Portable air compressors are used for many things, and depending upon the size, they can handle all kinds of different tasks. One of the most common uses for a portable air compressor is to inflate tires, and there are many units designed specifically for that purpose. But whether you need to clean up the sawdust after a remodeling job, or add a layer of paint to a cabinet, these handy and versatile tools can get the job done in a fast and easy way.
Many homeowners find that owning a portable air compressor is one of their best tool investments, and anyone who's ever owned one will agree that no garage should be without an air compressor, even if it's just a tire inflator. You'll find plenty of articles on our site that cover larger portable air compressors, but this article will focus on the smaller set that's designed for keeping your car tires properly inflated.
What is a Portable Air Compressor?
An air compressor is simply a tool that takes air into it's tank, and stores the air until there's enough pressure where it can be released at a much higher power. If you'd like a full breakdown of exactly how an air compressor works, we suggest checking out this article.
Air compressors come in all sizes, and many are small enough to be carried around in your car or truck, or even stored on an RV. Others are larger and less portable, but typically more powerful. So finding the right air compressor will require a good understanding of your requirements and the power capacity and size of the air compressor.
Benefits of a Owning a Portable Air Compressor
Having an air compressor at home can be a huge benefit. It can help you accomplish many different basic repair jobs around the home. You can clean electronics, inflate car and bike tires, clean-up sawdust and other debris, use it for crafts, and even paint your home!
Many professionals own multiple air compressors. Some large with plenty of power, and others that are much smaller and can be moved easily from one job site to another.
The more powerful compressors allow you to accomplish woodworking projects or other more advanced home improvement tasks. However, the smaller air compressors are great for lightweight work when you don't want to pack a larger unit to the worksite.
Auto Tire Air Compressor Benefits
A common misconception is that an air compressor is either for industrial work or for inflating tires. Many simply don't realize how versatile they truly are. Finding the right sized unit plays a big role in what you'll be able to do with your compressor. Here, are just a few of the many uses it can perform:
Inflating Tires - Using your air compressor to inflate tires not only provides you with a lot of power, but you'll even have the option to air-up tires that have become unbeaded. A good portable air compressor will pump not only car tires, but also motorcycle and bicycle tires. The next time the tire goes flat on a hand dolly or wheelbarrow, you won't need to worry about taking a trip to a gas station. You can simply wheel it over to your compressor and fill it up in no time at all!
Paint Sprayers - Using an air compressor with a paint sprayer not only increases the power of the paint sprayer, but it also ensures an even coat without signs of the paint running. Nearly all car paint shops use an air pressured paint sprayer. Read our Air Compressor Paint Sprayer Guide to see which air compressors we recommend.
Powering Power Tools - Just because you purchase a portable air compressor to inflate your tires doesn't mean you can't use it for anything else. Air compressors work great to power tools around your home. Some of the more popular tools include: Nail guns, drills, sanders, wrenches, and ratchets.
Using an air compressed power tool adds a tremendous amount of power to the tool, which is one of the main advantages of using a compressor. All these things make air power tools more effective than the same tools which are not powered by an air compressor.
Multiple Purposes - Your portable air compressor's pressurized air can be used for many household tasks. With the right air nozzle, the air can be used anywhere; from woodworking projects to clearing and cleaning out pool piping.
Portability - We're going to state the obvious here. A portable air compressor is portable. It can fit almost anywhere. You can take it with you in the car, use it in your garage, or easily loan it to a friend.
Saving Money with a Portable Air Compressor for Tire Inflation
"Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2% for every 1 psi drop in the average pressure of all tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer."
Keeping your tires at the proper psi level also extends the life of your tires. When tires are under or over inflated there's unnecessary strain placed on them, and thus their service life is negatively impacted. In addition, under-inflated tires are more likely to lead to flats.
Having a quick and easy way to check and inflate your tires to the proper levels will not only save you money on gas mileage and extend the life of your tires, but it can also keep you safe.
