Best Portable Tire Inflators
Tires that are properly inflated degrade slower and extend the life of a vehicle’s suspension components. Steering with the correct tire inflation also is safer and optimizes the operation of a vehicle. Low air pressure causes uneven tire wear, poor vehicle handling and increases the potential for a flat. It also affects fuel efficiency.
Portable tire inflators (also known as tire air pumps) provide car owners with quick, easy access to tire inflation year-round. On new cars, optimal tire pressure is commonly listed on a sticker inside of the driver’s door and it’s measured in pounds per square inch, or psi. The owner’s manual is also a good resource. The psi rating on the tire sidewall is the maximum inflation level. If the tire is filled to that level, the ride quality will be affected. Maintaining tire pressure is especially important in extreme weather. Air contracts when temperatures drop, so a tire’s pressure declines 1 to 2, for every 10-degree Fahrenheit dip. On the other hand, as temperatures rise in the summer, air pressure increases.
Gas stations often offer automatic air compressors free-of-charge but many show inaccurate pressure readings or could be out of order. Off roaders need to need to let air out of their tires before roaming over rocky, uneven terrain. That means when they return to the pavement, a portable tire inflator will aid in refilling back to optimized pressure levels. Recreationalists also can use portable air pumps to top off tires on mountain bikes, dirt bikes and dual sport motorcycles. Above all, a portable tire inflator is key for emergencies. Here are our top five choices for portable tire inflators.
Best Tire Inflator For Multi-Tasking: AstroAI Portable Air Compressor Pump
Why We Picked It:
This compressor is partially hands-free: Users can preset the desired tire pressure and the compressor automatically stops once the level is reached. At 2.2 pounds, the lightweight inflator is easy to manage. To operate, the inflator connects with a 12-volt car socket via a 10-foot heavy-duty cord. Bright LED lights are embedded into the pump for safety and convenience in dark conditions. It can inflate tires from approximately 15 to 32 psi in less than five minutes.
- Works with tires on a car, SUV, motorcycle and bicycle
- Valve attachments include a quick connector and screw rotation adapter plus three different nozzles
- Easy-to-read backlit digital screen
- No storage bag for inflator or compartment for stowing accessories
- Cannot operate for more than 15 minutes at once due to overheating
- Users might find the device noisy with the 36 decibel (dB) sound
Best Universal Air Pump: EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
Why We Picked It:
This 1-pound digital tire inflator plugs into a vehicle’s 12-volt socket to operate. Car owners set the desired psi value on the machine, which automatically fills the tire—then adds a bit, accounting for the air loss when the valve connector is detached. It works on all vehicles with an engine size under 3.5 liters, which limits larger SUVs and trucks. It has an easy-to-read display, and comes with overheat protection that shuts off the device when it nears 167 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to car tires, it works on bikes and comes with needle a needle valve for balls as well as cone adaptors for pool toys and inflatable kayaks or SUPs. The simple storage bag helps maintain the machine’s exterior and keep all the accessories together. An integrated LED flashlight boosts safety.
- Compatible with tires and recreational items
- Relatively quieter than comparable units (50 dB)
- Four display unit options including psi, kPa, bar, kg/cm2
- Does not support truck tires of any type
- Includes a screw rotation attachment for air nozzle but no quick connector attachment
- Wrapping hose around unit for storage is tricky
Best Fast Inflation On All Tire Types: GSPSCN Tire Inflator Heavy Duty Double
Why We Picked It:
This compressor’s double-cylinder motor increases inflation power and efficiency. It only takes 1.5 minutes to inflate a standard vehicle tire size (200/70-R18). Its heavy-duty design is heavier than others (6.6 pounds), but it can be paired with larger vehicles such as SUVs, trucks, vans, RVs, trailers and motorcycles. The key to safety is redundancy: This inflator operates faster via clamps connected to the car’s battery or, as a second option, the 12-volt socket. Instead of a digital display, the design features a pressure dial for reading psi. The inflator includes a battery clamp, three nozzles, 11.5-foot air hose and 11.5-foot 12-volt lighter cable. Rubber feet beneath the compressor provide stability while reducing vibration in use.
