We traveled down the highway of options for you to select the best products for the job. We also talked with Tom Piippo, secretary/treasurer of the Automotive Service Association, along the way. “Get one with the features you would use the most,” Piippo advises. “If you need a small size, it will likely take a long time to inflate a car tire.”
What to Look for in a Tire Inflator
Most tire inflators are rated for 150 pounds per square inch (PSI). Since most vehicle tire manufacturers specify a pressure of 32 to 35, does that mean they are all alike? No, says Tom Piippo, secretary/treasurer of the Automotive Service Association. A tire inflator’s pressure capability plays directly into how soon you can be back on the road.
“The higher the pressure, the quicker it fills a tire,” he says. “If you purchase a small-size tire inflator, it will likely take a long time to inflate a car tire.”
Piippo also says he uses “the rule of 50 percent capacity: [the inflator] may reach 60 PSI, but that means it is most usable to 30 PSI. If you need 60 PSI, get one rated 120 PSI.”
We mostly evaluated tire inflators that include compressors, which power the air that fills the tires. Those compressors require power sources. Generally, you can run across two options: cordless and corded.
Corded inflators usually plug directly into your car via the 12v cigarette lighter. They run off of your car battery, so to avoid draining your car’s battery, nearly all tire inflator manufacturers strongly advise running your car’s engine while using the units or if you use a corded version that connects directly to the car battery. Those products include specific power cords with clips to attach to the battery terminals. Some tire inflators also have standard AC power cords that plug into home outlets, making them available to inflate balls, pool toys, and bicycle tires.
Cordless inflators are gaining in popularity because they do not rely on a car’s battery to function. A cordless inflator is only as good as it is charged, so ensure that it has a full battery before starting out.
A tire inflator for your car needs to travel where you do. Most of the popular models we recommend are compact enough to fit comfortably into a vehicle trunk.
A tire inflator needs to connect to the targeted tire with an air hose. If you use a corded tire inflator, which needs to also be connected to your car’s power, make sure that the included hose is long enough to reach comfortably from the cigarette lighter or battery terminal to the intended tire.