Your car or truck is an important investment, and you probably spend quite a bit of time taking care of it. One area you may be letting slide is your tires. Tires lose air pressure, either through a leak, the weather, or simply through air seeping out of the rubber. This can lead to under-inflated tires, which can cause your vehicle to handle poorly and can adversely affect your fuel economy. Under-inflated tires are also at a greater risk for a blowout.
A tire inflator can help you to avoid all of these problems, and here at BestReviews we have pulled together information on some of the highest quality tire inflators on the market. Using these tips and our hand-picked recommendations, you should be able to add a tire inflator to your roadside emergency kit that has the features you need at a price you can afford.
Considerations when choosing tire inflators
Before you even start wading through key features, there are some general aspects of a tire inflator that you should consider. These include:
Range: All tire inflators should work with standard car tires and other inflatables like air mattresses, but not all can inflate a truck or SUV tire.
Size: A compact inflator will be easier to haul around, and easier to keep in your car. If you choose a larger inflator, be sure it has handles so you can carry it easier.
Power: The inflator should ideally be able to run off your car's cigarette lighter. More professional options may require you to pop the hood and hook directly to the battery.
Reach: Both the cable and hose should be long enough to easily reach all of your tires.
Some features to keep an eye out for when comparing tire inflators include:
Pressure gauge: This tells you how much air is in your tire. It should be both accurate and legible. Some offer illumination for night use.
Auto-shutoff: This "set it and forget it" feature shuts off the inflator when it reaches your pre-set pressure.
Lights: Some lighting features include LED lights for night use, and warning lights to give motorists a heads-up that you're using it roadside.
Accessories: What does it ship with? Popular accessories include a carry care and assorted inflation tips.
Tire inflator pricing
Simple tire inflators start out around $20. These offer few bells and whistles, and largely only work with car tires.
In the $30-$50 range, you will start to find more features like improved gauges, faster inflation times, and the ability to handle higher pressures.
At $50 and over, inflators offer more advanced features, a more professional build, and can handle larger tires like those on trucks and SUVs.
Other important features
How quickly an inflator will work and what its maximum pressure is are both important points to know. A slow inflator will run up against its duty cycle rating quickly, while one with a low maximum pressure will be worthless for truck or SUV tires.
The amount of noise an inflator creates will also be an issue if you need to spend any time huddled over it watching the gauge.
Q. How long can I run an inflator for?
A. To avoid overheating, the majority of manufacturers will recommend maximum run times and cool-down times for an inflator. This is reflected in its duty cycle rating. Be sure you know how long you can run an inflator for - and how long it should rest between runs - to avoid damaging it.
Q. When is the best time to check my tires?
A. You should be checking your tires monthly to verify that they are inflated to the proper pressure. The best time to do this is before driving your vehicle, when your tires are cold. Driving warms tires up, which causes the air to expand.
Tire inflators we recommend
Best of the best: Viair 00088 88P/Portable Air Compressor/Tire Inflator
Our take: A top-rated inflator that is portable and powerful enough to inflate up to 33-inch tires.
What we like: Has a maximum pressure of 120 psi. Long power cord and hose provide you with a lengthy reach. Weighs only 4.5 lbs.
What we dislike: Clips directly to your car battery, so you'll need to go under the hood to use it.
Best bang for your buck: Audew/Auto Digital Tire Inflator
Our take: An affordable tire inflator that is packed with features such as an auto-shut off and an LED night light.
What we like: Auto-shut off so you can easily reach the right pressure. LED lights for night use. Fast inflating. Inexpensive.
What we dislike: Struggles a bit with larger tires. Some reports of durability issues.
Choice 3: Lifeline AAA/12 Volt DC Air Compressor
Our take: This lightweight and inexpensive inflator can quickly and easily inflate everything from basketballs to standard car tires.
What we like: Ships with three nozzle adapters and a quick connect air hose. Plugs into a standard car cigarette lighter. Cord and hose store securely on inflator.
What we dislike: On the slow side, and will not work for truck or other large tires.
Rich Gray is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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