Getting in the car for a road trip is one of the most liberating experiences that anyone could have that doesn’t require a lot of money and a passport. You can grab your best friend and just drive as far as the road will take you.
That is, until something happens and you realize you have a flat tire. That’s about one of the quickest ways to turn a great road trip into one filled with frustration and aggravation—especially if your spare tire is flat and neither you or your friend has any cell reception to call for help.
Instead of hitchhiking or walking to the nearest town for help, you could turn the situation around within a matter of minutes. Yes, minutes. How? By reaching into your trunk and pulling out that tire inflator that you forgot you had until now. With a portable air pump, you can plug it in and fill both flat tires (the tire on the car and the flat spare tire) and be on your way before the next song ends.
What’s that? You don’t have a portable tire inflator? Maybe it’s time you thought about getting one. Sure, you may never need it, but isn’t it always better to be safe than sorry should ever a situation similar to the one we just described happens to you? Or worse, you find yourself stranded in a bad part of town or in the middle of a dangerous storm.
When you decide that you want to be prepared in case of an emergency situation and start looking at a car tire inflator, do you know if you’re looking at a good one or not? Let’s face it, there are many products on the market, but they aren’t all going to live up to half of the claims they make.
The Different Types Of Air Compressors
Before we go into what qualities you should consider when choosing a tire inflator, let’s talk about the different types of air compressors are available.
- Pancake Air Compressor - With this type of air compressor, the storage tank is going to be round, flat, and the motor is typically located on top of the tank. This design makes the compressor lightweight, which adds to how portable it is.
- Wheelbarrow Air Compressor – With this type of air compressor, you’ll have one or two cylindrical tanks that have been filled with compressed air. This tanks often have handles and tires on a frame, which can be used to move the tank.
- Hotdog Air Compressor – With this type of air compressor, you’ll may have a frame with a single, horizontal tank in it. This is the most common type of air compressor people will have in their garages.
- Twin-Stack Air Compressor – With this air compressor, it’s going to be just like the hotdog air compressor except it has two horizontal air tanks rather than just the one.
- Inflators – These are the smallest type of air compressors that you can get on the market right now. Since they don’t have a storage tank, the motor is going to continuously run so it will be able to inflate things like car tires, camping and sporting equipment, and other inflatables.
What Do The Abbreviations Mean
Before you start looking at inflators, there are four abbreviations that you ought to know the meaning of:
- PSI – Pounds Per Square Inch – This refers to how much pressure your compressor is capable of putting out. If your device has a higher PSI, then that means it is capable of storing more compressed air in the storage tank.
- CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute – This refers to the amount of air the compressor can put out at any given time. If the unit has more CFM, then it means the air is going to come out quicker. Also, once the tank has ran out of the compressed air, the CFM also indicates how long it will take for the tanks to refill to its usual operational pressure.
- SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet Per Minute – The SCFM is pretty much the CFM is all the conditions for the air compressor are standard. However, this rarely happens but it was worth noting.
- HP – Horse Power – All air compressors feature a motor that is going to do the work of compressing the air. And like other devices that use a motor, it’ll use horse power to measure the power. A higher HP indicates the compressor is capable of building higher amounts of PSI.
What To Look For In A Tire Inflator
As part of car maintenance, it’s crucial that your tires are balanced and have proper air pressure, because if any tire is unbalanced or low on air, the way your car runs will suffer. By having a small electric air compressor in your car, you’ll be able to prevent any instances of needing to call someone to change your tire because you’ve got a flat.
So, what should you look for when purchasing a tire inflator?
The air pressure gauge is going to tell you what the pressure is inside the tire. You want a unit that has a pressure gauge so that you never over fill the tire, which could lead to bursting.
With this feature, you can set the amount of air you need in the tire. Then just press the button and the tire will inflate to that setting.
In conjunction with the previous features, the auto shutoff will turn the unit off once the pressure in the tire has reached the amount of air that you set the auto inflation setting at.
