We’ve all been there, a soft or flat tyre just at the moment you really need to get moving. An electric car tyre inflator, also known as a portable air compressor, is a mini pump solution that takes up very little space in your car boot, and can be called upon quickly and easily to get you back on the road in a matter of a few minutes. Better still, they’re far more affordable than most people expect, and can be delivered to your home as soon as tomorrow if you choose to buy from Amazon, meaning that you don’t even need to head out to the shops.
While they’re not going to solve a puncture, they are very useful items to carry around – and save you money too over the long run as well as give you a vastly more convenient solution to adjusting air pressure wheel by wheel. If you’ve found yourself returning to the UK and picked up your car to find a soft tyre, you may need to pay up to £1 per minute at petrol stations – typically even supermarkets can cost 20p. Over the life of your chosen pump (which can often be longer than the average person keeps each vehicle), it’s easy to see how those savings can add up to more than the cost of buying the compressor itself.
Here’s some of the most popular inflators, in case you don’t know where to start.
One of the easiest ways to choose a great car pump is to look at Amazon’s bestsellers. There are, however a number of brands that almost always feature in that list, so lets have a look at the best they have to offer in 2020.
ZANMAX Auto Portable
The best model UK drivers choose will vary – in other words, what’s perfect for one person may not be for another. That’s why we’ve taken three to tell you about and listed them below in order, with our favourite first.
By far our favourite inflator, the Ring RAC635 ticks all the boxes for keeping your tyres pumped up on the go. Ring are very popular, due to their reliability and competitive pricing. It’s not hard to see the value, comparing regularly shovelling change into the air machines at the petrol station, it won’t take long for this to pay for itself.
The simple intuitive design means that ease of use shines through with this compressor, we think that the smart and simple interface to control its use makes the Ring a winner. The easy to read LCD display is backlit to make it very clear in low light and even dark night use, exactly what you’d want from what should be considered a safety device. Wherever you are when you discover you need to put some air into your tyres, the RAC635 will be there to help.
Powered by an adaptor that fits into your vehicle’s 12V power outlet (also known as the cigarette lighter socket), the 3.5 metre (350cm/11.5 feet) cable is suitable to reach all four wheels of even the largest family vehicle. If you’re a lorry driver it’s not going to be up to the job, but for virtually everyone else, this is plenty long enough.
The air line is also a good length, giving you up to 70cm separation between the casing of the compressor unit to reach the valve. That should mean that for most valves, your wheels can be in any position and the connection can be made with the unit sitting on the ground.
Setting the desired pressure is simple, press the yellow button to select the measurement type (PSI, BAR or KPA) then twist to increase or decrease the pressure setting. It’s then as simple as pressing the power button and you’ll hear it jump into life. The display will track the pressure in the tyre all the way up to the level you set as the air compressor motor does its thing.
Finally, the yellow dial under the power button is used to control the light, with settings for always on white (torch), flashing white (attract attention) and flashing red (SOS).
All in all this is an excellent choice of inflator to carry around at all times and takes up very little space in its smart supplied case in your car boot.
Foxnovo aren’t a particularly well known brand, which made it all the more surprising when we saw how good this model is. It’s not impressed us as much as the Ring above, but it seems some people prefer the slightly more shaped casing with this one. In our opinion, this isn’t enough to make it better than our number one option, but if you’re the sort of person that places a lot of emphasis on how things look perhaps you disagree!
As you might have guessed, all of these compressors do the same core task – they pump up your tyres! Increasingly, they’ve all added similar features too, so there’s not a great deal to separate them. The big plus point for the Foxnovo is it tends to be a little cheaper than the Ring, so if money is tight then it’s worth considering.
Our final choice is from Zanmax, with their 3633 car pump. We wanted to include this one in our chosen three because it gives you a really low budget option. It means you can buy a decent model to keep you on the road when you need to deal with a soft tyre. Clearly, any means of pumping up tyres is better than none at all, especially in an emergency situation.
While we’re not sure this model gives you the reliability and track record of the recommended Ring compressor, it does have recommendations from previous customers on Amazon. On the downside there have been reports of inaccurate pressure readings. For that reason this one falls bottom of the three, as it’s able to pump up and get you moving again when you need it to, but you may need to check them again later when convenient to make sure the pressure is where it should be.
In this context, it’s an electronic pump for your vehicle that we’re talking about in our tyre compressor reviews. Typically, they’re powered by a 12V adaptor, meaning that you can use them anywhere you like, or more importantly, need them. Some people don’t realise you plug them into the car itself – while there are exceptions, the vast majority aren’t mains driven at 240V (volts) or battery powered. Having access to pumps on the move might save you from an hour or two at the roadside waiting for a recovery truck to assist – time you could be spending completing your journey!
The obvious reason to buy a portable inflator is to increase the pressure in your tyres when they go soft. It’s something that just happens, and there’s no motorist that’s ever going to escape the need to make sure theirs are pumped up and as solid as necessary.
Your car handbook will give you the information you need to know, namely the pressure required in each wheel, normally measured in PSI or BAR. It’s common that any given car will have different pressures listed so it’s important to recognise why.
