Guide to the Best Tire Inflators for Cars

/ / Car Accessories
Person filling tire with air

Preparing for an emergency is always a smart idea, considering you never know when you’re going to be in a sticky situation, especially in a car. You could hit a pothole and need assistance on the side of the road. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an emergency kit of tools that always stays in your vehicle. This kit should include a portable tire inflator.

Tire inflators can be used in any situation, whether you’re near the end of repairing a flat tire or simply filling up the tire after your tire pressure light comes on. There are many brands and price margins for portable tire inflators, and though most of them work, you’ll want one that is time-efficient and dependable. Based on a variety of reviews from users, here are four top-rated tire inflators to consider keeping in your vehicle. The method we used to select these inflators will be explained in more detail at the end of this article.

But first, understanding PSI and CFM for tire inflators

Person filling tire with air

Before selecting a tire inflator, you’ll need to make sure that the product has the proper amount of PSI and CFM to get the job done in a timely manner. Many tire inflators will come with an appropriate amount of PSI, which stands for pounds per square inch and means how many pounds of pressure are within the area. If you search tire inflators on Amazon, several are well within the 80-150 PSI range, which is plenty for a standard vehicle tire. CFM stands for cubic feet per minute and measures the volume of air for each minute it moves. In a nutshell, this is what determines how long it takes to fill up a tire.

However, sometimes, you’ll find that a tire inflator will have a PSI rating without a CFM rating listed. This could mean that even though your tool can fill up your vehicle’s tire, it may take longer than you would like. For example, Harbor Freight sells Bauer’s 20V Cordless 0-160 PSI Inflator. The PSI rating is perfect for any tire. However, there is no stated CFM rating — it’s not even located in the manual. More than likely, the tire inflator is slow-moving. In fact, that’s one of the biggest complaints about it in the reviews.

When searching for a tire inflator, you’ll want to look for a PSI rating of at least 80-100 with a CFM rating of at least around one to four. Smaller portable tire inflators have lower CFM ratings than bigger air compressors you’d typically find in a garage.

VIAIR 300P Portable Air Compressor

Air compressor with white background

It’s important to check your tire pressure often, and when it starts getting low, it should be an easy fix. VIAIR makes a 300P Portable Air Compressor that has plenty of power to get your tires road-ready again. It has a maximum working pressure of 150 PSI with a capacity of 2.30 CFM. To get the inflator to work, though, you’ll need to attach the alligator clips to your vehicle’s battery and keep it running. From there, you can flip the switch to turn on the tool. It is recommended that this inflator be used on tires no larger than 33 inches in diameter.

This tire inflator kit comes with a 25-foot air hose, a storage bag, and a 4.7 out of five rating from over 2,000 reviewers. Most of the written reviews discuss how the tire inflator works fast and is easy to use. However, the tool does get warm after a bit of use, so you do have to wait for it to cool down before you can pack it back up. Additionally, the coil hose is a bit tight, so there could be some resistance when trying to reach the furthest tire.

JACO 4X4 TrailPro Heavy Duty Portable Air Compressor

Tire inflator filling tire with air

When you go off-roading, there are times when you may need to air down your tires, such as when driving through sand, loose gravel, or rock crawling. However, before getting back on the pavement, you’ll need to inflate your tires back up. During this type of situation, speed and efficiency are important. With a 4.6 out of five rating, JACO’s 4X4 TrailPro Heavy Duty Portable Air Compressor is a powerful tire inflator with a maximum inflation pressure of 150 PSI and a CFM of 3.5. It even works on mud tires up to 35 inches in diameter and all-terrain tires up to 37 inches.

It comes with a 25-foot coiled air hose and a glow-in-dark pressure gauge for those nighttime treks. It even comes with a rapid tire deflator if you’re impatient for some off-roading fun. Better yet, the tire air chuck has a push-to-lock connection and quick release, so you won’t have to spend time twisting and untwisting. It is a pretty hefty design, though, weighing about 12 pounds. This inflator is not one that will fit behind your foldable rear seats.

VIAIR 85P Inflator Portable Air Compressor

Hand holding portable air compressor

If using alligator clips to connect a tire inflator to your vehicle’s battery isn’t something you want to deal with, you could always go for one with a 12V cigarette lighter plug. VIAIR 85P Inflator Portable Air Compressor is a highly rated and personal favorite tool to use to inflate tires. However, due to the ability to access your vehicle’s interior power, that means the tool draws less current. Because of this, the max working pressure is 60 PSI, and it can only be used for tires up to 31 inches, but let’s be honest: most everyday vehicles won’t go above that, and even with the lower PSI, the CFM is still at 1.26.

This portable air compressor has a 4.6 out of five rating from over 4,000 users. Attached to the 12V cigarette lighter plug is a 10-foot cord, so you can easily reach each tire while plugging it into the vehicle. It does come with a standard tire pressure gauge built in for accurate readings, an easy off/on switch, and its own carry case for storage.

Pittsburg Automotive 12V 100 PSI High Volume Air Inflator

Portable air compressor with white background

If you’re looking to find a tire inflator quickly in-store, many Harbor Freight stores sell their in-house brand’s Pittsburg Automotive 12V 100 PSI High Volume Air Inflator. It has a 12V cigarette lighter plug for easy, quick, and safe usage, with the maximum pressure being 100 PSI and a 0.88 CFM rating. It is a bit lower than the suggested amount. However, it comes with a 4.3 out of five rating from nearly 4,000 buyers. A few comments state that this inflator does the job quickly and is high quality, so it’ll last for quite some time.

This tire inflator has rubber feet for less vibration and a carrying case for storage. It also has a gearless direct drive for reduced noise levels, overload protection, and a coiled hose for flexibility. Just make sure you’re putting the appropriate amount of air as stated by the manufacturer because too much air in your car’s tires can cause multiple issues.

How we chose these portable tire inflators

Man filling tire with air in the snow

You don’t want to waste your money on an incompetent tool, so the tire inflators in this article were chosen based on high reviews from consumers, along with the appropriate amount of PSI and CFM ratings for filling up a tire. Each product has at least a four out of a five-star rating with positive remarks concerning how the machine works and how long it takes to fill up a tire. We’ve also selected multiple powered styles of inflators — some people may not be comfortable attaching their inflator to their vehicle’s battery and would rather have a 12V DC plug-in option. Additionally, each tire inflator is under the price of $219, which makes them both reliable and affordable. Each item is readily available on Amazon or the retail store where it is most commonly sold.

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