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A tire inflator is a crucial tool to ensure your tires have enough pressure guaranteeing you a comfortable and safe journey whenever you think of traveling.

Most people remember to check their tires when they see a warning light on their dashboard. Others have honed the skill to determine when to inflate their tires depending on how long they have driven. It may range from hours to days for some people depending on the miles driven. This article will give you a comprehensive guide of everything you need to know about tire inflators, when and how often you need to add pressure to your tires.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you traveled with a vehicle whose tires are under or over-inflated? If you’ve ever experienced a slow puncture while on the road, you’ll know the importance of having a portable tire inflator that you can use for emergencies.  

This article will give you an in-depth view of everything you need to know about tire inflators and the categories in the market. We’ve done thorough research from top manufacturers of tire inflators such as Firestone, Viair Corporation, and Jaco superior products. We will highlight the importance of inflating your tires properly and guide you on how much pressure you should put on depending on the model of your car.  

Table of Contents

What Is A Tire Inflator?

A tire inflator is a form of air compressor that is smaller in size and inflates your tires. They come in different sizes and shapes and are simple to operate since they do not require strenuous pumping.

What is the Difference between Air Compressors and Tire Inflators

The difference between these two is only the size. Air compressors are the larger form of tire inflators. They vary in size from the smaller ones at the gas station and the larger sizes found in factories. They are also versatile as you can use them at home for various activities.

They can be used to inflate air mattresses, blow dust from engine compartments, and can be used to power nail guns. Air compressors are less portable than tire inflators, but you can use both to inflate your tires.

How Do Tire Inflators Work?

Tire inflators work through the process of positive displacement. Air pressure is steadily increased by a reciprocating piston which decreases the quantity of volume available. The piston, which is driven by a crankshaft, compresses air that flows into the compressor. A vacuum is then created above the piston when it moves down, allowing more air from the outside of the tire inflator to flow in.

The piston then compresses the air which has flown in when it moves up again. This prevents more air from coming in and increases the pressure that’s already in the tire inflator. The compressed air moves into an air storage tank that opens up when the valve connected to it opens up.

How Often Should You Check Your Tire Pressure?

Many drivers may assume that their tire pressure is excellent as long as they do not experience any driving difficulties. Others wait for the warning light on their dashboard so that they can check their tire pressure.  

However, this is not right. Checking the tire's pressure should be done often as filling up your car's pump with gas. You can check your tires once a fortnight, and do remember to add air as necessary.

Several factors also determine how often you should check the pressure of your tires. One of them is the weather since the tire's pressure is affected by how hot or cold it is. Every drop in temperature below -100 C will cause a loss of at least 1 PSI to your tires.

Finding information from the internet on how often you should check your tire's pressure may not work if you frequently drive, especially for longer distances. Additionally, if you carry heavy loads with your vehicle, your tires lose more pressure.

You will find out that the tire pressure will fluctuate depending on your usage. A small puncture or a leak will cause you to lose pressure more quickly. You cannot have a specific date to check the pressure. Therefore, you should do it as regularly as once every two weeks.  

Why It Is Important To Check Your Tire Pressure

Here are a few factors why you should check your tire pressure regularly and why a tire inflator is of great use.

Safety on the Road

Your tire pressure is detrimental to your safety whenever you are on the road. Low tire pressure exposes you to the risk of a blowout which may cause an accident. This would be very risky to other drivers on the road who may swerve to avoid the debris of the tires from hitting them, causing a severe accident.

It is recommended to maintain the correct PSI (pounds per square inch) for your car to optimize its handling capabilities. A low PSI would make it hard to steer and brake due to the friction created with the road's surface. Therefore, maintaining your tire pressure to the right PSI keeps your vehicle operating at peak performance. You will find it easier to apply brakes in emergencies, thus keeping you and your passengers safe.

Fuel Consumption

Every driver knows the pain of gas prices. Depending on the model of your vehicle, you always know how much to set aside for fuel. You would want to realize ways to minimize fuel usage with your car and save some gas. Maintaining the proper PSI is one of the ways you can fulfill this.

According to experts, the recommended PSI for your car's tire pressure is between 32 and 35. Under-inflated tires cause a lot of friction on the road, which strains the engine, making it work twice as hard. Consequently, this causes the engine to consume a lot of fuel to compensate for the tire's incapability.

