LAST UPDATED: February 14, 2018

The Best Portable Air Compressor for Tires (Review & Buying Guide) in 2020

Best Choice ep auto tire inflator EP Auto 12V DC Digital Tire Inflator
Premium Pick tcsia air compressor Tcsia Portable Air Compressor Pump
Best Value dbpower air compressor DBPower 12V Electric Auto Air Compressor
Air Compressors have a wide range of functions, however the most common one is certainly in a household and in your car. Although it can stay in your garage or in your trunk, this accessory is something you should really think of when it comes to a flat tire on the road.

The Best Air Compressors for Tires

You get a lot of compressor in a pretty small package with this model. Yes, it is a bit bigger than the box shaped models, but at only 3.8 pounds it’s not the biggest sized tool on this list either.

What you do get is a powerful motor with good airflow, an easy to ready LCD screen and an excellent auto-cut off built in to protect against over inflation. It also comes with a range of nozzle adaptors to tackle a range of inflation needs.

One very nice little extra is a built in cut off to protect against overheating. These types of tools can get pretty hot during operation, and if you don’t remember to give them a break they burn out or blow a fuse. You don’t need to worry about that with this model however, as it automatically cuts out when it reaches a high operating temperature.

Key Features
  • Auto Shut Off at Set Pressure
  • Built in LED Lights and Backlit LCD Screen
  • Overheat Protection
Specification
  • Brand EP AUTO
  • Model AT-010-1Z
  • Weight 3.8 pounds
PROS

Simple to Use

Connects to Cigarette Lighter Socket

Protects itself from Overheating

CONS

No Adaptor for Wall Socket

This is the perfect emergency air compressor. First off, it comes with a sturdy storage box and the whole tool is surprisingly small. This means you can happily tuck it away into a corner of the boot until you really need it.

However, you can rest assured that when you do, it is going to perform the job. It’s incredibly simple to use for one thing. Un-box, plug the power cord into a regular 12V cigarette lighter socket. The built in LCD screen is nice and bright making it easy to operate in even low light situations.

Simply tap in the desired pressure, apply to the tire valve and press go. It even has auto cut off to avoid over inflation. One negative is a lack of an adapter to plug into a wall socket. This means the tool will always run off the cigarette lighter socket, which is not great for frequent use.

Key Features
  • Automatic Shut Off
  • Simple to use
  • Sturdy storage case
Specification
  • Brand P.I. AUTO STORE
  • Model PIAS003
  • Weight 2.05 pounds
PROS

Runs from Standard 12 volt Cigarette Lighter Socket

Inexpensive

Digital Display For Accuracy

CONS

No Wall Plug option

Not the most durable construction

You are not going to get any bells and whistles or fancy extras with this air compressor! What you will get is a very sturdy little machine that you can store away knowing that it won’t let you down in an emergency.

It does come with a few useful extras, but they are all extremely practical additions. For instance – the 12ft long power cord is fantastic! It may seem strange to be excited about the length of a power cord however if you’ve ever used a compressor with a short cord, you’ll appreciate how irritating that can be when you try to work on the rear tires.

It also has a relatively powerful motor, inflating a standard tire from 0 to 30psi in less than five minutes. This is a simple, very basic model that won’t let you down in an emergency.

Key Features
  • Powerful & Fast Inflation
  • Easy to Use
  • Long 12ft Power Cord for Easy Access
Specification
  • Brand DBPOWER
  • Model AP0613
  • Weight 2.15 pounds
PROS

Runs from Standard 12 volt Cigarette Lighter Socket

Very Cheap

Very Easy to Use

CONS

No Wall Plug Option

No Automatic Shut Off

This little compressor is sturdy enough to withstand long-term storage in a boot if you’re only looking for an emergency compressor.

However, it’s also efficient enough to keep on hand in the garage for use in everyday projects like sports balls, bike tires and topping off already inflated tires that may have lost a little air.

It’s in performing that last function that this little tool really stands out from the crowd, due to the high degree of accuracy it brings with it’s pressure read outs. Accurately inflating tires can really add to their lifespan as well as making your car easier and safer to drive. It can really pay therefore to choose a compressor with accurate readouts, and this one comes with exactly that.

It must be noted as well that you will typically also get excellent customer service from JACO. They are easy to communicate with and happy to resolve any issues which is a nice touch to accompany this excellent product.

