insurance that can help get me back on the road quickly and safely.
To help give you or a loved one a helping hand when dealing with emergency tire issues, I’ve assembled a list of Roadshow’s favorite portable tire inflators. These best portable car tire inflator recommendations are based on user ratings at popular shopping sites and, most importantly, hands-on experience. Stay tuned afterwards for some tips on what to look for in a take-with-you tire inflator before you throw down your hard-earned money for one.
The EPAuto 12-volt portable air compressor is perfect for most applications. It weighs just 3.8 pounds and measures 13.5 by 8.1 by 5.6 inches. It’s capable of providing a maximum pressure of 70 psi and an airflow of 1.06 cubic feet per minute. The power cord is 9 feet long and the air hose is 2.5 feet long, which should be enough to reach all four tires of most vehicles.
A screw-on tire chuck means you can set it and forget it and the EPAuto inflator will stop at a preset air pressure. It will also shut itself off before overheating. The digital display can measure tire pressure in KPA, PSI, BAR, KG/CM. It also comes with a built-in LED work light, its own carrying case and various adaptors to air up sporting equipment. It’s also a hit with owners scoring 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon based on more than 14,000 reviews.
A few caveats: The portable compressor can draw up to 15 amps, so be sure your 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet can handle the power. Otherwise you might be going through a few fuses. Also, you should keep your car running while using the 12-volt air compressor to avoid draining the battery.
This compressor pump gets props for being quiet and its ability to fill up larger 33-inch tires fairly quickly. It measures 6.75 by 6.25 by 10.75 inches and comes in at 4.5 pounds. Maximum pressure on the Viair is 120 psi and it has an airflow of 1.47 CFM. The power cord is 9 feet long while the air hose is 12 feet long, making it great for larger trucks.
Like the EPAuto compressor, there is a screw-on chuck, but the Viair needs to be connected directly to the battery and not a cigarette lighter socket. It comes with a three-piece accessory kit for inflating sporting and home equipment and there is a built-in air pressure gauge. Some reviews indicated that it comes with a carrying bag, while other customers were not sent one, though.
This portable tire inflator gets runner-up status for its higher price tag and lack of an auto-stop feature, but those driving bigger vehicles will surely find the Viair 88P Portable Air Compressor a good value. And it’s popular with owners receiving 4.7 out of 5 stars based on nearly 3,800 customer ratings.
Black and Decker
If you’re looking to ditch the cord, try the Black and Decker 20V Max cordless tire inflator. This air compressor pump is perfect if you already have a set of Black and Decker tools that run off a 20-volt battery. Just grab one of those from your workbench and you’re solid. It can also be powered by the 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet in your car or a 120-volt AC outlet, which many newer cars have.
A threaded chuck keeps the connection to the tire valve tight and an automatic shut off ensures you won’t over-inflate your tires. I like the easy-to-read digital tire pressure gauge which will show your tire’s psi even when not pumping air. It weighs about five pounds and at 11.6 by 7.6 by 8.7 inches, it won’t take up too much space in your trunk.
This digital tire inflator comes with the option of low or high pressure, so you can also use it to inflate an air mattress without worrying about it going kablooey all over your guests. A deflate function quickly clears the air for easy packing up. It also comes with accessories for filling up bicycle tires and various sports balls. And this rechargeable tire inflator has proven quite popular with hundreds of owners giving an average score of 4.4 out of 5 stars.
Keep in mind, however, that if you don’t already have a 20-volt battery in your garage, the battery and charger for this road air compressor are sold separately.
If you’re an 18-volt battery kind of person, check out the Ryobi Cordless Power Inflator. This little handheld tire inflator is smaller than the Black and Decker and works off of the Ryobi One Plus 18-volt battery system. An overwhelming 91% of users on the Home Depot website would recommend the Ryobi.
There is a digital pressure gauge readout for accurate tire pressure readings. The Ryobi weighs less than four pounds and comes in at a compact 17.90 by 7.7 by 3.4 inches. It is also a pistol grip and does not have an automatic shut off. However, the inflator here is bundled with a lithium-ion 1.5-Ah battery and charger.
What I like here is the Hausbell’s petite size, coming in at 8 by 3.5 by 6.2 inches and less than 2 pounds. The power cord is nearly 10 feet long and the air hose is almost 2 feet long, so it should be able to reach all four tires of a compact car.
