Did you know that tires that aren’t kept properly inflated can reduce gas mileage and increase the chance of an accident?
Having an air compressor on hand will allow you to keep your car’s tires in pristine working order while also helping in keep everything from bicycles to volleyballs well filled.
If you are mostly airing up your vehicle tires and your kid’s toys, then you don’t need to invest in a huge air compressor for the garage. A simple 12v dc compressor that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter is more than enough to keep your vehicle at the correct tire pressure.
Learn what the best portable 12v air compressors look like and what things you should know before you buy the one that is best for you.
Viair 40047 Automatic Portable Air Compressor
This portable compressor comes outfitted with everything you need. The 12 volts of power directly translate to 150 PSI of working pressure – all of which comes from the car battery!
This is possible with the pair of alligator clamps that is included inside the small carrying case. Also found with this kit is the tire inflation gun, tire gauge, and RV accessories.
While great, this device might not be for those that just want a simple machine as it has a steep price – but the special tire attachments and considerable power makes it perfect for motorhomes, trailers, off-road use and RVs.
When filling your tires most 12 volt air compressors need to be shut off between tires or they overheat. The automatic shut-off function of this Viair system means you don’t have to jog back forth between your tires and the compressor. Which is a good thing considering this system also has a pair of 30 ft. coil hoses that can be combined, allowing you to easily switch from side to side and tire to tire as you need to for quick maintenance.
You spend a little more for this model, but it easily the best portable 12v air compressor for those who need portable air power. Some of their models are also adapted to work on car air suspension systems (we talk about them below), which demonstrates the quality of this brand.
- 150 PSI Max Working Pressure
- Includes Accessory Bag with Accessories
- Automatic Shut-Off
- 30-foot hose
- Solid construction and fast filling
- Steep Price
Slime 40031 Pro Power Tire Inflator
Slime is known for having top quality products when it comes to tire and repair, and this inflator is no different. Capable of inflating standard car tires in 3 minutes or less doesn’t mean you have to worry about it overheating either – the built-in thermal break prevents that from happening. On one side is an extra-bright LED flashlight that is great if you have issues in the middle of the night. The inflation hose itself is 26 feet long, giving it remarkable reach, while it is also pretty portable with its low weight, ergonomic handle, and canvas carrying case.
The guts of the machine, that is the motor and tank, are of remarkable quality. On the other hand, when it comes to other parts such as the nozzle or coil, it leaves a little to be desired. Thankfully parts are easy to come by and are shipped speedily by Slime.
- 26 Foot Coil Hose
- Direct Drive Motor
- LED Light
- Smaller Accessories have a Tendency to Fail
Best Pocket Compressor For Motorcyclists
Recently, I had a reader write in and ask which one would be best for motorcycles. Any of these will work well for a motorcycle, and the Slime and Viair above are great if you are airing up your bike at home.
However, what about an extremely porrtable device? Something that you could slip into your jacket pocket and take over to your buddy’s house to help air up his bike? Or maybe you a pump that would fit in your saddlebag for topping off any slow leaks?
This pump is 1.8 inches thick, 2.2 inches wide and 7.8 inches long. So a little bigger than a big mag flashlight.
I think the Oasser fits the bill very nicely. It has both a car charger and a home charger, so you can leave it either place and keep it topped off. And then, when you need it, you unplug and carry it to the tire you need to inflate.
It’s especially great for vehicles like my Yukon that have a 12v receptacle in the back. I can just leave it in the back of the car and it stays charged for whenever it is needed. With the automatic lift gate, my kids can easily access it and air up their bike tires (they’re better than most at putting stuff back).
It only flows at .46 CFM, so it might take 10 minutes or so to top off a truck tire. You want to let it cool for 5 minutes after every 10 minutes of use to keep from burning it out. The digital pressure gauge can be set so that the compressor turns off when you reach the desired pressure. With 150 Max PSI, there is no shortage of pressure — even for those skinny road bicycle tires (they normally run 120-135 PSI).
If you don’t use it regularly, you will want to charge it once a month or before you take it out with you.
One of the big drawbacks is that you need to unplug it from the 120volt wall charger before turning the compressor on. Failure to unplug first can apparently cause immediate compressor failure.
For other problems, the company has a 1-year warranty. It seems to be a newer company, so I take those warranties with a grain of salt, but as cheap as this pump is, it’s worth it to be able to roll up, pull it out of your pocket, and save the day.
For those motorcyclists looking for a cordless portable air compressor, I think this one is an excellent option.
