Having the best 12V air compressor in the trunk of your car can be a lifesaver. fFor any driver in today’s world, safety must be a top priority. It is no surprise then that manufacturers are constantly making and innovating tools that contribute towards that goal.
Primarily they are emergency tools that every driver should have in their car. We have assembled a number of tools for our best air compressor for car tires list as well as a buying guide. This guide will contain all the useful information you need to find the right tool for your needs. Let’s get right into it and see what these super-portable devices can do.
What Are the Benefits of 12V Air Compressors?
There are a few prominent benefits you need to keep in mind with 12V air compressors. They are usually portable and designed to fit neatly in the trunk of your vehicle or shelf in the garage, or carry them around to wherever you need them. Depending on how much you spend you can get a wide range of uses from one machine.
One of the biggest advantages is that they are cost-effective in the long run. Yes, the initial investment can sometimes be substantial, but due to the energy efficiency of the air compressors and the air tools they use, you usually end up saving money.
Besides keeping your car tires inflated you can also use air compressors for camping, family outings, or even small hobbies – it really depends on how much you spend on the unit you are buying.
These air compressors can be powered through various methods, be it gas, a wall socket, your car’s lighter dock, the car battery, or even a rechargeable battery. Some air compressors can use multiple power sources so you won’t have to worry about how you will be able to use them.
Best 12V Air Compressors Comparison Chart
Kensun Model J
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Kensun Model H
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Q Industries SuperFlow HV-35
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Bon-Aire Goodyear i3500
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VonHaus Cordless 12V Tire Inflator Kit
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Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
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Air Hawk PRO
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Best 12V Air Compressor Reviews (Updated List)
1. Kensun Model J
The first model on our list comes from the acclaimed Kensun company and is a useful tool. The primary function of this air compressor is tire inflation. The unit can handle a maximum pressure rating of 90 PSI. So, most regular sized tires on cars, bikes, SUV’s and balls are not an issue for this model. The compressor uses the power from the car lighter with the adapter that is attached to it. The power cord is 10 feet long which should give you enough length to reach all of the tires in an average car.
The tool is a light model with only 5 pounds. For extra visibility, there is a white LED light at the front of the tool and a digital display that shows you all the relevant information. The model is also covered by a 2-year warranty.
- Compact design makes it easy to carry and store
- Has power cords for wall plugs and car lighter docks
- Has an auto-shutoff feature
- Digital pressure gauge
- Very few attachments in the kit
- Takes a long time for big tires
- This unit has a short air hose
2. Black+Decker BDINF12C
Our next model offers a slightly different design and different features than the other models on our list. This inflator actually has 2 types of outputs. A high-pressure output, which we use for tires on cars, bikes, motorcycles, etc. And a high-volume output which is very efficient for air beds, pools, rafts and so on. The unit can handle an impressive 160 PSI.
This unit is very handy for roadside emergencies, like when you have a flat tire or for family outings when you need to inflate a ball or a mattress. The power cord is 10 feet long and connects to your car lighter dock which can reach the back wheels of most cars.
The kit includes a carry bag, ball needle, air hose, valve adapter and weighs only 4 pounds. The manufacturer gives a 2-year warranty on this model.
- Multi-purpose inflation tool
- Digital pressure gauge
- Auto shut-off feature
- The gauge can be unreliable
- A bad solution for heavy and large tires
3. Kensun Model H
Our final product review comes from Kensun, sporting a stylish design and decent performance with a light-weight body of only 3.3 lbs. The gauge on this model can go up to 120 PSI, but try to avoid going to maximum pressure on any tire inflator because it causes the compressors to overheat quickly.
The unit comes with a wall socket and a car lighter connector for extra convenience. You can store the power cords, needle, and nozzle on the unit itself so you won’t lose them so easily. You can pack the whole thing into the durable carrying case that comes with the kit.
We tested the compressor to our satisfaction on multiple tires. The compressor can even inflate a full-sized trailer tire but it takes almost 20 minutes. The warranty covers the unit for 2 years.
- Compact and user-friendly design
- Can handle tires up to 35 inches
- Accurate pressure gauge
- Doesn’t have a battery
- Takes a long time to inflate bigger tires
4. Q Industries SuperFlow HV-35
This particular model has a high max pressure with 140 PSI and is one of the best car tire inflator kits on the market. This unit comes with a 3-foot air hose and a 10-foot power cord that has a car lighter adapter.