Modern cars often also have a plate inside the driver or passenger door showing the recommended pressures too, as shown in the image. You may need to look at the tyre itself too to work out the pressure for the size of wheel that you’ve got.
Firstly, your front tyre pressure may well need to be different to the rear wheels. That’s a reflection of both the weight they support and the forces that act upon them under normal driving conditions. The obvious reason for this is the engine is heavy and in most cars lives under the bonnet at the front of the car – often meaning the car is ‘front heavy’.
It’s also common to see that your vehicle needs higher pressures with a full load than when it is near empty (ie driver only).
Having a tyre inflator handy will allow you to check these pressures wherever you are and whenever you need to. For many drivers, that will be when the car warns you, as all new cars are now required to be manufactured with tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) as standard. It’s a good idea to regularly check pressures anyway, but this is a helpful fall-back if you’re not someone who tends to remember these things.
I’ve often seen posts on internet forums being critical of the pressure readings given by these devices, and to be fair, they may have a point that they’re not the sort of things that will give 100% accurate readings every time.
However, that negative type of comment misses the point of why these devices are important. Far too few motorists check their tyres, relying on the annual MOT check to highlight any problems. Granted, a good testing centre will check these things carefully, but we’re talking about a year between checks which is far from ideal. I check my tyres at least monthly.
Every time you go over a bump, speed hump, hit a pot hole or mount the kerb however gently you lose a little bit more pressure, and even normal driving will result in pressure loss eventually!
Whether tyre pressure checks by these pumps are 100% accurate really isn’t the point – driving cars that are safe and roadworthy is what you really should be focused on!
What’s more, if you suddenly find your pressure warnings going off, often with a light on the dashboard and a warning buzzer, it’s good to know that you can pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so, take some readings from the built in pressure gauge, inflate the offending tyre and be back on your way. What’s more, if it happens again a few miles down the road, you’ll know you need to take the vehicle for additional help and diagnostics.
Let’s introduce you to the main brands you need to know about next, if you’re wanting to research a little more rather than look straight at the top recommendations above.
There’s no better place to start than Ring, who offer our favourite option, the RAC635. Far from being a one trick pony, they also offer a range of other inflators too, catering to all budgets and also requirements.
As probably one of the most well known motoring names in the world, Michelin tyre inflators are effective solutions if you’re happy to pay a little more and are the sort of person that likes to pay for a well known brand.
They’ve got similar solutions to our top recommendation by Ring, in a little more expensive, and there are also variations like the Michelin high power pump:
Vonhaus are better known as the manufacturer of trade tools like chop saws, but they also have brought out a car pump too. What’s more it’s also a cordless model, so you won’t need to plug it in during use (of course there’s a cord in the form of the air hose!).
We’re not convinced that the cordless feature is worth paying extra for, unless your vehicle doesn’t have a working 12V outlet. If you want a look though, here’s the link:
As you’ll have noticed, Amazon are our preferred place to buy, but they’re by no means the only source of tyre pumps. We recommend Amazon because they’re so easy to deal with, deliver quickly, offer competitive pricing and have a simple returns process if things go wrong.
On the other hand, we know there are people out there that have their own reasons for wanting to shop elsewhere, or perhaps you really need to buy an inflator today.
Let’s have a look at the alternatives in more detail.
A couple of decades ago, Halfords were the go to place for all things motoring. Unlike some of the big brands that have fallen by the wayside in the last five or ten years, Halfords have embraced the online revolution.
Like most high street stores, they have much higher overheads than the online retailers, so typically you’ll pay more at Halfords than at Amazon, but if you need a solution quickly, they’re a good bet.
Screwfix are under the same company umbrella as B&Q, but tend to supply more trade clients than consumers. That doesn’t mean you can’t walk into a Screwfix outlet and buy though, in fact it’s often cheaper to buy things here than at B&Q if they both stock them!
Like Halfords though, they’ve not managed to make a habit of matching Amazon pricing, so the chances are you’ll turn to a Screwfix tyre inflator if time is of the essence.
Less of an obvious choice (until you think about it) to buy car accessories is Argos. The kings of the high street catalogue have revamped themselves for the internet age meaning that you can often reserve the one you want in advance online, and pick it up later in store. That’s a great advantage when you need a compressor fast and don’t want to arrive to find it’s out of stock.
Less of a reliable option stock wise is Aldi – if you shop there regularly though they are worth checking out. Price is their forte, so you may well get a bargain if you fall lucky. It’s probably not somewhere you want to travel to trying your luck though, as they’re a ‘they’ve got what they’ve got’ kind of outlet.
As with Aldi, Lidl fall into the discount supermarket category and offer some great bargains from time to time. Again though, stock is far from guaranteed!
Favourite among bargain hunters is the serial discount store B&M. In fact, the same could also apply to stores like Poundland, Wilko and Home Bargains too, so rather than keep repeating ourselves let’s just say to have a look if you’re passing. You’re highly unlikely to get something like a tyre inflator worth buying for a quid, but even pound shops like Poundland have started selling more expensive (if that’s the right word) items at steep discounts recently.