Viair 00088 88p Portable Air Compressor
This portable 12v air compressor is outfitted with a pair of alligator clamps that attach directly to the battery. Great for anything up to 33-inch tires, this machine has a long power cord that is 10 feet long. It also has a 16-foot air hose, giving you plenty of room to move comfortably around your vehicle. Also included is a 3pc inflation tip kit, allowing you to use the 120PSI of maximum pressure. Because of its sleek design and small engine, this compressor won’t be great for anything larger like trucks or RVs but can do wonders for ATVs, cars, and sedans.
Compared to other models of air compressor this machine is extra quiet while also having impressive speed. Along the side of this machine is an LED light. This one has a longer duty cycle of 25 continuous minutes, which makes it a better choice for airing those larger tires, and gives you fewer concerns about burning it out.
- 120 PSI Max Working Pressure
- 3 Piece Inflation Tip Kit
- 16 Foot Air Hose
- Doesn’t Work Well For Larger Tires
Master Flow MF-1050 Tire Inflator
This 12-volt air compressor comes with both a 10-foot heavy duty power cord and 16-foot self-coiling air hose to give you a total of 26 feet of working space. Accessories such as the included alligator clips can be put in the adjoining nylon bag. This Master Flow product works great not only with car tires but does wonder with things like bicycles, footballs, and even inflatable tubes for the beach. The machine has a high-quality body and efficient design that means even running it for a while it won’t leave it too hot to put back into its bag.
That being said, it does seem to have one unusual flaw, in that the air pressure meter is unfortunately inaccurate. Often registering pressure too high, the way to get around this is to invest into a separate meter, which thankfully is only a few dollars more.
Still, I feel like, after this one, the quality of these compressor drops off precipitously. So the Masterflow is a quality choice for everyone who wants an option that is between the Viair and the lesser models.
- 10 Foot Power Cord
- Can Inflate a Truck Tire in Less Than 2 Minutes
- Includes Additional Nozzles and Other Accessories
- Inaccurate Air Pressure Meter
Master Flow MF-1040 Cyclone Portable Air Compressor Pump
This is the only high-volume inflator on our list, making it one of the better choices for the impatient mechanic. Using just the power of your vehicle’s 12-volt socket, this little machine is able to relay 30 liters of air per minute.
To make sure you are never caught off guard either this little machine has an integrated pressure gauge, inflating nozzle, coil hose, and a storage bag to put it all in.
Weighing in at just 5.5 lbs means you won’t have trouble hoisting this machine too and fro either. While recommended for more standard vehicles like cars or vans, this can work with truck tires as well. Be warned, if you do use it for larger tires, this the compressor will heat up considerably making it hard to handle afterward. If you are doing multiple larger tires, you should allow a little bit of downtime between multiple fill-up sessions.
- Lightweight – Only 5.5 Lbs
- Delivers 30 Liters of Air Per Minute
- Includes Coil Hose and Nozzle
- Tendency to Overheat
TIREWELL 12V Tire Inflator Digital Air Compressor
This nifty little tire inflator shouldn’t be underestimated as it has a wide range of features to fall back on. This digital tire inflator has an auto shutoff which allows you to do other things while you are waiting on the compressor and then it shuts off automatically when it reaches the desired pressure level. Capable of inflating a typical car tire in 5 minutes puts it a bit slower than other, more rigorous models. It more than makes up for it though with its remarkably portable size – weighing only 2.2 pounds – and nifty bonus features such as the bright LED light.
An inexpensive item that can be thrown into a glove box and is powered by nothing more than your cigarette lighter socket. Works great for those that want something to make their life a little easier but don’t need a pump that is too serious.
- Digital Display
- LED Light
- Extremely Portable – Weighs Only 2.2 Lbs
- Takes Longer to Fill-Up Car Tires
- 1220 Foot-pounds of Torque
- Ergonomic handle
- Handle exhaust directs air away from the face
- Reliable and sturdy construction
- High power using lower air consumption
- Easily maneuvered
- Allows you to change speeds easily
- Weighs Nearly 12 pounds
- 96 Decibels noise operation makes it 10 Decibels louder than our number 1 pick.
Viair 2.0 Gallon Tank Air Compressor
You can just look at this machine and see that it has impressive power – the 2.0-gallon tank and is able to shoot out upwards of 150 PSI at full power. You’re able to conquer any flat of any size with its impressive kit – such as the ¼” NPT brass drain cock or ½ NPT port compression fitting. The air compressor is a 280C pewter model, that powers off of 12-volts and uses a permanent magnetic motor to run. What all this means to you is that this machine will bring the power along it is properly maintained.
Needless to say, this air compressor isn’t for the faint of heart – all of this strength does come at a price. Clocking in at just under 20 lbs means that this machine isn’t as portable as the others. Overall a great air compressor for truck and RV users, but a bit overkill for cars and other smaller inflatables.