Car Air Pressure Sizing Guide
Although you can inflate your car tires with an air compressor of any size, the best car air compressor for tires is powerful enough to be both quick and convenient. After all, if you needed to inflate a set of completely deflated tires, you wouldn't want to spend an hour or more while your small electric air compressor trickles air into the tires.
As a general rule, tire inflation should use a air compressor that can produce at least 1-to-2 cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM is a measurement of the volume of air that is moved by a compressor. Many solutions, such as a compressor powered by an electric cigarette lighter, produce far less than 1 CFM and are generally only good for emergency inflation when other options aren't available.
The most efficient car air compressor works with a tank that stores the pressurized air. A powerful unit with a suitably sized storage tank will pump high-pressure air continuously. This will quickly inflate car tires, bicycle tires, and even truck tires.
Best Compressors for Tire Inflation
Finding the best compressor for tire inflation really depends on your individual needs, but these are two of our favorites. One of the best things about each of these compressors is that they are both powerful enough to do more than inflate tires. Each one represents a different segment of the market.
Porter Cable PCFPO2003
SCFM @ 90 PSI
2.0 SCFM @ 90 PSI
Although capable of a variety of air tool related tasks, this unit is especially impressive when it comes to inflating tires. Unlike some smaller compressors, the Porter Cable is able to run nearly continuously when tasked with inflating vehicle tires. This is helped by the 3.5-gallon tank size and 2.0 CFM rating.
You'll never need to wait for the compressor to kick-in and restore air when topping off tires. However, if you're inflating full flats, you could wait a few minutes between each tire while the tank brings itself back up to pressure. When it comes to bicycle tires, motorcycle tires, and inflating boats and water-toys, the Porter Cable does a phenomenal job.
Our second favorite tire inflation air compressor is the DeWalt D55140. It's more compact than the Porter Cable and is perfect for inflating tires, but it will struggle with larger jobs.
SCFM @ 90 PSI
0.75 SCFM at 90 PSI
If you're not looking for the flexibility of running some higher demand air tools, the D55140 from DeWalt is an excellent choice. When it comes to inflating tires, it performs well with just under 1-CFM of airflow and the small 1-gallon tank gives it a little more running power. Although the smaller tank size requires the compressor to cycle continuously during tire inflation, it should still be able to keep up and you won't need to wait for the compressor to rebuild pressure.
Probably the biggest selling point for the D55140 is it's portablity. It's among the most portable tank air compressors on the market. Weighing just 24-pounds it can easily be moved from job site-to-job site, and the streamlined design means it can fit snuggly on a shelf or even be tucked behind the seat of your truck.
The DeWalt D55140 is extremely quiet and runs at only 69-decibels, and is a perfect road companion. It would be well suited to sit in a vehicle, truck, or even an RV. Needless to say, just like the Porter Cable, this air compressor has enough power to inflate bicycle tires, motorcycle tires, or anything else around the house.
Best 12V Air Compressors
As discussed above, an inexpensive alternative to the larger air compressors is the small, portable 12V air compressor. This segment of air compressors are designed to not only inflate tires, but also into pump air into inflatable toys, sports balls, etc.
These smaller compressors allow you to hook them up to power tools such as ratchets, paint sprayers, and nail guns, yet they will still give you the freedom to move around and mark that quick job off your list. The smaller tanks also are designed to cycle quicker so you can continually work without waiting for the tank to fill.
Viair 00088 88P
The Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor is powered by your car battery, and with it's strong motor, it can hit a maximum working pressure of 120 psi. Which is quite impressive for such a small air compressor. This is a great option if you need a small, portable air compressor to fill up tires and balls.
The Viair 00088 has more than enough power to fill the tires of cars, small trucks, SUVs, and bikes. It can handle any 33-inch tire or less. It's also one of a handful of portable air compressors that includes alligator clamps which attach straight to the battery of your car. Thus eliminating any concerns about shorting your cigarette lighter, or whether your lighter will even have enough juice.
