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The Best Portable Tire Inflators You Can Buy

Whether it's your daily driver or off-road machine, keep your tires in check while on the go.

collage of 3 portable tire inflators

Keeping your tires in check is car maintenance 101. Ensuring you have properly inflated tires will improve longevity, fuel economy and safety. Here are the best portable tire inflators, whether you are doing routine tire checks or airing down for an overlanding adventure.

The Best Portable Tire Inflators

Why Buy a Portable Tire Inflator

Routine Checks and Emergencies

While we should all know how to change a tire, there is maintenance that you should perform to ensure longevity and reliability. Modern cars have tire pressure indicators, making the checking step easy, so you will want to ensure your tires stay at the manufacturer's recommended PSI. Low tire pressure is not necessarily a bad sign, it could simply indicate that it is cold outside and the temperature is affecting the air density inside the tire.


When prepping your gear for off-roading, airing down your tires becomes essential. Although your tire pressure sensors may light up your dash, airing down this gives the rubber more traction on challenging terrain by increasing the surface area in contact with the ground at any given time. It also lowers your chance of blowing a tire while navigating rocky trails. While airing down will improve your off-road performance, driving on the pavement is different. Once the adventure is over, you must inflate your tires to their recommended PSI to return safely to the highway and keep your car from getting damaged. Though you could go to a gas station and use their air, this is not a very savvy or reliable solution, especially in the case of a tire emergency.

What to Look for in a Tire Inflator

The tire size and inflating time are the factors that you want to have top of mind when looking for a portable inflator. For example, you may have already decided never to upgrade your tires larger than 33 inches. In that case, you can get away with a smaller, more budget-friendly unit.

What the Specs Mean

How air compressors work can be confusing, with multiple measurements and variables to consider. Pounds per square inch (PSI) is the number you are probably most familiar with. In the case of an air compressor, it is the amount of pressure it delivers. Maximum airflow is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM); occasionally, you will also see liters per minute (l/min). It measures the volume of air a compressor can generate in a given time. For example, three CFM means three cubic feet of air is flowing per minute. 1 CFM = 28.31 l/min, so the difference between the two is a matter of conversion. These numbers will end up determining how fast you can inflate your tires. If you're not patient, upgrading to this category might be the best option.

The duty cycle can be a bit of a confusing figure as it is often listed as a percentage. The percentage is the amount of an hour you can run the compressor. For example, if a duty cycle is 25 percent, it can run for 15 minutes. When you reach the top end of the duty cycle, you must pause inflation, let the motor cool off and finish the job later. Some brands will do the math for you and list the time of their duty cycle with the conditions it is measured at (PSI, temperature, etc.).

The more robust inflators will use alligator clips attached to your car battery, but small ones will use a cigarette lighter-style DC plug. For the consistency of this guide, these are all 12V models, but it is good to note that companies also produce 24V options as well.

Onboard Air vs. Portable Air

Onboard air is very specific to the off-roading community. Having your compressor rigged under the hood is an extravagant setup with some perks, but it is unnecessary. These setups are especially common in the Jeep Wranglers as their cabin space is particularly limited. They also require a switch panel to be installed for operation. However, serious off-roaders do this to control auxiliary light bars and other modifications.

In addition to your normal tire inflation, onboard air allows you to have air lockers installed. Air lockers lock the differential on all four tires, adding serious traction over extreme terrain. This upgrade is pretty neat but requires a lot of commitment and maybe a bit of overkill for what you are doing.

With portable air, there is not as much commitment as no additional installation or wiring is needed. You can quickly transfer it from car to car and throw it in the backseat when you are done. It is also nice to be able to move the compressor as you work or help out a buddy in need. This option is best for a casual driver and can be budget-friendly.

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How to Inflate a Tire
a tire inflator inflating a tire
Mary Singler

Tire pressure sensors have made vehicle maintenance easier than ever. You know it’s time to fill ‘em up when you get a fun little indicator on your dashboard. If you are not working with functioning sensors, then a basic tire pressure gauge like this one is great to have in your glove box. It also doesn’t hurt to check your tires every now and then for good measure. It is important to remember that your tire pressure will change with the temperature, so for the most accurate reading, check the number in the morning when it is coldest and before your drive.

Once you know your tire needs some air, you need to figure out how much to put in. You can find this number in your vehicle's manual, printed on the inside of your door or even next to the gas cap. For example, my number is listed as 33 PSI on the door, and the tire pressure indicator on my dash was reading 27, so it was time to fill up.

You then unscrew the valve cap and hook up your hose. The compressor’s hoses are available with a variety of different attachments, but they are all extremely easy to operate. Sometimes you have to manually hold the tube in place, making the task slightly more tedious. In the pictured example, I was using a tube that screws on directly to the valve stem. This allowed me to set it and monitor the PSI. I am refraining from using the term ‘set it and forget it’ because even if your inflator has an automatic shutoff, it’s best to keep an eye on things.

After you are done inflating, double-check the pressure with the same gauge that you originally used and screw your valve cap on. Your vehicle’s sensors may take a few minutes to catch up, but otherwise, you should be good to go.

How We Tested
collage of two tire inflators
Mary Singler

Our testers were looking at how the inflators performed as well as their convenience. After all, there is not much point in a portable tire inflator if it becomes a hassle to transport and use. After a few different tire types and conditions, we have found the objective specs to be king, while the more subjective features will be more important when thinking about how and when you will be using your inflator.

Best Overall Portable Tire Inflator
Smittybilt 2781
Best Upgrade Portable Tire Inflator
ARB CKMP12 Portable Air Compressor
Best Budget Portable Tire inflator
Viair 88P Portable Compressor Kit
Best Portable Tire Inflator for Daily Drivers
EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor
Now 31% off
Most Versatile Portable Tire Inflator
DeWalt 20V Cordless Inflator
Best Battery Powered Portable Tire Inflator
Ryobi ONE+ 18V Cordless Power Inflator Kit
Best Tire Inflator for Onboard Air
ARB CKMTA12 On-Board Air Compressor
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