This one is typically mounted to the underside of your vehicle and hard-wired into your electrical system. It can be used to power an air horn or air suspension system as well as plugged into with an air hose to air your tires.
Because it requires hard-wiring, it isn’t going to the best choice for most folks on our list.
- 2.0 Gallon Air Tank
- Safety Valve
- Thermal Overload Protector
- Unwieldy to Some – Weighs 19.75 Lbs
Kensun YS-205 DC Portable Air Compressor
Coming in a snazzy yellow and black design and capable of being powered interchangeably with ac/dc via either a 12-volt lighter or a typical 110-volt outlet, this Kensun device is extremely flexible in how it is used.
On the front of the unit is a pressure gauge that has PSI, Bar, and KPA units that easily convert back and forth. Capable of filling most smaller tires, such as anything from bikes, cars, and midsize SUVs, while also working with most other inflatables such as beach balls and inner tubes.
Keep in mind that as great as this machine is it doesn’t have an automatic shut-off – that being said it is recommended to air up to the manufacturer’s rating printed on the side of your tire.
- Both AC and DC Power Sources
- Easy to Read Pressure Gauge
- Comes with Zipped Carry Bag
- No Automatic Shut-Off
Campbell Hausfeld RP1200 Compact Inflator
Get reliable inflation all the time when it comes to this great Campbell Hausfeld air compressor. The inflation nozzle and needlework with a plethora of different things such as tires, soccer balls, and other sports equipment. Made in an ergonomic design, this simple yet tough little machine has a handle along the top that allows you to take it on the go. A built-in fan keeps the motor from overheating, allowing this machine to work on filling up multiple tires back to back. All of this and this machine only needs a 12-volt cigarette lighter to get going.
The lack of built-in pressure gauge is a bit of a downer, but thankfully this is easily remedied by just purchasing a separate one. Being inexpensive doesn’t come at the cost of power either – this machine is capable of pushing 120 PSI.
- Ergonomically Designed Handle
- Cooling Fan
- No Built-in Pressure Gauge
Q Industries MV50 Superflow Air Compressor
Want a well-rounded compressor that can inflate an average car tire in under a minute? Then look no further than this Q Industries MV50 machine. Outfitted with everything you would expect – a quick release 16-foot coil hose, impressive 12-volt motor, and a power source that comes directly from the car battery. This machine also has everything you need to start inflating tires to your heart’s content – 3 adapter nozzles and a cool nylon carry bag. Capable of inflating full-size car tires in under 4 minutes combined with an EZ twist brass inflator means that using this machine is a breeze.
A slight point against it is that the pressure gauge is on the machine itself and not the actual nozzle, forcing you to go back and forth to check the air pressure as you use it.
- Directly Powered by your cars Battery
- Quick Release Coil Hose
- E-z Twist Inflator
- No Pressure Gauge on Nozzle
CARTMAN 12 Volt Heavy Duty Air Compressor
Reliable, tough, and affordable – these three adjectives describe this CARTMAN air compressor nicely. The veritable smorgasbord of adaptor ends means you can inflate just about anything you can think of – from car tires to party balloons this device can just about do it all. Push the end and put down the switch to inflate that care tire from nothing to 30 PSI in just 4 minutes. The 12-volt dc motor is powered using just the outlet inside of your car, making this the perfect backup in case of a flat tire. Be careful with larger tires though – as this machine is meant more for a top off rather than an entire fill.
- Multiple Adaptors
- Inflate a Standard Tire in Under 4 Minutes
- Built-In Pressure Gauge
- Struggles to Completely Fill Tire
Best Heavy-Duty 12v Compressor: With a robust compressor and a 30 foot hose the Viair 40047 makes airing up tires a breeze, even if you are airing up your RV.
Best 12v Compressors For Homeowners: With a top-notch brand name and an affordable price, the Slime 40031 is going to be easy to use.
When do you need one with a tank?
Since all air compressors are built to do the same job – merely fill something up – you’re probably wondering what the point of having a tank on the machine is for.
These tanks aren’t just for show but can be used to harness more air at a given time. This has a double effect – it boosts the amount of air you can get at any one time while also reducing the work of the motor.
That being said, an air tank isn’t necessarily for everyone – as they are bulky and have more power than is often needed or recommended for most basic inflation projects.
A tank is recommended for those that want to use their air compressor for power tools or to inflate larger items like mattresses or truck tires.
What is the highest CFM you get in a 12-volt air compressor?
