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.
- BEST OVERALL: Makita MP100DZ 12V Max CXT Cordless Inflator
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Ryobi P737D 18-Volt ONE+ Cordless Inflator
- UPGRADE PICK: CRAFTSMAN V20 Inflator
- BEST PLUG-IN FOR CAR: AstroAI Portable Air Compressor Pump
- BEST FOR AIR COMPRESSORS: AstroAI Digital Tire Inflator with Pressure Gauge
- BEST PLUG-IN FOR HOME: Kensun Portable Air Compressor Pump for Car 12V DC
- BEST MINI INFLATOR: Portable Air Compressor Mini Inflator Electric Pump
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.
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. These 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 a standard electrical outlet as well as 12V jacks.
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 corded 12V inflator, as they don’t require an additional power source 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.
When it comes to tire inflators, pressure usually 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 recommended 30 to 40 PSI without an issue.
When choosing a tire inflator, the amount of time it takes to pump up a tire can be a significant factor. Inflation time can run from around 10 minutes to up to 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the tire inflator and its output. The less time spent filling a tire, the sooner the vehicle or bike can get on the road.
Air compressors operate on what’s known as a “duty cycle.” The duty cycle describes how long a compressor can run before needing a certain amount of time to cool down.
Many tire inflators can only run for 15 minutes or so before needing a break. They have to run at high speeds to produce the amount of pressure necessary, and compressing air creates heat. Also, their compact design causes them to retain that heat, so they’re not able to run as long as a pancake or full-size compressor. These larger compressors are able to fill a tank with air and then shut off, making duty cycle less of a consideration (except in commercial settings).
Shorter duty cycles are rarely an issue when filling pool floats or sports equipment, but it can be a drawback when filling large truck tires. For that reason, many portable tire inflators clearly state they’re not designed for truck tires, though anything will help in a pinch.
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 or backlit. However, analog gauges also work well 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.
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 begin a cooldown process after running for a prescribed amount of time, usually around 15 minutes.
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 even less 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. This 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. Another handy feature is a built-in pressure gauge. This shows how much pressure is going into the tire without having to remove the hose to check it with a separate tire gauge.
Our Top Picks
With that background on 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. In fact, I tested each of the following inflators to ensure they’re up to snuff.
The Makita MP100DZ 12V Max CXT 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 MP100DZ, it even turns off automatically when the tire reaches the desired PSI.
I found that there was a lot to like about this Makita tire inflator during testing. It had plenty of power (filling the fastest of all the inflators in the group) while being compact and comfortable to hold during inflation. The pressure was easy to set, and the gauge was accurate to within 1 PSI of the vehicle’s tire pressure monitor.
The Ryobi P737D is an affordable battery-operated tire inflator that is simple and straightforward, 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.
Originally, the P737D featured an analog gauge, which Ryobi has upgraded to a digital gauge, and it’s a welcome addition. I did feel like the Ryobi was a little bulky in hand during testing, but it was more than up to the task of filling anything, including truck tires. With the battery attached, it’s actually a little heavier than most other models, but it has a better battery life and plenty of power.
For a high-quality tire inflator that provides plenty of power options, the Craftsman V20 CMC3520B inflator is worth a look. This inflator runs on 110V or 12V power and comes with a 4-Ah battery to ensure strong inflation power. It also includes a 20-inch hose, a digital pressure gauge with a regulator, and onboard cord and hose storage. The CMCE520B 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.
Testing proved that the Craftsman is a quality compressor, and the increased pressure over other models is really a standout feature. I liked that all the storage was on board for the different valve attachments, both AC and DC wires, as well as the flexible hose for floats and air mattresses. I also liked that it sits securely on the ground while filling, which is especially nice when coupled with the automatic shut-off. It also filled to within 1 PSI of the vehicle’s TPMS reading, which I felt was very accurate.
Should a tire lose pressure at a mall parking lot or campsite, for example, there may not be power readily available for a compressor. 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. It also comes with an easy-to-read backlit pressure gauge.
The AstroAI portable air compressor is really well designed. I like that it looks and operates just like a miniature commercial horizontal compressor. The digital gauge on top was by far the best in the group, as well. It did take a while to pump up a truck tire, but the reading was spot on with the vehicle’s TPMS system, and it was the quietest running in the group, thanks to the rubber feet.
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.
I really enjoyed using this AstroAI tire inflator with my compressor, as the gauge was easy to read and very responsive once I let go of the trigger to check the pressure. I did have to wiggle the connection between the tire valve and this inflator a few times, which may be a bit of a downside to some. Overall, it filled very quickly and accurately when hooked to my heavy-duty air compressor. For light-duty compressors, however, it might not fill as quickly.
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.
One of the best features that I found in the Kensun Portable Air Compressor is that it’s incredibly simple to operate. There are only two buttons, one for each power source. Beyond that, it was effective and powerful enough to fill a truck tire, and had no problem with the bike tires or basketball. The gauge isn’t incredibly accurate or easy to read, and I did have to sit by it to make sure it didn’t overinflate the tire as there are no settings for auto shut-off.
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 to 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.
Incredibly, this mini inflator was the big surprise in the group. It’s not rated for a truck tire, but because I don’t own a car, a truck tire had to do. It handled the job. It did get hot, and the battery was only capable of filling one tire after filling the basketball and bike tires, but it did the trick. It’s so small that it fits in a glove box, but it’s powerful enough to get a low tire up to snuff. I don’t think I’d use it to fill several tires, but it’s great in a pinch.
How to Use a Tire Inflator
- Fill your tire to the recommended pressure. Before filling a tire, check the sidewall of the tire or inside the vehicle’s door 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 (available on Amazon). 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.
How We Tested
To ensure that I recommend the best tire inflator possible, I put the models on this list to the test. I used a truck tire, a bicycle tire, and a basketball as my test subjects.
For the bicycle tire, I deflated the tire as much as possible between filling and pumped it back up with the compressor. I checked to see how easy each model was to connect to a finicky, loose bicycle stem, and to ensure it was easy to control while inflating.
For the basketball, I inserted the filler needle into the ball and deflated it using my bodyweight between each test. I then attached each compressor to see how it would do.
The final test was pumping up a low vehicle tire. Even though many of these models aren’t rated for truck tires, I don’t own a car, so truck tires had to do. I deflated the tire from 41 PSI to 30 PSI, using the vehicle’s tire pressure monitoring system as a reference. Once the pressure was low enough, I connected a tire inflator and timed how long it took to pump the tire up. This gave me an excellent idea of the power and battery life these inflators could offer.
FAQs About Your New Tire Inflator
If you still have some questions about your new tire inflator, don’t worry. This section answers the most frequently asked questions about tire inflators. 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 (available on Amazon). 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.
Whether it’s to fix low tire pressure on the road or just to fill a basketball, a tire inflator is a great tool to have on hand. The variety of inflators I tested fit the bill for a multitude of needs, no matter how I used them. From the lightweight, high-pressure Ryobi to the compact to the mini-inflator, this list includes a reliable inflator for everyone.