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A yellow portable tire inflater is shown being used on a tire.

A Buyer’s Guide to Portable Tire Inflators

It’s easy to take care of low air pressure at a gas station, but what if you’re out in the middle of nowhere and don’t want to risk causing more serious damage during the miles you’ll have to drive to get to an air pump? Having a portable tire inflator in the trunk can give you peace of mind and come in handy if you do find yourself in an emergency situation. They can also be handy at home, whether you like to tinker with your vehicle yourself or you have a bike that needs some extra air in the tires from time to time.

No matter your reasons for wanting one, shopping for one of these devices can be tricky. There are all kinds of options available online, but they aren’t all created equal. For one thing, there are several different designs, and some are better than others in certain situations. Then there are the low-quality products that are simply unhelpful in general. That’s why we’ve put together this portable tire inflator guide to help you find a model that works well and works for your particular needs.

Consider the Size

If you were to look at a table full of several different brands and models of portable tire inflators, you’d probably be amazed at how different some of them look from each other. These things come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to consider your priorities before you dive too far into the weeds. First, consider where you’re going to store it. If you need something that can be tucked into a small cubby in the back of your SUV, you’ll have different needs than someone with a spacious trunk that has plenty of space for a larger unit. Luckily, there are plenty of handheld options out there that are easy to tuck into a small space in case of emergency, so you can stash it away for when you need it and not be bothered by it when you don’t.

A person is shown using a handheld portable tire inflater.

Ease of Use

How important ease of use is as a factor for you depends on why you’re looking for a portable tire inflator. It’s always nice when devices are simple to operate, but it’s especially important when it comes to devices we’re keeping on hand in case of emergency. If you’re shopping for something to keep in your garage and use often or to use leisurely as you prepare for an upcoming road trip with plenty of time to spare, then it might be worth getting a model that’s a little more complicated if it has features that appeal to you. If you want to be able to customize settings, then extra complication might even be a feature rather than a bug.

But if you’re looking for something to keep on hand in case of emergencies, you should put ease of use at the top of your list of priorities. If you’re on the shoulder of a busy freeway miles away from help, the last thing you need is to get frustrated by a complex user interface on a machine that’s supposed to be helpful. For instance, you might want to be sure you get a model that automatically stops once it reaches the ideal air pressure so you don’t have to turn it off with precision timing.

Keep your individual needs and preferences in mind, too. This applies to things like how “tech savvy” you are as well as physical ability. If you have a visual impairment, look for a model with a large, easy-to-read display, and if you have physical limitations, make sure you can comfortably operate the inflator. While shopping online is convenient, going to a hardware store to check out models in person before you buy can be helpful.

Power Source

Should you look for a model that’s powered by a battery or the 12-volt outlet in your vehicle? If the unit is powered by its own battery, you will be in trouble if that battery loses power before you’re done filling up your tires (it might even be dead before you start if it’s been sitting in your trunk for a while). On the other hand, a model that relies on using your car’s battery for power is limited by the length of its cord, which can be frustrating, depending on the location of your vehicle’s 12v outlet and the size of your wheelbase.

The solution: why not both? You can find plenty of models that have both a dedicated battery and the ability to plug into your car’s outlet. If you will be using it in your garage, you can also look for the ability to plug into a wall outlet. While these are the three most common power sources, there are some models that have others: particularly powerful models might connect directly to your car battery via alligator clips while some smaller options can be charged with a USB cable.


It’s worth pointing out that most tire inflators can be used for other functions as well. They can inflate bicycle and motorcycle tires as well as auto tires, and some are also designed to inflate sports balls, pool floats, air mattresses, and other inflatables. Of course, you should always read the user’s manual before using your inflator and heed any warnings.

On the flip side, some tire inflators might not be versatile enough to handle all vehicle tires. For instance, if you have an off-road vehicle, you should look at the specifications carefully before purchasing. Some inflators are just fine for the average tire but aren’t suitable for larger sizes.

A person is shown opening the carry case for a portable tire inflater.

Recommended Brands

When shopping for something you plan to count on in an emergency, it’s best to stick with a trusted brand. Dropshippers with unpronounceable brand names on big e-commerce sites might be able to offer low prices, but it’s not a great idea to trust them to deliver a dependable product. Luckily, there are plenty of trusted companies that make quality tire inflators.

As its name suggests, Viair is a company that specializes in air, having built its reputation for making industrial and commercial air compressors. Because this is their niche, they have a variety of options, from tiny models that can fit in your pocket to large compressor kits that can fill a tire up lightning quick. Avid Power focuses on power tools and automotive products and makes a variety of attachments and accessories that are compatible with its inflators, making them particularly versatile.

There are also plenty of household names known for making power tools that have tire inflators in their lineup, including Black+Decker, Milwaukee, DeWalt, and Craftsman. If you’re a handy person generally, you might trust some of these companies more than others, and you can use that experience as a factor to guide your decision. If not, take a look at the reviews along with the specs to help you find a model that’s both handy and reliable.

Some Final Thoughts

Since every person’s needs and priorities are different, it’s impossible to say what exact model is best. The important thing is to find a model that works for you. Keeping all of the above factors in mind, you should be able to find a tire inflator from a trusted brand that will work for your purposes. But before you tuck it away in your vehicle for emergency use, here’s one final tip: test it out before you commit! Many stores and websites have reasonable return policies, so hang onto that receipt and put your inflator to the test before the return window is up. Knowing you aren’t fully committing at checkout can help take the pressure off and make shopping stress-free.