This machine comes with a gauge that you would normally see on more expensive air compressors, despite its budget-friendly price. The compressor is less than 5 pounds in total weight. The kit comes with 2 nozzles, a ball needle, and a carry bag.
The compressor is covered by a 3-year limited warranty. You could use this air compressor for all standard tires under 33 inches and all kinds of inflatable toys, balls or bicycles.
- Can handle up to 140 PSI
- Light-weight compact design
- 3-year limited warranty
- Can’t handle tires over 30-inches
- Short air hose
- Standard work time before needing a break is only 10 minutes
5. Bon-Aire Goodyear i3500
Our next tire inflator is a very budget-friendly model and one of the lightest on our list with 2.15 lbs. The max pressure that this compressor can handle is 150 PSI, which you may never end up using if you only inflate tires with it.
The compressor is an efficient inflation tool as it can inflate a flat tire to 28 PSI in 6 minutes. This model also includes a useful detachable lamp that is powered by AAA batteries once it is detached, or you can use a regular 12V power outlet.
The pressure gauge on the unit is very visible and makes reading the PSI easy. The kit comes with a needle and a nozzle. The compressor is covered by a 1-year warranty.
- High max PSI (150) for this price range
- Detachable lamp for added visibility at night
- Design flaw in the screw-on connector makes it hard to unscrew from some tires
- Air hose is sometimes stiff and not easy to handle
6. VonHaus Cordless 12V Tire Inflator Kit
Our next tool comes in the form of a highly-portable battery powered inflation tool. This handy compressor can handle up to 125 PSI, and it has a very sleek design. It was made as a hand tool with a strategically positioned light on the front part of the handle for good visibility.nThe model comes with a car adaptor to charge it on the go, or a wall adapter to charge it in your home. The tool made short work of balls and tires on bikes and motorcycles, but it did need a little more time on car tires. Still good performance for a hand-tool. It’s only 3.3 pounds, so it’s easy to store and carry.
The tire inflator has a digital display and an automatic shut-off feature when you reach your desired pressure level. The unit is covered by a 2-year warranty.
- Very portable and easy to store
- Has an auto shut-off feature
- Can be used as a hazard warning light
- Comes with a carry bag, not a case
7. Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
This model from Viair is a popular model on the market due to its dependable performance and lower noise level. The compressor can handle 100 PSI, which can adjust or inflate most tires on vans, cars or trucks. At 30 PSI, it can run for about half an hour before needing a break. Unlike other models, this compressor comes with a brass coupler which is far more durable than the usual plastic couplers. The unit has a safety shut-off feature to prevent damage if the compressor has been running too long.
The model comes with an analog gauge which works when you turn off the compressor. This gives a more accurate reading, especially for tires. To help with your inflation needs the compressor comes with 2 extra nozzles and a ball needle. The compressor comes with a 1-year warranty.
- 16-foot car lighter power cord
- Built-in overheating protection
- Good build quality at a low price
- Paint can come-off due to heat
- Can’t fit into a glove box
8. Air Hawk PRO
This model is popular with users because of its small size. Even in the carry bag, the whole thing can fit into most glove boxes. The digital display shows all of the relevant information including PSI and provides additional visibility when inflating tires at night. This tool is very similar to the first one from our list but has a better warranty.
The compressor can handle a maximum of 125 PSI. The grip is ergonomic and doesn’t slip from your hand. The portable compressor can inflate a flat tire in 6 minutes, but the gauge isn’t always accurate when it comes to tire pressure.
The unit is covered by a 1-year warranty. This air compressor can handle any standard tires under 33 inches, and also all inflatable toys and balls. It is a good budget-friendly option to have in your car. You can use the compressor with the adapter, battery or car adapter which is all included, as well as 2 attachments for other inflation jobs.
- Compact design and easy storage
- Digital display and gauge
- Quick inflation time
- Plastic construction makes this model less durable
- Gauge isn’t accurate 100% of the time
Types of 12v Air Compressors For Car Tires
When you are choosing your car air compressor, you may lose yourself with all of the different choices available to you. Don’t worry, we will define the most popular types of car tire air compressors so that you don’t get lost in the terminology. The main objective is to fill your car tires, of course, but it is also needed to decide on the type of car air compressor.
