Comparing the Best Tire Inflators

It is critical to keep our tires properly inflated for driving safety, fuel economy and for the environment. There are various tire inflators to choose from when refilling your tires. Here are the best tire inflators and a comparison of their cost and features.

Service Station Air Compressors

Using the air pump at your local gas station is a viable choice, if you live nearby and don’t mind spending 50 cents or so each time. Typically, tire inflators at service stations are high-powered and will be able to inflate your tires quickly and have you on your way in just a few minutes. If location is convenient, the initial cost outlay is minimal and the results are normally excellent. However, there are many reasons why this might not be optimal. If you don’t live near a service station or you would rather invest that $6 to $12 per year in your own equipment, there are other choices.

CO2 Compressors

A carbon dioxide tank will refill your tires very quickly and efficiently. There are various models available on the market, and they typically run in the hundreds of dollars in price. They are among the more expensive choices in tire inflators, but are excellent when performance is critical. Because the regulator can freeze up when inflating with CO2, this feature is important when making a choice. Also plan to replace the gas tanks when the CO2 is used up.

12-Volt Compressors

The most common and generally least expensive choice in tire inflators, portable 12-volt air compressors start at around $20, and prices can go up into the hundreds for heavier-duty models. They are specifically designed to run on your car’s battery charge via the lighter socket. While popular, less expensive models can take longer to use due to limited power, and some may not reach target capacity at all if you have large SUV or truck tires to fill.

Self-Inflating Tires/Pressure-Monitoring Systems

Due to the TREAD Act, all vehicles on the road will need a tire-pressure monitoring system soon, and many of the car companies are incorporating tire inflators into the new technology. While the systems under development vary by auto manufacturer, they all require an air source to use as the tire inflator, typically the braking or pneumatic system. Safety checks in these systems will ensure that there is adequate air pressure to perform the primary function as well as the tire inflation function.

Tire manufacturers are also developing this technology for bicycles and motorcycles. While pricing varies, costs will start in the hundreds and range into the thousands of dollars to incorporate these systems as primary tire inflators.

Manual Air Pumps

Manual tire inflators are typically referred to as “bicycle pumps” due to the lighter air requirements of bike compared to cars. However, there are models on the market that can fill auto tires quite nicely, and prices compare to the lower end of the power compressor spectrum. One hand-pump on the market is rated up to 160 PSI, while another popular foot-pump is rated up to 100 PSI. Both cost in the $40 range.