The Hausbell air pump plugs directly into your car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter socket. A digital readout means it’s easy to see what vehicle tire pressure you’re running and an auto-shut off allows users to set it at the desired pressure and forget it without fear of having overinflated tires. A built-in LED flashlight helps when you have to use it at night. If you need to fill up a bike tire, ball, inflatable pool or pool toy, it comes with accessories allowing you to do so, but it is not rated for high-pressure items like a stand-up paddleboard.
This small air compressor is not as quick as the other portable inflator options on this list, taking five minutes to fill up a 195/55R15 tire, and it can only operate for 10 minutes before needing a break to cool down, but it should still get the job done with minimal fuss. Based off of nearly 3,000 reviews, it scores a strong 4.4 stars out of 5.
The bummer about all the above air compressors is that they just don’t have the power to fill a larger SUV tire, truck tire or one that runs on a high pressure like a RV tire or trailer tire. That’s where the ARB Twin Motor Portable Air Compressor comes in.
This tire pump connects directly to the battery for maximum power and a 1-hour duty cycle before overheating. The power cord is long enough that you can set the unit on the ground, even when connected to a Jeep with 37-inch tires and 19-foot air hose.
The ARB has a pressure switch that can regulate pressure between 135 psi and 150 psi. That’s enough to run any air tools you might have. Further, it’s capable of an air flow 6.16 cubic feet per minute with no load, or 4.65 CFM at 29 psi. You’re not going to get that kind of high flow from a light-duty portable air compressor pump.
However, this unit is heavy, about 33 pounds, and rather large. The carrying case measures 19.5 by 14.5 by 7.75 inches. It’s also spendy. Still, it should never let you down whether you’re in the garage or on the trail scoring an impressive 4.7 out of 5 across hundreds of owner reviews.
Comparison of best portable tire inflators in 2020
|Tire Inflator||Size (in)||Air Hose Length (ft)||Power Cord Length (ft)||Max PSI||Price||Other Features|
|Best portable tire inflator overall||EPAuto portable air compressor and tire inflator||13.5×8.1×5.6||2.5||9||70||$32||Auto shut off, screw-on chuck|
|Best portable tire inflator overall runner-up||Viair 88P Portable Air Compressor||6.75×6.25×10.75||12||9||120||$72||High air flow, able to fill larger tire|
|Best cordless 20V portable tire inflator||Black and Decker Max Cordless Tire Inflator||11.6×7.6×8.7||3||10||160||$89||Runs off battery, 12-volt or 120 AC power, can be used to deflate items as well|
|Best cordless 18V portable tire inflator||Ryobi P737 Cordless Power Inflator||10.25×8.5×6.5||1.7||n/a||150||$59||Small, comes with a battery and charger|
|Best value portable tire inflator||HAUSBELL Portable air Compressor||8×3.5×6.2||1.9||9.8||150||$30||Compact size, long power cord, low price|
|Best heavy-duty portable tire inflator||ARB Twin Motor Portable Air Compressor||19.5×14.5×7.75||19||8||150||$872||Runs for an hour without overheating, can be used for air tools and extra large tires|
Why should you buy a portable tire inflator?
A portable air compressor pump is a vital piece of equipment drivers should carry in their vehicles. Driving on improperly inflated tires can result in poor fuel economy and uneven tire wear. Further, tires can lose air slowly, even without a puncture. If you do have a car tire puncture and fix it with a plug kit, you’ll need a tire inflator to get back on the road again.
If you carry a portable tire inflator, you won’t have to wait for roadside assistance or limp into your local dealer or service center. And when was the last time the air compressor at the gas station either A) worked or B) you had quarters to actually start the damn thing?
What should I look for in a portable tire inflator?
There are a few key features you should look for before you purchase a portable air compressor pump. Be sure that the air hose is long enough to reach all four tires. If you drive a compact car, it probably won’t be a problem but if you’re rocking a mondo GMC Yukon XL you’ll need more hose.
You should also look at air pressure. The bigger tires you have, the more pressure you’ll want. Some pump units will turn off automatically once it reaches a set psi, helpful if you don’t want to stand around monitoring the gauge or accidently have overinflated tires.
Most portable air compressors are powered by your car’s 12-volt power source. You can also purchase a cordless inflator, but may have to purchase the battery and charging unit separately. Some heavy-duty air compressors attach directly to your car’s battery because they require more juice than a cigarette lighter socket cant provide.
A pivotal part of an emergency car kit
Without question having a portable tire inflator as part of your just-in-case bag of goodies is an excellent idea that won’t break the bank — unless you spring for something like the ARB unit above. But in addition, having a LED flashlight, tire pressure gauge, portable jump starter and first-aid kit would set you up real well to handle most roadside emergencies and prevent you from being left stranded out in the cold.