The ability to directly connect to the car battery also means you won't need an extension cord or a power outlet. Not to mention, the 10-foot power cord, and 16-foot air hose make the process of inflating your tires more convenient.
Measuring 11-inches and weighing only 4-1/2 pounds, the Viair is one of the smaller and more portable models on the market today, and it comes with a one-year warranty.
EPAuto 12V DC
The EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump isn't quite as powerful as the Viair 00088, but it still performs well, and, best of all, it's available for a price that every budget can handle.
Designed with an easy-to-read display and an LED flashlight, the EPAuto Air Compressor also includes a needle to inflate sports balls, and a short cone/long cone to pump up inflatable kayaks and swimming pool accessories. It can handle car, bike, sedan and midsize SUV tires.
The EPAuto includes a built-in overheat protection to prevent the air compressor from overloading, and you'll be able to plug it directly into your cigarette lighter. Since it's equipped with an auto shut-off switch, you'll never need to worry about over inflating your tires.
Kensun AC/DC Swift Performance
The Kensun AC/DC Swift Performance Portable Air Compressor may be one of the most convenient inflators on the market today. This 12-volt air compressor can be powered two different ways, which makes it handy for both the car and the home.
Plug the Kensun AC/DC Swift into your car's cigarette lighter and it operates just like any other inflator on the market, but pull out an extension cord and it plugs directly into a standard outlet, making it much easier to inflate bike tires and sports equipment.
Outfitted with dual solid metal motors for rapid and easy inflation, and a large, bright pressure gauge that measures up to 100 psi, this is an excellent portable air compressor that can handle car, motorcycle and bicycle tires, plus all the other inflatables like pool toys, sports equipment, and kayaks.
Best Tire Inflators
There are two types of tire inflators. One style is connected to an air compressor. These provide either a digital or analog readout of the pressure inside the tire. In addition, they also control the flow of air.
The other type of tire inflator is a small air compressor designed specifically to inflate tires. This type, like 12V compressors, aren't designed to deliver a lot of power. They can tackle tires and other light projects, but that's about it. The big difference between the tire inflator and a 12V compressor is that the tire inflator doesn't have an air tank, so it'll run continuously.
When shopping for a tire inflator, you should consider the following:
LCD Screen - An LCD screen is a nice feature because it displays the pressure. Other more traditional models use a dial and needle setup, which can be harder to read.
Auto Cut Off - One key feature to look for is auto cut off. This feature can be set to the desired psi and you can walk away knowing that once the desired pressure is reached, the compressor will automatically shut down.
Cigarette lighter Charging Cord - If you're on the road and need to inflate your tires, having a cigarette lighter charging cord can save you from calling for assistance or finding the nearest gas station.
Built-in Light - When a night-time emergency happens it can be especially difficult, which is why having your tire inflator equipped with a built-in light can be a huge help. You'll be able to see both the tire and work area without fumbling around with a flashlight.
Below you'll find our top three favorite tire inflators:
EPAuto Heavy Duty Tire Inflator
The EPAuto Heavy Duty 120 psi Tire Inflator is probably the best inflator for the money. It's a three-in-one tool, combining a filling gun, air chuck, and a gauge. It's perfect if you're on a budget and don't want to spend a lot of money.
With a psi range of 0-to-120, and a large, accurate easy-to-read display, this tire inflator is suitable for a wide range of inflating tasks. Despite it's low price, the unit performs well and doesn't "feel" like you're using a budget air tool. However, there's quite a few plastic parts, so you'll need to take care when handling and storing.
Astro 3018 Digital Tire Inflator
The Astro 3018 Digital Tire Inflator is a very popular tire inflator. The 3018 model is an upgrade from an earlier version, and has two big improvements. First, Astro improved the power source from a battery source to AAA batteries, which gives you even more portablity. And second, the hose was upgraded with a 21-inch stainless steel braided hose.
The Astro 3018 has an operating pressure of 3-to-175 psi. It comes with a two-position lever, where the user can not only inflate, but also deflate the pressure. This allows for more precision fills. The digital gauge is accurate up to .01 psi.
