It is easy to neglect our tire pressures. After all, modern cars come with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) by law, so your car will tell you when a tire is low, and it’s off to the gas station for a top-up. Problem is, TPMS sensors only alert drivers when the tire is at 75 per cent of the specified tire range. On a 35 psi tire, that means you’re driving around nearly nine psi under pressure. That could add 30 per cent more tire wear, and two or three per cent worse fuel economy. Worse, it’s unsafe, and can cause your car to handle poorly, and even increase stopping distance.
It’s important to keep your tires properly inflated as part of your regular maintenance schedule — who wants to go to the gas station and inflate their tires once a month? These days, it’s easy to find car tire inflators for home or emergency use. Some are powered by a traditional 110v home power outlet, some by the cigarette lighter in your car, and others are battery powered. Some, like our editor’s pick below, offer all three solutions in one package.
No matter if you only need it for emergencies, or if you regularly tend to your tire pressures, this guide will highlight the best portable air compressors for your car or garage.
|Max pressure:||150 psi|
|Power supply:||12v battery, DC, 110v wall plug|
The Cahot portable air compressor comes with three different power supplies in an ergonomic and user-friendly multi-purpose package. We like this unit because it has a high maximum pressure, automatic shut off, and an integrated digital gauge.
You can use the Cahot on air mattresses, pool toys, sports equipment, and bicycles, as well as on your car, truck, or motorcycles. All of the necessary attachments come with the unit in a handy carrying bag.
The device features an LED strip that can be used as a flashlight or as a red emergency beacon. It takes three hours to charge the 12v lithium-ion battery using the wall plug, but you can also use the DC power supply in your car’s cigarette lighter outlet if you get caught short.
The fast-flowing unit will fill four empty sedan tires in four minutes, but you’ll need to use the back-up cigarette adaptor if you are filling larger tires from empty. Most of us fill our tires from about 75 per cent (when the TPMS triggers), so this won’t be a problem. It is a loud unit.
This isn’t a cheap offering, but the Cahot comes backed by a 12-month warranty.
|Max pressure:||120 psi|
Wolfbox offers a well-designed compressor with high-quality metal fittings for a wide variety of inflating needs. It also includes a built-in fuse to protect your car’s electronics, a dual-layer air hose, and an automatic shut off when you’ve reached the right pressure. The digital gauge reads in four units, PSI, KPA, BAR, and Kg/cm².
Maximum pressure on this unit is 120 psi – which is lower than most on this list, but you should only need 35 psi for your vehicle anyway. Wolfbox claims a flow rate of 35l/minute and says you can fill an empty car tire in five minutes.
A small LED light faces toward the tire with the gauge pointed at the user, so you can use this easily at night. There is a combined 12 ft. of reach, 10 ft. from the power cable and two from the air hose, which should make this work on any car, truck, or SUV.
We like this compressor for the metal attachments and high-quality components.
|Max pressure:||120 psi|
What the AstroAI portable air compressor lacks in looks it makes up in quality and power. The large, backlit LCD display is easy to read, and the four-LED flashlight floods the wheel area with light. The fittings are all brass, and the card-type fuse is higher quality than the simple glass tube fuses found in other units.
We like the metal motor for its strength and durability, but AstroAI notes that the metal motor is prone to overheating versus a plastic motor. No worries — they have equipped this rig with an automatic temperature cut off.
AstroAI has programmed it’s automatic cut off to inflate just beyond your target, to compensate for the loss of air when you remove the hose attachment. Screw-on attachments are better for your valve stems and the life of the compressor hose, but they do let more air out when you disconnect. This solves that problem.
The maximum pressure rating on this hose is 100 psi, which is lower than most others on this list. AstroAI also notes this unit is not for LT (light truck) or truck tires. That’s a conservative disclaimer because this unit is more powerful than many others on this list. On that note: make sure your car’s DV outlet can handle up to 15 amp of draw before connecting this unit.
AstroAI backs up this well-built unit with a three-year warranty.
|Max pressure:||150 psi|
|Power supply:||18v battery|
If you already own a set of Ryobi power tools, the P737D is the best car tire inflator for regular, at-home top offs. This powerful, cordless unit can inflate four large tires from flat with its 18v lithium-ion battery. The downside is that the battery doesn’t come included, so unless you have a Ryobi tool set on hand already, the value proposition wears away fast. If you do have any of the Ryobi One+ 18v tools, then you are fine.
