Having air on demand can save you from a trip to the gas station or a hefty roadside assistance fee.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
The best portable tire inflator options are small enough to take with you when you're on the go with cords that ensure you can reach every tire on your vehicle. Whether you're suddenly dealing with low tire pressure, or even a flat tire, having a portable tire inflator can make all the difference. And with the right tools on hand, you can easily rescue yourself, without having to wait for help. Additionally, having a reliable tire inflator on hand can give you peace of mind, knowing that you're prepared for anything while you're out on the road. In fact, you can even use portable tire inflators to check your tire pressure at routine intervals or right before you head out on a long trip.
To give you or a loved one a hand when dealing with emergency tire problems, I've assembled a list of our favorite portable tire inflators. These recommendations for the best portable tire inflators options are based on user ratings on popular shopping sites and (most importantly) hands-on experience. Below our recommendations, look out for some tips on what to look for in a tire inflator before throwing down your hard-earned money.
The EPAuto 12-volt air compressor is perfect for most applications and is the best portable air compressor overall. It weighs just 3.8 pounds and measures 13.5 by 8.1 by 5.6 inches. This portable air pump for your car tire is capable of providing a maximum pressure of 70 pounds per square inch and an airflow of 1.06 cubic feet per minute for perfect tire inflation. The power cord on the pump is 9 feet long, and the air hose is 2.5 feet long, which should be enough to reach all four tires of most vehicles.
A screw-on tire chuck means you can set this 12-volt DC tire inflator for maximum PSI and forget it and the EPAuto inflator will stop at a preset air pressure. This car tire inflator will also shut itself off before overheating. The digital display can measure tire pressure in PSI, KPA, BAR and KG/CM. It also comes with a built-in LED work light, its own carrying case and various adaptors to air up sporting equipment. It's also a hit with owners scoring 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon based on more than 14,000 reviews.
A few caveats: The portable compressor can draw up to 15 amps, so be sure your 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet can handle the power. Otherwise you might be going through a few fuses. Also, you should keep your car running while using the 12V air compressor to avoid draining the battery.
This 12-volt compressor pump gets props for being quiet and its ability to fill up larger 33-inch tires fairly quickly. It measures 6.75 by 6.25 by 10.75 inches and comes in at 4.5 pounds. Maximum pressure on the Viair is 120 PSI, and it has an airflow of 1.47 CFM. The power cord on this car tire air inflator is 9 feet long, while the air hose is 12 feet long, making it great for larger trucks.
Like the EPAuto compressor, there is a screw-on chuck, but the Viair needs to be connected directly to the battery and not a cigarette lighter socket. The Viair 889 handheld compressor comes with a three-piece accessory kit for inflating other inflatable objects such as sporting and home equipment, and there is a built-in air pressure gauge. Some reviews indicated that it comes with a carrying bag, while other customers weren't sent one, though.
This portable tire inflator gets runner-up status for its higher price tag and lack of an auto-stop feature, but those driving bigger vehicles will surely find the Viair 88P Portable Air Compressor a good value that will come in handy if you find yourself needing it for an underinflated tire. And it's popular with owners, receiving 4.7 out of 5 stars based on nearly 3,800 customer ratings.
If you're looking to ditch the cord, try the Black & Decker 20V Max cordless tire inflator. This air compressor pump is perfect if you already have a set of Black & Decker tools that run off a 20-volt battery. Just grab one of those from your workbench and you're solid. This air pump can also be powered by the 12-volt DC cigarette lighter outlet in your car or a 120-volt AC outlet, which many newer cars have.
A threaded chuck keeps the connection to the tire valve tight and an automatic shut off maximum PSI ensures you won't over-inflate your tires. I like the easy-to-read digital tire pressure gauge, which will show your tire's PSI even when not pumping air. It weighs about 5 pounds and at 11.6 by 7.6 by 8.7 inches, so this handheld air compressor won't take up too much space in your trunk.
This digital tire inflator comes with the option of low or high pressure, so you can also use it to inflate an air mattress without worrying about it going kablooey all over your guests. A deflate function quickly clears the air for easy packing up. It also comes with accessories for filling up bicycle tires and various sports balls. And this rechargeable tire inflator has proven quite popular with hundreds of owners, who give it an average score of 4.4 out of 5 stars.
Keep in mind, however, that if you don't already have a 20-volt battery in your garage, the battery and charger for this road air compressor are sold separately.
If you're an 18-volt battery kind of person, check out the Ryobi Cordless Power Inflator. This little handheld tire inflator is smaller than the Black and Decker and works on the Ryobi One Plus 18-volt battery system. An overwhelming 91% of users on the Home Depot website would recommend the Ryobi to inflate tires.
