December 15, 2020

Best Portable 12V Air Compressor For Cars, Trucks, and RVs in 2021

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Written by Jose

Air compressor that specializes in inflating tires isn’t only for tire use, but its portability distinguishes it from the others on the market. None of those units are going to be inherently powerful, but they do a good job in terms of efficiency. This list won't include any powerhouse machines seeing as a lot of them are powered through the car's cigarette lighter and a stronger machine could blow the fuse.

Some of the units are emergency kits with built-in lights, while some come with additional adapters and are ideal for family trips and vacations. When choosing the right air compressor to inflate tires don’t go for the biggest beastly machine; just choose the one that is most functional and gets the job done.


Top 12V Air Compressors Reviews

1. Top Pick

Kensun Portable Air Compressor 12V

Kensun AC/DC Portable Air Compressor

  • 12V car light plug and 110V wall plug
  • Maximum pressure of 100 PSI
  • Great durability
  • Weighs 3.95 pounds

Kensun makes some of the best 12V air compressors you can find, giving you an excellent mix of performance and affordability—and that’s exactly what you’ll get with this unit.

The compressor has a maximum pressure of 100 PSI, with decent airflow. It’s not the fastest compressor out there, but it offers great performance for the size and price. Its dual solid metal motors can inflate just about any car tires from flat.

It’s also very user friendly, with just a few buttons and a pressure gauge. This simplicity makes it easy to operate straight out of the box, and suitable for even the most inexperienced user. If you are looking for a tire inflator to keep in your car, this is a great choice.

What sets this compressor apart from other units is that it has both a 12V car light plug and a 110V wall plug. If you want a unit that can work both at home and from your car, this is a great option.

Kensun’s compressors all have excellent durability, so you can count on this unit to give you years of performance. It’s also quite light, weighing just 3.95 pounds, and the handle has great grip, making it easy to carry. All of the air hoses and cords can be stored in the unit, and it comes with a zipped carry bag, making it even more portable. It’s one of the most travel-friendly options on this list.


2. Best Air Compressor For The Money

EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor

EPAuto 12V Air Compressor

  • Great airflow for the size, at 1.06 CFM
  • Lightweight at just 3.75 pounds
  • Affordable price
  • Max 100 PSI

If you’re looking for an all-round 12V air compressor, this is one of your best options. It combines high-level performance with portability and affordability in a durable package, and no other air compressor can beat it when it comes to value.

You’ll get a maximum pressure of 100 PSI, with an inflating speed of 1.06 CFM. The airflow won’t blow you away, and it can take a while to inflate tires, but its performance is comparable to most other units reviewed here and its auto shut-off works well, turning the device off once it reaches the set pressure. You won’t be able to use it to inflate truck tires, but if you’re looking for a compressor that can handle just about any car tire, this is a great choice.

The torch on the unit is bright to help keep you safe if you are inflating tires on dark roads. Additionally, at just 3.65 pounds, it’s ultra-lightweight and compact. If you need a unit that you can easily store in your car without taking up too much space, this is an excellent choice.

The EPAuto is one of the best options for those looking for an all-round affordable unit that will fit in any car. It doesn’t have the best airflow, but it will give you more than enough power to handle the tires on mid-sized cars.


3. Best High End Option

ARB CKMP12 Portable Air Compressor

ARB (CKMP12) 12V High Performance Portable Air Compressor

  • Comes in a durable carry case
  • Hard anodized cylinder bore
  • Suitable for many air tools
  • Over-pressure safety valve

As the de facto do-it-all system on the list, the ARB 12V High Performance Portable Air Compressor combines everything you would want in a portable air compressor all in a small, portable carrying case. The case is one of the highest quality ones available on the list and rivals some mid-range tool boxes. The compressor itself is just as durable and sealed to resist moisture and dust, with an easy-access air filter element behind the splash-resistant cover. The cylinder bore is hard anodized and the mechanics inside the unit are constructed to reduce friction and prolong the life of the unit. Included in the kit is a 19-foot air hose, wiring loom, battery clips, and other accessories geared towards inflation.

The cost of this air compressor is a little on the high end, but then again, it is one of the better portable units on the list. It's convenient to have everything you need in a single grab-and-go box. It weighs an acceptable 16 pounds and it's as easy to store as a toolbox. Due to the way it is constructed, it's a lot quieter than expected, and hums along quite nicely while it handles whatever smallish load you throw at it. It's also quite fast — impressive considering its small stature. Having all of the necessary tools in one place does have its advantages, and apart from a slight lack of power, there are few features that this unit is missing. The power is good, though, and it gives as much as you could need from the small unit. This is a good system to have with you, no matter where your project takes you.


