Three Things to Consider Before Buying a 12V Air Compressor

How to choose the best inflator for tires, SUVs, bikes, balls, or paddleboards.

Portable 12V air compressor
A portable 12V air compressor is handy for those times when a failing tire needs topped off so you can make it to a station for a repair.Steve Buissinne

Running an air compressor off of your car’s cigarette lighter port saves so much time. You can inflate balls, tires, air mattresses, rafts, inflatable boats, and stand-up paddleboards with much less effort than it would take with a hand pump. But not every inflator works the same way—and some are poor choices—depending on what you want to air up. Here’s how to determine which 12V inflator is the best choice for you.

EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump, Digital Tire Inflator
You can set the desired PSI on this model so you don’t have to continually watch the gauge.EPAUTO

Many people don’t need a compressor that’s any more powerful or expensive than a basic inflator. These are simple to use—just attach the valve to whatever you want to inflate, plug the socket into your car’s cigarette lighter, and turn on the compressor. These basic inflators are perfect for around-the-house use for balls, bike tire, and car tires, as well as for packing along on a camping trip where you can drive up to your campsite. You can fill air mattresses right at camp instead of inflating them at home or wasting valuable fun time by using a hand-operated air pump. Look for a basic inflator that allows you to set the desired PSI and shuts off when it reaches the selected level. That way you don’t have to monitor the gauge and it prevents accidental over-inflation.

EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump, Digital Tire Inflator
You can use this model on large vehicle tires and can convert it to run on household current or cordless.EPAUTO

Most all pickup trucks and many SUVs and crossover vehicles use heavy LT (light truck) tires, and to fill those you need a compressor that’s capable of producing more PSI than a basic model. Some models also have the option of running on AC (household) current, or even an onboard battery. That makes it ideal for indoor or backyard use, or if you want to use a compressor any place away from home and vehicle.

OutdoorMaster 20PSI High Pressure SUP Air Pump The Shark - Intelligent Dual Stage Inflation & Auto-Off Feature, Deflation Function, 12V DC Car Connector, for Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards, Boats
The cooling system on this model prevents overheating.OutdoorMaster

If you own an inflatable stand-up paddleboard or boat, you need a compressor that’s designed for inflating large items. SUPs take a long time to fill up, and a standard 12V compressor will probably overheat and shut off before you’re finished with the job. A compressor designed to fill SUPs and other large items have built-in cooling systems to prevent such quick overheating (and they’ll fill small items up to 20 PSI too). You’ll get on the water fast—and, if you choose a compressor with a deflation function, you’ll be able to get off the water fast as well.

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