The Best Tire Inflators for Car Owners

Don’t sink under pressure. Give your vehicle-maintenance routine a boost with these dependable tools.

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The Best Tire Inflator Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Most drivers have looked down at their dashboard and noticed a warning light indicating a tire with low pressure. If you drive for a minute or so and the light stays on, it’s time to take action and check your tires. You can either pay for air at the gas station pump, or grab your trusty tire inflator and handle the problem yourself.

Whether it’s battery-operated, 110-volt electric, or one that plugs into your car’s 12-volt system, the right tire inflator is just the ticket when you’re in a pinch. In no time at all, these noisy day-savers can boost a low tire to optimal pressure.

Choosing the best tire inflator for your needs helps keep your vehicle running at its best. From poor gas mileage to terrible ride quality, tires low on pressure can make driving problematic. Instead, arm yourself with one of the best tire inflators from this guide.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Makita 12V Max CXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Inflator
  2. RUNNER-UP: Ryobi 18-Volt ONE+ Portable Cordless Power Inflator
  3. UPGRADE PICK: CRAFTSMAN V20 Inflator CMCE520B
  4. BEST PLUG-IN FOR CAR: AstroAI Portable Air Compressor Pump
  5. BEST FOR AIR COMPRESSORS: AstroAI Digital Tire Inflator with Pressure Gauge
  6. BEST PLUG-IN FOR HOME: Kensun Portable Air Compressor Pump
  7. BEST MINI INFLATOR: CYCPLUS Portable Air Compressor Mini Inflator
  8. BEST FOR OFF-ROAD TIRES: VIAIR 400P Portable Compressor
The Best Tire Inflator Options

Photo: amazon.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Tire Inflator

Before comparing products, it’s helpful to have a little background. This section will cover the key considerations to keep in mind when looking for a tire inflator. From power source to readability, pay attention to these factors when making your choice.

Power Source

Tire inflators use electric motors and pumps to fill your tire. They need a power source to do that, and there are two options: corded and cordless.

Corded inflators that use 12V power plug into your vehicle’s 12V jack to run off the car’s battery. Some may clip directly to the battery, like jumper cables. Twelve-volt inflators are convenient because they don’t require keeping an additional battery charged. As long as the car’s battery has power, the inflator can operate.

While most corded inflators run on 12V power, there are flexible models that use both 12V and 110V power. These models plug into an outlet for power.

Cordless inflators are battery operated and use rechargeable batteries to power the motor and pump. Some cordless inflators have built-in batteries that charge via USB or 110V power, while others have removable batteries.

Cordless inflators offer quite a bit more flexibility than a 12V charger, as they don’t require an additional power source around to fill a tire. For this reason, they’re just as good at filling bike tires and sports equipment as they are at pumping pressure into car tires.

Pressure

When it comes to tire inflators, pressure essentially equals speed. The higher the pressure a tire inflator can produce, the quicker it can fill a tire. In order to avoid spending too much time filling a tire, look for a compressor with at least 100 PSI. However, an inflator with a maximum pressure of 150 PSI will have it up and running even faster. Most tire inflators can fill your car’s tire to the 30 to 40 PSI the manufacturer calls for.

Gauge Readability

To get the most wear and mileage out of car tires, fill them with the optimal amount of pressure that the manufacturer recommends. This is usually around 35 PSI.

To put the proper amount of air into the tire, a tire inflator needs a gauge that’s easy to read. Inflators with digital gauges are the easiest, especially if they have a light in the background (known as backlit). However, analog gauges also work if their faces have large numerals. Most analog gauges don’t have a backlight, though, so they can be challenging to read in low-light situations.

Automatic Shutoff

Small air compressors are stout, tough machines, but they can overheat if they run too long. Manufacturers protect their tire inflators by including built-in automatic shut-off functions.

The three measurements that a tire inflator can take before shutting off automatically are pressure, temperature, and time. A pressure shutoff is particularly handy, as it can be set to the desired pressure, and the inflator will stop pumping air once the tire reaches it. Likewise, if the tire inflator starts reaching a dangerous temperature (typically around 200 degrees Fahrenheit), it will shut down until it cools off. A built-in shutoff could also start a cooldown process after running for a prescribed amount of time, usually around 15 minutes.

Hose Length

Trying to fill a tire with a short hose isn’t much fun, but tripping over a long, tangled hose isn’t much better. A tire inflator with a 16- to 20-inch hose generally works best—long enough to easily reach most tires but still manageable.