4. Best Lightweight Option

Helteko Air Compressor DC Portable

Helteko 12V Air Compressor

  • Flow rate of 35 liters per minute
  • Weighs just 2.58 pounds
  • Bright LED display
  • Operates at less than 50 decibels

This is one of the best ultra-portable 12V air compressors out there, giving you full performance in a lightweight design. It also happens to be one of the most stylish units out there.

At just 2.58 pounds, this unit is incredibly lightweight,but it doesn’t sacrifice performance for portability. You’ll get a flow rate of 35 liters per minute, which makes it comparable to most other units reviewed here. And it has a maximum pressure of 150 PSI. These numbers would be great for an air compressor weighing twice as much. It also operates at under 50 decibels.

The LED display is bright and clear, with 4 different readouts (PSI, BAR, KGA, KG/CM squared). It also has an LED light that can help you stay safe when inflating tires on dark roads. The cable is around 10 feet long. This is a bit shorter than some other units’ cables, but long enough that you should be able to reach the tires on most cars.

It offers a great range of features and performance while still having one of the lowest price tags of any air compressor reviewed here. If you’re looking for a blend of portability, performance, and affordability, this is a great choice.


5. Quick and Powerful

Tirewell 12V Tire Inflator Compressor

Tirewell 12V Tire Inflator

  • Maximum pressure of 150 PSI
  • 2 CFM at 0 PSI
  • 15 foot extension hose
  • Excellent warranty

For those looking to spend a bit more to get top-of-the-line performance, the Tirewell is one of the best 12-volt air compressors out there.

This compressor has excellent performance. You’ll get a maximum pressure of 150 PSI, making it one of the most powerful 12V units out there,and the pressure is backed up by excellent airflow. This means you’ll be able to inflate tires quickly. For most mid-sized cars, tires can be fully inflated within 2 minutes, making it the fastest 12V air compressor on this list.

The downside of this air compressor is its size. It weighs in at nearly 9 pounds, making it one of the heavier air compressors reviewed here. It’s still fairly compact, so you should be able to fit it in a small car,but it just isn’t quite as portable as some other options.

It’s also a bit pricey, costing more than any of the other plugin units reviewed here. But these aren’t empty dollars;you’re paying for performance and for a unit that is durable and reliable. Tirewell also has some of the best customer service of any brand featured here, with an excellent warranty.

If you’re looking for an air compressor that can handle larger tires and inflate them quickly, this is a great choice. Its excellent airflow and durable build justify its slightly higher price tag.


6. Best Cordless Option

Oasser Air Compressor Electric Inflator 1

Oasser 12V Air Compressor

  • Maximum pressure of 130 PSI
  • Weighs 3.42 pounds
  • Intuitive design
  • LCD pressure gauge

If you are looking for an affordable battery-powered 12V air compressor, this is an excellent choice. It’s not quite as powerful as some of the top-of-the-line battery-powered units, but it’s not far off.

It has a maximum pressure of 130 PSI, which is more than enough for inflating tires. The downside of this compressor is that you won’t get as much airflow as with other units. This is to be expected, given its size and the fact that it’s battery powered. But you’ll still get enough power to inflate small to medium-sized car tires.

Designed like a drill, it’s one of the easiest 12V air compressors to operate. You’ll be able to use it straight out of the box, making it one of the most user-friendly units out there. It’s also one of the easiest 12V air compressors to store in your car, making it great for those who need a compact unit that can fit into tight spaces.

Battery-powered 12V air compressors tend to be a bit more expensive than plug-in units are, so the slightly higher price on this unit is to be expected. But compared to other battery-powered options, it’s a good value.


7. Best Vehicle Mounted Option

Viair 40040 400c Air Compressor Kit

Viair 40040 400C Air Compressor Kit

  • 12 VOLT - 150 PSI Max
  • 2.54 CFM Free Flow @ 0 PSI 
  • Can power air horns
  • Weighs 8.65 pounds

This unit is in the mid price range but includes a lot of high-end materials to complete the package. Features include a 150 PSI MAX, a 2.54 CFM free flow at 0 PSI, an oil-less design, and easy mounting. The system is not intended for beginners and is designed to be mounted on the vehicle for use in an on-board air system or air suspension system, with the ability to also power air horns. Despite some loss of versatility in overall use, this is still a very durable air compressor. It includes permanent magnetic motors, brush DC, and mounting hardware with vibration isolators. The wiring is freeze resistant and accessories also include a remote mount air filter assembly, air line for remote mounting air filter, and heavy duty terminals. The entire system is loaded with features from top to bottom so you will definitely get your money’s worth.