The 20-inch air hose and two-inch digital gauge make this tool super easy to use, thought the lack of an LED guide light means it’s hard to use the air hose at nighttime. You also need to remember to store it in in your car with the battery if you want to use it for emergencies. For that reason, it’s better used as a regular maintenance tool in your home garage.
The P737D is backed by a three-year warranty and is the best-performing cordless unit on this page.
|Max pressure:||100 psi|
|Power supply:||DC outlet, direct-battery feed|
E-Heelp’s innovative electric inflator kit with jack and impact wrench is the ultimate tire-emergency device for your car or SUV. It’s available in two kits, one for sedans with a 12 cm min/37cm maximum height jack rated to three tonnes, and an SUV kit with a 17cm min/42 cm max height and six-tonne capacity.
The kit includes an electric powered scissor jack that lifts your vehicle with no physical effort, and the jack itself features a lock-out that prevents it unwinding when the power is disconnected. A quick note: never work underneath a vehicle that is only supported by a jack. This tool is for emergency use only.
I’m a fan of the impact wrench that draws from the same power cable as the inflator and jack in this kit to produce lug-busting torque of up to 340 lb-ft. That’s enough to get almost any stubborn lug nut loose.
The inflator is 14-amp draw unit with a maximum air pressure of 100 psi and an air flow of 35l/min — more than enough for any car or SUV. It has a simple digital gauge. The kit includes both a DC-outlet power supply and a battery clip-style power cord that is 3.5m (12 ft.) long.
The whole set is contained in a convenient blow-moulded case with spare fuses and wheel sockets for most vehicles. It’s not the most impressive air compressor on our list, but E-Heelp’s kit is a brilliant emergency solution for blow outs and punctures.
|Max pressure:||100 psi|
|Power supply:||Cordless (usb charger)|
Vastar’s mini electric air inflator is barely bigger than a smartphone and yet delivers air compressor power sufficient to inflate four tires from 50 per cent to full. At just 6cm by 15cm (2.3x 6 inches) this unit is the most compact air compressor available. It comes with an LCD screen and automatic cut-off, so you can preset your desired air pressure.
The 2000maH lithium battery will also charge your phone if you need to use it as an emergency power bank, and there is a small LED light for use at night. There are four “modes” for bicycles, cars, and motorcycles, but all the modes do is give you a preset maximum pressure. Use auto mode and preset the compressor to 35 psi for your car.
Vastar has supplied thermal protection for the metal coupling around the air hose, but you should know that this compressor is a small, hard-working unit that will get hot in your hands. On the plus side, it is quieter than many other units in this list. The company claims a rating of only 75 dB — versus the 90 dB of other units. To recharge the mini inflator, connect it to any wall or car socket via the supplied USB cable.
This pocket-size unit is also perfect for cyclists.
|Max pressure:||150 psi|
Fortem’s neat looking digital tire inflator with auto shut off is a DC-powered compressor that features a digital gauge, LED light, and adaptors for non-automotive applications. It comes in a tidy carrying case, and the air nozzle and DC power cord fold neatly into the back of the unit. While not as convenient as a cordless inflator, the cable is long enough for use in most cars, trucks, and SUVs.
The tough plastic construction of the compressor is robust, as is the clamp-on style air hose. It is a little on the slow side, but the automatic shut off means you can safely do other things, like clean your interior, while you’re pumping up your tires.
It features a small LED light, plastic adaptors for balls, and inflatable toys, and a digital pressure gauge that is easy to set with three simple buttons.
Bottom line? Fortem’s digital tire inflator is a rugged and well-designed unit for the price.
Your car, truck, or SUV will have a placard on the door jam that shows the recommended pressures for your vehicle. You can also find it in the owner’s manual, or even on inside your fuel door. You should note that those pressures are the cold-tire pressure. If you drive for any length of time and check your pressures, they’ll show a higher pressure than cold. If you inflate warm tires to 35 psi, you’ll still be under inflated.
How to Use a Portable Air Compressor
Most air compressors are simple to operate, but if you follow these steps, you’ll get the best results and your valve stems, and compressor will last longer.
Always check pressures with an accurate tire pressure gauge after inflation to make sure you’ve got the right pressures.