There is a digital pressure gauge readout for accurate tire pressure readings. The Ryobi weighs less than four pounds and comes in at a compact 17.90 by 7.7 by 3.4 inches. It is also a pistol grip and doesn't have an automatic tire pressure shut off. However, the inflator here is bundled with a lithium-ion 1.5-Ah battery and charger.
What I like here is the Hausbell's petite size, coming in at 8 by 3.5 by 6.2 inches and less than 2 pounds. The power cord is nearly 10 feet long and the air hose is almost 2 feet long, so it should be able to reach all four tires of a compact car to inflate a flat tire or increase low tire pressure.
The Hausbell air pump plugs directly into your car's 12-volt cigarette lighter socket. A digital readout means it's easy to see what vehicle tire pressure you're running, and an auto-shut off allows users to set it at the desired pressure and forget it without fear of having overinflated tires. A built-in LED flashlight helps when you have to use this 12 volt air compressor at night. If you need to fill up a bike tire, ball, inflatable pool or pool toy, this Hausbell air pump comes with accessories allowing you to do so, but it's not rated for high-pressure items like a stand-up paddleboard.
This small 12-volt DC air compressor isn't as quick as the other portable inflator options on this list, taking 5 minutes to fill up a 195/55R15 tire, and it can only operate for 10 minutes before needing a break to cool down, but it should still get the job done with minimal fuss. Based on nearly 3,000 reviews, it scores a strong 4.4 stars out of 5.
The bummer about all the above air compressors is that they just don't have the power to fill a larger SUV tire, truck tire or one that runs on a high pressure like a RV tires or trailer tire. That's where the ARB Twin Motor Portable Air Compressor comes in.
This tire pump connects directly to the battery for maximum power and a 1-hour duty cycle before overheating. The power cord is long enough that you can set the unit on the ground, even when connected to a Jeep with 37-inch tires and 19-foot air hose.
The ARB RV air compressor has a pressure switch that can regulate pressure between 135 and 150 maximum PSI. That's enough to run any air tools you might have. Further, this portable RV tire inflator air pump is capable of an airflow of 6.16 cubic feet per minute with no load, or 4.65 CFM at 29 PSI. You're not going to get that kind of high flow from a light-duty portable air compressor pump.
However, this compressed air unit is heavy, about 33 pounds, and rather large. The carrying case measures 19.5 by 14.5 by 7.75 inches. It's also spendy. Still, it should never let you down whether you're in the garage or on the trail scoring an impressive 4.7 out of 5 across hundreds of owner reviews.
Runs off battery, 12V or 120V AC power, can be used to deflate items as well
Best cordless 18V portable tire inflator
Ryobi P737 Cordless Power Inflator
Small, comes with a battery and charger
Best value portable tire inflator
Hausbell Portable air Compressor
Compact size, long power cord, low price
Best heavy-duty portable tire inflator
ARB Twin Motor Portable Air Compressor
Runs for an hour without overheating, can be used for air tools and extra large tires
Why should you buy a portable tire inflator?
A portable air compressor pump is a vital piece of equipment drivers should carry in their vehicles. Driving on improperly inflated tires and with low tire pressure can result in poor fuel economy and uneven tire wear. Further, tires can lose air slowly, even without a puncture. If you do have a car tire puncture and fix it with a plug kit, you'll need a tire inflator to get back on the road again.
If you carry a portable tire inflator, you won't have to wait for roadside assistance to fix your flat tire or limp into your local dealer or service center. And when was the last time the air compressor at the gas station either a) worked, or b) you had quarters to actually start the damn thing?
What should I look for in a portable tire inflator?
There are a few key features you should look for before you buy a portable air compressor pump. Be sure that the air hose is long enough to reach all four tires. If you drive a compact car, it probably won't be a problem but if you're rocking a mondo GMC Yukon XL you'll need more hose.
You should also look at maximum PSI air pressure. The bigger tires you have, the more pressure you'll want. Some pump units will turn off automatically once it reaches a set PSI, helpful if you don't want to stand around monitoring the gauge or accidentally have overinflated tires.
Most portable air compressors are powered by your car's 12-volt power source. You can also buy a cordless inflator, but may have to buy the battery and charging unit separately. Some heavy-duty air compressors attach directly to your car's battery because they require more juice than a cigarette lighter socket cant provide.
A pivotal part of an emergency car kit
Without question, having a portable tire inflator as part of your just-in-case bag of goodies is an excellent idea that won't break the bank -- unless you spring for something like the ARB unit above. But in addition, having a LED flashlight, tire pressure gauge, portable jump-starter and first aid kit would set you up real well to handle most roadside emergencies and prevent you from being left stranded out in the cold.