Like the name implies, all rechargeable air compressors come with a battery. These units are very useful in unexpected situations while traveling. They are meant for multiple uses but not for prolonged use. The performance of these compressors can vary depending on the size of the battery and the power of the compressor.
It’s nice to see a rechargeable car tire air compressor in action.
An average rechargeable air compressor can inflate two completely flat tires with one full charge and that’s it. You can also use it to check and adjust all 4 of your tires if they aren’t missing a lot of pressure.
There are also more expensive and bigger models that have tanks. The trade-off is that you get a lot more potential power and could handle the wheels of more than one car, but then the unit is heavier.
Another useful feature is that rechargeable compressors for car tires come with a charger and other adapters. If your battery is dead, you can charge it with your car lighter adapter. Also, you can use the compressor by powering it directly with the car to reinflate your tire.
They also sometimes come with a light or a detachable light source to help drivers do emergency maintenance at night.
Cordless air compressors for tires can be compact or big models. It depends on the type of power source. Technically a rechargeable air compressor is what you call a cordless air compressor, they just need to be the type that doesn’t use electric cords to work. But, by this logic, the best gas air compressors also fall into this category.
Just because they are gas-powered, doesn’t mean that they have to be very heavy, on the contrary, some smaller models can be very portable. Also, cordless air compressors usually come with a tank which means that you have more power and more options. You could inflate your tires and use some air tools for some basic car maintenance.
The term “wireless” is also something you can come across while searching for a solution for your car air compressors. But don’t be fooled, it doesn’t mean what you think it does. Wireless is used to describe both rechargeable and cigarette lighter air compressors.
Wireless air compressors are also used as a form of car suspension, not for tire inflation. These machines are installed under the car and placed in such a manner so that they can elevate or drop the level of the car. Once you mount the device and air tanks, you connect it to your car battery for power. The kit is controlled via a remote.
4. Cigarette Lighter
Next is the popular choice of cigarette lighter air compressors. These machines are light and compact. They get power with an adapter for your car’s cigarette lighter. They can handle reinflating a car tire but it may take some time if it is completely flat.
These models can come with a battery, but don’t have to, necessarily. A lot of models that are battery-powered can’t be used without the battery.
These models can often be more powerful and durable than rechargeable air compressors since they have a constant power supply. They can also come equipped with a flashlight to help you with late-night car maintenance if you get stranded in the middle of the road.
5. Automobile Battery
As you might have figured out by now, we can power air compressors in numerous ways, and one of the ways is directly from the car battery. These models have a wider range than the previous groups because the car battery can offer a steady flow of power.
Car battery-powered units can be small air pumps used for emergencies, or they can even be 12v air compressors with tanks. Their uses range from inflating tires to using air tools for intermediate car maintenance.
Their price range also goes from very budget-friendly to expensive, because of the very different options that are available in this group.
12V Air Compressor Buying Guide
It’s not easy to select the right unit – buying a 12-volt air compressor would be easy if there weren’t so many things to consider. Here we will take a look at the features and characteristics you need to consider before buying a 12V air compressor that will satisfy your needs.
1. Tank capacity
The tank stores the air which you will be using. You can use it to pump up your tires to have a safe trip or use them as fuel for your air tools. Tank capacity is just one of the factors that define what exactly you can do with your air compressor. If you only use air tools that require short bursts of power then a compact model with a small capacity is a good enough choice. But if you need something to give your tools continuous power then you will have to go with a model that has a bigger tank.
Yes, you will lose portability but you will gain power with a bigger tank. If you plan on using air tools, always check what their requirements are. Air tools are more expensive than electronic tools but they waste less energy. So, in the long run, you would be saving not losing money.
When it comes to car air compressors, portability can mean a few things. Technically any portable air compressor can be used to inflate your tires, but how convenient they are is a different matter.
As the primary use of car air compressors is to handle tire emergencies at unpredictable times, you want to have something that is easy to use and find. Generally, the car models are designed to be under 5 pounds. The lighter models are also smaller in size and can be packed away in the glove compartment.
Also, you want to make sure that the kit you are buying comes with a carrying case so that you don’t lose track of your needles, hose and other assorted attachments.
