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Choosing The Best 12 Volt Air Compressor

Updated on June 25, 2017

A crucial part of having a car is ensuring that you maintain it regularly. One of the most common and easiest ways to do this is to maintain your tires.

There are various reasons as to why you need to maintain your tires.

Reasons to maintain your tires

The biggest aspect is one of safety. If it is the case that you have underinflated tires, there is an increase in rolling resistance on the wheels. This will in turn result in the tire getting wore out quicker (in terms of tread depth). This decrease in tread depth will of course over time lead to a decrease in the level of road grip you have. This will undoubtedly result in you having less control over the vehicle.

Whilst this degradation will occur over time, the day to day effects of having underinflated tires is also the same. Since the tire hasn’t been blown up properly it becomes flat and it cannot grip to the road properly. Likewise, if it is the case you have over inflated your tires (such as when using a foot pump), it can result in the tire blowing out. This is due to the fact that the pressure in it is much higher than it should be. It will also further stretch the tire past its limits and also the tread. This too will result in the overall grip in decreasing, making it harder to stop in a hurry if need be.

There is also the financial aspect to consider. Since they can wear out quicker if not maintained, it means you’ll have to spend more money in a shorter time frame to replace them. Also, the increase in rolling resistance actually results in an increase in fuel consumption. Therefore, you need to top your car up with fuel at shorter intervals thereby costing you more money.

Going for an electric air compressor over a foot pump

It is more than possible to buy a foot pump to carry out the job of inflating your tires. However, there are a few good reasons why this should be discouraged. The first is the accuracy of the foot pumps. Since it’s a mechanical movement that used to pump the tire, it makes it difficult to achieve an accurate reading. These foot pumps are generally designed so that you won’t be pumping your leg up and down for a while. In the case of the double barrel foot pump, it can go up in increments of 6 or 7 psi at a time. However, not all vehicles have a nice round number to inflate the tires to. Therefore, it could result in the tires being under or overinflated. As discussed above, neither option is desirable.

Furthermore, it can actually take quite some time to inflate four tires, especially if they’re of the larger variety. Also, is your physical fitness is somewhat lacking then this will also increase the time spent in inflating the tires on your car.

Lastly, since the foot pumps are mechanical they will over time wear out with use. Since the action involved is somewhat vigorous in the way they work, this can mean that they don’t have the shortest lifespan. Therefore it is a much better option to invest in an electric air compressor over a foot pump. There are air compressors that you can buy which plug directly into your home power supply. However, since you’d most likely need an inflator on the road, it is much better to invest in a 12 volt air compressor. These run off of the 12 volt power supply in your car.

There are a wide variety of 12 volt air compressors on the market which have different traits to suit your own personal needs.

A great 12 volt compressor for smaller cars

For those that have got smaller cars, such as a Mini, then you needn’t spend the Earth when it comes to buying a compressor. The EPAuto 12 volt air compressor is an excellent and handy utensil to have in the back of your car.

One of the standout features for a compressor of this price and size is the quality of it. It’s not an all-metal finish. However, the plastics used are of extremely high quality.

It is exceptionally easy to use. All you need to do is connect the power lead to your cigarette lighter in your car, attach the hose to your tire of choice and then set the pressure and you’re good to go. The compressor has a small, built in computer.

This allows you to choose what readout you want in terms of pressure setting. This can be BAR, KPA or PSI. Likewise, this minicomputer allows you to easily set the pressure of your choice. Once the tire is inflated to the set pressure, it will automatically stop adding air into the tire. This is extremely important. If it didn’t have this option then it could potentially lead to it being overinflated. As discussed above, this is far from optimal.

Safety is also paramount when it comes to this inflator. It has a temperature sensor built into it. Should the unit get too hot, then it will automatically cut off. Doing so prevents damage to the compressor as well as limiting any potential fire hazard.

The overall length of the hose to inflate the tire is just under three feet. For the cable to plug into the cigarette lighter, this is 8 feet. Therefore, there is more than enough cabling present so that you can easily (and safely) inflate all of the tires on your car.

Lastly, there is also a built in torch. This is especially handy in low light situations or at night time. It will allow you to safely hook up the hose to the tire which may be difficult otherwise without this. This torch is powered by high power LEDs and is extremely bright.

Despite the benefits of this air compressor, it is not suitable for larger tires that you would find on a pickup truck. For tires of that size, we have left a recommendation below.

The best compressor for larger tires

The bigger the tire, the longer the time it’ll take for it to be inflated. In large trucks and SUVs, it isn’t uncommon for there to be 35 inch tires on them. However, if you had to use a smaller unit then it’s going to take quite a large time to inflate the tire. It could also potentially lead to the compressor failing due to it overheating.

The solution to this is to of course invest in a compressor that can handle this.

The Viair 450P compressor is an amazing unit. It has a duty cycle of 100%. What this means is that you can have the unit continuously at 100 PSI and not worry about the unit over heating.

The cost of the unit is reflected in its capacity and also builds quality. It is mainly suited for larger vehicles such as the Toyota Hilux and has a 40 amp inline fuse included in the unit. This should prevent any electrical failures.

Unlike the other 12 volt air compressors mentioned here, the pressure is delivered by a hand held unit. This is not unlike the kind of setup that a car garage uses when inflating new tires on a car. What this means is that you’ve got a trigger mechanism on the unit. By using this, it allows you to finely control the amount of air that is going into your tire. Therefore, you won’t end up overinflating it since you have direct control over it.

One thing that may put some buyers off though is the fact that unlike the EPAuto mentioned above, it is powered in a slightly different way. It still works off of the 12 volts supplied by the car battery. However, for the 450P you need to hook the compressor directly up to the battery terminals. This isn’t really an issue but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re not too keen about popping the hood and hooking up leads to the battery.

The unit itself is exceptionally sturdy and made only of the highest quality materials. As a bonus, there is also an anti-vibration shelf included with the compressor also. The battery clamps are also rated as heavy duty.

Also included is a handy carry bag. This will allow it to be stored away in the car/garage and not get damaged. It also allows its easy movement when carrying it around as the case can store all of the cables, hoses and the compressor itself within the bag.

Summary of compressors

Cable Length
Connection Type
Tire size
Digital Readout
8 feet
Cigarette Lighter
8 feet
Direct to battery terminals
Large to Extra Large
Very Fast


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    • profile image

      Car nut 

      17 months ago

      Thanks for posting this! I've been looking for a new compressor for quite some time now so this is a big help


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