Buying Guides Portable Air Compressors

The Best Portable Air Compressors for Your Car

portable air compressor for a car
Written by Eric Johnson

We’ve all been there, or the day is coming, sometime: it’s ten PM on a Sunday, you’re driving miles from home or anywhere else, when you notice the steering feeling a bit sluggish. So, you get out of the vehicle (not without casting a few nervous glances at the roadside shadows) and see that you have a flat tire. No big deal, you think, you’ll be on your way in ten minutes. Except, of course, that the spare is equally flat, because you haven’t thought to check it at any time in the last two years. You’ve never needed it, after all.

In a situation like this, an inexpensive, portable air pump that plugs into the car’s 12V electrical socket is just as important as your jack and tire wrench. Without it, you aren’t going anywhere without help. With it, you can either re-inflate the spare, or pump up the damaged tire as a temporary measure, just to get you to a safe place where you can change it at your leisure. If you know how to apply a patching kit, either a liquid injected into the tire or a more durable plug, you can repair the original tire without even loosening a single nut.

Aside from emergencies, it can be convenient to be able to check and correct your tire pressure at home before you leave in the morning. This good habit not only extends the tire’s life but improves fuel consumption, traction and road safety significantly.

What is the best portable air compressor for a car?

Here’s our list of the best possible choices for a car air compressor. Each one is highly reviewed and will easy fit in any car you own.

ImageProductModelManufacturer
Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor 00073 Viair
LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC4024AAAAAA
EPAuto 12V DC Auto Portable Air Compressor AT-006-1 EPAuto
Campbell Hausfeld 12-Volt Inflator RP1200 Campbell Hausfeld
Suaoki DC 12V Portable Mini Tire Inflator 179143701-F1 Suaoki
EPAuto 12V 120W Portable AT-010-1Z EPAuto
P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire InflatorPIAS003P.I. Stores
JACO SmartPro Digital Tire Inflator JSP-008 JACO Superior Products

Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor

 – Our #1 Pick –

Our #1 choice for a portable, car air compressor is model 0073 from Viair. This Viair product can be described as a light industrial model, perfect for average tires but also capable of inflating larger tires if needed. It easily operates at high pressure, filling a 15” tire in about 3 minutes, and is rated to work continuously for a full 30 minutes.

This product is suitable for those who use vehicles a lot, for either work or pleasure. This is perfect for anyone that lives in the city or a rural area. It comes with 16 feet of power cord and 4 feet of air hose to accommodate larger vehicles with ease. It also has separate attachments for inflating things other than tires, but with rapid airflow and a maximum rating of 100 PSI, you should keep an eye on proceedings or your pool float will soon be history.

Pros:
  • Very ruggedly built, intended for occasional to frequent use.
  • Quiet (for an air compressor)
  • Good quality air gauge, but only intended to be read when the unit is turned off.
Cons:
  • High power draw; depending on your vehicle, you might find that turning it on blows the fuse.

LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor

If your first instinct is to go for a cheaper model that just works, this may be your purchase. It’s not intended for constant or heavy use, just emergencies and inflating the occasional tire at home. The AAA logo caught my eye first, since that’s the kind of endorsement that carries some weight.

Like almost all compressors of this type, it plugs into the cigarette lighter for power. These devices draw enough power that the engine has to be kept running, or you may end up with both a flat tire and a flat battery. The power cord is 10 feet long, so it should reach to where you need it.

Depending on how flat your tire is, it will take anything from 5 to 8 minutes to get it back up to normal pressure. However, its design is not sufficiently rugged to get rid of the heat generated by this amount of activity, meaning that you have to wait half an hour for it to be ready for the next job. Although it includes three different nozzle attachments to fit sports balls and the like, this thermal limitation also means that you can’t use it to inflate large objects like air mattresses.

Pros:
  • Stores quite neatly, so is not inconvenient to keep in the car for a rainy day.
  • Good for what it’s intended to do, a few times but not on a daily basis.
Cons:
  • Not the fastest or toughest pump on the planet, but then it isn’t intended to be.
  • Noisy. Not something that would bother me if stuck by the roadside, but my neighbors might complain if I used it at 6 AM.
  • Not the best build quality overall. It might just fail when you most need it.

EPAuto 12V DC Auto Portable Air Compressor Pump

Describing itself as for motorbikes and vehicles up to medium sedans, this unit from EPAuto is really small and light, and is the best air compressor for car tires on the market. In addition to a very stylish appearance, it has two great features which the previous products lack: the first is an emergency LED flashlight that can be used either to see what you’re doing, or as a flashing beacon to warn other motorists.

The second is a digital readout that can display the current pressure in PSI, bar or kPa, and can also shut down the pump when the desired pressure is reached. Theoretically capable of 100 PSI, this might prevent the damage caused by overinflation (which may lead to a tire suddenly blowing out somewhere down the line). It takes a long time to inflate a completely flat tire, so this capacity for unattended operation is important.

With that being said, its durability is questionable. Opening the unit up reveals workmanship that is not always up to par. If I bought this unit, I would test it once, store it in the car, and just hope it can do the job if needed. It seems like even light jostling can put it out of commission.