The deflate feature is activated by slightly squeezing the lever and it works even if the tire inflator isn't hooked up! Squeeze the lever a little harder and the compressor will kick in and begin to inflate. The gauge will take a reading with or without the air hose being connected, making it an excellent pressure checker as well.
Set at a higher price point, the Astro 3018 may be more than some want to spend on a tire inflator. However, if you're looking for one of the best tire inflators on the market, and don't mind paying a little more, this is the perfect tool for you.
Oasser Portable Tire Inflator
The Oasser Portable Tire Inflator is sleek and innovative. It's equipped with metal parts and an advanced LCD display. Not to mention, it's very easy to operate and provides you with multiple options for power and use since it's also battery powered.
The Oasser can be plugged directly into a cigarette lighter or into a standard electrical outlet, and since it's battery powered, plugging it in will charge the unit's battery. A full battery charge will operate the unit for about 1.5 hours, which should be plenty of time to get you out of an emergency situation.
What's particularly impressive about the Oasser Portable Air Compressor is that it has a max output of 150 psi, which makes it strong enough to handle car and bike tires, as well as sports balls and inflatable rafts.
When the sleek and durable design of the Oasser is combined with high-powered performance, you can't really go wrong. It also comes with a 1-year warranty to protect your investment.
Air Compressor Accessories for Tires
Having high-quality accessories will not only increase the effectiveness of your air compressor, but it'll also protect your investment. Although, keep in mind these accessories are better suited for actual air compressors and may only have limited use with 12V systems and tire inflators. Here are a few accessories you can buy:
A good first purchase for your air compressor is to buy a pneumatic starter kit. There are a number of starter kits on the market and most include a hose, several tools and attachments. It's the most economical way to start, and you'll have a good assortment of the most popular assessories.
Central Pneumatic 20-Piece Starter Kit
Central Phneumatic offers a popular starter kit that includes attachments for tire inflations, a hose, and a number of other adaptors. There's even a blow gun to help with clean-up.
Quality High-Pressure Hose
Whether your old hose needs to be replaced or you simply want a different length, it's a good idea to replace it with a hose that's of higher quality than the stock hose that came with your air compressor.
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 from a reputable manufacturer. Goodyear, Amflo, and Campbell Hausfeld are all leading manufacturers who produce high-quality hoses.
There are three things to consider when purchasing a new hose for your air compressor:
Inside Diameter - 1/4" and 3/8" are the most common inside diameters on air compressor hoses. The 1/4" hose is lighter, which also makes it the more popular choice because it's easier to carry, store, and roll-up, not to mention it's also typically more budget friendly.
Length - In most cases, air compressor hoses come in two sizes: 50-feet and 100-feet. The most popular of the two is the 100-ft length because it'll provide you with the most distance from the air compressor. However, if your air compressor is under powered, the longer hoses will cause your compressor to really struggle and a 50-ft might be your better option.
Hose Material - Air compressor hoses come in several different materials. There's the Hybrid Hose which is a blend of PVC, rubber and polyurethane. These are very durable and flexible. There's also a Polyurethane Hose, which is lightweight and makes a great all-around hose choice. The third option, the PVC Hose, is the most economical of the three.
Goodyear Air Hose
Goodyear makes this 50-foot x 3/8" hose. It's oil, solvent and weather resistant, and can operate at a maximum 250 psi. The solid brass 1/4" NPT end fittings are common fitting sizes.
Tire Pressure Gauge
If your tire inflator or 12v compressor isn't equipped with a tire pressure gauge, or if you just want to check your tire pressure without pulling out the larger units, we recommend purchasing a digital tire gauge. They are inexpensive, easy to operate, and are so small they fit in your glove box.
Astro AI Digital Tire Gauge
The Astro AI Digital Tire Gauge has lighted nozzle and a backlit LCD display. It's quick and accurate and displays in increments of 0.1.