By on March 26, 2019

portable air compressors

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Most of us have been there – you’re rushing though the morning routine, late for work, running out to the car … only to find that one of those round black rubber hoops has failed in its job of holding air. A flat tire. Great.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options in the market of portable air compressors which can pump you up faster than Hans and Franz. Some of them require power from a household electrical socket, a few are battery-powered, while others fire right up with juice from a car’s 12V power outlet. The latter two are especially handy if compressed air is needed while one is on the road in a remote area and not parked in the comforts of a covered garage.

Remember, a tire that is leaking air has been damaged, creating a potential safety problem. Be sure to get it inspected by a pro at the first possible opportunity.

With that legally mandated mumbo-jumbo out of the way, here are a few of our picks for portable air compressors and tire inflators.

(Editor’s note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)


1. Editor’s Pick: Corbase Automatic Cordless Tire Inflator

corbase automatic cordless tire inflator

Its inscrutable brand name is offset by two things: great customer reviews and too-cool looks, thereby appealing to both the left and right sides of your author’s brain. Styled in the appearance of a cordless power drill, this unit has a large 1800mAh rechargeable lithium battery to get you back on the road quickly.

A full set of accessories are included, allowing the practical among us to re-inflate not only car tires but also bicycle tires and sporting equipment. The manufacturer, for reasons unknown but probably kowtowing to bed-wetting lawyers, have specified it is not to be used on trucks. Cars, crossovers, and SUVs are kosher. It comes with a carrying case, car charger, two different length air hoses, and a single battery pack.

Pros: Provides inflation to 130 psi, great customer reviews, looks hella cool

Cons: Don’t forget to recharge the battery

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2. Well-Reviewed: EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor

epauto 12v dc portable air compressor pump

When looking at a product’s average review score, it is important to consider the total number of customers that have provided feedback. A five-star rating based on a single review isn’t much to go on. This unit has almost five thousand reviews, making its 4+ star rating an impressive feat.

It draws power directly from a car’s 12V power source, making it a handy tool when you’re on the road. Multiple redundancies, including a pair of fuses and an over-inflation shut off, add a sense of security. An easy to read display shouts out numbers in kPa or psi, while a built in LED flashlight is awesome for illuminating the tire you’re trying to inflate or find that burrito you’re searching for under the seat. Pro tip: don’t eat that burrito.

Pros: Auto-shut off prevents over-inflation, compact size, thousands of positive reviews

Cons: Uses 12V power, not recommended for inflating LT tires

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3. Low-Cost Option: DBPOWER DC 12V Mini Tire Inflator

dbpower mini tire inflator

If you’re looking for a very inexpensive way to inflate tires or sporting gear, it’s tough to beat this affordable unit. Small in size and shaped like a pack of cigarettes, this very useful tool is small enough to qualify as a hand-held device. Readers of a certain age may have had cellular phones larger than this tire inflator.

Inflating a passenger car tire from totally flat to 35 psi allegedly takes about 10 minutes, reasonable for this class of tool and impressive for one of this size. Its power cord is nearly 10 feet long, meaning that it should reach all four of your car’s tires from the 12V power source from which it gets its juice. Maximum pressure is 100 psi, far beyond anything called for by an auto manufacturer.

Pros: Dirt cheap, compact size

Cons: Less than precise analog gauge

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4. VIAIR 300P Portable Compressor

viair 300p portable compressor

Here’s an option for gearheads looking for something beyond the standard 12V portable air compressor. Viair 300P Portable Compressor is a mid-range portable compressor kit capable of inflating up to 33-inch off-road tires by simply clamping the power leads to the battery terminal, connecting the lever-style tire chuck to the tire valve stem and turning the unit on.

That’s right – this thing has robust alligator clamps for connectivity, just like a set of jumper cables. It can operate at 150 psi for 15 minutes at a clip but needs a half hour cool-down period in order to catch its breath (pun intended). It’s not light, weighing in at a lard-like 8.6 pounds, but its 25-foot air hose and ability to work in temperatures ranging from -40 degrees F to 158 degrees F means it’ll provide the air you need no matter what condition in which you find yourself.

Pros: Inflates tires in minutes, robust construction, all-temperature operability

Cons: Heavy weight, relatively expensive

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5. Smittybilt 2780 2.54 CFM Universal Air Compressor

smittybilt 2780 universal air compressor

Offered as another compressor that’s heavier duty than most, this tool has the added convenience of being able to air-up or air-down tires to accommodate various types of terrain. This makes it a great thing to have on board your off-road rig when hitting the trail.

