portable car air compressor for car tiresEven though an air compressor can be used for everything from powering a brad nailer, to running a concrete vibrator or even a demolition tool, one of its most common functions is as a household or portable car air compressor.

Even a relatively small unit can take out the tedious and strenuous labor of pumping a tire manually, so it can be useful to know what to look for in a portable air compressor for car tires.

Whether that machine is going to predominantly stay in your garage, be carried around in your car or truck, or even stored on an RV, there are plenty of options that are not only affordable, but versatile too.

In this article, I want to first give you a short description of the setup and the different accessories you need to be able to inflate your  car, bike, or motorcycle tires from the convenience of your home.

Then, I will present to you my selection of the two most popular bigger compressors and my top two recommendations for the best 12V air compressors and best tire inflators to inflate your tires, so you will be able to make the best possible decision based on your budget and other requirements.

What Different Accessories Do I Need To Inflate My Vehicle Tires At Home?

If you are somebody who is tired of going each time to a gas station and probably paying each time to get your car tires filled, then you are looking for a solution so you can do this job on your own.

In order to do this, you have a couple of different setups to choose from, depending on your own circumstances.

One option would be to use a bigger air compressor with an air tank sized 2 gallons or more and hook it up with a tire inflator ideally equipped with an analog or digital display, so you can read the pressure that is going in your tires.

Since these compressors are generally more expensive than the smaller air compressors explained just below, that setup would make more sense if you are using your air compressor for other do it yourself tasks as well, such as car painting, woodworking etc.

The other option would be to use a small, 12V air compressor which can be powered either from your 12V cigarette lighter reception in your car, or directly from your car battery.

As you must realize, the latter is a much more practical solution if you also want to have your compressor handy while you are out driving away from your home and you are faced with an emergency situation that demands a quick filling up of your vehicle tires.

This is something that you wouldn’t be able to do with a bigger type compressor, as this should need a regular power outlet to operate or, for example in the case of the D55140 featured below, an inverter.

What Size Car Air Compressor Do I need to Inflate My Tires?

It’s true that you could inflate your car tires with an air compressor of any size, but the best car air compressor for tires will be powerful enough so that the process is quick and convenient. After all, if you were inflating a set of completely deflated tires that had been in storage, you wouldn’t want to wait around for an hour or more while your tiny electric compressor trickles air into your tires.

For speedy operation, tire inflation should be performed with a unit that produces at least 1 – 2 CFM. CFM is a measurement of the volume of air that can be moved by a compressor. Many solutions, such as electronic cigarette lighter compressors produce far less than 1 CFM, and are generally only good for emergency inflation when you have no other options.

The most efficient car air compressor will be coupled with a tank to store pressurized air. A powerful unit with a suitably sized storage tank will pump high pressure air continuously, to quickly inflate car tires, truck tires, or even bicycle tires.

Accessories to use with an Air Compressor for Tires

It’s not just the compressor itself that will determine how easily you can inflate tires, because of course you will need the right accessories to do the job.

Besides the obvious, like the compressor and the connectors on it, these two accessories will make the job of inflating tires, much easier.

Quality High Pressure Hose

When it comes to air compressors, anything that you add to the ‘chain’ will affect the end result. Because of this, every piece of equipment that you connect to it should be suitable for the job, and be of high quality.

The hose that carries the air from your compressor to the tire should be a high pressure product (up to 250 PSI) and should be made by a reputable manufacturer. A 3/8 inch hose is suitable for inflating tires, and 25ft is the perfect length for getting around a vehicle to service all four tires. Goodyear, Amflo, and Campbell Hausfeld are all leading manufacturers who produce high quality hoses for as little as $20.

Tire Inflator with Gauge

The other all-important accessory is the inflator that you will use. Simply connecting the right inflator will put air in your tires, but how will you know once you’ve achieved optimum pressure? Bicycles, cars, and trucks all require different PSI in the tires to achieve manufacturer safety and performance ratings. A tire inflator with a gauge will make sure that you’re always on the mark.

There are two options to choose from. A digital gauge, or an analogue dial. Both are effective, although a digital gauge is much easier to read. Gauges can indicate pressure in BAR, PSI, and some will display a KG reading also. The most common measurement is PSI.