For a longer hose that’s also manageable, look for a tire inflator with a coiled hose. These hoses stretch considerably, often enough to fill each of the four tires without moving the compressor. These inflators can be very helpful for off-road enthusiasts and large vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs.

Weight and Portability

People often look for a tire inflator over a standard air compressor because they’re light and portable—and that’s an excellent reason. A tire inflator can often weigh less than a pound, so you can carry it in one hand.

When heading out on a road trip, a tire inflator can be a handy tool, though trunk space can get tight on a longer trip. A compact inflator can fit nicely in the trunk without taking up valuable space needed for luggage or snacks. Most tire inflators fit this bill, but compact models take up little space.

Ease of Use

If the tire-pressure warning light pops on indicating some lost pressure overnight, the fix needs to be fast and straightforward, which requires a tire inflator that’s easy to use. While tire inflators are often simple by design, there are a few features that can make using them even easier. For example, a programmable pressure regulator will prevent overfilling the tire. A built-in pressure gauge shows how much pressure is going into the tire without having to remove the hose to check with a separate tire gauge.

Our Top Picks

Now that you have an idea of what to look for when shopping for one of the best tire inflators for your needs, it’s time to start comparing the top products. This section is a compilation of some of the best tire inflators on the market. This list considers the factors listed above, from convenience and portability to pressure and power source.

Best Overall

The Best Tire Inflator Option: Makita MP100DZ 12V CXT Cordless Inflator
Photo: amazon.com

The Makita 12V Max CXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Inflator is a battery-operated model that can pump up to 120 PSI of pressure into a car, bike, or tractor tire. It’s compact and lightweight, so there’s no need to lug a large, unwieldy compressor to the tire. The high-visibility pressure gauge shows exactly how much air pressure is in the tire. By presetting the unit, it even turns off automatically when the tire reaches the desired PSI. Note that 12V Makita batteries are sold separately.

Runner-Up

The Best Tire Inflator Option: Ryobi P737 18-Volt ONE+ Portable Cordless Inflator
Photo: amazon.com

This is an affordable battery-operated tire inflator that is light, compact, yet it can boost a tire up to 150 PSI. Its pistol-grip design is ergonomic and comfortable to use, and it houses two additional needles for blowing up pool toys and athletic balls. It features a 20-inch snap-on hose for standard tire valves and weighs just 2.5 pounds.

The 2-inch gauge is easy to read in daylight hours; however, a digital readout would put this inflator at the top of the heap. Reading an analog gauge in the dark can be a two-handed operation: one for the compressor and one for the flashlight. Ryobi 18V batteries are sold separately.

Upgrade Pick

The Best Tire Inflator Option: CRAFTSMAN V20 Inflator CMCE520B
Photo: amazon.com

For a high-quality tire inflator that provides plenty of power options, the CRAFTSMAN V20 Inflator with Lithium Ion Battery is worth a look. This inflator runs on 110V or 12V power and comes with a 4-Ah battery to ensure strong power. This inflator comes with a 20-inch hose, a digital pressure gauge with a regulator, and onboard cord and hose storage.

The unit has a maximum pressure of 160 PSI, providing plenty of pressure for filling car and truck tires. Once it reaches the desired pressure, this inflator’s automatic shutoff will turn the compressor off, eliminating the risk of over-inflating your tires.

Best Plug-in for Car

The Best Tire Inflator Option: AstroAI Portable Air Compressor Pump
Photo: amazon.com

The AstroAI tire inflator is powered by a car’s 12-volt battery system. Plug it into the car’s 12V jack and turn on the car’s accessory mode for the power required to take care of a low tire—at least enough to drive it to a tire shop for repair. Plus, it features an LED flashlight for better visibility. This relatively small pump will fit in almost any trunk and comes with adapters for pool floats and sports balls. The backlit pressure gauge is also very easy to read.

The maximum pressure for the AstroAI tire inflator is 100 PSI. While that’s enough for most tires, it’s not the higher levels of PSI that other compressors on this list reach.

