A portable tire inflator can be a handy tool to keep in your garage or vehicle for routine maintenance or taking care of emergency situations. They provide a quick and easy way to top up low tire pressure before you head off to work, school, or on a road trip as well as to fill spare tires in order to get to a repair shop. Most portable tire inflators can plug into your vehicle’s 12V outlet (the “cigarette lighter” port), drawing power from the car or truck battery, but you can also find models that also run on cordless tool batteries and regular wall outlets for more options for power. The battery-operated models are great for anyone who already has that brand of tool and that kind of battery since they can seamlessly integrate into your workshop while 12V or 120V power models are better for anyone with less experience and skill who just want to keep their tires filled. I’ve curated a list of the best portable tire inflators available from top brands like Craftsman, DeWalt, and Black+Decker and broke down their features to help you find the one that best fits your budget and needs.
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Power: 12V car adapter/120V AC outlet/20V battery | Max PSI: 160 | Hose length: 20-inches | Dimensions: 12 x 7 x 6 inches | Weight: 5lbs
This tire inflator from Craftsman is an almost perfect choice to keep in your car or garage. It can draw power from a regular wall outlet, 20V Max tool battery, or 12V outlet in your car, giving you plenty of options for when you need to top off your tires. The backlit LCD screen makes it easy to read PSI output, while an automatic shutoff feature lets you “set and forget” the correct PSI for your tires; that way you won’t have to worry about dangerously overinflating your tires. The tire stem chuck has a locking clamp for leak-free operation, and you can use the included attachments to inflate everything from air mattresses to soccer balls.
- 3 power sources
- Automatic shutoff
- Multi-purpose attachments
- No pressure relief valve
- May be a bit bulky for smaller car trunks
Best under $50
Power: 12V lithium ion battery| Max PSI: 160 | Hose length: 28 inches | Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches | Weight: 2.5lbs
With the Skil Pwr Core tire inflator, you don’t have to spend a ton of money for peace of mind. This model retails for under $50 and is a great light-duty unit for topping up tires on cars, small trucks, and bicycles. It uses a 12V lithium-ion battery for power, so you won’t have to worry about draining your car’s own battery or looking for a wall outlet when you need air. The side of the unit has a convenient hose and attachment storage to keep everything tidy and close-at-hand; and the digital PSI readout makes it easy to get the correct pressure needed for each tire type. And the intuitive push-button controls make this tire inflator easy for everyone to operate.
- Great price
- Hose and attachment storage
- Intuitive controls
Power: 12V outlet/120V outlet/20V battery| Max PSI: 160 | Hose length: 36 inches | Dimensions: 12 x 7.5 x 8.75 inches | Weight: 5.25lbs
The Black+Decker multi-purpose inflator is a great option for anyone who doesn’t like to have single-purpose tools in their workshop. With a max PSI of 160, you can use it for everything from air mattresses on your family camping trip, sports equipment and even pickup truck tires. It can draw power from a 12V car outlet, regular wall outlet, or 20V battery, giving you plenty of options. The LCD display and simple switch controls make this inflator easy to operate, and the integrated handle makes it super portable. The body of the inflator has lots of storage for hoses, cords, and accessories so you can keep everything organized.
- Simple controls
- 3 power sources
Best 12 volt tire inflator
Power: 12V outlet | Max PSI: 130 | Hose length: 28 inches | Dimensions: 9.5 x 7 x 4 inches | Weight: 5lbs
The Husky 12 volt portable tire inflator is a simple, no-nonsense tool that is great for anyone who is looking to build a roadside emergency kit for themselves or loved ones or just wants a tire inflator for regular car maintenance. It plugs into a car’s 12V outlet, and the 156-inch cord gives you plenty of room to move around your car and reach the back tires. The tire stem chuck has a locking clamp for leak-free operation, and the unit’s feet have integrated cable and hose management channels to keep things organized when not in use. It has a single power switch for easy operation, and the analog dial lets you see PSI output.
- Long power cable
- Locking tire stem chuck
- Integrated handle
- Analog dial may be difficult for some to read
Best heavy duty
Power: 12V outlet/120V outlet/ 20V lithium ion battery| Max PSI: 160 | Hose length: 29 inches | Dimensions: 12 x 5.5 x 10 inches | Weight: 5.5lbs
The DeWalt Max tire inflator is a great choice for anyone who needs something for heavier-duty truck tires and work site use. It has a max PSI of 160, three power sources, and plenty of attachments for multi-purpose use. The dual LCD screens let you easily read PSI output and set desired pressure, and the intuitive push-button controls let you quickly switch from tire inflation to general-purpose use and even use the integrated flashlight. The tire stem chuck uses a threaded sleeve for more secure and leak-free operation, and the feet of the unit have rubberized pads to help eliminate “walking” as it runs. One of the best features of this tire inflator is that if you already use 20V Max DeWalt cordless tools, it can seamlessly integrate into your workshop since it uses the same batteries if you can’t find a reliable 12V or 120V outlet.
- Multiple power sources
- High max PSI
- Integrated flashlight
How did we choose these tire inflators?
Aside from price, I chose tire inflators that were suited to a variety of different applications and skill levels. Push-button controls and easy-to-read screens make operation simple even for someone who has never used a tire inflator before, where more experienced users can appreciate multi-purpose attachments, multiple power sources, and quality of life features like cable management.
Which tire inflator is right for you?
You should first identify what you want a tire inflator for. Do you want to keep one in your garage or workshop to top up low tires and do routine car maintenance? Or do you want to keep one in your vehicle as part of a roadside emergency kit? If you want to keep your tire inflator at home, you’ll want to choose a model that is capable of multiple power sources so you can easily move around vehicles and your space. For roadside emergency use, you’ll want a tire inflator that plugs into your car’s 12V outlet for power so you can quickly fill low tires and spares to get yourself to a shop for repairs.
What is the difference between a tire inflator and an air compressor?
Size and max PSI are the main differences between the two tools. An air compressor is typically a large, metal tank with a motor and pressure valve attached to cold and release pressurized air; they’re typically capable of much higher air pressure than a tire inflator, with max PSIs of 200 or more. Air compressors are also used for many more things than just inflating tires; you can purchase air-driven tools like sanders and torque wrenches or use your air compressor for high-powered cleaning of dust and debris in your workshop. Tire inflators tend to have lower max PSIs of around 150 or 160 for use with smaller tires and household things like air mattresses and sports equipment.
How do I choose a tire inflator?
Once you identify where you want to keep your tire inflator (at home or in your vehicle), you should choose a model that has an appropriate power source, such as a 12V or 120V plug or port for a battery. You also want to choose a model that has an appropriate max PSI for your vehicle tires. You can find the max pressure for your wheels on the sidewall of the tire, usually by the branding.
Does my car need to be running to use a tire inflator?
Not at all! If your tire inflator uses a 12V plug, it can draw power from the car battery without the vehicle needing to be on. In fact, you shouldn’t have your car running while you’re operating the tire inflator so you aren’t exposed to exhaust fumes that can make you sick.
Are there alternative tire inflators worth considering?
There are a lot of options out there if you’re looking to keep a tire inflator in your vehicle for roadside emergencies or garage for regular maintenance. Here’s a short list of alternative portable tire inflators that I thought were great choices: