Best 12V Air Compressor – (Reviews & Buying Guide 2018)

For any driver in today’s world, safety must be a top priority. It is no surprise then that manufacturers are constantly making and innovating tools that contribute towards that goal. 12V air compressors are just one of the types of tools that have made their way into the car safety industry.

Primarily they are emergency tools that every driver should have in their car. We have assembled a number of tools for our best 12v air compressor list as well as a buying guide. This guide will contain all the useful information you need to find the right tool for your needs.

1. Kensun Model J

The first model on our list comes from the acclaimed Kensun company and is a useful tool. The primary function of this air compressor is tire inflation. The unit can handle a maximum pressure rating of 90 PSI. So, most regular sized tires on cars, bikes, SUV’s and balls are not an issue for this model. The compressor uses the power from the car lighter with the adapter that is attached to it. The power cord is 10 feet long which should give you enough length to reach all of the tires in an average car.

The tool is a light model with only 5 pounds. For extra visibility, there is a white LED light at the front of the tool and a digital display that shows you all the relevant information. The model is also covered by a 2-year warranty.

Pros

  • Compact design makes it easy to carry and store
  • Has power cords for wall plugs and car lighter docks
  • Has an auto-shutoff feature
  • Digital pressure gauge

Cons

  • Very few attachments in the kit
  • Takes a long time for big tires
  • This unit has a short air hose

2. RoadTek Digital Tire Inflator

This 12v air compressor is sublimely simple to use. All you need to do is put the car lighter adapter into your lighter dock, select the pressure you want your tires to have, attach the coupler to the tire and press 1 button. It is an exceptionally small and light tire inflator with just 10 ounces as its total weight. The body is made out of plastic, but don’t let that fool you, this little unit can handle up to 150 PSI. Besides that, it is a very budget-friendly tool that also comes with 7 useful accessories to help with tire inflation and safety.

The tool can fit anywhere even in its carry bag. Though it is a powerful compact tool and can handle tires, toys or any type of ball it does take more time to inflate tires given its size. The warranty for this model is 1 year.

Pros

  • Extremely light-weight -only 10 ounces
  • Digital gauge
  • Auto shut-off feature
  • Plenty of useful accessories
  • Has a built-in light

Cons

  • Longer inflation time
  • Can’t handle prolonged use

3. Black+Decker BDINF12C

Our next model offers a slightly different design and different features than the other models on our list. This inflator actually has 2 types of outputs. A high-pressure output, which we use for tires on cars, bikes, motorcycles, etc. And a high-volume output which is very efficient for air beds, pools, rafts and so on. The unit can handle an impressive 160 PSI.

This unit is very handy for roadside emergencies, like when you have a flat tire or for family outings when you need to inflate a ball or a mattress. The power cord is 10 feet long and connects to your car lighter dock which can reach the back wheels of most cars.

The kit includes a carry bag, ball needle, air hose, valve adapter and weighs only 4 pounds. The manufacturer gives a 2-year warranty on this model.

Pros

  • Multi-purpose inflation tool
  • Digital pressure gauge
  • Auto shut-off feature

Cons

  • The gauge can be unreliable
  • A bad solution for heavy and large tires

4. Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor

This model from Viair is a popular model on the market due to its dependable performance and lower noise level. The compressor can handle 100 PSI, which can adjust or inflate most tires on vans, cars or trucks. At 30 PSI, it can run for about half an hour before needing a break. Unlike other models, this compressor comes with a brass coupler which is far more durable than the usual plastic couplers. The unit has a safety shut-off feature to prevent damage if the compressor has been running too long.

The model comes with an analog gauge which works when you turn off the compressor. This gives a more accurate reading, especially for tires. To help with your inflation needs the compressor comes with 2 extra nozzles and a ball needle. The compressor comes with a 1-year warranty.

Pros

  • 16-foot car lighter power cord
  • Built-in overheating protection
  • Good build quality at a low price

Cons

  • Paint can come-off due to heat
  • Can’t fit into a glove box

5. VonHaus Cordless 12V Tire Inflator Kit

Our next tool comes in form of a highly-portable battery powered inflation tool. This handy compressor can handle up to 125 PSI, and it has a very sleek design. It was made as a hand tool with a strategically positioned light on the front part of the handle for good visibility.nThe model comes with a car adaptor to charge it on the go, or a wall adapter to charge it in your home. The tool made short work of balls and tires on bikes and motorcycles, but it did need a little more time on car tires. Still good performance for a hand-tool. It’s only 3.3 pounds, so it’s easy to store and carry.

The tire inflator has a digital display and an automatic shut-off feature when you reach your desired pressure level. The unit is covered by a 2-year warranty.

Pros

  • Very portable and easy to store
  • Has an auto shut-off feature
  • Can be used as a hazard warning light

Cons

  • Comes with a carry bag, not a case

12V Air Compressor Buying Guide

When you are choosing a tool that could save you in an emergency situation you need to make sure it covers all of your needs. To address this, we have compiled some useful information which you need to consider before buying your very own 12V air compressor.

If you haven’t used a portable tire inflator before you can see it being done here:

What is the Difference Between 12V Air Compressors and 12V Tire Inflators?

For every job, there is a specific tool. If you are looking for something to just inflate your tires and occasionally inflate some balls or other toys then a 12V tire inflator would be a good choice. As the name suggests 12V tire inflators are mainly used on tires and aren’t very good with other applications.

Tire inflators can come with lights to assist in car maintenance at night, but they don’t have to. They usually include a couple of attachments for different types of tires and a ball needle. Generally, tire inflators can’t handle prolonged use and require rest periods during inflation.

12V tire inflators can be powered by a battery or via a power cord that connects to your car’s lighter dock. Sometimes they can also have a wall charger, but these power cords are usually short. Besides portability, these tire inflators are often made from plastic and other cheaper materials.

A 12V air compressor has more versatility than a tire inflator. These air compressors can come with a tank or without one. If they have a tank that gives you the option of inflating more tires or possibly using small air tools for routine car maintenance.

An air compressor usually is also more expensive and cumbersome than a tire inflator. They still can be very portable, but you will have to store them in your vehicle’s trunk or garage. Compressors have a bigger motor and therefore produce more noise when being used, which can be a problem for some people.

To sum up, an air compressor is the more expensive model but can be used longer, it can do all of the jobs a tire inflator can and more. Both are good choices to have in your car for emergencies, the only question is do you need extra features and how often do you plan on using your tool.

What to Look in an Air Compressor?

It’s not easy to select the right unit – buying a 12-volt air compressor would be easy if there weren’t so many things to consider. Here we will take a look at the features and characteristics you need to consider before buying a 12V air compressor that will satisfy your needs.

Tank capacity

The tank stores the air which you will be using. You can use it to pump up your tires to have a safe trip or use them as fuel for your air tools. Tank capacity is just one of the factors that define what exactly you can do with your air compressor. If you only use air tools that require short bursts of power then a compact model with a small capacity is a good enough choice. But if you need something to give your tools continuous power then you will have to go with a model that has a bigger tank.

Yes, you will lose portability but you will gain power with a bigger tank. If you plan on using air tools, always check what their requirements are. Air tools are more expensive than electronic tools but they waste less energy. So, in the long run, you would be saving not losing money.

Motor

Motors for air compressors can be electric or gas powered. Electric motors are generally quieter and are more energy efficient. A lot of time has been invested into making electric motors compact and powerful. However, the units that have an electric motor are usually weaker in terms of horsepower in comparison to gas-powered motors. Since electric motors don’t burn fuel they are usually the preferred option for indoor use. Gas powered motors usually have more power than electric motors in the same price range. More power equals higher performance and more air tool options. Also, a gas-powered air compressor will have a shorter recovery time than an electric motor.

While you can get more use out of a gas-powered motor the trade-off is that these units are heavier, noisier and produce gas fumes, which can be dangerous in an enclosed space. If you need an air compressor for occasional use and non-intensive inflation then a cheaper electronic air compressor would be a better option.

Power

The power of an air compressor can be measured in the pressure that it can manage to put out (PSI) and at what flow rate that pressure is delivered (CFM). This depends on both the motor and pump being used. Generally, you want to have a high PSI rating on your air compressor, because that allows you to do more with your compressor.

Air pressure defines what tools you can use and what you can actually inflate with your compressor. If an air tool doesn’t have enough pressure, it simply won’t work. If your compressor can’t produce enough pressure you also won’t be able to inflate your tires.

To avoid problems, you want to get a compressor that has at least 50 PSI more than what you need for the smaller air tools and your tires. Of course, the more power your air compressor has the more expensive it will be.

The flow rate is measured in CFM which represents the volume of air being supplied in Cubic Feet per Minute. Air tools consume this airflow as their power source. The higher the CFM value the more tools you will be able to use. If the compressor doesn’t have a CFM rating on the box or in the manual that means the tool was designed primarily for inflation work and not for air tools.

If you would like to know more about the common requirements for air tools you can take a look at our chart.

Durability

A couple of factors influence the durability of an air compressor. If you are working with an air compressor that has a tank you want it to be made from quality metal parts. Metals like steel or cast iron can handle heat produced by the motor much more effectively than other materials. The durability of a compressor can also be guessed by the casing of the unit. Manufacturers will usually state the heat range which the compressor can handle. Overheating is a real threat to these machines because it can cause damage to the motor and possible cause a bigger accident, so always follow the instructions in the manual.

Smaller inflator compressors can handle short bursts of work ranging from 10 to 30 minutes before needing a break for safety reasons because they are usually made from plastic parts. While a 12V air compressor can work longer than that, the quality of the motor and pump can define how much stress the unit is able to handle.

Always check what kind of parts your future air compressor is comprised of and under what heat conditions it can operate under.

Other features

There is an assortment of features 12V air compressors can have to make your life easier. One very common feature is a programmable ‘Auto shut-off’ that stops the unit once you have reached the desired pressure level. A similar feature is included in more expensive models in the form of thermal protection, where a unit will stop working to prevent heat damage. Air compressors may also include onboard or detachable lights to assist you in roadside repairs at night. Gauges are used to show operating pressure or output pressure on the air compressor and they can be analog or digital. To get a more accurate reading you want to have a heavy-duty gauge made from quality materials. Accurate pressure control is very important because of air tool usage and obvious safety reasons.

The attachments that come along with your air compressor are also important. The different needles, nozzles, couplers, and hoses you get with your kit defines what you can do with them. If you are just going to occasionally use your air compressor for your tires and to inflate some toys then you don’t really need many accessories. But if you plan to do car maintenance or some work around your home with your air compressor, then you will need to make sure the kit you are buying has the all the right attachments for your tools and other inflation needs.

Budget

The great equalizer of all purchases – your spending budget. When you are considering buying an air compressor, money is always a factor. What you need to keep in mind is your long-term goals for this machine.

If your main goal is to have an emergency maintenance tool that you will use sparingly then you can opt out for a cheaper more compact model. However, if your goal is to have a tool that can actively help you in car maintenance, small DIY projects in your home or on a construction site, we would advise you to invest in a durable model with extra attachments to satisfy a wider scope of uses.

What Are the Benefits of Air Compressors?

There are a few prominent benefits you need to keep in mind with 12V air compressors. They are usually portable and designed to fit neatly in the trunk of your vehicle or shelf in the garage, or carry them around to wherever you need them. Depending on how much you spend you can get a wide range of uses from one machine.

One of the biggest advantages is that they are cost-effective in the long run. Yes, the initial investment can sometimes be substantial, but due to the energy efficiency of the air compressors and the air tools they use, you usually end up saving money.

Besides keeping your car tires inflated you can also use air compressors for camping, family outings, or even small hobbies – it really depends on how much you spend on the unit you are buying.

These air compressors can be powered through various methods, be it gas, a wall socket, your car’s lighter dock, the car battery or even a rechargeable battery. Some air compressors can use multiple power sources so you won’t have to worry about how you will be able to use them.

What Are the Common Problems with Air Compressors?

Every type of machine or tool has to have some kind of drawback or problem and this is no different for air compressors. The issues you can face with air compressor come in a few different forms.

If a company doesn’t have good quality control, then you will often see comments from users reporting that their units stopped working after a short period of time. A lack of quality control can also mean broken parts in shipping or simply flimsy construction that results in your unit being very disposable. These usually are the cheaper models.

Another frequent issue is the cord length if you are using a portable 12V air compressor that gets power from your car lighter or engine. These models are usually designed for an average-sized car and power cords are often around 10 feet. That length isn’t always enough to reach all of the tires on a car.

If you are already using the car lighter for another device that of course means fiddling with wires and other devices every time you need to use the compressor. Another negative is that small portable air compressors are mostly good for inflation jobs and they can’t work for very long.

Models made from plastic require rest periods and can have a very short work time before it needs to take rest for safety reasons. This, in turn, means you will have to wait for a while if you are inflating a completely flat tire.

Sometimes the air compressor just won’t seem to comply due to a faulty valve or broken seal around the air hose. While you can avoid a lot of these issues by investing in a more expensive model, these usually take up more space and are heavier to transport.

Wrap Up

The key to finding the best 12v air compressor for yourself is to find a balance between performance, portability, use and your budget. Once you have all of that figured out you can buy a very practical and useful tool for yourself.

Air compressors can have a long work life, depending on proper maintenance and the quality of the individual parts. Just from the aspect of road safety, having one in your car is a good idea. We hope we have covered all of the important points in our buying guide. If there are still some unanswered questions please feel free to contact us through our comments section.