Despite all these added features, it clocks in well under 10 pounds, which is a testament to its portability. This isn’t your normal air compressor and relies on an on-board air system to be used. This is more for an intermediate to advanced user, even with the manual included. Its uses are also limited as is its functionality. For the brave beginner, there are numerous help documents and videos online, and to be honest, after using it a couple of times, it’s no different than a regular run-of-the-mill air compressor. There’s a 1-year limited warranty attached, but the high quality parts most likely won’t need to be replaced anytime soon. This is an awesome option for those that have the means to use it.


8. Small and Powerful

AAA 4024AAA DC Air Compressor

LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor

  • 12-volt 300-PSI
  • 10 foot cord
  • Weighs 2 pounds
  • 3 Nozzle Adapters Included

The LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor is a very professional looking and extremely cheap air compressor for inflating tires. This is the lowest priced item on the list, and is a 12-volt 300-PSI unit with a quick-connect air hose. The power cord is 10 foot long and is powered by the cigarette lighter. They do provide 3 nozzle adapters to get you going, so there won’t be too many compatibility issues when using it. The air pressure gauge is built into the unit itself, and has average accuracy when predicting the PSI. This is one of the smallest units on the list and the housing is of low quality. Expect it to weigh no more than 2 pounds total and to take up very little space no matter where you store it.

This portable unit can inflate a standard sized tire from 0 to 35 in 8 minutes or less. This is all while only taking in 10 of the cigarette lighter's 12 amps. The build quality is low, and you’ll notice it with the rubber in the connector that is sensitive to heat. For such a small unit it’s definitely on the noisy side so keep that in mind. The unit is best used for topping up rather than full inflation, especially with the gauge PSI being off by a bit. If using this as an emergency backup, it works great since it’s so small and easy to store. Anything beyond basic emergency needs and you’re more than likely going to be let down. This isn’t a bad air compressor for inflating tires, it just isn’t nearly as good as the others on this list as a permanent solution.


9. For Rapid Inflation

Slime 400262XDirect Drive Tire Inflator

Slime 40026 2X Heavy Duty Direct Drive Tire Inflator

  • Dual cylinder inflator
  • Inflates standard car tire in 2 min
  • Connects directly to the battery
  • Built-in LED light

A brand name like Slime might make you think twice, but this mid-priced model is actually pretty good. It has a dual cylinder inflator and gets the most out of each and every inflation. In fact, it can inflate a truck tire in about 2 minutes, which is one of the top speeds on the list. This is another unit that connects directly to the battery so you get the most gusto possible, and the dial gauge that’s inline of the hose is extremely accurate, and rounds out this nice little package. It is slightly heavier than many on the list at 9 pounds total. The hose is coiled for better portability but very flexible when you need it to stretch. Don’t forget the storage case, which isn’t some cheap carry bag, but a rugged case that stands the test of time. It has a 30-foot total reach and a built-in LED light as an add-on.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve included a couple of air adapters to get you started. The folding handle is aluminum, and much like the case, speaks to the great craftsmanship of the product. A plus with this unit is that the car doesn’t need to be running in order to use it, so you won't waste gas. And it’s nice to see quality alligator clamps rather than cheap clamps that could possibly damage the car battery itself. The unit can suffer from overheating issues if it’s overtaxed, so keep in mind it is an average-strength air compressor and not designed for heavy-duty use. This is not your run-of-the-mill equipment, so reading the manual is important. The unit is great and should be one of your top-5 choices when deciding from this list.


10. High Rated Option

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor

  • 12-volt max 120-PSI
  • Alligator clamps direct to battery
  • 1.94 CFM free flow at 0 PSI
  • LED power indicator

The Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor, is a 12-volt max 120-PSI unit with some unique features. One odd requirement with this model is that the engine has to be running in order for the unit to work, which will turn off a lot of users, especially those that want to use it for car projects where the car isn’t functional yet. With 1.94 CFM free flow at 0 PSI, it’s extremely efficient when used in tight spots and emergencies. By using alligator clamps that hook up directly to the battery there is no need for additional power from outside sources. SUVs, sedans, small ATVs, and even trucks will benefit from its power.

