Handles everything from a beach ball to a 33-inch truck tire. Plenty of cable and hose for large RVs and king cabs. Excellent duty cycle. Superb quality.
Clips to battery rather than plugging in to cigarette lighter. Engine must be running.
Just set it and press go. Stops automatically at desired pressure. Has clear, accurate display and bright LED lights for night use. Tough to beat for the money.
Performance on truck tires not as good as expected, but gets the job done. Occasional durability issues.
Auto shut-off at correct pressure. Reads in PSI, BAR, KPA, and KGCM. Also has an effective torch. Rated very highly by owners.
Will not handle truck, pick-up or large SUV tires. Combined reach of air hose and cable just 10 feet.
Everything you need: auto-shut off, easy-to-read display, bright light, and the performance to inflate truck tires – all in a smart, modern package.
Not as compact as some, despite cable tidy. Short reach from hose and cable combination.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Checking your tire pressure on a regular basis is good for your safety, and it saves you money, too. A portable tire inflator that works off your vehicle is a simple, relatively low-cost solution. There are lots to choose from. Having plenty of choice is great when you're looking to buy a new item, but the number of tire inflators available makes it difficult to pick the right model.
Our job at BestReviews is to help you make the right decision by providing you with the facts you need. The tire inflators we recommended are here solely because they offer the best combination of performance, features, and value. The following tire inflator review details the areas we investigated. Check out the product list above for our top picks.
A tire inflator is a simple mechanism that works on the same principle as a manual bicycle pump. A motor drives a piston up and down a cylinder, pumping air through a tube connected to your tire.
There are three kinds of tire inflators generally available:
120-volt AC tire inflators
12-volt DC tire inflators
120-volt AC tire inflators plug into a normal household outlet. They're the most powerful of their kind, but you have to be able to get your vehicle close to the outlet or use an extension cable. They are not "roadside" models.
12-volt DC tire inflators usually plug into your car lighter socket, giving you a convenient and very portable solution. The only drawback is pumping power. While these models can handle car tires with little problem, some aren't suitable for truck tires. You need to check. Those that are suitable for truck tires may need to be attached directly to your vehicle battery.
Cordless tire inflators would seem the ideal solution. There's no cable; all you need to do is charge the internal battery from time to time. This can be done via household outlet or your vehicle. However, they are quite expensive, and many are criticized for a lack of power and short battery life.
If you only want to pump your tires at home, a 120-volt AC tire inflator is the most powerful solution, and prices are competitive.
A cordless tire inflator may sound like a great idea, but you get relatively poor performance for the price. Furthermore, there are often concerns about reliability.
If you want a device you can use anywhere, and for various tasks beyond car tire inflation – inflating balls, bicycle tires, and so on – a 12-volt DC tire inflator is the answer. Because of their all-round benefits, these are the models we focus on in this review.
The most important question is whether the inflator will deliver adequate air pressure to fill your vehicle tires. You might think that's a given with a product called a "tire inflator," but that's not the full story. You need to check the tool’s specifications.
Specifications can be very confusing. Many manufacturers give a maximum tire size, but truck tires can require more pressure than a car or SUV tire of the same size.
It's important to check product details, but it's also a good idea to look at owner feedback to get a view of "real-world" performance from actual users.
The matrix at the top of this page is a wonderful place to begin your search!
The psi (pounds per square inch) rating can be misleading. A 300-psi tire inflator isn't twice as fast as a 150-psi tire inflator. It's only one figure. In fact, it could be the reverse.
What should also be indicated, but seldom is, is the CFM (cubic feet per minute) – the actual amount of air produced. Volume of air plus psi would be an excellent indicator of performance. Sadly, you rarely get both.
Instead, most manufacturers give some indication of the type of tire that their inflator is capable of filling. Avoid those that don't.
Filling a standard car tire takes between five and eight minutes. Tire inflators that are capable of filling a truck tire often take several minutes longer.
If the tire inflator draws 15 amps or less, it should work from your vehicle's lighter socket. More powerful models draw 20 amps – which could blow the lighter fuse. As a result, 20-amp tire inflators need to be attached to your vehicle's battery terminals. Most also need the motor to be running.
Some roadside tire inflators are very basic, with just a standard analogue pressure gauge (dial). Others have useful additional features, including the below.
Be sure to check air hose and power cord lengths. Usually there is plenty of length, but several we reviewed weren't long enough to reach the rear of a King Cab truck or RV.
A flashlight might be built in. This is useful if you're trying to inflate a tire in the dark.
Some tire inflators turn off automatically when they are finished; you simply set it and forget it.
Digital readouts are increasingly popular, but they don’t guarantee greater accuracy. However, they are easy to read in poor light.
Overload protection prevents the tire inflator from overheating.
It's nice to have a case to keep the hose and cables tidy.
Be wary of excessive heat. Tire inflators work very hard and can get hot. Use caution if you've been running the tire inflator for a few minutes.
Always read the instructions first. It's rare, but if pushed too hard, a tire inflator could overheat and seize.
Know how much time you need to fill your tires. Maximum tire inflator running time is usually around ten minutes. If you're doing a regular check and just topping up your tires, that should be plenty.
Take a common-sense approach to caring for your tire inflator. Shield it from abuse, and your tire inflator should last you for years.
Q. What's the difference between a tire inflator and an air compressor?
A. Very little. A tire inflator is really a type of air compressor. However, most air compressors stop working when the air in a pre-filled tank is used up. A 12-volt DC pump has no tank; it will work until you have completely filled your tire.
Q. Is there any way to plug in my tire inflator at home?
A. The tire inflators featured in this article are 12-volt DC models that are designed to run off your vehicle. You would need a 120-volt AC model for home or garage use. The two are not interchangeable. A cordless model solves both problems, but it has other potential drawbacks, as mentioned above.
Q. Isn't a foot pump a cheaper alternative?
A. Not necessarily! Cheap foot pumps tend to fall apart before very long; the hinges or the piston connecting rod tends to give out. A good-quality foot pump can last, but it can seem pricey when you consider that you have to put your manpower behind it.