A 12V air compressor is capable of restoring optimal pressure to your tires within a matter of minutes, and they are much more portable than conventional air compressors that run on gasoline or need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. You can always carry one around with you inside your car, and some are so small that they will even fit into your glove box.
Below, we have listed some of the best 12V air compressors that are currently available on the market. Each of them has varying PSI and CFM ratings, as well as different duty cycles. Choose based on the vehicle that you drive, and make sure that the compressor’s psi rating is compatible with the tire pressure recommendations for your vehicle. Also, pay attention to the duty cycle rating if you often go on long drives or if you have to regularly deal with bumpy/rough terrain.
Viair Portable Air Compressor
Out of all the 12V air compressors that we have tested, this one is probably the coolest. No, we are not talking about its elegant looks and compact size. It sports a 45% duty cycle, meaning that the compressor can supply pressure for 4.5 minutes, and only needs to rest for 5.5 minutes after that. It is capable of handling tires as large as 33” despite its small form factor, thanks to the heavy duty 12V permanent magnetic motor. At 35 psi, this compressor will last for 35 minutes while it has a maximum working pressure of 120 psi.
That is plenty for inflating the wheels of ATV’s, cars, jeeps, trucks, sedans, and SUV’s. There is an LED power indicator to let you know when the machine is ready to run, and it comes with a 9-foot power cord and a 12 foot inflation hose, making the total stretch length of this device a good 21 feet. You can connect a cigarette lighter adapter to the input wires, and it comes with a 20A fuse built-in. An inflation tip kit is also provided along with 3 pieces of valve fitting that vary in size and shape. Free flow CFM at 0 psi is 1.47.
STAR BUDGET PICK
LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor
Even though this compressor weighs less than 2 pounds and costs a mere fraction of some of the costlier “premium” 12V air compressors out there, it still packs a wallop. Measuring in at a diminutive 12” x 10” x 8”, the Lifeline AAA has a rectangular box-like shape with a pressure gauge built into the top panel. Three nozzle adapters are included alongside the air compressor, and you get a 10 foot power cord so that it will comfortably reach any tire of your vehicle, even on long pickup trucks and SUV’s.
The compressor can output a whopping 300 psi of maximum pressure, more than you’ll ever need to inflate that tire on your car, sedan, or truck. It can inflate a standard P195/ 65 R15 tire from o to 35 psi within 8 minutes. The power cord can easily be connected to your car’s cigarette lighter outlet, and the entire unit is built to last for a long time. Its small size, and high pressure rating make this cheap 12V air compressor a great companion that you should definitely take along with you, on every road trip.
P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator
Hey, how about an air compressor and flashlight combined into one sleek looking unit? Better yet, why not stick an LCD display on the front panel while also providing a bunch of buttons beneath it? The P.I Store Premium might seem like a weird sort of electronic home appliance at first, but a closer inspection will reveal that it is actually a 12V air compressor designed to be carried along with you inside your vehicle.
The LCD gauge is extremely well designed and the sensors at the end of the supply tube pick up tire pressure very accurately. Multiple valve connector attachments are provided alongside the unit for maximum compatibility, and you also get 8 free dust caps for your tire valve. There are three buttons beneath the LCD display- set, decrease, and increase. With the set button you can set a certain pressure amount after which the unit stops pumping air and will automatically shut down. The increase and decrease buttons are used to raise or lower this pressure limit.
Aside from those, you also get an on/off toggle switch to control the flash lights, along with another toggle to switch on/switch off the compressor itself. A nice matte black finish with grey accents completes the package, and gives it a nice, sophisticated look. The build quality of this 12V air compressor is as premium as its name suggests – only the highest grade ABS plastics and aluminum fittings have been used.
Q Industries SuperFlow High-Volume 12-Volt Air Compressor
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It may sport industrial looks, but it is in fact a consumer grade 12V air compressor. The exterior is made of thick gauge steel and it has a nice corrosion resistant red coat of paint on it. The compression cylinder block is marked with black accents at its head and tail end, while the pressure gauge on the top of this unit is surrounded by a sturdy all-metal carry handle for transportation. One of the really neat features that we really loved is the coiled air supply tube.
The coiled tubing is painted in yellow to distinguish it from the rest of the tubing which is straight, and it is a whopping 16 feet in length. But when coiled up and not in use, it barely takes up a foot of space. A storage bag is also provided, along with spare M-type air fittings. The power cord is 10 feet long and uses alligator clips, which means that you can easily hook these up to the battery of your jeep, ATV, or SUV. This powerful, yet highly portable 12V air compressor is geared towards off-road vehicles, and its 1/3 HP oil-less electric motor is guarded by a 30A inline fuse.
Choosing the Best 12 Volt Air Compressor
You might already own an air compressor, but that is probably one that needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet, or maybe it employs a gasoline motor to pressurize the air reservoir. However, 12V compressors normally don’t contain any air tanks and run off your car battery (12V supply). They are mainly comprised of three parts – an air compression chamber, a motor to drive the impeller, and an output pipeline.
The motor drives the compressor system to generate the requisite pressure, which is then output via the tubes leading to your car tires. The motor runs off a 12V power supply, so you can easily use your car battery to run these air compressors. They come with two crocodile clip connectors that can be directly connected to the terminals of your car battery. The best part about these machines is their versatility and portability. Other than being much cheaper than larger air compressors, these are extremely handy in times of need.
For example, if your car develops a slow puncture and you realize about it midway through a journey, you don’t have to wait to reach the nearest service center or gas station. Just pull up by the side of the road, pop the hood and hook up the crocodile clips to the terminals of your car battery. Then then take the output tube and connect it to the valve of the tube that has low pressure.
If you happen to be one of the adventurous types who like to take the SUV for some off-roading, or on camping trips, then you might find these air compressors very useful. Another scenario in which this device could prove useful is when you’re going on an inter-state drive, or if you routinely go on long rides through a scarcely populated stretch of highway without a whole lot of gas stations or maintenance shops in between.
So how do you choose the right 12V air compressor for yourself? Well, it is actually quite simple. Unlike conventional compressors, you don’t have to worry about fuel tank capacities or air tank sizes since these will basically run off your car battery or cigarette lighter port, and they don’t contain air tanks because they are so compact. While buying any 12V air compressor, these are the specs that you need to care about:
1. PSI rating
2. CFM rating
4. Duty cycle and cool-down timing
The PSI rating determines how big of a tire your compressor can inflate, and the CFM flow is crucial to determining how fast the compressor can inflate the tire. Of course the pressure is important, but the volume of air that the compressor can put through is the most important factor in deciding how fast you can inflate a particular tire.
The connectivity refers to various factors such as valve fitting, length of power cords, overall reach in feet, number of valve fittings provided, etc. Duty cycle determines how long the compressor can run before heating up, and how much time you need to wait for the compressor to cool down. If you’ve got a lot of tire to inflate, then make sure that the duty cycle is anywhere between 40 to 50 percent.
For example, if the compressor has a 20% duty cycle it means that the compressor will work for 2 minutes and will need 8 minutes to cool down. With a duty cycle of 40%, it means that the compressor will work for 4 minutes and will need 6 minutes to cool down.