Key Features
  • Auto Shut Off at Set Pressure
  • Built in LED Lights and Backlit LCD Screen
Specification
  • Brand JACO
  • Model JSP-008
  • Weight 2.05 pounds
PROS

Runs from Standard 12 Volt Cigarette Lighter Socket

Very High Precision

Built in LED Flashlight

CONS

No Wall Socket Adapter

This is a serious piece of kit for emergency breakdowns. Yes, it is a bit bigger and heavier than some other air compressors.

What do you get for that extra weight though? Well, for one thing a nice and powerful motor, that pumps our around 35 liters of air per minute. The power cord and attached hose are nice and long making it easy to manipulate and maneuver into place.

If your ever find yourself needing to perform a tire change somewhere dark, then the tool really comes into it’s own. For one thing, the back-lit LCD screen is both bright and big making it so easy to use in even pitch black conditions. It also has a very powerful, built in LCD light that acts as a mini floodlight – again making tire changes in dark that much easier.

Key Features
  • Fast Inflation Rate – 35 liters per minute
  • Preset Pressure & Auto Shut Off
  • Built in LED Lights and Backlit LCD Screen
Specification
  • Brand Tcisa
  • Model TSA-AC
  • Weight 6.5 pounds
PROS

Runs from Standard 12 volt Cigarette Lighter Socket

10 Ft Power Cable

CONS

No Wall Plug Option

Quite Heavy & Bulky Compared to Other Models

This is a pretty good little machine if you are looking for an air compressor that offers a little more than just waiting in the boot for an emergency tire change.

For one thing, it comes with an adaptor to plug it into a wall outlet, along with a wide range of nozzle adaptors. This means you can use this tool for everything from tires on cars and trucks to bike and motorbike tires and even small jobs like sports balls.

The only downsides are the dial based user interface instead of a more high tech LCD screen version makes fine tuning adjustments in pressure a little harder than they should be.

For the money though, the sheer variety in functions this little tool can perform makes it easy to recommend.

Key Features
  • Auto Shut Off at Set Pressure
  • Built in LED Lights and Backlit LCD Screen
Specification
  • Brand Black & Decker
  • Model AS1300
  • Weight 5.4 pounds
PROS

Runs from Standard 12 Volt Cigarette Lighter Socket

Also Includes Wall Socket Adaptor

CONS

Heavier Than Some Models

The Wall Socket Adapter Includes a Built In Fuse that can’t be Replaced if it Blows

Dial Based Interface instead of LCD Screen

One thing to bear in mind with this model is that is does not come with a battery and it does not come with the typical 12 volt Cigarette Lighter charging cord.

This tool is actually part of the Ryobi One+ family, which means that it works on the same power packs as all the other Ryobi tools on the market. So if you already use tools of this brand, you’ll have a battery already. If not, you’ll have to buy it separately.

The fact it lacks a built in battery and has no way to plug into your car for direct power means this is not really a great emergency compressor to keep in your car boot – unless you’re going to store it with a battery all the time.

However, for keeping in the garage it makes for an extremely useful and versatile little tool that will happily inflate everything from car tires to inflatable pools and balls. It’s also so small and easy to use – just 1.5 pounds and very well designed to work with one hand.

Key Features
  • Auto Shut Off at Set Pressure
  • Built in LED Lights and Backlit LCD Screen
Specification
  • Brand RYOBI
  • Model P737
  • Weight 1.6 pounds
PROS

Ergonomic Design

Simple to Use

Very, Very Small!

Good Build Quality

CONS

Battery Not Included

No Automatic Cut Off

I don’t know who is Dawn is, or what she did to earn this Favour – but what she has got here is a very competent air compressor.

This compressor is all about size. It doesn’t exceed 10 inches on any side, and it comes in at a very tight and compact 2.05 pounds total weight. It also doesn’t come with a storage case – as this model is almost designed to be the case itself, with clever compartments for holding electrical cords and the air hose.

Some people may see that as a drawback – the fact this model has no storage case or bag may lead to some scratches and surface damage. It also makes it very compact and very easy to store, making this model perfect for storage in the boot for emergencies.

