Comparing the Best Tire Inflators

tire inflator blowing up car tire

It is critical to keep our tires properly inflated for driving safety, fuel economy, and for the environment. If your tires aren't as plump as they should be, there are a lot of things you can do to remedy the situation.

There are various tire inflators to choose from when refilling your tires, some of which are easier to use and cheaper than others. Here are the best tire inflators and a comparison of their cost and features.

Service Station Air Compressors

Using the air pump at your local gas station is a viable choice for adding air to your tires, but only if you live nearby and don’t mind spending 50 cents or more each time. Typically, tire inflators at service stations are high-powered and will be able to inflate your tires quickly and have you on your way in just a few minutes.

Filling your tires up at a gas station is fairly convenient because you have to get gas often if you drive anyway. Many times, the clerk inside of the gas station can make you change so that you can have quarters available with which to feed the machine and don't have to run to the bank or use your laundry money every time you are adding air to the tires.

If the location is convenient, the initial cost outlay is minimal, and the results are normally excellent. In other words, there is very little investment in this method of filling tires.

However, there are many reasons why this might not be optimal for you. If you don’t live near a service station or you would rather invest that $6 to $12 per year in your own equipment, there are other choices. If you live in a rural area where gas stations are far and few between or drive on rock roads, it may be worth it to invest in your own tire inflator.

Picking an Option

If you go with another option, make sure to research which is recommended for your particular vehicle and select one that you feel confident enough to operate yourself. The good news is most of these are easy to deal with if you simply read the instructions and take the necessary precautions.

Still, though, do not invest in a type of tire inflator that you feel uncomfortable operating, and actually using, as having one you don't use completely defeats the point of owning one at all.

Saving Nobs

Before you add air to your tires, you will need to twist off the device that is holding the air in. These are really small and can be easily lost, so make sure you keep them somewhere safe, like your pants pocket, while you fill the vehicle with air. Do not put them down on the ground as they can roll away and be lost forever.

If you lose them, you may be able to purchase replacement parts, but it is for the best if you just keep track of the ones you do have in the first place.

Not having these nobs on your tires will make air leave the tire faster than normal and leave you needing to add air again sooner than later. While your tires can certainly survive without them, it is better if you do have them on all four tires.

Pressure Gauge

pressure gauge

Before you fill your tire with air, you will need to use a pressure gauge. A pressure gauge is put over the area of the tire where you add air once the cover is removed. The gauge will tell you how much pressure is still in your tire.

Your vehicle should have a specified psi by the door on the driver's side. You can use the gauge to learn how close the pressure in your tires is to the recommended amount found on your door.

This will also help you understand just how much air to put into your tires. Make sure not to overfill them as this can cause issues to your tires as well. Basically, the number found on the door should be considered the gold standard here and what you shoot for.

CO2 Compressors

Craftsman CO2 compressor

A carbon dioxide tank will refill your tires very quickly and efficiently, which is why it is a preferred method of refining tires for many people. There are various models available on the market. Most of the models available today cost a few hundred dollars, making them a more expensive option than filling up your tires at a gas station.

The CO2 compressors are, however, convenient since you can fill your tires from your own home instead of needing to find a gas station with air compressors and locate change every time you need to fill up.

There is one major negative, though, which is cost. CO2 compressors are among the more expensive choices when it comes to tire inflators but are excellent when performance is critical. Because the regulator can freeze up when inflating with CO2, this feature is important when making a choice. Also plan to replace the gas tanks when the CO2 is used up. This, again, adds to the cost of this tire inflating option.

CO2 compressors can come in a variety of sizes. If the CO2 tire inflator is meant to be used on a bicycle, it will be much smaller than one intended to be used on a car or other large vehicles like an ATV or motorcycle. Make sure you are buying the inflator which will work best for your intended uses.

Here's how it works: a CO2 canister is attached to the device that fits the valve of the tire. Once it is connected to your tire, you can press against the valve, and the air moves out of the canister and into your tires.

These devices work incredibly quickly, so be careful not to overfill your tires. Especially the first time you use the device, you should check the pressure frequently with a tire pressure gauge to better understand how quickly the tire is being filled. Again, keep the number on the side of your car door in mind here.

Brands like Craftsman and Precee Percesision sell their CO2 compressors online on at reasonable rates.

