The 5 Best 12v Air Compressor Units
If a three-year-old has just learned how to deflate a tire and decides to practice his new skill on your car (this happened to me not long ago) a 12-volt air compressor is a very useful device to have.
Outside of keeping your car tire pressures where they should be they will help maintain lawn-mower tires, bike tires, footballs and swimming pool floats of all kinds.
If you like the outdoor life, far away from gas stations and repair shops, they can get you out of a hole you might not want to be in.
Even if you never stray more than a few miles from a gas station, they can save you the frustrations of finding quarters and then running from tire to tire with an air hose like a crazy person.
What Sets the Devices Apart?
I can tell you now that the main complaints about these products are noise (some of them make you long for ear muffs), cable length and air hose length. Some of the very cheap models have poor build quality and should be avoided.
Apart from that, some models are made purely for normal car tires and some are powerful enough to inflate truck tires at a good speed.
- A built-in light can be useful, especially in an emergency.
- Digital pressure gauges are more accurate and easier to read than older mechanical gauges.
- Some cordless compressors that charge from either 12-volt or 120-volt sources can jump start a car.
Why Do You Want One Of These Machines?
Best Inexpensive Unit?
The lightweight and compact Slime 40022 is probably the best small inflator for standard car tires.
It is easy to set the tire pressure that you want with the help of a large digital display. After that you just press go to start inflating. The compressor switches off automatically at the right value.
It has an onboard light that is a big help at night for any kind of problem.
- It is pretty slow and very noisy. You will not enjoy watching it dance around the ground, either.
- The cable and hose are very short. You will need a cigarette lighter extension cord.
- It feels flimsy but seems to hold up if you take care.
- It will take 4 or 5 minutes to inflate the average tire from flat.
- Not recommended for an RV or any other big vehicle. Max tire pressure is 35 PSI.
Noise and vibration takes away a lot of the pleasure of maintaining tire pressures on a regular basis at home. But it gets the job done.
It can be a life-saver for those slow-puncture moments on the the road, when help is far away and you don't want to change a tire.
Absolutely the Best?
The VIAIR 450P: Real Power at a Price
Pictured above is the Rolls-Royce of air compressors and is powerful enough to inflate even a 37-inch tire in about 5 minutes from flat.
Power is taken direct from the vehicle's battery by heavy-duty clamps which satisfies its appetite for juice without overheating issues.
The pressure gauge is larger then most, easy to read and can be set to automatic for accurate topping off.
The only drawback is the price. It is around $250 online but with a recommended price of twice that. This is a unit that will last a lifetime, though.
Mid-Price Point Devices
Slime COMP06 Heavy-Duty
Nobody has anything bad to say about this model (which makes it pretty much unique). It has a generous 16 foot PVC air hose with quick-connect cabling. Add that to an extension electrical cable (described above) and you will reach all the tires easily, even on a big unit.
The built-in pressure gauge is readable in increments of 2 psi. The permanent magnetic motor is durable and quiet. There are plenty of adapters for toys and balls.
It works up to 130 psi and will inflate 0 to 28 psi in about 3 minutes.
It does not vibrate too much so no dancing away along the road while in use!
A bargain at around $50.00 online.
VIAIR 00073 70P
This medium-duty model is slightly cheaper than the Slime Pro Power, above, but is broadly comparable in its specification.
It has a very generous 16-foot power cable and a 4-foot air hose. The stainless-steel braided air hose will last well and never get kinks.
It will inflate a typical flat tire in about 4 minutes and can handle heavy-duty pickup and RV tires. The neat compact design is easy to carry and the bag supplied is sturdy enough to protect the unit in a trunk.
Master Flow MF-1050 Tsunami
This is not a cheap unit, but it is one of the most reliable and can tackle big tires. It is a good choice for RV tires needing 150 psi.
It has alligator clip connectors so there is no problem with overheating plugs. The cables and air hose are big enough to get around any ordinary vehicle.
The unit is quiet and it doesn't vibrate like crazy.
Some people complain that it is hard to replace the air hose if it is damaged for any reason.
Devices with Lights
Campbell Hausfeld RP3200 with Light
This unit will vibrate and it can take off on its own if you not holding it down!
At the same time, it will get the job done and it has a tough construction that will resist the knocks these units get in a car trunk.
It has a powerful work light and even a flashing hazard light for night emergencies.
There is a built in pressure gauge and it comes with different nozzles for bicycle tires and inflatable toys.
Black & Decker Air Station
This machine can operate on its internal batteries or from a cigarette lighter outlet in your car.
On batteries only (full charged), it will pump up four standard car tires from flat.
It has a low pressure setting for air mattresses, balls and so on.
The pressure gauge is more sensitive than many and is accurate to 1 psi, though some people complain it is small and hard to read.
The battery needs a 4 to 5 hour charge to bring it up to full capacity.
A Couple of Things Worth Having with any 12-Volt Air Compressor
Pressure gauges in air compressors are not always easy to read and often give a reading to no better than the nearest 2 or 3 psi, so it is worth buying an accurate gauge. If you over-inflate the tire a little you can let out air and use the gauge to get a perfect setting.
A standard wall outlet to 12v adapter can be handy for garage use.
If you buy one of the cheaper air compressors you will probably need a cigarette lighter plug extension cable. The cables supplied are often no more than 12 inches long and the air cables equally short.
120-volt Alternative for Home Car Maintenance
There are plenty of 120-volt compressors available nowadays. These are a good option if you are mainly concerned about topping off tires at home. They will plug into any wall outlet or power extension.
The Goodyear i8000 pictured above is a very low vibration product with plenty of power, inflating tires up to 150 psi in less than three minutes.