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Best Tire Inflators

Updated October 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 16 Models Considered
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 142 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best tire inflators

    Last Updated October 2018

    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 matrix above for our top picks.

    The tire inflators covered here aren't just for vehicle tires. You can use them to pump bicycle tires, paddling pools, balls, mattresses, and more. You just need the right adapter. Some tire inflators include adapters. If not, you can buy an adapter kit for a just a few dollars.

    Tire inflator overview

    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

    • Cordless 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.

    If your tire inflator is plugged into your lighter socket, make sure your vehicle door can’t swing shut on the power cable and damage it.

    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.

    EXPERT TIP

    A 12-volt DC tire inflator is a great general-purpose solution for keeping your car tires at the proper pressure.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Tire inflator specifications

    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 common unit for tire pressure measurement is psi (pounds per square inch). You might also find "bar", which is the metric version. It's actually the pressure the earth's atmosphere exerts at sea level. One bar = 14.5 psi.

    • 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.

    EXPERT TIP

    The friction of driving around makes the air in your tires expand, increasing pressure. For accurate measurements, you should check your tires before any journey, or leave your vehicle standing for a couple of hours before checking the pressure.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Tire inflator features

    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.

    Flashlight

    A flashlight might be built in. This is useful if you're trying to inflate a tire in the dark.

    Automatic shut-off

    Some tire inflators turn off automatically when they are finished; you simply set it and forget it.

    Be careful when inflating objects other than tires. Most have much lower pressure needs than tires do. If you leave your inflator unattended and over-inflate an item, it could explode!

    Digital readouts

    Digital readouts are increasingly popular, but they don’t guarantee greater accuracy. However, they are easy to read in poor light.

    Overload protection

    Overload protection prevents the tire inflator from overheating.

    Case

    It's nice to have a case to keep the hose and cables tidy.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Poorly inflated tires wear out faster, increase stopping distances when braking, increase the chances you'll have a flat, and – according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – waste 3.5 million gallons of fuel each day in the U.S.

    Tips

    • 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.

    Tire inflators are light, compact, and relatively inexpensive. Every car should have one in the trunk.

    FAQ

    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.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor

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