The LED power indicator on the front is complimented by a 9-foot power cord, 12-foot air hose, and 3-piece inflation tip kit. It’s also one of the lightest units on the list weighing less than 4.75 pounds. You run the risk of accidentally letting the air out of your tire if you don’t read the directions thoroughly. This is a pretty good pump that isn’t as noisy as others on the list, and is relatively fast in comparison.


Buying Guide

It can be hard to find the right 12 volt air compressor if you don’t know what to look for. There are many different units out there, each claiming to offer excellent performance. How are you supposed to tell them all apart?

Finding the perfect 12V air compressor doesn’t have to be a headache. Here, we’ll walk you through all you need to know when choosing a 12V air compressor.

Designed to be portable, 12V air compressors are mainly used to inflate car tires, although they can also be used to inflate a wide range of objects, from air mattresses to pool floats.

They work by connecting to your car battery through a cigarette plug, are battery-powered units, or they are connected with battery clamps. Once plugged in, you simply run the hose to your tires. Most units have a built-in hose, so connecting to your tires is easy.


Who Should Get a 12V Air Compressor?

Those looking for a portable air compressor to inflate tires may wonder if a 12-volt compressor is the right type of air compressor for them.

If you need an air compressor that you can easily keep stored in your car and run when needed, then they’re your best option. They aren’t the most powerful tire inflators you can find, but they make up for modest power with portability.

They’re an excellent tool to keep in your car in case of emergencies, and one of the cheapest types of air compressor, so you can buy one for each of your vehicles.

However, if you need a dedicated tire inflator that you plan on using frequently, you may want to consider a unit that connects to your car battery. This will give you more power and allow you to inflate larger tires.

They also can’t be used to run pneumatic tools. If you need an air compressor to drive nails, this isn’t the right type. Instead, you should consider a handheld or portable air compressor that can hookup to a wide range of tools as well as inflate tires.


Some Units of Measurement You Should Know

When looking for a 12V air compressor, you’ll find a lot of numbers thrown around by companies trying to sell their unit. To help you make sense of the numbers and better compare compressors, we’ll walk you through some of the important units of measurement.

PSI

PSI, or pounds per square inch, is one of the main units you should look at when choosing an air compressor. It tells you how pressurized the air is as it’s pumped out of the device.

Many brands emphasize a unit’s maximum pressure,but keep in mind that PSI isn’t always that important. You’re buying a compressor to inflate tires, not run a specialized air tool. And a high maximum PSI means little if the compressor can’t deliver much air.

CFM

The other main measurement unit you should know about when shopping for air compressors is CFM, or cubic feet per minute.This tells you how much air the compressor is pumping out at a given pressure. This number is, in many ways, more important than PSI, as it tells you how much air the compressor is delivering. A 12V air compressor with a higher CFM will be able to inflate tires more quickly.

Decibels

Decibelis the unit used to measure the sound produced by an air compressor.

12V air compressors are some of the quietest air compressors out there, owing to their modest power. Most units will operate at less than 50 decibels. To put this number into perspective, a typical conversation is around 65 decibels. With a 12V air compressor, you’ll be able to hear yourself think, as well as talk to the people around you.


What to Look For in a 12V Air Compressor

When you are choosing a 12V air compressor, here are some important factors to keep in mind:

Portability

Most users of 12V air compressors will keep them stored in their car. That means you’re going to want a unit that is compact and lightweight, especially if you have a small car.

The 12V air compressors reviewed here are all portable, but they vary in weight and compactness. You’ll want to consider where you will be storing the air compressor before you choose a unit. If you have a sedan without much room, you should opt for one of the lighter, more compact units such as the Helteko.

If, however, you have a van with more storage space, you may benefit from one of the heavier but more high-powered units, such as the Tirewell.

And it’s not just about weight. Some units, like the Kensun, have excellent handles that make them easy to move around, whereas other units are clunky and not as comfortable to carry.

Power

As one of the most portable types of air compressor, 12V units tend to be a bit less powerful than other types of air compressors. But you’ll still find a range in the power of 12V air compressors, with some units designed to pack a serious punch, and others built only to inflate small tires.

All of the units reviewed here can inflate small to mid-sized car tires without too much trouble,but only some will work if you need to pump up larger tires. If you need a unit that can inflate truck tires, you’ll want to choose an air compressor like the Tirewell. But if you don’t need this much performance, save yourself some money and get one of the less powerful units, like the EPAuto.

