Best Portable Tire Inflators of 2023, Tested – Car and Driver

Search online for “portable tire inflators/air compressors” and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of devices claiming to be the “best” for inflating car tires. which one is the best for you? we are here to eliminate that clutter.

To find the truth, we rounded up a truckload of top sellers and name brands and pitted them against each other in our test shop. which came first? Which tire inflators surprised or disappointed us?

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our best picks

how do we choose our contenders? First, we surveyed the editorial staff of car and driver, autoweek, and road & hint for the inflators recommended by our experts. Next, we scoured the internet to find out which inflators were the most popular, best-selling, and highest-rated. Ultimately, we leaned on our automotive experience and knowledge to narrow the list down to a manageable 13.

To get a fair and unbiased sample of portable tire inflators, we selected several brands we know and trust, as well as a number of best-selling third-party compressors with (generally) lower prices and (often) lower prices. better grades. We bring together a wide range of sizes, power, and styles to represent the many types of portable tire inflators on the market. finally, we deliberately avoided the plethora of tiny portable inflators that look more like game controllers or smartphones than air compressors.

Once we had our final line of tire inflators, we reviewed them to see how they performed: which ones stood out, which ones dominated the competition, and which ones left us wanting more. and we photograph the entire process. (Editor’s note: the time-lapse gif above is about two minutes of real time – that milwaukee inflator is a beast).

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what to look for in a portable tire inflator


Portable tire inflators come in many shapes and sizes, but effectively fall into two distinct types: handheld devices and console units. The most important consideration when buying a tire inflator is what you will be using it for.

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Handheld is the way to go to have a tire inflator in your car in case of emergencies. a handheld inflator should be easy to store and easy to use. Shop for a portable inflator that features a work light for nighttime situations, a digital display for accurate readings and automatic shutoff, a clamp-style valve connector, and a 12-volt plug to reliably power the device with your vehicle when you need it.

Console units are ideal for everyday household and recreational inflation. Consoles should be able to inflate just about anything from car tires to sports balls, air mattresses for car camping, rafts, toys, and SUPs for fun recreation (inflatable kayak, anyone?). most feature multiple power options, numerous inflation accessories, and more features you won’t find on a handheld. some are even built into consoles with other tools, such as portable jump starters.

The downside is that the consoles didn’t perform as well as the portable units in the test that the team team was most concerned about: portable tire inflation. They all got the job done, but overall, the portable handheld units we tested were generally faster at inflating tires than the console compressors. furthermore, most console units can hardly be considered “portable”. Yes, you can pick them up, take them around the house, and pack them in your vehicle for the holidays. But keep a console inflator in the car in case of an emergency? out of the question, for most of us.

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power source

No matter which portable car tire inflator you buy, look for one that has an alternate power source option. Battery-powered handhelds are portable and easy to use, but they should also have a backup 12-volt car plug, just in case. Your vehicle’s 12-volt outlet will always be by your tires and is a reliable source of power, unless of course, in addition to flat tires, your car has a dead battery.

pro tip: battery-operated items hidden in cars are often easily neglected. If you have a battery-operated device in your car, such as an inflator or jump starter, fully charge the battery every few months, such as whenever you give your vehicle a detail job that includes vacuuming and cleaning the interior .

Wall outlets are great for charging at home, but you’ll have to move the car closer to an electrical outlet or you’ll need a very long extension cord. or maybe a portable generator or battery pack to plug in. Direct-to-battery power sources, like the Viair unit we tested, provide maximum power but can be unwieldy. more on that later.

accessories and functions

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When shopping for a tire inflator, look for perks like:

-an iintegrated work light for repairs on dark roads; some flash to function as emergency beacons

-a ddigitalindicator with auto shutoff, instead of analog dials

clamp-style valve fittings are easier and more convenient than threaded connectors

-plenty of accessoriesaccessories, such as a conical nozzle for inflating air mattresses, rafts and pool toys; a needle for sports balls; and a presta valve chuck for some road bike tires

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rubber feet to keep the inflator planted while in operation

Looking for the best tire inflator to buy in 2023? this is what we found.

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