The best portable tire inflators and air compressors of 2017

By Dan Roth

Tire pressures tend to drop when it’s cold out, and low tires are bad news. They can hurt your fuel economy, wear out prematurely, and even cause a dangerous blowout on the highway.

When the dreaded tire pressure warning light shows up on your dashboard, that means it’s time to scrounge for quarters to pay for air from a greasy hose at the gas station. Or you could buy a portable air compressor. Prices for these tire inflators start surprisingly low— often under $30—so it’s a no-brainer to keep one in the car or garage.

But which one to get? We tried out seven of the most popular models on the market, and tested them for how long they take to inflate, how loud they are, how easily they store, and how hard they are to use.

The best portable air compressor is the Viair 85P (available at Amazon for $29.98). To learn more, read on.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Updated October 26, 2017

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Viair 85P
Credit: Reviewed.com / Dan Roth
Our winner, the Viair 85P, is compact and powerful.

Viair 85P

Viair 85p
  • Editors' Choice

Viair 85P

Best Overall

The well-made Viair 85P can plug into your car’s 12V outlet, and offers a quality build and consistent performance. It has a longer, higher-quality hose than the other units, and a serious motor and metal compressor housing.

Its superior airflow rating is borne out by consistently quick inflation times, which makes it ideal for quick refills of big truck and SUV tires. It took just over a minute for the Viair to inflate a tire from 25 to 35 psi. Only the Slime compressor is quicker, and the Viair is more compact and convenient to use. Despite what the sound readings say, the quality of sound produced by the Viair is mellower than other units.

The small built-in LED doesn’t provide much useful illumination or notice to other drivers if you’re working on a dark road shoulder. The gauge isn’t backlit, either. It’s good, then, that the Viair can quickly go about its inflation tasks and get you moving again. We found the gauge reading optimistic by 2-3 PSI when compared to our control measurements, but Viair includes a tag on the air hose explaining that phenomenon and provides guidance on how to get an accurate fill.

Viair uses a direct-drive motor, which sets it apart from the geared systems and weaker motors found in some other units.

First-time users will find it easy to fill their tires: The cable tie on the long power cord is permanently attached and re-useable, and the whole thing is relatively compact in its soft-sided zippered bag. Because of its excellent all-around performance, thoughtful build-quality, and the apparent eye toward longevity, the Viair is the best all-around unit for just about any usage.

Stanley Jumpit
Credit: Reviewed.com / Dan Roth
This portable Stanley contains a car battery charger/jumpstarter and a compressor.

Stanley Jumpit 1000A

Stanley j5c09 jump starter

Stanley Jumpit 1000A

Best Battery Powered

A true multitasker, the Stanley is our favorite portable inflator that runs off a battery. It’s also a jump-starter and a power source with its own USB charging port.

There’s a big 19 aH lead acid battery inside, so the whole thing is bulky and heavy. Still, it performs consistently. It’s not as quick as any of the plug-in units—it took about three and a half minutes to inflate a tire by 10 PSI—and its small gear-drive compressor makes a lot of noise while working. The built-in pressure gauge is hard to read accurately because of its small markings. And unlike our top pick, which comes with a quick connect that fits easily onto a tire, this one has to be threaded onto the valve. There is an integrated LED lamp which swivels around to put light where you need it. It’s in a vulnerable spot and likely to be damaged or snapped off, though.

Finally, the large battery can take a while to recharge from a 12V car outlet, which is one of the downsides of all the battery-operated units—although its built-in AC connector can plug into a wall outlet for a faster charge.

Despite the few demerits, this is the one to pick if rugged versatility is a priority. With its big battery and jump-starting capability the Stanley is best suited to vehicles with enough space for storage It’s also great for an RV or even a boat, especially since it has the oomph to spin a big engine.

How we tested

Testing tire inflators
Credit: Reviewed.com / Dan Roth
We measured the length of the hose, the noise the compressor made, and how long it took to fill up the tires on a passenger vehicle.

Our testing measured several things. First, we recorded and compared objective attributes, including cord and hose length, size, weight, accessories. In use, each inflator was used to raise the inflation pressure from 25 PSI to 35 PSI four times in a row on 16-inch tires installed on a passenger car.

Each tire was initially set to 25 PSI with a Craftsman digital tire gauge. The Craftsman gauge served as our control throughout the test and was used to verify the readings from each inflator.

We measured sound levels as well, taking A-weighted dB readings from 24 inches away, based on OSHA sound measurement techniques which define a 2-foot sphere around the head as the “hearing zone.” Given the way people crouch down in close proximity to a car’s tire when filling it with air, it’s conceivable that one or both ears would be within 2 feet of any inflator while it runs. Our readings are specific to this test, however, and may differ from officially published figures which adhere to measurement and calibration specifications.