12-Volt Compressors

VacLife tire inflator

The most common and generally least expensive choice in tire inflators is a 12-volt compressor. This type of compressor isn't too expensive: 12-volt air compressors generally start at around $20, but prices can go up into the hundreds for heavier-duty models.

These compressors are specifically designed to run on your car’s battery charge via the lighter socket. While popular, less expensive models can take longer to use due to limited power, and some may not reach target capacity at all if you have large SUV or truck tires to fill.

Make sure you check the intended use of the 12-volt compressor before purchasing it to ensure that it will have enough power to fill the tires on your vehicle correctly.

VacLife and AstroAI both make 12-volt compressors which can be purchased online on

Self-Inflating Tires/Pressure-Monitoring Systems

Due to the TREAD Act, all vehicles on the road will need a tire-pressure monitoring system soon, and many car companies are incorporating tire inflators into the new technology. This eliminates the need for other tire inflator options and can save you a lot of headaches later on. They also make it so that you never have to worry about adding air to your tires.

While the systems under development vary from auto manufacturer to auto manufacturer, they all require an air source to use as the tire inflator, typically the braking or pneumatic system. Safety checks in these systems will ensure that there is adequate air pressure to perform the primary function as well as the tire inflation function.

Tire manufacturers are also developing this technology for bicycles and motorcycles in addition to cars. While pricing varies, to costs are expected to start in the hundreds and go into the thousands of dollars ranges to incorporate these systems as primary tire inflators.

If you are looking to purchase a new vehicle, it's definitely worth making sure that your vehicle has self-inflating tires. Especially if you are someone who goes off-roading and puts a lot of wear and tear on your car, these tires can be a lifesaver. They can also be necessary if you live on the outskirts of town or in the country where it can be difficult to get a tow if something were to happen to your tires.

Manual Air Pumps

foot pump tire inflator

Manual tire inflators are typically referred to as “bicycle pumps” due to the lighter air requirements of bikes compared to cars. However, there are models on the market that can fill car tires quite nicely as well, and prices compare to the lower end of the power compressor spectrum.

One hand-pump on the market is rated up to 160 PSI, while another popular foot pump is rated up to 100 PSI. Both cost in the $40 range.

These manual air pumps require a bit more work, though, as you will have to pump the tires to the proper pressure yourself. If you are someone with mobility issues or have a vehicle with large tires, this is likely not a good option for you.

Still, they can be a good option for some people to have because manual air pumps are cost effective and can be used in a pinch. They are easy to bring with you places and use in case of emergency. Manual air pumps are also small so finding a place to store them shouldn't be any trouble at all, even if you don't have a garage. They can even be stored in your car's trunk if need be.

Which Is the Best Air Inflator for Cars?

As previously demonstrated, it really depends. Which type of air inflator is best for you and your vehicle really depends on how much you are willing to spend, where you will be storing it, and your level of comfort using various devices. When in doubt, you could ask a mechanic or your car manufacturer for recommendations.

Is Buying a Tire Inflator Worth the Money?

Again, it depends. Tire inflators are usually easy to find at gas stations, meaning that if you live in a city, it may not make sense to buy one of your own. If, however, you leave somewhere more rural where it takes a bit longer to get to a gas station and a paid tire inflator, you may want to invest in one of the other options so you don't get stuck having to drive on a tire with low pressure or need to call a tow truck which can take a long time and be quite costly.

If you do a lot of long trips and are frequently on unpaved roads, it may be worth it to invest in a portable tire inflator to ensure your safety on a long drive.

Which Tire Inflators Is the Fastest?

Both CO2 compressors and 12-volt tire compressors work extremely quickly. Manual air pumps, on the other hand, can take a very long time to use since you are pumping the air yourself.

Air compressors at gas stations are somewhere in the middle time-wise. If you use air compressors frequently, 's definitely a factor to consider, but for the average person, the time difference is not extreme enough for it to be the main factor in deciding what type of tire inflator to purchase for your personal use.

How Big of an Air Compressor Do I Need to Fill Car Tires?

In most cases, a portable 1 or 2 CFM compressor with a 90 psi should be enough to fill car tires. Make sure the compressor you are looking at purchasing meets these requirements. When purchasing the compressor, though, you could also ask if it is enough for your specific vehicle.

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