Digital Tire Gauge

Another handy tool that is is especially useful if you just have the bigger compressor and you don’t have a tire inflator equipped with the pressure readout display, is a digital tire gauge.

This is used to check the tire pressure at any time, either before you start filling or after filling to make sure the pressure has reached its desired level.

You just need to insert the end of the tool in the valve stem and you can read the display.

One such unit I recommend is the TEKTON 5941 Digital Tire Gauge.

Two Popular Compressors for Tire Inflation

Of course with all of this information, it can still be difficult to determine the best compressor for car or bike tires. As with many air compressor scenarios, the ‘best’ really does depend on your individual needs. Take a look at these two options which represent different segments of the market.

The first is suitable for cars, light trucks (SUV’s), bicycles, and low intensity DIY duties.

The second is more compact and is perfect for inflating tires, but will struggle with other tasks.

Porter Cable PCFP02003

This portable Porter Cable compressor was reviewed in full right here on Power Tools Ninja.

We found the compressor to be capable of a variety of air tool related tasks, but it was especially impressive when it came to inflating tires. Unlike some smaller compressors, the Porter Cable was able to run near continuously when inflating vehicle tires. This is helped by the 3.5 gallon tank size and 2.0 CFM rating (see more about CFM at this link).

When topping up tires you won’t need to wait for the compressor to kick in and restore air, however if you’re inflating full flats you could wait a few minutes between each tire while the tank gets back up to pressure.

For bicycle tires, motorcycle tires, and inflating things like boats and water-toys, the Porter Cable does a phenomenal job. The fact that it can be had at a number of online retailers for under $100 makes it one of the best air compressors for tires.

Here’s the link to Amazon for easy reference and to check the latest price.

DeWalt D55140

If you don’t need the flexibility of running other air tools, the D55140 is an excellent choice. For inflating tires it performs well with just under 1 CFM of air flow, and a small 1 gallon tank. Due to the smaller tank this compressor will cycle continuously while you’re inflating tires, but the good news is that it is able to keep up. This means you won’t wait around for the compressor to rebuild pressure in the tank.

The key advantage of this DeWalt compressor is that it’s one of the most portable tank air compressors on the market. It weighs in at only 24 pounds, and it’s only 9 inches high. It can be run off an inverter, and draws 2.6 amp in operation. In addition, it’s quiet operation (only 69 db) makes it an ideal choice for people who are put off by the loud noise that other similar air compressors might produce.

This makes it the perfect road companion, and it would be well suited to sit in a vehicle, truck, or even an RV motor home. Needless to say, just like the Porter Cable, this compressor has enough power to inflate bicycle tires, motorcycle tires, or anything else around the home that you can think of.

Check below to get a more detailed description and the latest price and discounts on Amazon.

Best 12V Air Compressors

As already mentioned, the cheap alternative to the bigger air compressors would be the small, portable 12V air compressors which are designed to exclusively pump air not only into car, bike, motorcycle and even truck tires but also into inflatable toys, balls etc.

Below I present to you my personal top two recommendations that you can choose from.

Option 1: LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor

Judging from online reviews, this is quite a popular DC 12V tire air compressor among consumers, the biggest advantage being that it represents true value for money.

It is equipped with a quick connect air hose, it goes up to 300 PSI.

The cord that goes to the cigarette lighter from the compressor is 10 feet, while the part of the hose that goes from the unit to the valve stem is 18 inches.

One thing that the manufacturer cautions about is that you should make sure your cigarette lighter fuse is minimum 15A and the unit itself draws 10A. Although in general people seem apprehensive about the unit blowing the fuse and messing up with the car’s electronics, I didn’t see many instances of people actually giving evidence of actually this happening.

According to the manual, it takes about 8 minutes to go from 0 to 35 minutes. Actual testimonials say it took about 2 minutes to go from 33 PSI to 40 and less than 5 minutes to go from 20 PSI to 44.

One thing that everybody complains about is that it makes a lot of noise and vibrates a lot. But they also say that its pressure gauge is pretty accurate and it gets the job done most of the times.

My take is that, as long as people realize that this little compressor is meant only for occasional use and good only for filling up rather than going from flat to full, then it’s good value for money.

Check out the link for the latest price on Amazon.

LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor
List Price:$22.99
You Save:$4.04
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Option 2: VIAIR 85P Portable Air Compressor

Here’s another very popular air compressor that is preferred by a lot of consumers who are looking for a cost effective solution.

According to specs, this unit operates up to 60 PSI maximum working pressure, powers from the 12V cigarette lighter outlet in your car, is capable of inflating up to 31 inch tires and comes with a large, easy to read pressure gauge.

One neat feature that it has is the built in LED which comes  very handy in situations where the surrounding light is low.

According to testimonials, the compressor is fast (somebody said that it took him less than 30 seconds to go from 32 to 35 PSI) and is quiet.

One great aspect that puts this tool ahead of its competition is the top quality of its construction: Other than the handle which is plastic, the rest of it is made of metal. This fact alone makes it very reliable and durable and contributes to the low noise production.

One issue that consumers need to be aware of, is the fact that the fuse of the cigarette lighter which should be hooked up to, should not be less than 14.5 Amperes and the car engine should be running when the unit is in operation.

Although VIAIR is a US corporation, the unit is made in China and imported to USA.

One other thing that owners should be aware of, is that owing to the fact that the compressor is oil-less, it generates a lot of heat inside. Therefore, they shouldn’t touch the silver part as it becomes very hot during operation.

Here’s a nice video I found on youtube to help you get a better picture of the Viair 85P features and check it out in action!

Check out the product page and latest price on Amazon.

VIAIR 85P Portable Air Compressor
List Price:$49.51
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Best Tire Inflators

Now, as promised, I will give you my top two recommendations for the best tire inflators.

As mentioned, these are tools hooked up with the air compressor and their job is to provide a readout (digital or analog) of the pressure inside your tires and also control the flow of air.

Let’s get started!

Option 1: EPAuto Heavy Duty 120 PSI Tire Inflator

This is an entry point unit and as its manufacturers say, it combines three tools in one, a filling gun, an air chuck and a gauge.

Judging from the overall online review ratings, it’s very popular among people who are more budget conscious and/or want something for occasional use.

As reviewers say, the PSI range (0-120 PSI) is very convenient as it is suitable for quite a wide range of things that need inflating. The display is also conveniently large and most say it’s pretty accurate, although there were also some who complained about it.

Overall, despite its low price, people are pleasantly surprised with its overall performance and seem quite satisfied with its performance.

There are also some complains about its low quality plastic construction, but again considering its low price and the fact that is intended for only occasional use, then this shouldn’t put people off from buying it, as they don’t risk a lot of money in the first place.

Check latest price on Amazon.

Option 2: Astro 3018 Digital Tire Inflator

This is a popular model with high review ratings online.

This is an upgrade from an earlier version, the biggest improvements being the replacement of the power source from a battery source to AAA batteries and the replacement of the hose with a 21” stainless steel braided one.

The replacement of the batteries is much quicker and simpler and the digital readout is very accurate, down to 0.1 PSI.

Its operating pressure is 3 – 175 PSI and one powerful feature is that it comes with a two position lever, allowing the user to not only inflate but deflate at will, thus making more precision fills.

You only need to squeeze the level a little to deflate and squeeze more to inflate. The deflation process can be done even with the air compressor line unhooked. You can also get a reading without the air line connected, so it can act like a pressure checker level as well.

Its display has an auto shut off function, thus saving on battery life.

People are praising a lot its nice, sturdy grip and it’s nice, large display that can light in the dark.

Overall people say that, despite the fact that is pricier than other competitor models, it is more cost effective in the long run as it lasts for a longer time and is more reliable.

Here’s a video that shows the improvement in features of the new version vs the old version of the Astro 3018 digital tire inflator and some other cool features as well.

Check out pricing on Amazon.

An Auto Tire Air Compressor Could Make Life Easier

Many people associate air compressors with industry, or other specialized tasks around the home. While compressors can power a number of tools for home improvements and DIY, they’re also perfect for common tasks like refilling your vehicle tires. The fact that small compressors like DeWalts D55140 can be carried in and powered by a vehicle, means that a compressor can go with you anywhere, ready for emergencies and the unexpected.

Car Air Compressor: Which One to Choose for my Tires?
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Car Air Compressor: Which One to Choose for my Tires?
One of the most common functions of an air compressors is to fill car tires.We have done the research and we present our top picks for the best car air compressor.
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