Motors for air compressors can be electric or gas-powered. Electric motors are generally quieter and are more energy-efficient. A lot of time has been invested into making electric motors compact and powerful. However, the units that have an electric motor are usually weaker in terms of horsepower in comparison to gas-powered motors. Since electric motors don’t burn fuel they are usually the preferred option for indoor use. Gas-powered motors usually have more power than electric motors in the same price range. More power equals higher performance and more air tool options. Also, a gas-powered air compressor will have a shorter recovery time than an electric motor.
While you can get more use out of a gas-powered motor the trade-off is that these units are heavier, noisier and produce gas fumes, which can be dangerous in an enclosed space. If you need an air compressor for occasional use and non-intensive inflation then a cheaper electronic air compressor would be a better option.
The power of an air compressor can be measured in the pressure that it can manage to put out (PSI) and at what flow rate that pressure is delivered (CFM). This depends on both the motor and pump being used. Generally, you want to have a high PSI rating on your air compressor, because that allows you to do more with your compressor.
Air pressure defines what tools you can use and what you can actually inflate with your compressor. If an air tool doesn’t have enough pressure, it simply won’t work. If your compressor can’t produce enough pressure you also won’t be able to inflate your tires.
To avoid problems, you want to get a compressor that has at least 50 PSI more than what you need for the smaller air tools and your tires. Of course, the more power your air compressor has the more expensive it will be.
The flow rate is measured in CFM which represents the volume of air being supplied in Cubic Feet per Minute. Air tools consume this airflow as their power source. The higher the CFM value the more tools you will be able to use. If the compressor doesn’t have a CFM rating on the box or in the manual that means the tool was designed primarily for inflation work and not for air tools.
If you would like to know more about the common requirements for air tools you can take a look at our chart.
Gauges are a very important feature for air compressors. There is always a risk when using air compressors of any kind since you are using a machine that creates compressed air. If you have a faulty gauge you can over/underinflate your tires which as we know can lead to accidents on the road.
A faulty gauge can also cause an air compressor to not shut-off even if it has an auto shut-off feature. That can lead to damaging your tires on your bikes, motorcycles or even cars if the air compressors are powerful enough.
Displays on air compressors can be analog or digital. An analog display is usually just the gauge that shows you how much PSI there is in what you are currently trying to inflate. A digital display shows that same information but also gives you other options.
For example, newer air compressors come with an auto shut-off feature that will stop the compressor once it reaches a specific PSI level. Users tend to believe that analog displays are more accurate than digital displays, however, it usually comes down to the quality of the parts used in the air compressors.
7. Cord Length
The length of your cord or air hose defines the maneuverability of your air compressor. You generally want a longer cord or at least a model that comes with a longer hose. It is important because you want to make sure you can reach all of the tires that need inflating.
This is especially true if your car tire air compressor is being powered by your motor or a car lighter, which limits how far you can move it.
A couple of factors influence the durability of an air compressor. If you are working with an air compressor that has a tank you want it to be made from quality metal parts. Metals like steel or cast iron can handle the heat produced by the motor much more effectively than other materials. The durability of a compressor can also be guessed by the casing of the unit. Manufacturers will usually state the heat range which the compressor can handle. Overheating is a real threat to these machines because it can cause damage to the motor and possibly cause a bigger accident, so always follow the instructions in the manual.
Smaller inflator compressors can handle short bursts of work ranging from 10 to 30 minutes before needing a break for safety reasons because they are usually made from plastic parts. While a 12V air compressor can work longer than that, the quality of the motor and pump can define how much stress the unit is able to handle.
Always check what kind of parts your future air compressor is comprised of and under what heat conditions it can operate under. It is always possible to fix a 12v air compressor, of course, but it is always better not to come to that point.
9. Other features
There is an assortment of features 12V air compressors can have to make your life easier. One very common feature is a programmable ‘Auto shut-off’ that stops the unit once you have reached the desired pressure level. A similar feature is included in more expensive models in the form of thermal protection, where a unit will stop working to prevent heat damage. Air compressors may also include onboard or detachable lights to assist you in roadside repairs at night.
The attachments that come along with your air compressor are also important. The different needles, nozzles, couplers, and hoses you get with your kit defines what you can do with them. If you are just going to occasionally use your air compressor for your car tires and to inflate some toys then you don’t really need many accessories. But if you plan to do car maintenance or some work around your home with your air compressor, then you will need to make sure the kit you are buying has the all the right attachments for your tools and other inflation needs.