Also, note the multiple ways that companies try to advertise the power of their air compressors. Some will brag about the maximum pressure of the unit, while others will emphasize the airflow of the compressor. In general, you should care a bit more about airflow than max pressure, especially when looking for the best 12V tire inflator.

Price

One of the most portable options out there, 12V air compressors are also some of the most affordable. You’ll still find plenty of range in prices, however, depending on how much performance you need.

Consider what you plan to use the unit for before deciding to spend more on one of the higher end units. Are you buying a 12V air compressor mainly to inflate small tires in an emergency? Then you should choose one of the less pricey air compressors, such as the Helteko. If, however, you need something that will give you top-of-the-line performance, then you should consider an air compressor like the Tirewell.

Accessories

When you are choosing a compressor, take note of what accessories are included in the package. Some units will come with multiple connectors so that you can use the compressor on different types of tires and objects.


Types of Portable Air Compressor

If you’re looking for a 12V air compressor, you may wonder how it differs from other types of portable air compressor. Here are some of the main types of portable air compressors and a breakdown of how they compare to 12V units.

Handheld

These compressors are one of the best options for those who need an ultra-portable unit that can be taken just about anywhere. Unlike 12V compressors, they are meant to be used with a variety of pneumatic tools. These are a great choice if you need a portable air compressor that will still allow you to run air tools.

Portable

Unlike 12V air compressors, these portable air compressors are meant to perform a wide range of serious jobs, such as nailing, trimming, or sanding.

You’ll want this type of air compressor if you plan on running pneumatic tools, such as a brad nailer, but need a unit that you can transport between job sites. They are heavier than both 12V and handheld air compressors. They resemble standard air compressors, but with slightly smaller and less powerful builds.

Tire Inflators

Most 12V air compressors are used to inflate tires,but they aren’t the only option if you want a compressor to pump up a tire. There are units that operate by connecting to a car’s battery directly, rather than through a 12V plug.

This can make them more powerful. However, they tend to be much heavier and less compact. They are also less user-friendly, as you’ll have to pop the hood of your car and connect the unit to your car battery.

These are a great choice for those who plan to frequently inflate tires on the roadside and need something more powerful, durable, and high performance.


Brands You Should Know

There are many companies out there making 12V air compressors. Unfortunately, a lot of them produce units that aren’t worth your money. To help you find the best 12V air compressor, we’ve highlighted some brands that you can trust.

EPAuto

This is one of the leading makers of 12V air compressors. All of its units feature a blend of affordability and performance, making it one of the best brands to look for if you want the best deal for your money.

EPAuto also offers excellent customer service. Should you have a problem with your unit, they will resolve it quickly and professionally.

Kensun

Kensun is another leading producer of 12V air compressors. Its units have a great blend of portability and performance, and always have a reasonable price tag. Plus, it has one of the best warranties of any company out there, should you ever have any problems with your unit.

Helteko

This is a newer company, without the reputation of EPAuto or Kensun, but it is still a great option if you are looking for an affordable 12V air compressor.

Helteko’s build quality isn’t as great as some other companies, but it packs a good amount of performance into its units.

Oasser

Like Helteko, Oasser is a new company. Its build quality is a little less reliable than some other brands, but it offers a nice blend of performance and affordability.


Conclusion

It's worth stating just how important these appliances are, because you never know when you’re going to have an unfortunate flat tire or leak. For the units that run off of the car battery, you do get a little more oomph from the different setup, but that doesn’t mean you should look past the ones that run on 12-volt cigarette lighters. Power isn’t the end all and be all with air compressors that inflate tires. It will always be about efficiency and how quickly it can get you out of a bind without causing a bigger headache.

A 12V air compressor is an excellent tool to have in your car or garage. It’s lightweight, compact, and gives you enough power that you can quickly inflate your car tires in an emergency. You can also use it to inflate balls, bike tires, and just about any other object with an air bladder.

There isn’t one 12V air compressor that will suit everyone perfectly. You’ll need a unit that meets your specific needs. What type of tires are you inflating? How much room do you have in your car? Do you need a unit that you can plug in to a wall outlet? The answers to these questions will help determine which unit you should choose.

With our reviews and guide, you’ll be able to find the 12V air compressor that is right for you. Whether you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, or want the best performing 12V compressor out there, you’ll find it here.

And if you have any more questions about compressors, head over to Air Compressor Talk. Whether you’re looking to find the best air compressor to inflate tires, or looking for the best air compressor out there for air tools, you’ll find all the information you need to pick the perfect unit.

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