- Works with a swath of heavy-duty vehicles
- Fast inflation time
- Includes durable portable bag for inflator and accessories
- Heavier weight
- Car battery clamps are low-quality and lack jagged teeth for grip
Best For Big Tires: TIREWELL 12V Tire Inflator
Why We Picked It:
This double-cylinder inflation pump is strong and can handle heavier-duty tires, but inflation times can take a bit longer (up to four minutes per one all-terrain tire in testing). The device is a heavier 8.3 pounds and comes with rubber feet that provide stability while the machine is on. Some of the metal fittings can get hot, but the compressor itself stays cool. This is a good choice for off roaders that need to let air out of their tires before heading off the pavement. The compressor can operate via a 12-volt socket or the car battery via provided clamps. Some vehicles owners with larger, lifted vehicles might find the included power cord too short if powering from the battery and inflating the tire furthest from the engine. The included 16-foot extension hose alleviates this issue, however. The device also includes a dual-section carry case.
- Compatible with heavy-duty vehicles
- Ideal for off roaders
- Quiet and stable while in use
- More expensive option
- Can be slower to fill larger tires
- Power cord that connects compression to the battery is too short
Best For Portability and Storage: FORTEM Digital Tire Inflator
Why We Picked It:
This tire inflator’s exterior is streamlined and made of durable, lightweight plastic. In turn, the machine is easily transported and stowed. The edges are smooth and rounded, so the 1.9-pound compressor is less likely to wear down car upholstery. The device includes a zippered case, too. Cord length is limited, however, due to its compact size. The 12-volt power cord is less than 10 feet and the air pump hose length is less than 2 feet. The design offers a LED light for nighttime use and a quick connector nozzle plus three nozzle attachments. Users can also set their needed psi for an automatic air fill and shut-off.
- Functions with the tires of a car, SUV or motorcycle
- Easy to transport
- The power cable and hose are neatly stored in a groove in the inflator’s sidewall
- Only works for 8 minutes before requiring a cool down
- Cord length better suited for sedans or smaller crossovers
- Needs to be set over target psi otherwise pressure drops slightly
To determine the ideal options for your vehicle tires, Forbes Wheels evaluated five of the highest-rated and most popular air compressor tire inflators on the market. These highlighted portable tire inflators offer a range of suitable power for various tires and vehicles from sedans to trucks and trailers. They were rated based on functionality, durability, efficacy, ease of transport and use, weight and price. All of the compressors are lightweight—under 10 pounds—and portable. The models range in cost from $30 to $70. We also considered a broad range of end-user ratings.
What should I look for when buying a tire inflator?
When you search for a tire inflator, make sure the device power is compatible with the tires you need to fill. The tire size and required pressure for a trailer or truck is different than a bike or sedan, for instance. Check that the conjoined length of the air inflator and power cords are adequate to reach through or around your vehicle from the indicated power source to the tire that’s furthest away.
Are portable tire inflators good?
Portable tire inflators are good for their convenience and for emergencies. Most inflators are lightweight—1 to 8 pounds—and movable by hand. Portable compressors are usually small and easily stored in a vehicle or garage. Some let you set the target psi. Certain models are capable of filling tires for cars and SUVs while others can fill larger tires on trucks and trailers—albeit slow. Some devices can overheat during continuous use without breaks.
What is the fastest tire inflator?
In general, portable tire inflators can fill a midsize car tire from 0 to 35 psi in 3 to 7 minutes. The speed of inflation depends on the tire size, requisite psi, and power of the inflator. Ultimately, the task duration takes longer than a plugged-in compressor at a service or gas station.
Does a car need to be running to use tire inflator?
Most portable tire inflators operate by connecting with either the 12-volt car socket or directly from the car battery via clamps, in which case the vehicle needs to be turned on for the inflator to operate. Otherwise it will drain the battery and the car won’t be able to start. Always double-check with the instructions of the specific machine in use.
Do portable air pumps work?
Portable air pumps or tire inflators effectively fill the vehicle tires that they are rated to pump up. The greater the quantity of tires, the larger the tire and the more air that is needed leads to a longer duration of compressor use.