Key Features
  • Up to 45% Increased Air Flow Speed Over Some Other Models
  • Built in LED Lights and Backlit LCD Screen
  • Auto Shut off
Specification
  • Brand DawnFavour
  • Model 4333087820
  • Weight 2.05 pounds
PROS

Modern, Stylish Design

Connects to Cigarette Lighter Socket

Very Fast Inflate Times

CONS

No Adaptor for Wall Socket

No Storage Bag or Case

This model is one of the more modern style of compressors, very similar to the one discussed above. By that, we mean that the tool itself is small and self-contained, with no external storage case or box because everything stored internally.

This model is slightly larger and heavier than the model above, for that extra weight you get a slightly more powerful motor which can inflate a standard car tire in about 3 to 5 minutes.

It also comes with the usual array of nozzle attachments to allow it to perform inflation jobs around the home – sports balls, bike tires, pools and lawnmower tires are all fine. It has a very durable construction utilizing high-grade plastics and stainless steel parts. This makes it ideal for frequent use, or you can tuck it away for occasional use and know it’s a tool you can rely on in an emergency.

Key Features
  • Durable Plastic & Stainless Steel Construction
  • Backlit LCD Screen
  • Auto Shut Off
Specification
  • Brand Helteko
  • Model ATJ-1166S
  • Weight 2.55 pounds
PROS

Compact Design

Connects to Cigarette Lighter Socket

Sturdy, Long Lasting Construction

CONS

No Adaptor for Wall Socket

No Storage Bag or Case

Compact and powerful are the two stand out features of this model. On the one hand, you have a wonderfully compact little box sized compressor, which barely tips the scales over 2 pounds, making it one of the smaller on this list.

Inside however, this model packs one of the more powerful motors of the models we have discussed. It is rated to inflate to a maximum pressure of 150PSI, which is very handy. It does it quickly too, inflating a standard car tire from o to 35 PSI in under 5 minutes. That’s fast!

In addition, you get all the nozzle attachments for a variety of non-tire related tasks, and an auto shut off feature ensures that the powerful motor is never allowed to overinflate.

Key Features
  • 10ft Power Cord
  • Backlit LCD Screen
  • Auto Shut Off
  • Inflation to 150 PSI
Specification
  • Brand DBPower
  • Model TR-608
  • Weight 2.27 pounds
PROS

Compact Design

Connects to Cigarette Lighter Socket

Very Powerful for it’s Size

CONS

No Adaptor for Wall Socket

No Storage Bag or Case

Best Portable Air Compressor Buying Guide

Now you’ve seen 10 of the best Air Compressors and Digital Tire Inflators on the market, you can see that whilst they all perform the same basic functions, many come with additional features – and usually an accompanying higher price tag!

What should you look for in your air compressor, what features are vital and what can you do without? Once you’ve selected and bought your compressor, how do you get the most out of it?

Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with all the information you need!

What is a Portable Air Compressor?

So just what is a portable air compressor? Well, the air compressor part means that, very simply, it is an air pump. However, unlike a standard pump which simply draws air in and pumps it direct, these tools compress air so that it can be delivered at pressure and so used to inflate a range of items – everything from car and truck tires down to sports balls – quicker than a standard air pump.

The word “Portable” is also a key part of the discussion here – especially for us today in this article where we are talking mainly about compressors for inflating car tires.

Some air compressors are massive – so big that they come with a built in wheeled trolley to help you move them around. They are used in home construction projects, to power tools, they are even used by the Fire Department in certain emergencies – and they are way overpowered for the task of inflating normal car tires.

A portable compressor has to maintain a balance between having the power to inflate tires quickly and efficiently, whilst being contained in a package small enough to store in the boot of your car or in our garage or shed.

air compressor

Types of Portable Air Compressor

As we mentioned above, there are various sizes of air compressor on the market, all of which have different spec, features and methods for compressing air.

Larger compressors will include tanks where the compressed air is stored, pressurized then fed through the air hose to inflate whatever is being used.

Portable air compressors as we have discussed in this guide are slightly different, because they are a lot smaller. Essentially, whilst they do have small tanks, they are only used to pressurize the air before the air hose delivers it – this means that the motor is always running during operation.

Internally, because of their size, these portable tools will operate screw type machinery, where two large screws essentially turn together to create a vacuum to suck in air. This is a very efficient way for a small compressor to work.

Features to Look For

Depending on the model, brand and type there are some subtle differences in the features that each compressor has.