Short for cubic feet per minute, CFM can have a big range depending on the compressor in question. CFM differs from PSI in that PSI determines power whereas CFM determines the speed of the air. A 12v air compressor can have an impressive amount of PSI, despite its small size, but struggle when it comes to CFM. That being said the maximum CFM these devices can run seems to top out no higher than 2.5 – making them mostly for fixing flats or inflating small items rather than used for air tools.
How to determine the CFM for your air compressor.
To determine the CFM of your compressor you first need to divide the tank volume in gallons (V) by 7.48 to get the tank volume in cubic feet (CF). From here, release the air from the compressor and then refill it. Record how long it takes to refill (T), along with paying attention to the pounds per square inch (PSIG) – write down when the compressor starts (Y) and then when it cuts out (Z). Subtract the time the compressor kicked in from when it turned off. Whatever number you get from here (A) divide that by 14.7, this is the atmospheric pressure (ATM). Multiple the atmospheric pressure by the CF. This number (X) will then be multiplied by the total time it took to fill or T.
In mathematical notation it works like this:
Tank Volume (V) / 7.48 = Cubic Feet (CF)
Record Refill Time (T)
Compressor Stop in PSIG (Z) – Compressor Start in PSIG (Y) = A
A / 14.7 = Atmospheric Pressure (ATM)
ATM * CF = X
X * T = Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM)
If you need more insight on these calculations, check out thehomedweller.
What requirements do I need in an air compressor for suspension?
The purpose of suspension is to suspend the vehicle off the ground. While most vehicles rely on metal spring or liquid filled shocks, others use a system of inflatable airbags. As expected, a compressor is needed to keep these bags filled. Without which the airbags can deflate and cause numerous problems with the car. If your vehicle is riding lower than normal, making weird noises when moving, or simply that the compressor never kicks on you’ll probably need a new one.
It is recommended to have a compressor that has a dual path gauge – giving it the ability to add air pressure to both sides separately. This pressure should be maintained automatically, with built-in manual controls easily accessible if necessary. If you’re in the market, then the Air Lift 72000 is more than up for the job.
What considerations should I pay attention to when buying an air compressor to take off-roading?
It’s best to have something that is large enough to fill your tire, yet is capable of being powered without a standard 110 outlet.
Most 12v air compressors can do the second of these but have trouble with having enough power.
Look into models that hook directly to the car battery and contain some sort of tank – these variants are usually a little bit more expensive than their more portable cousins but are more reliable and have enough power to fill bigger tires.
I’d probably go with the Viair 40047 since if delivers pressure and volume that is hard to match
How long do they take to air up car tires?
It depends on the PSI and CFMs – many models out there are capable of topping off a car tire in under a minute. The majority can usually do it under three. Larger tires and other inflatables will take additional time past that.
Common Problems with 12 volt Air Compressor
Nothing is perfect and the affordability, small size, and ease of use of 12v air compressors do come with some problems.
- Lower CFMs: As mentioned previously, CFMs determine the speed and amount of air that the compressor is pushing out. This makes them not really viable when it comes to using air tools and filling up some inflatables.
- Overheating: While some 12v air compressors come with contingencies to get around this many don’t, especially the smaller ones. Having to work for longer periods of time to do the same as others, these type of compressors can overheat so much that you can’t even touch them.
- Longer Work Time: Even if the air compressor in question is built for your project, you should expect to spend some extra time filling what you need up.
- Tip Incompatibility: Industrially rated compressors usually have a multitude of attachments to work with while 12v models are usually reliant on just a few.
Why these compressors aren't good for airing up an air mattress.
Not to sound like a broken record, but it all goes back to low CFMs. Needless to say, a mattress needs a lot of air and one of these little 12v compressors often struggle to get it filled.
You’d be better off buying a blower that is designed to air up an air mattress by blowing a large volume of low-pressure air.
More advanced models can also do the job but expect to pay more for a premium machine.
12v models are rated to fill up things like car tires, bike tires, basketballs, and beach inflatables with a little problem though.
A 12v air compressor has multiple uses – a backup emergency in case of a breakdown or keeping all your sports and beach gear well inflated. While these machines have their limitations, overall they are more inexpensive and user-friendly than the portable models typically found on construction sites. The best of these devices have multiple tips, built-in pressure gauges, and overheat protection.
If you’re investing hundreds of dollars into a tool, you need to ensure that it will last you a long time.
Usually, tools with durable materials tend to last longer. If nothing else, at least make sure the product has a long warranty. A one-year limited warranty is common on these.
Maintaining Your Pneumatic Wrench
Since most pneumatic wrenches are durable, they do not require too much maintenance.
Oiling the tool every 20 days or so is often more than enough to keep them running well. Many shops oil their pneumatic tools daily, and the more frequent oiling should only help to extend their life.