It has some very robust features, including a 1/3 horsepower oil-less direct drive motor (that’s about the same power as a household garage door opener) and a 30-amp inline fuse. Maximum airflow is rated a 72 liters per minute and has a duty cycle of about 40 minutes at 40 psi. The bumf states its minimum operating temperature is -4 F, much less than the Viair unit listed above. If you’re venturing out into extreme conditions like that however, our hats off to you.

Pros: Powerful direct-drive motor, air-down capability, recognized brand name

Cons: Not cheap, weighs 12.5 pounds

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6. AstroAI Portable Air Compressor Pump

astroai portable air compressor pump

Most gearheads know that a smidgen of air will escape a freshly inflated tire while the operator is removing the air hose nozzle from the tire’s inflation valve. This unit takes care of that vexing problem, leaving the final inflation value 0.5-1.5 psi higher than the value set into its memory. The company says this approach solves the problem of reduced pressure after removing the valve connector, thus making inflation more accurate. Fair enough.

Built-in overheating protection will shut the thing off automatically if its operating temperature gets too hot. It has a maximum operating time of fifteen minutes, more than enough to top off a single tire and plenty to inflate sporting equipment like a basketball or air cushion. An backlit LED screen calls out numbers with the clarity of a stadium scoreboard. Adaptors are included for different inflation situations.

Pros: Reasonable price, inflator takes into account lost pressure during disconnection

Cons: Not recommended for LT tires, short air hose

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7. BLACK+DECKER 20V Lithium Cordless Multi-Purpose Inflator

black+decker 20v lithium cordless multi-purpose inflator

A well-known brand name appears on this inflator, billed as a multi-purpose unit. Its reviews are solid, with real world customers reporting a sub-10 minute time to inflate a vehicle tire to spec from completely flat and a top-off time of 15-20 seconds. Like many other portable compressors of this style, its 10-foot power cord snakes back to a 12V power socket in a car for its electricity source.

Be aware that this tool is part of the Black & Decker family of portable tools and, as such, does not come with a rechargeable battery. One can be purchased separately or use one they already have if they’ve previously bought battery-powered tools which are part of this product line. On-board storage pockets mean owners won’t be hunting for that inflation needle the next time Junior wants his soccer ball inflated.

Pros: Clear readouts, automatic shutoff, reportedly quieter than other models

Cons: Battery not included

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8. Helteko Portable Air Compressor Pump

helteko portable air compressor pump

This unit sells itself on style alone, looking for all the world like a colorful Tesla Powerwall battery. Said to be comprised of durable materials and stainless steel, this thing will probably bounce around your trunk without complaint. Its LCD digital display is old school but, somehow, fits the look of this unit.

Its manufacturers say it can inflate a standard car tire in 3-5 minutes, remarkable for a portable compressor. Taking its power from a 12V source, owners should have no trouble reaching around to all four tires on their rig with its 11.5-foot cable length and decently-sized air hose. Compact and lightweight, it comes with three additional connector nozzles and a storage bag.

Pros: Rockstar good looks, built-in emergency light, great customer reviews

Cons: Less expensive options exist, 12V power only

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Get Pumped Up

If a tire on your car has lost enough air pressure to warrant being reinflated, it’s definitely time to take that sucker into a garage and have a professional inspect the thing. Underinflated tires can be a safety hazard and, if nothing else, contribute to poor fuel economy thanks to a higher rolling resistance.

Be sure to carefully consider the conditions in which you’ll be using your new portable compressor. For occasional emergency use, one of the budget examples on this list will probably do the trick just fine. If you’re frequently airing up/down the tires of your off-road machine, however, it would be a good idea to invest in something more robust.

Always be careful when using a portable compressor, read all the instructions, and make certain you’re inflating car tires while parked in a safe place. It’s never a bad idea to be prepared, so having one of these machines on hand is a smart move – especially if you’re late for work.

[Images via the manufacturers]

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18 Comments on “Flat, Busted: Best Portable Air Compressors and Tire Inflators...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As someone who likes to keep a portable compressor in every vehicle, I would really appreciate if you could have listed MSRP’s for each.

    Also I would never again purchase a compressor that did not have a ‘threaded’ screw on connector. With different types of wheel covers the ‘clamp on’ connectors, particularly in the winter and in the dark are far too difficult to connect.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      Agree. Helpful shopping articles should have the price.

      I have three cheapy inflators now, one is quite old. I’d like at least one quality unit.