Some of more important to look out for:

LCD Screen – The compressor has to have some way of telling you what pressure it is inflating too. Typically, on more modern models this will be via a built in LCD screen. Other models will have a more traditional dial and needle arrangement. The LCD screen will allow for more accurate readings, and if it is backlit will be easier to read especially in the dark.

Auto Cut Off – Perhaps one of the key features. With this onboard, the compressor can be set to a desired PSI and away it goes, happily inflating until the tire reaches the desired pressure. Naturally, a model with this feature included will be easier to use and the danger of over inflation (and a burst tire) is removed completely.

Cigarette Lighter Charging Cord – For emergency use, the compressor must be able to be powered by the built in cigarette lighter port in your vehicle. In a breakdown situation when you are inflating a tire at roadside, this is likely to be the only available power source.

Built in Lights – Again, another feature that could come in handy for a roadside emergency. Some models come with built in flashlights, usually LED based. This can be handy to both provide light during a night time tire inflation, and can help to illuminate you and your vehicle making you easier to spot by other motorists.

Additional Nozzle Attachments – Choose a model that comes with multiple nozzle attachments and you will have a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes around the home. After all, if you’re going to invest in one of these, you might as well get your money’s worth!

Related Post: Best Air Ratchets

air compressors

Tips When Inflating Your Tires with an Air Compressor

Inflating a tire using an air compressor is remarkably straightforward. Many models in fact virtually take on about 99% of the work – provided they have a built in pressure auto cut off feature.

Simply attach the compressor to your tire valve, set the desired pressure and away it goes.

Here are a few tips to bear in mind however to ensure that you get the most efficient service from your compressor.

  • Make sure you have a Tire Chuck – Typically, a modern model will come with all the tools and attachments you need to inflate your tire. You should be able to simply take it straight out of its box and away you go! A Tire Chuck is a little tool that attaches between the tire valve and the nozzle of the air hose. It depresses the little valve switch inside the tire valve allowing air to flow. Your compressor should come with one, but just double check it has been included and you always carry it in your vehicle.
  • Keep it dry – Most of these are pretty hardy little tools, well designed to take a fair amount of punishment. Moisture is definitely their enemy however, so try to keep the compressor dry during use and whilst in storage. As an electrical device, they can be shorted if they get wet whilst operating. They also typically include a pair of rotating, metal screws that suck in air. Storing in a moisture rich environment can rust the screws – even fuse them together – breaking the compressor.
  • Keep an eye on the pressure – Many modern models come with an automatic cut off that disconnects the machine once it reaches the PSI that you set. Obviously, if your model lacks this feature then you will need to keep a close eye on the pressure during operation. Even if is does, it pays to keep an eye on it anyway, especially if the PSI you are inflating to is toward the top end of what the compressor can handle.

Calculating the Correct PSI for Your Tires

Using the correct PSI in your tires will help them work at their best. Over inflation runs the risk of damaging the tire structure with too much pressure – the tire could even burst, completely ruining it.

Under inflating can be just as damaging in the long run however. An underinflated tire is prone to so called “Dry Rot” where the rubber in the side tire wall becomes damaged, starts to dry out and crack and eventually fail completely.

So both under and over inflating will eventually destroy your tire – it will also affect the tire grip on the road surface, potentially making the car harder to handle, and reducing braking and handling efficiency in an emergency. Not good news!

So now you know why you should inflate your tire to the correct PSI, the next question is how to know that that is.

Well, as a stopgap measure the maximum PSI will be written on the tire sidewall. By all means use this as a temporary indicator, but do note that your tire will almost certainly be overinflated a little if you simply fill it to the max permissible PSI.

For a more accurate PSI, you have to take into account the typical weight your car or truck will carry – this includes fuel and passengers, so it can be a little complicated! The information to make the calculations can be supplied on charts, which you can get from your tire dealership.

It can be worth going to this effort before a long trip to ensure that you get the best possible use from your tires.

For everyday driving however, a good rule of thumb is to take the max PSI as stated on the tire itself and subtract 10%. Broadly speaking, that will give a good indication of the ideal tire pressure, with a little built in wiggle room for weight.

Sources:

  1. How Compressed Air Can Fuel a Car – HowStuffWorks
  2. Dangers of an Air Compressor – Hunker