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.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the best portable air compressor for a car?
- 1.1 Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
- 1.2 LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor
- 1.3 EPAuto 12V DC Auto Portable Air Compressor Pump
- 1.4 Campbell Hausfeld 12-Volt Inflator (RP1200)
- 1.5 Suaoki DC 12V Portable Mini Air Compressor
- 1.6 EPAuto 12V 120W Portable Air Compressor Pump
- 1.7 P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator
- 1.8 JACO SmartPro Digital Tire Inflator Pump
- 1.9 Conclusion
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.