How do I Choose the Best Tire Inflator?

Ken Black

A tire inflator is usually nothing more than an air compressor, though there are some designed specifically for inflating tires. While a simple hand pump can also act be used to inflate tires, using one would take more time and energy than most people would care to spend on the task, especially in the case of automobile tires. Most car owners look for automatic tire inflaters to handle the job.

A tire inflator is an air compressor used to inflate a tire.
A tire inflator is an air compressor used to inflate a tire.

Commercial tire inflators, like those seen at fueling stations, are usually much more powerful than an individual will need. They are designed to handle multiple vehicles very quickly. Still, for those who are working on cars, or who have collections of cars, a larger unit may be the best option. Generally, those who are going to be inflating a few tires on an occasional basis only need an inflator with a capacity of one or two gallons (3.75 to 7.5 liters) of air.

It is important to use an inflator specific for cars when inflating a car tire.
It is important to use an inflator specific for cars when inflating a car tire.

Another option is a roadside tire inflator. This is a very small air compressor that can either be plugged into a standard electrical outlet, or run off the electrical current in the car. The device plugs into the DC outlet, traditionally known as the vehicle's cigarette lighter. It will usually take longer than a standard air compressor, even a smaller one, but it is still capable of inflating the tire to the proper pressure. Most will also have an air pressure gauge built in so the user can see when the desired air pressure has been reached.

A vehicle tire.
A vehicle tire.

Some of these roadside inflators include other features. Most will have a flashlight, which may aid in finding the tire's valve stem in the dark, or be used for other emergency situations. Some will include a flashing yellow light, meant to warn oncoming motorists of a disabled car alongside the road. Some may even include a feature where the user can program the tire inflator to automatically shut off after a certain pressure is reached.

A woman filling her tires up with air.
A woman filling her tires up with air.

To help increase portability, a roadside tire inflator may include an onboard battery, making the unit capable of being used wirelessly. This battery can be charged so that it is ready to use when the emergency situation comes up. Those using this feature should use caution, however. Unused rechargeable batteries will lose their charge over time. Thus, even if it has not been used since the last time it was charged, it could still be drained of power. It is a good idea to recharge the battery every two months to make certain it is ready for use.

A bicycle tire inflator with an air pressure gauge.
A bicycle tire inflator with an air pressure gauge.
A small tire inflator can draw power from a vehicle's cigarette lighter.
A small tire inflator can draw power from a vehicle's cigarette lighter.

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Discussion Comments

indemnifyme

I can't imagine trying to inflate a car tire with a hand pump! As the article said, that sounds like a lot of effort to expend to just fill a tire with air. I think an automatic tire pressure inflator sounds like a much better idea.

Although, the average person probably doesn't need to invest in either thing. I don't work on my car, so if I need to put some air in my tires, I just go to the nearest gas station.

JessicaLynn

@JaneAir - It's definitely a good idea to keep a portable air tire inflator with you if you're going to be doing a lot of cycling. You never know when you might need it!

I think having a roadside tire inflator in your car is also probably a very good idea. I imagine you could keep that in your car, along with some of that stuff you can use to patch your tire, and take care of a flat instead of having to have your car towed or change to the spare tire.

It would probably be really handy if you ran into trouble at night or somewhere where you didn't have enough room to actually change the tire.

JaneAir

My stepfather is really into cycling, so he has a portable tire inflator in case he has problems while he is riding his bike. He also has another tire inflator that he keeps at home.

The portable tire inflator is really much smaller than I would have ever thought possible! It works using a CO2 cartridge and a hand pump, and from what my stepfather tells me, it's very easy to operate. He's re-inflated several tired on the road with the portable tire inflator.

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