Pros:
  • Light and tiny, easily stored in a car
  • Excellent design, including the flashlight, digital gauge and automatic shutdown.
Cons:
  • Build quality looks and feels cheap. I’m not sure I would totally trust this to work in an emergency.
  • Expensive unit for the amount of power it has.

Campbell Hausfeld 12-Volt Inflator (RP1200)

This is a no-frills unit at a reasonable price. One useful feature is an active cooling system to enable it to keep pumping for longer. The long power cord, air hose and nozzles all fit into the housing for easy storage, and the design includes a carrying handle.

It’s rated to a maximum of 120PSI, but that would take ages to achieve at this product’s power level. It should be fine for someone patient, or who only needs to use it rarely, but this slow speed is easily the most frustrating aspect of using it. Running a close second is that there’s no pressure gauge, which is sheer silliness.

Pros:
  • Ergonomic design.
  • Excellent value.
Cons:
  • No pressure gauge! That means you have to buy a separate gauge, but at least a point is provided to read it without disconnecting the pump.
  • Loud.
  • Slow.

Suaoki DC 12V Portable Mini Air Compressor

Comparable to the EPAuto offering, this little number also has a stylish exterior design, in this case, it’s matte black with an analog gauge that looks like it would be right at home in a racecar. It’s also unbelievably lightweight at less than a pound and can easily be stored in your glove compartment.

A useful carry bag is included to keep attachments for other types of valves from wandering off. Additionally, it also contains a small LED lamp, but this shines in the opposite direction from an air hose which is only 4” long! Best to add a flashlight to your automotive emergency kit.

Time to inflate a standard tire is around 10 minutes, which is far from unreasonable for such a tiny pump.

Pros:
  • Extremely tiny and quiet.
Cons:
  • Pressure gauge is not very accurate, and you have to shut the pump down to check pressure. Not a total dealbreaker, but good to be aware of.

EPAuto 12V 120W Portable Air Compressor Pump

In contrast to the previous two products, “stylish” is not the word for this compressor. It’s neither small nor streamlined, but luckily has a fabric carry bag to store it in your trunk. Somewhat unusually, it’s rated for 120PSI, which is really irrelevant if your owner’s manual recommends 35PSI. Still, I won’t complain about the 3 to 4 minutes required to fill an average tire.

It also has a powerful flashlight, and automatic pressure cutoff, plus the ability to turn itself off when overheating. Drawing up to 15 amperes, it is not suitable (or necessary) for smaller cars.

Pros:
  • Quiet yet powerful.
  • Automatic shutdown supported by an accurate digital gauge.
  • Over-temperature protection on the motor will extend its useful lifespan.
Cons:
  • At four pounds and a shape that’s all angles, not totally convenient to keep in the trunk constantly.
  • Good value, but still fairly expensive.

P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator

This product makes no effort at pretending to be a budget product, being aimed at people who are serious about motoring. It feels quite solid in construction and can fill a tire from flat in 3 minutes, though reaching its maximum pressure of 150PSI will obviously take somewhat longer. The exterior design, sleek and dangerous-looking, includes a number of easily understood buttons and a digital display.

Its integrated flashlight is quite powerful, and can be set to function as an emergency beacon. A 12 foot power cord might just make the difference between ease of use and a geometry problem for larger vehicles, or when inflating the tires on an attached trailer. There’s no minimum target setting, which can be useful when you want to inflate a football or basketball to exactly the right pressure.

If you can buy this product without balking at the price, you will be highly satisfied. It’s easy to use, powerful, and something you can show off to your friends.

Pros:
  • Highly accurate pressure meter, comparable to or better than what you would find at a gas station.
  • Runs off either your car’s 12V supply or household 120V AC (but requires an additional purchase of the electrical adapter, so this is a sales gimmick rather than a feature).
  • Set-and-forget operation.
Cons:
  • Not very cheap, and therefore not for every user.
  • Some complaints about reliability, more than I expected but not a huge proportion.
  • Heavy power draw has been known to blow even 15A fuses.

JACO SmartPro Digital Tire Inflator Pump

There’s almost nothing to choose between this product and the P.I. Both have accurate automatic shutoffs that display the current pressure while it’s pumping, beautiful design, integral flashlight, high power and the ball/bicycle adapters you’d expect from any product of this type. Neither is offensively loud, and they cost about the same, so I’m just presenting it as another option. Both are pretty compact at two pounds

It can be used continuously for 30 minutes, which is much more than you’ll need to inflate four tires. The Jaco is rated to 100PSI as opposed to 150, but so few people will need the extra power that this is hardly relevant.

Pros and cons: same as above, but the Jaco has an inline 10A fuse to protect your car’s electrical system.

Conclusion

We hope our list of portable air compressor for a car helped you kind the best one for your needs. We’ve looked at several of the available models here, suiting most people’s requirements for either regular top-ups or when your only other option is walking home. Take stock of what you really need: something you can use intensively or many times, or just once or twice in case you don’t have any other choice? Is it for a small sedan or a heavy SUV?

Most likely, you’ll buy your preferred model, toss it in the trunk and forget about it until you need it. At that point, it will suddenly be your best friend, so spend a few minutes thinking about which will suit you best.

About the author

Eric Johnson

Currently residing in San Diego, CA, Eric is a football lover, handyman, and creative consultant. Working to share my experiences in construction both online and in real life.

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