As if getting a flat tire wasn’t bad enough, it’s worse when it goes flat at night in a poorly lit location. There are tire compressors on the market today that will feature an LED work light somewhere on the device. The light will illuminate the tire, but it can also alert oncoming traffic that you’re on the side of the road and that they need to be mindful.
Long Power Cord And Hose
There’s no point in having a tire inflator if you aren’t able to reach all four tires when it is plugged in. You’ll want a compressor whose power cord and hose are pretty long so that you can reach your tires with ease. You can find some cords that reach up to 12 feet in length and hoses that reach up to 6 feet.
Most new models of tire inflators will feature both AC and DC connectors. The DC part will be plugged into your cigarette lighter port, while the AC portion can be plugged into the regular electrical outlet. When you have both of these options, you can use the inflator in all sorts of cars, even the modern ones that do not have cigarette lighters.
The typical 12-volt inflator is ideal for the car, however you won’t be able to use it inside your home. For those instances, you’ll want a 120-volt inflator.
Adaptors For Inflatable Products
Although they are intended for car tires, many car air compressors will have adaptors for inflatable products like sporting equipment, bicycle tires, air mattresses, and other items that need to be inflated. Be mindful that these adaptors can be pretty small, so you’ll either want to have them in a little bag in the glovebox or put them in the inflator’s carrying case .
Chances are you don’t want to keep your air compressor in the box that it came in, so look for one that comes with a carrying case or bag. Not only will the case keep all the components of the air compressor together and orderly, but it’ll help to minimize the amount of space the air compressor takes up in the back of your car.
Remember those adaptors we mentioned previously? If your inflator has a carrying case, you won’t have to worry about losing any of the attachments.
If you’re inflating a tire, you don’t want to be there for a long time. Unfortunately, a tire inflator is going to take more time to inflate a tire than a heavy duty air compressor, but they can still be pretty fast, as some of the best inflators can fully inflate a tire between 2 to 3 minutes.
Durable Air Hose
Naturally, you’re going to want to make sure that all the components of your air compressor are going to stand the last of time. So look for a durable hose that has some girth to it.
Size Of The Compressor
The size of the compressor is going to indicate how quickly the device works. So, the higher the PSI (pounds per square inch) the compressor is, the stronger and faster the unit works. We don’t recommend a model with a small PSI number because it isn’t going to have enough power to fill a car tire satisfactorily. The low PSI models are better suited for sporting equipment, bicycle tires, air mattresses and the like.
While the LED work light is going to light up your work area and it can notify people that you’re there, warning lights are going to grab the attention of oncoming traffic so they will see you and they’ll know you’re in distress.
A car tire pump is going to be small and lightweight, making it easy to move around. While portability is a given with a tire inflator, it’s more of a personal preference of how heavy the device will be.
If you don’t want to be bothered with AC/DC cords, you can find some models of tire inflators that are battery powered. While not having to worry about the cord is a bit of a relief, you then have to worry about keeping the battery charged at all times just in case you have to use the compressor.
The duty cycle is more of something to consider when looking at the different models. The duty cycle is the amount of time a unit will work at full capacity before it needs to be turned off so it can cool down. For example, if you have a unit with a 45% duty cycle, it will be able to run continuously at 70 degrees for about 4 minutes before it has to cool down. If a unit has a 100% duty cycle, it can work continuously without any cooldown period.
There are some tire inflators that can inflate the large tires that you’d find on large pickup trucks, while there are others that cannot. When you’re looking for a compressor, you want to make sure that it is going to be able to inflate your tires. So if you have a big work truck, you may not want to purchase an inflator with a low PSI.
Among these features, here a few other things you’ll want to think about when choosing a tire inflator:
- How frequently you intend on using your air compressor?
- What are you going to be inflating (will it just be the tires for your car or are you going to inflate recreational inflatables too?) and where?
- The strength of the air compressor that you’ll need to inflate the intended items (a cheap tire inflator isn’t going to be able to inflate a bounce house)?
- How quickly will you be able to get the inflator to work when you’re in an emergency situation?
- The power requirements your compressor needs (most car tire compressors require a minimum of 15amps or 12volts of power)?
- How much are you really willing to spend on an inflator?
