We’ve all been there, a soft or flat tyre just at the moment you really need to get moving. A car tyre inflator, also known as a portable air compressor, is a simple 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 tyre inflation solution. 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 tyre inflator (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 tyre inflators, in case you don’t know where to start.
One of the easiest ways to choose a great car tyre inflator is to look at Amazon’s bestsellers. You can find that information here. 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.
Ring RAC635 Preset Digital Tyre Inflator
Foxnovo Tyre Inflator
ZANMAX Auto Portable Air Compressor
By far our favourite tyre 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 tyres 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 tyre valve. That should mean that for most tyres 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 car tyre 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 tyre 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 tyre inflator. 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 your tyres 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.
The obvious reason to buy a tyre inflator is to keep the pressure up in your tyre when it goes 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 solid.
Your car handbook will give you the information you need to know, namely the pressure required in each tyre 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 the the image. You may need to look at the tyre itself too to work out the pressure for the size of tyre 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 pressure in the tyres 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 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 many motorists never 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 tyre 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 you lose a little bit more pressure, and even normal driving will result in pressure loss eventually!
Whether tyre pressure checks by inflators 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, 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.