Objective measurements collected during testing were averaged and weighted. These results were then combined with subjective impressions to determine the finishing order.


Slime 40026 2X Direct Drive Tire Inflator

Slime 40026

Slime 40026 2X Direct Drive Tire Inflator

Why did our best performer (by far) miss first place? Because it requires users to go further than other inflators to get that edge. Slime plays up the benefits of the twin cylinders this model uses, and that turns out to be true. If you need a lot of compressed air in a hurry, this is the one to get: It took less than a minute per tire to add 10 PSI.

To get that kind of speed, you’ve got to commit to popping the hood and attaching electrical clamps to the battery. Not all motorists are knowledgeable enough to mess around under there, and it’s certainly less convenient for everyone when compared to the ease of plugging into a 12-volt outlet. Having a direct connection to such a deep well of volts and amps does pay dividends, though. Just look at the numbers the Slime inflator posts if you need convincing.

Slime air compressor connector
Credit: Reviewed.com / Dan Roth
The Slime compressor attaches to a car's battery terminal, like this. If this looks too technical for you, try one of our other picks.

There’s a long coiled hose and a big, easy-to-read pressure gauge, so you can easily get to multiple tires without having to drag the unit around with you. The pressure gauge isn’t backlit, but there are bright LED lights on the compressor itself. The gauge reading also settles back after the compressor stops, but it seems accurate overall.

Good materials and solid construction underscore the impression that this is an inflator that will provide many years of reliable use. There’s a hard-shell case for protection, but that may also make it harder harder to store versus one of the smaller soft storage bags included with other units. The power cord is a fine length, especially considering the extra-long coiled hose, but the battery clamps are smaller than those you’d find on jumper cables, so you may have trouble fitting them on some battery posts. The price for all this power is also higher than other inflators.

EP Auto AT-010-1Z 12V 100PSI Digital Tire Inflator

Epauto at 010 1z

EP Auto AT-010-1Z 12V 100PSI Digital Tire Inflator

Easy to use and compact, the Amazon best-selling EP Auto inflator stands out among several similar models in our testing, largely for its beefy direct-drive motor. Its long cord is made of thick wire, and there’s a good weight to the unit overall. It sits on insulating rubber cushion feet and stays put while running. The cord, electrical plug, and hose all store in a thoughtful way, plus there’s a convenient case. Most thoughtfully, there’s an easy-to-read backlit pressure gauge with a digital readout, and we like that users can preset the desired inflation pressure and the inflator will stop automatically.

EP Auto Compressor
Credit: Reviewed.com / Dan Roth
Some air compressors come with built-in lights, which are helpful on dark roads and driveways.

Other units are faster, but the EP Auto inflator posted consistent times of about two and a half minutes to raise the pressure in our tires by 10PSI. It’s on the quiet side, too, and a built-in LED array provides a good level of illumination. The hose and its screw-on connection aren’t as high-quality or as easy to thread onto the tire valve as some other units. On the other hand, the pressure readout is highly visible in all conditions and very accurate.

Campbell Hausfield CC2300

Campbell hausfeld cc2300

Campbell Hausfield CC2300

A multitasker, the Campbell Hausfield has a strong internal battery to power it without so much fumbling with cords. It also includes a 12-volt power outlet so it can juice up other devices.

It’s slower than the direct-drive inflators, and there’s less muscle on board due to the use of a geared motor drive system. That said, the Campbell Hausfield easily coped with bringing all 4 tires up by 10 psi without any degradation in performance. That means there’s battery capacity in reserve. Indeed, the manual says this unit will pump eight car tires up to 30 PSI, run an 8-watt television for 14 hours, or a 55-watt lamp for 2 hours.

The build quality is good, though the covers for the internal cord and air hose storage compartments are likely to be the first things you’ll lose. Their fit is loose and fiddly. The integral air pressure gauge has good, large markings that are easy to read, but the gauge was about 5 psi above our reference. The air hose is an acceptable length, and it uses a quick-connect fitting at the end which makes it easy to attach and remove from the tire valve.

There’s no built-in light, and this isn’t the most compact inflator we tried. There’s also no carrying bag or case, but since everything stores within the unit, it doesn’t really need one. If you can remember to keep it charged, it can be really handy to have in your vehicle. It includes a 120-volt adapter for home charging and a 12-volt cord as well so it can be charged from your vehicle’s electrical system, too. One downside to the large battery capacity is that it takes a few hours to fully top-off, and it can’t be run from its 120-volt adapter. If you’re committed to keeping it charged, this could be a good, convenient choice.