Best for Air Compressors

The Best Tire Inflator Option: AstroAI Digital Tire Inflator with Pressure Gauge
Photo: amazon.com

Car owners who already own an air compressor don’t need one of the tire inflators on this list. Instead, they can just use this tire inflator accessory from AstroAI. This valve unit comes with a threaded brass fitting and a comfortable squeeze trigger, plus an easy-to-read backlit digital gauge. The digital gauge turns on automatically when it senses pressure and shuts off after 20 seconds. This valve can handle up to 250 PSI, enough to fill most tires. It comes with a 1/4-inch quick-connect fitting that easily snaps onto most air hoses.

Best Plug-In for Home

The Best Tire Inflator Option: Kensun AC/DC 100 PSI Portable Air Compressor
Photo: amazon.com

Flexibility matters, and the Kensun air compressor is a portable air compressor and tire inflator that works with 12V power from a vehicle and 110V power from a home. With this kit, homeowners get a needle for sports balls and an adapter for blowing up pool floats and other inflatables. It has a maximum pressure of 120 PSI and will work for 30 minutes before shutting off automatically.

It’s unlikely that this tire inflator is powerful enough to inflate a vehicle tire from zero. The 30-minute runtime is a safety feature, but at this relatively low volume of 120 PSI, it’ll likely shut off before the tire inflates completely.

Best Mini Inflator

The Best Tire Inflator Option: CYCPLUS Portable Air Compressor Mini Inflator
Photo: amazon.com

For a tire inflator that fits easily in a glove box or backpack, this mini inflator from Cycplus is a good choice. This tiny pump is only about 7 inches long but produces up 150 PSI of pressure to inflate car tires, motorcycle tires, or sports equipment. It also has a built-in LED flashlight and a digital pressure gauge. It charges completely in two and a half hours, and functions as a portable power bank for charging cell phones and other electronics. It also features convenient onboard storage for the air tube and other accessories.

Best for Off-Road Tires

The Best Tire Inflator Option: VIAIR 400P Portable Compressor
Photo: amazon.com

For the four-wheeling types, like Jeep and truck owners, the Viair 400P is a solid option for boosting tires back up at the end of a day of rock crawling. This 12-volt compressor doesn’t require an onboard 12-volt jack, so it’s perfect for stripped-out off-road rigs. The included alligator clips provide the power necessary once clamped onto the battery terminals. It also comes with a coiled air hose and a high-quality tire valve.

The Viair compressor provides up to 150 PSI of tire-inflating power and comes in a heavy-duty carrying case. For truly heavy-duty use, the 400P comes mounted to a piece of aluminum diamond-plate.

How to Use a Tire Inflator

  • Fill your tire to the recommended pressure. Before filling a tire, check the sidewall to determine the pressure that the manufacturer recommends. With cars and trucks, this is usually between 30 and 40 PSI. Filling a tire within this range leads to even tread wear, a comfortable ride, and better gas mileage.
  • Check for punctures in the tire if your inflator isn’t building pressure. If a tire inflator has difficulty making progress, it might not be the inflator’s fault. There may be a hole in the tire caused by a puncture or excessive wear. Be sure to check the condition of the tire if the inflator can’t build pressure like it’s supposed to.
  • Use an adapter to fill bike tires with Presta valves. When attempting to fill a bike tire, sometimes the inflator’s hose doesn’t latch onto the valve stem; this could be because the bike has a different style of stem. Most car and bike tires use Schrader valves, but some cycling tires use Presta valves, which may require an attachable adapter.

FAQs About Your New Tire Inflator

If you still have some questions about your new tire inflator, don’t worry. This section includes the most frequently asked questions about tire inflators and the corresponding answers. If you still have questions after reading through it, you can contact your tire inflator manufacturer’s customer service department.

Q. Why is tire pressure important?

Proper tire pressure helps maintain even tread wear on vehicle tires, allowing for the longest possible life out of a tire set. Proper pressure also improves gas mileage.

Q. How do I check tire pressure?

The easiest way to check the tire pressure is with a pressure gauge. Just remove the valve cap and press the gauge onto the tire’s valve to get a reading.

Q. How do I find the recommended PSI for my tires?

This value is usually available in the driver’s side doorjamb, on a label prescribing the correct pressures. However, for older vehicles check the tire’s sidewall for the recommended PSI. It can be hard to read, so bring a wet rag to wipe off dirt and grime.

Q. Is there a difference in pressure for winter and summer tires?

Air condenses in colder temperatures, so tire pressure drops in cooler seasons. The first chilly mornings of fall usually create a line of cars at gas station tire pumps, a good reason to keep a tire inflator at home.