How To Use A Tire Inflator Correctly And Safely
When you notice that low tire indicator light has come on, you’re going to want to pull over, pull out your air compressor tire inflator, plug it in (or not, if it’s a battery air compressor) and start pumping your tire with air. However, you don’t want to go blindly into filling your tire with air! Too much air could cause your tire to burst and too little air is no help either. Here’s a quick course on how to inflate your tires correctly and safely.
Check Recommended PSI Level
Each car tire has a designated PSI level that it should be filled at to ensure your car works like it’s supposed to. The PSI refers to the amount of air pressure in the tire and that will let you know how the car will perform.
You should always be aware of the recommended PSI for your tires and do regular checkups on them so you aren’t caught unawares and find yourself with a flat tire. When you fill up the tire, use a tire gauge (of your tire inflator doesn’t have a digital one integrated on it) to make sure you reach the maximum PSI and not go over it.
Always Discharge Carefully
Air compressors, even the small tire compressor, release a strong burst of air when you’ve turned the compressor on. You want to make sure that whenever you are using the compressor, the nozzle is pointed away from your body and you only want to turn it on when it is attached to the tire valve. Make sure the connection is secure so no air leaks out, as this will help maintain a speedy inflation time.
Other Uses For An Air Compressor
While you may not be able to do all of these things with your portable air compressor for the car, an air compressor can be used for a wide variety of applications—not just for filling tires and inflatables!
- Air Brush Painting - If you’re an artist, you can use an air compressor to practice your airbrushing techniques. You could airbrush designs on vehicles, bicycles, helmets, and anything else you can get your hands on Because this is such a delicate practice, you’ll want to use a small air compressor.
- Paintball Guns - If you don’t want to spend the money for a real paintball gun, you can create a rig with a battery air compressor. Just be sure that if you do try this, you use safety equipment like a helmet and goggles.
- Pressure Washer - Depending on how strong your air compressor is, you can use it to pressure wash areas of your home. Just be mindful of what is around you because the pressure that these suckers put out is pretty incredible. Also, we don’t recommend that you use a pressure washer on a ladder or anything that isn’t flat because the pressure can easily cause you to lose your balance.
- Nail or Stable Gun - The pressure inside the gun pushes a piston that drives the nail or staple into the surface, whether it is drywall, steelwork, stone, wood, or concrete. We probably don’t have to tell you how dangerous either of these tools are, so be mindful of where you are pointing the gun and keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to use it.
- Sandblasting - Sandblasting is a great way to prepare and restore surfaces. Sandblasting can remove paint, rust, and any other imperfections from both metal and wood. Whenever you want to start a new project, read the instruction booklet so you know what kind of material you should use (be it sand, silica or even water) and how to sandblast small items.
- Air Blow Gun - If you work in a messy workshop, you can easily clean the place up with an air blow gun. The pressure isn’t as high as a pressure washer, but it can still blow dust and some debris from machinery and all the nooks and crannies from around the workshop with no problem.
- Air Sander - An air sander is capable of using air to make an object nice and smooth. These are preferred options over an electric sander because they won’t heat up and they can be used for longer periods of time.
As much as we enjoy having the freedom to pick up and go whenever we want, we have to deal with car maintenance, which is never any fun. Some maintenance requires actually taking your car to the mechanic and have them fix it, while others you can do yourself and save yourself a substantial amount of money.
Case in point, making sure your tires are properly inflated. By having tires that are low on pressure, not only are you putting yourself at risk for accidents (tire blowouts, poor steering, the need for further braking distances), but you’re just flushing money down the drain, both in fuel and overall health of the tire.
You can avoid low tire pressure by investing in a tire inflator and keeping it in your trunk at all times. You never know when that pesky low tire light is going to come on and you don’t want to be caught unprepared. When looking at air compressors, always remember that the right air compressor should be able to fill your tire to the maximum recommended PSI in a couple of minutes, and you can check that with the pressure gauge that is on the compressor.
With one of these handy little devices in the trunk of car, you can rest assured that you’ll never be stranded on the side of the road due to a flat tire.