Pittsburgh 69284 12 Volt, 100 PSI, High Volume Air Compresso

Pittsburgh 96068

Pittsburgh 69284 12 Volt, 100 PSI, High Volume Air Compresso

Though it’s small, this Pittsburgh inflator packs big features. Its direct-driven piston and strong electric motor deliver predictable performance. Most surprising were the quiet operation and real-deal air hose fittings; just like you’ll find on the big shop compressor. It won’t run serious air tools, but you could at least pair it with a small air tank. The gauge does read high versus our control Craftsman unit.

The Pittsburgh sits on insulating rubber feet, as do all the direct-drive units in this test. Its lighter weight makes it prone to being pulled over by its rigid coiled air hose, which is more difficult to work with than it should be. Because the hose is stiff, it’s less convenient to work with.

For tires found on cars, crossovers, and most common SUVs, the Pittsburgh inflator can easily cope. It’s not the fastest, but it still got the job done for us in under two minutes per tire. The limits of the motor and airflow capacity will show themselves when attempting to use this inflator for high-volume off-road tires, but it’s likely to fit the needs most people. There’s also no lighting of any sort on this inflator.

Husky HD12A 12 Volt Inflator

Husky hd12a

Husky HD12A 12 Volt Inflator

The Home Depot exclusive Husky has a decent build quality and thoughtful design. It doesn’t wobble while running, and it has a quick-connect fitting for easy tire connection. Like the Pittsburgh, there’s no lighting on this unit, either. The large pressure gauge is clearly marked and easy to read, and it’s face glows in the dark—which is useless if it’s been stored in a dark place. The gauge readings were actually low compared to what we measured with our own tire gauge. Unlike most other inflators, with gauges that read slightly high, you may wind up putting a few PSI more than you bargained for into your tires with the Husky.

The Husky turned in slower inflation times than the smaller Pittsburgh, and neither inflator have the automatic shut-off feature of the EP Auto. Its 13-foot power cord is a good length, as is the 28” hose. It’s hard to argue with the easy retail availability (and return/customer service) and 2-year warranty.

Air Hawk

Air hawk pro

Air Hawk

Avoid

The popular, as-seen-on-TV Air Hawk inflator isn’t part of a versatile tool ecosystem offered by brands such as Ryobi, Dewalt, and even Craftsman. Instead of using a common battery for a range of tools, the Air Hawk is an island unto itself, so you’ve got yet another set of batteries to keep charged and find storage for. It does have handy portability going for it, with a compact size and on-board power. When the batteries run down, you can power the Air Hawk with an adapter cable plugged into the car’s 12-volt outlet, as well. The tire inflator hose clips to the top and additional tools such as a needle for sports balls and additional nozzles, as well.

The Air Hawk is easy to use thanks to its pistol-grip design. It has a clear, backlit pressure display that can be pre-set to your desired inflation level. The inflator will automatically stop once it reaches your desired inflation, and you can lock the trigger for hands-free operation. The Airhawk is lightweight and very portable, but it also feels cheaply made. The noise level is about what you can expect from a geared-drive inflator. The tire hose is short for automotive use, and the unit hangs awkwardly depending on how far from the ground the fill valve is. A quick-release connector would be faster, but the hose is easy to screw onto the tire valve.

Inflation times were long; 3.5-4 minutes per tire, and a single battery only had enough capacity for three tires before switching to a second charged battery. The Air Hawk does ship with two batteries, but it’s clearly not intended for heavy-duty automotive use. It’s okay for topping up and great for bikes and balls, but for any items that require a significant volume of air, it’s overmatched. The Air Hawk became noticeably warm during use, and while its digital readout is very accurate, we had to set the desired PSI higher than our 35PSI target to reliably meet that pressure when checked with our Craftsman gauge.

Pro-X AP-101

Engrepo e51

Pro-X AP-101

Avoid

Sold under a number of names—including Pro-X, Fineed, Oasser, Engrepo, GHB, Kufung, and Air Raptor—this inflator is compact and portable. It’s small enough to fit in most glove compartments or storage nooks in a modern automobile. As you might expect from such a small unit with limited battery capacity, its inflation times were the longest of the test. It took nearly five minutes to increase the pressure by 10PSI in a tire, and it only managed to top up the next tire by 8 psi before its battery ran down.

That’s the tradeoff for something so compact, and it’s probably not fair to expect the Pro-X to be as rugged and capable as the other inflators. It’s a great tool to keep in the car if your lifestyle includes lots of bicycles and sports, and it can top up the car tires in a pinch. It does warn against use for SUVs, though.

The Pro-X is easy to use, with two different hoses, one quick-release, one screw-on, and additional needles and nozzles. It’s relatively quiet while running, and its backlit pressure gauge is easily read. Users can pre-set the desired pressure with the Pro-X, as well, so it’s pretty handy in use. Just don’t expect too much out of it – it’s an air pump, not a miracle worker.

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