      My eye is drawn to the rugged “VIAIR 300P Portable Compressor,” but wow it’s $139.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Yes, it’s hard to compare these options too well, as they seem somewhat “cherry-picked” and out of context. For example, Viair has a range of models. I have the 88P, which costs about half of the 300P, and supposedly handles up to 33″ tires. It has been working well so far. It does fine with regular car tires. It also blows up an athletic ball in a few seconds. I would recommend giving it a look.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    It’s nice and small and has a spiffy logo on the side, but I certainly would NOT recommend the Porsche compressor that comes with the Cayman/Boxster/911. It works, but boy is it slow and noisy. Don’t burn yourself touching the motor when trying to put it away!

    At home I have a bunch of Ryobi 18V power tools, including the fast/slow inflator. Slow works pretty well for tires and fast works pretty well for air mattresses. The 18V Ryobi is much faster than the 12V Porsche compressor.

    If I don’t mind waiting a bit first to build pressure before starting, then a dedicated construction compressor is great — 5 gallon capacity at 100 PSI inflates tires in a flash.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve burned out a few of those cheap Slime branded ones you can get in most auto parts stores. Well no more… got a Viair – it’s industrial strength. Mine connects via a standard 12V lighter socket and has a screw connector. Its heavy but quieter then other units and doesn’t “walk” away on you due to vibrations. The 12V wire and hose are about twice the length of what you normally get. Only complaint: the onboard gauge reads 5 PSI low, checked with my racing gauge.

    I have a boat trailer whose tires require 50 PSI and I track my Corvette so I am constantly messing with air pressure. My go-to unit is now Viair. It’s the only unit I’ve used that can top off all four tires on my truck without overheating. I saw some show on TV where they were building a fancy, custom show truck and the onboard air bag system used Viair compressors. So apparently these are a known name brand, I had never heard of them but saw a review on WireCutter that claimed it was best portable tire inflator.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Had our little $20 12V compressor for 11 years now. It even handled a SUV tire that was so low it broke free of the RIM at -20F. Took a while, but it did it. Great little guy.

  • avatar
    chris

    Be sure to check the fuse for your 12V outlets. Some pumps require 15 amps, but some outlets are only fused for 10 amps.

  • avatar
    darex

    I have #4, and it’s fantastic so far. Build quality is well above the usual Chinesium and plastic.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When you see the “Harbor Freight Tools” sign, you pull in, you get one.

    I wouldn’t put too much thought (or money) into them. Unless you’re using them commercially, they’re all just fine.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    My favorite keep-it-in-the-trunk compressor is an older version of the fifty dollar Kobalt unit available at Lowe’s or Amazon. You set your desired pressure on the digital gauge and it stops automatically; no battery means the battery isn’t dead exactly when you need it. (Also runs on 120V if you don’t have six other air sources at home.)

    Unfortunately it looks like they’ve made some design changes and the new model doesn’t work right. So now mine is a rare classic?

    I have gotten a lot of use (at home in the driveway) out of a small all-metal unit which *only* runs on household current – it’s often easier to grab an extension cord than to fire up one of the big compressors/drain it/etc.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      “Unfortunately it looks like they’ve made some design changes and the new model doesn’t work right.”

      It’s amazing how often that happens. We live in a world where we now accept poor durability.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    This one is easy.

    Ryobi P737 for $30 at home hell depot. Or Amazon.

    I paid $20 six months ago.

    The gauge is surprisingly accurate.

    The clip is not screw on. Must be nimble. Try a few times and settle down forever.

    Does not come with battery or charger.

    I use it in the shop for all Schrade equipped wheels now.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I hate these things but have one anyway ~ a freebie from my favorite local junkyard, it’s noisier than John Phillip Sousa’s band and gets so hot I worry it’s going to catch fire or die but it’s over ten years old and still working O.K……

    -Nate

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Just choose the appropriate VI Air unit for your needs, and never look back.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Whichever one you buy, make sure that it’s the one that clips on to the battery terminals in lieu of the one that blows the fuse for the cigarette lighter.

  • avatar
    CinciDriver

    On every portable 12VDC air compressor I’ve bought, I cut off the cig-lighter plug, and soldered on a pair of light duty batter clamps.

    So when I want to use the compressor, I pop the hood and clamp the power connections to the battery directly. (I think this is actually easier and more convenient than connecting to the cig-lighter.)

    No more blown fuses or fried dashboard wiring (like on my Acura RL) from a pump that started drawing more current when the pumping gets difficult. Faster pumping too! :-D

    – Thomas

  • avatar
    nick0264

    Wave the Corbase Automatic Cordless Tire Inflator at the nice highway patrol officers stopping to help and let us know its pro or con status.


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