How Much Should You Spend on a Tire Inflator?

Portable tire inflators can save you time, effort, and towing fees, especially when you’re traveling in open country. Here’s how to choose the right one for you and for your vehicle.

Portable tire inflators are extremely useful tools for several reasons. You don’t need to stop at a gas station and use the on-site compressor—most of which aren’t free anymore—to put air in your tires. That’s a big plus when you’re on a road trip and facilities are scarce, or if you get a flat and your spare tire is low on air. Inflators are also handy for putting air into balls, bicycles, air mattresses, rafts and the like. You’ll save a lot of time compared to using a hand pump. Tire inflators are also required equipment if you’re planning to drive on soft trails or beaches where you need to let air out of your tires in order to avoid getting stuck.

The best tire inflator for you depends on several factors: the size of the vehicle you own, the amount of time you’re willing to wait for a tire to inflate, if you want to use the inflator away from your vehicle, and how much you’re willing to invest. Generally speaking, the higher the price of the inflator, the more power and speed it provides. Here are three things you need to know before making that purchase.

Multiple Vehicle Support

The display shows your precise pressure, but this product also has a safety shut-off to ensure you don’t damage your vehicle. EPAUTO

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If you drive a car, a small, low-priced inflator (less than $50) will do the job.

If you want an inflator to bring a car’s tires up to proper pressure, as well as to inflate balls and bicycle tires, this is all you need. Such inflators don’t need more power than what’s provided from a 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet. They’re small and lightweight, so you can keep one in your vehicle at all times. And they’re inexpensive. Small inflators are not fast, though, and aren’t powerful enough to inflate a light truck (LT) tire, so pickup truck and large-SUV owners need to look elsewhere. Some come with handy features such as a built-in PSI gauge and automatic shut-off at a predetermined pressure, making them simple to operate. Note that these small inflators can overheat and shut off if used for long periods of time, so don’t count on one if you expect to fill a completely flat tire with air.

Always Be Charged

This product can draw power from a built-in battery, from a car charger, or from an AC outlet. DeWalt

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If you need more power or speed, look to a mid-priced ($100 range) inflator.

Some larger inflators also can be powered by a vehicle’s accessory port, and some can run on a rechargeable 20-volt battery or via a 110-volt household outlet. These options are especially handy if you want to use the inflator indoors or otherwise away from the vehicle. And they are faster and more powerful than the smaller inflators. If your vehicle has LT class tires, check the inflator’s specs before buying to make sure it is up to the task.

Blast Away

This high-powered product can handle even the toughest of tasks, like tractors. VIAIR

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If you’ll need to inflate LT-class tires that have very little air, and/or don’t want to spend a lot of time waiting, go for a higher-priced ($200 and up) inflator.

Inflators that run directly off your vehicle’s battery via alligator clamps generate enough compression to fill truck tires. They also can run a long time without the need to shut down in order to protect components. (Some can run nearly indefinitely if the ambient temperature is cool enough.) There are some downsides: They’re heavier than less expensive, less powerful inflators, and you need to open your vehicle’s hood and keep it open to access the battery. But these heavy-duty portables typically come with hoses long enough to reach all four tires on large, long vehicles, come with built-in PSI gauges, and will get the job done quickly and efficiently.