The great equalizer of all purchases – your spending budget. When you are choosing a top-rated air compressor, money is always a factor. What you need to keep in mind is your long-term goals for this machine.
If your main goal is to have an emergency maintenance tool that you will use sparingly then you can opt-out for a cheaper more compact model. However, if your goal is to have a tool that can actively help you in car maintenance, small DIY projects in your home or on a construction site, we would advise you to invest in a durable model with extra attachments to satisfy a wider scope of uses.
What Are the Common Problems with 12V Air Compressors?
Every type of machine or tool has to have some kind of drawback or problem and this is no different for air compressors. The issues you can face with air compressors come in a few different forms.
If a company doesn’t have good quality control, then you will often see comments from users reporting that their units stopped working after a short period of time. A lack of quality control can also mean broken parts in shipping or simply flimsy construction that results in your unit being very disposable. These usually are the cheaper models.
Another frequent issue is the cord length if you are using a 12V air compressor that gets power from your car lighter or engine. These models are usually designed for an average-sized car and power cords are often around 10 feet. That length isn’t always enough to reach all of the tires on a car.
If you are already using the car lighter for another device that of course means fiddling with wires and other devices every time you need to use the compressor. Another negative is that small portable air compressors are mostly good for inflation jobs and they can’t work for very long.
Models made from plastic require rest periods and can have a very short work time before it needs to take rest for safety reasons. This, in turn, means you will have to wait for a while if you are inflating a completely flat tire.
Sometimes the air compressor just won’t seem to comply due to a faulty valve or broken seal around the air hose. While you can avoid a lot of these issues by investing in a more expensive model, these usually take up more space and are heavier to transport.
If you haven’t used a portable tire inflator before you can see it being done here:
FAQ about 12V Air Compressors
1. Are 12V air compressors capable of inflating the tires of a sedan or a truck?
Due to the variety of tires and cars out there, there is no short answer to this. It depends on a few factors. Technically, any air compressor, including 12V air compressors, could inflate the tires of a sedan or a truck. If you are aiming to save time, you should go with a bigger model of air compressor. Keep in mind that 12V compressors come as a first-aid, and not as a piece of industrial-grade machinery.
On the other hand, if you are not in a rush, a trustworthy 12V air compressor for car tires can help you out. Additionally, their portability is going to save you a lot of space, especially if you use your vehicle for transport often – every inch matters. Lastly, with a lot of the 12V air compressor models, there is no need for a power source, because the car battery is sufficient to act as one.
2. What are the situations 12V air compressors excel in?
Being that 12V air compressors come in compact builds, they excel in situations that require no previous knowledge, or muscle power for that matter. These compressors are not heavy-duty, but their strong suit is that anyone can use them, although you should keep the kids away from the compressor.
12V air compressors excel in inflating car, bicycle, bike, and all normal-sized tires. Once you get the hang of how to use the model you have, the whole process will go more quickly. Additionally, if you get a model with the right extensions, you can use a 12V air compressor to inflate beach gear or a kiddie pool. Also, sports gear, like soccer balls, basketballs, or footballs are fair game as well.
3. What should I have in mind when getting a 12V air compressor for off-roading?
Going off-road means that you need to make the best choice, and create a balance between weight, functionality, and size of the stuff you want to bring in. While they are not the most powerful out there, 12V air compressors are compact, lightweight, and generally speaking – you could carry one without even knowing.
This decision also depends on the type of things you want to inflate. If you need to maintain the tire pressure of an ATV or a dirt bike, a 12V air compressor will fit into that role easily. Cars and larger vehicles are also ok in off-road circumstances, just be prepared to wait for a little while. You should also consider whether the 12V air compressor you want has a carrying bag or some sort of ergonomic handle that won’t be too hard to fit into your off-road gear.
The key to finding the best 12v air compressor for yourself is to find a balance between performance, portability, use, and budget. Once you have all of that figured out you can buy a very practical and useful tool for yourself.
The best air compressor for car tires can have a long work life, depending on proper maintenance and the quality of the individual parts. Just from the aspect of road safety, having one in your car is a good idea. We hope we have covered all of the important points in our buying guide. If there are still some unanswered questions please feel free to contact us through our comments section.