A common misconception is that some modern vehicles equipped with run-flat tires and Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) do not require portable tire inflators or air compressors.
But that’s not the case, as tires can lose air over time, even if they’re not punctured. Having your own tire inflator is a convenient and routine way to check tire pressure and make sure it is within the optimal range.
Under- or over-inflated tires can have a myriad of negative effects on your driving experience and can affect fuel consumption and tire wear. Buying a tire inflator is a small investment to make your tires last as long as possible and save you money in the long run.
Honestly, there isn’t much difference between portable tire inflators and air compressors on the market. However, some products are better, more reliable, and likely to last longer than others.
If time is of the essence, you should check which product will inflate your tires faster and what others have maximum pressure limits. Finally, you should note whether the product uses a 12-volt automotive socket or a standard one. It’s more convenient to buy a 12-volt air compressor to keep in your car and use on the go.
But be aware that some of today’s vehicles are equipped with standard sockets. We also provide recommendations for that. Here are our picks for the best portable tire inflators:
Types of Air Compressors for Cars
Analog Air Compressor
A more traditional type of supercharger for cars, based on the same engine as the other types. The analog model uses a pressure control manometer to assess pressure. This type is often sturdier than its counterpart because overheating cannot damage non-existent circuitry.
Most come with a simple on/off switch, pressure gauge, power cord, and air hose. As long as it is compatible with the tire valves and can reach high enough pressures, analogs are good enough.
Digital Air Compressor
Modern digital car air compressors use the same basic technology as analog models but include an LCD screen. The advantage of this approach is that you can easily switch metrics and pre-program your ideal pressure.
Most have an automatic shut-off feature to prevent overheating. These are typically a bit bulkier than their analog counterparts. However, as the demands on the structure increase, the sound becomes more impeded and therefore less noisy.
Key Features of Air Compressors for Car
Your air compressor needs somewhere to get power. Most air compressors plug directly into your car’s 12-volt outlet and draw power from your car’s battery. Make sure the cable is long enough to reach properly. Many products also have a power cord that plugs into a standard outlet. Some even come completely cordless with rechargeable batteries. With the range and battery life you need, you’re ready to go.
Perhaps the most important feature of the supercharger, the motor does all the footwork. Measured in watts, the more power you carry, the more efficiently you can pressurize your tires. It affects both fill rate and maximum achievable pressure. For maximum power, look for motors in the 120-180 watt range. These can handle the heaviest tires, but 100 watts is safe for small cars.
The air hose is the part that sends compressed air from the valve to the tire. Connect directly to the tire, hold tight and turn on the air compressor. Note that there are different types of valves that require compatible extensions for the set to work. Most sets come with multiple extensions, so compatibility is usually not an issue.
Gauges are either analog or digital, essential for assessing the current pressure of tires. The analog model covers the dial with a clear lens. Most gauges measure in multiple metrics using PSI (pounds per square inch), the most common in the industry. It can be read by a digital interface and the index can be changed at the push of a button. Analog is more traditional and robust, while digital gauges are better for use in the dark.
Tire pressure readings are essential to properly inflating tires, as long as the readings are accurate. Some ANSI standards call for 2% accuracy, but other models are more accurate. Due to the high sensitivity of the sensors, the error tolerance of digital interfaces is usually low.
Finding an air compressor is a balance of size and performance. Bulky compressors, of course, fill to higher pressures, but are heavier and take up more space. Know your tire’s optimum pressure and make sure your compressor exceeds these requirements.
Many car air compressors are pre-programmable. Enter the optimal tire pressure and click Go. It will fill the tire and stop automatically. Some integrate the air compressor with another device such as an inverter or jump starter. These other features add purpose and help save launch space.
Many air compressors have a tendency to overheat. Indeed, a machine that runs too long will overheat and cause problems. You should always take a break every 15 minutes, but some heat up faster. Ensure good airflow through the ventilation openings in the structure to avoid this problem.
Benefits of Air Compressor for Cars
Improves Fuel Efficiency
Properly inflated tires can improve fuel economy by an average of 0.5 percent or more. In some cases, you can save up to 3%. It may sound small, but this saves about 304 pounds of carbon emissions each year.
Any driver knows that a car will not respond properly if its tires are not properly inflated. This can affect everything from braking ability to seaplane navigability to tacking. With an air compressor, you can adjust the pressure at any time.
In addition to saving gas (or diesel), properly inflated tires can save you some money. Taking into account the time it takes to move to an air compressor and the modifications required to operate it, an upfront investment in a compressor can save you money down the road.
Versatile and Convenient
Just because the Automotive Air Compressor is primarily designed for automobiles, the benefits don’t stop there. It can be used to inflate a beach hose, bicycle tire, or air mattress. Built into the vehicle and powered by a battery, you can always have it close at hand.
Portable and Compact
Adding up all the equipment necessary for safe driving takes up a considerable amount of space. Finding space can be difficult, especially if you’re driving without a bed. The car air compressor is designed to take up less space, making it easy to carry.
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