Which tire inflator is best?

Flat tires are one of the most common reasons people get stuck on the side of the road. If all you have is a slow leak, equipping your vehicle with a portable tire inflator allows you to self-rescue in this situation, rather than waiting for a tow truck or limping your vehicle along driving on the rim.

Choosing the right tire inflator for your car or truck comes down to several factors, including the maximum working pressure, tire compatibility and the power source. The DeWalt 20-Volt Max Cordless Tire Inflator stands out in all of these regards, making it one of the best choices for nearly anyone. It can be powered by your vehicle’s battery, its own battery or from an AC wall outlet, and it comes with adapters for common household items like air mattresses and inflatable sports balls.

What to know before you buy a tire inflator

Understanding tire inflator specifications

You’ll see a few specifications when looking at tire inflators, the most important of which is PSI. This stands for pounds per square inch and is indicative of an inflator’s maximum working pressure. 

Every tire has a recommended PSI to which you should inflate your tires. For most passenger vehicles, this is generally between 32 and 35 PSI, but it can be much higher than that on some large trucks and for bicycle tires. Before purchasing an inflator, check the recommended PSI on whatever tires you plan to use to ensure it will suit your needs. Ideally, the maximum PSI of your inflator should be well above that of the tires for efficient operation.

The next spec worth paying attention to is cubic feet per minute. This tells you how much air an inflator moves per minute, and the more it moves, the quicker it can inflate a tire. Using a tire inflator’s PSI and cubic feet per minute rating, you can get a good idea of its performance. 

Tire compatibility

Along with the maximum working pressure, most tire inflators limit what size tires they are compatible with. This is often due to a combination of its maximum working pressure and the cubic feet or air it moves per minute. Large tires require a larger volume of air, which some inflators are not capable of. The tire compatibility should also be listed somewhere in the product’s details. If you have a vehicle with large tires and you don’t see the maximum tire size listed in a particular inflator’s product details, it is best to opt for a different one. 

Power source

Inflators may use your car as a power source or rely on their own internal battery. Those that use your car as a power source may either connect directly to your vehicle’s battery via alligator clips or they may plug into a 12-volt DC outlet. Most people will find the latter to be the more convenient option, but those that attach directly to the battery are often capable of a higher PSI.

Cordless inflators are nice because you don’t have to worry about being limited by the length of the power cable. However, you must remember to charge them regularly or else you could end up in a situation where you have a flat tire and an inflator with a dead battery. They are also limited in their run time and often aren’t as powerful as corded models.

Features to look for in a quality tire inflator

Gauge

Every tire inflator will have a gauge that lets you know the current PSI of your tire as you inflate it. Analog gauges are reliable since they don’t rely on any electronic components. Many people will find digital gauges easier to read through, especially in dim light. Neither type is necessarily more accurate than the other, so choose whichever you find most convenient.

Smart shutoff

Some tire inflators allow you to set your desired tire pressure and automatically shut off when it is reached. This removes the chance of user error, so you don’t have to worry about ever accidentally overinflating your tire. Smart shutoff is only found on models with a digital gauge.

Adapters

To increase their versatility, many tire inflators come with additional adapters that can be used on other items, such as pool floats, air mattresses and sports balls.

Flashlight

Flat tires happen both day and night. For that reason, some tire inflators have a built-in flashlight, so you won’t struggle to see what you are doing in the dark.

How much you can expect to spend on a tire inflator

Most tire inflators cost $25-$150.

Tire inflator FAQ

Are tire inflators and air compressors the same thing?

A. Tire inflators are just portable air compressors. One of the main differences between small, portable tire inflators and larger air compressors is the former’s lack of a tank to store the compressed air. Because of this, tire inflators generally have a weaker flow and take longer to inflate a tire than a large air compressor.

How do I know the proper PSI of my tires?

A. On newer vehicles, the manufacturer’s recommended tire PSI is usually printed on a sticker inside the door. If you don’t see one there, you can also find it in the owner’s manual. The proper tire pressure is between 32 and 35 PSI for most passenger vehicles. 

What is the best tire inflator to buy?

Top tire inflator

DeWalt 20-Volt MAX Cordless Tire Inflator

DeWalt 20-Volt MAX Cordless Tire Inflator

What you need to know: This powerful tire inflator has all the bells and whistles you could ask for and can be used cordless or connected to a DC or AC power source. 

What you’ll love: It features onboard accessory storage and has a heavy-duty build that ensures it can stand up to plenty of wear and tear.

What you should consider: You’ll have to purchase the battery separately if you want to use it cordlessly. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Top tire inflator for the money

AstroAI Air Compressor Tire Inflator

AstroAI Air Compressor Tire Inflator

What you need to know: Despite carrying an affordable price tag, the Astro AI inflator features a digital gauge and has a maximum working pressure of 100 PSI.

What you’ll love: It comes with adapters for bicycle tires, air mattress and sports balls. Plus, you can set it to your desired PSI and it will automatically stop inflating when it is reached. 

What you should consider: It’s not suitable for any inflatables that require a very large volume of air.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Viair 88P Portable Air Compressor

Viair 88P Portable Air Compressor

What you need to know: This compact inflator is surprisingly powerful for its size and can be used on tires up to 33 inches in diameter.

What you’ll love: You should have no trouble reaching tires on long vehicles thanks to its 10-foot power cord and 16-foot air hose.

What you should consider: It requires a direct connector to your vehicle’s battery.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Brett Dvoretz writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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