Dangers of Driving With Under Inflated and Over Inflated Tires

Some drivers will find the nearest gas station to inflate their tires, while others may linger with an underinflated tire until they change the tire. It is dangerous to drive with under-inflated tires because it causes tire failure in most instances. The under-inflated tire experiences a lot of friction on the road since it comes into contact with most of the surface area on the road. Eventually, this leads to premature wear of the tires, blowouts, and tread separation when the tires overheat due to increased friction.

On the other hand, over-inflating your tires will cause them to wear prematurely in the center. Consequently, the tires will not grip the road because the tread near the sidewalls is not making proper contact with the road. Some drivers may enjoy over-inflating their tires since they respond very quickly to steering input when making a turn. However, I'm afraid that's not right, and one should always maintain their vehicle's recommended tire pressure.

What Causes a Tire to Lose Air?

Several factors cause tires to lose air pressure. It is not easy to notice the loss with air pressure until it happens since it is a gradual process. It may occur due to a drop in ambient air temperature, a slow leak, or the regular air escape from the tire's rubber. It is typical for tires to lose pressure even without a puncture.

Therefore, you should stop worrying every time you notice a flat tire unless it is very severe. You can first try to add pressure with the tire inflator, and if this does not work, you can change your tire.

What Is the Correct Way to Check Your Tire's Pressure?

Most people check out their tires when setting out for a long journey. They do it subconsciously without thinking much of the details. However, checking your tires' pressure is a crucial factor that can determine the overall comfort of your journey and safety.

Your car may be designed with the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) or may display a warning light when your tire has low pressure on the dashboard. But then you have been advised not to rely on those systems, and you should regularly check the tire pressure on your own. It is hard for one to know how much pressure to add to the tires by simply looking at them.

You will need a pressure gauge when checking the pressure on your tires. You can invest in the digital versions that are more reliable in giving you consistent results than stick and pop-up versions. The latter are often unreliable and give varying results.

You are advised to only check the pressure on your tires when they are relatively cold. This means that you cannot check the pressure immediately after driving since the tires are still hot. This would give you an inaccurate reading due to the heat generated from the drive. The procedure, which only takes a few minutes, guarantees you safety and savings when done correctly.

Steps of Checking and Inflating Your Tires

  • Remove the cap from the tires' air valve and place the pressure gauge on the valve to get a reading.  
  • Repeat the process of reading at least thrice to get an average reading.
  • Check the results against your recommended PSI from the manufacturer of the tire. You can get your recommended PSI from your tire's sidewall for older vehicles. The newer models have a label on the driver's side door jamb.
  • If the reading is below the recommended PSI from the manufacturer, you will need to add more air.
  • You now need to connect your tire inflator to the tire's valve to fill it up with air. However, if the tire is not building up pressure, it may have a puncture. Check the condition of the tire before finding fault with your inflator.
  • Depending on its make, you can set the desired PSI or keep checking with the pressure gauge.
  • If it is above this reading, you need to release some air and recheck the pressure.
  • Repeat the process until you finally get the recommended PSI.
  • Always remember to check that your spare tire has the recommended PSI.

Composition of a Tire Inflator


The piston compresses air and delivers it at high pressure. The force from the crankshaft, which is driven by an electric motor or engine, makes the piston work.

Air Tank

An air tank is used to hold air within the tire inflator at a specific pressure range. The pressure decreases when the air tank is used. The motor keeps the pressure within the tank at constant levels.  It automatically turns on when pressure decreases and turns off when the preferred pressure is reached.


 A gauge is crucial in the tire inflator. It is used to show PSI readings, which determine how much air you can add to your tire.

What are the Key Features of Tire Inflators

Digital Gauges

Digital gauges have advanced features that allow them to display readings on the device. The old models will display the readings with dial and needle gauges, while the newer models might be equipped with the LCD screen. The advantage of such features is that they are more accurate and use low light; thus, it is possible to see the readings even at night.

Automatic Shutoff

With this feature, you do not have to worry about your tire overinflating. You only have to set your desired PSI, and you can leave the inflator doing its job. It will automatically shut off when it reaches the desired pressure.

Inflation Speed

You can choose a tire inflator depending on how fast and efficient it is to complete its job. The 12V inflators are much slower compared to the heavy-duty models. The former takes an average of four to ten minutes to inflate a tire compared to the latter connected to the battery and takes two to three minutes.

Extra Nozzle Attachments

Diversity is the key feature you can consider with these types of inflators. You will find out that an inflator can be used for several purposes both on the road and at home. Therefore, this is a crucial feature you can consider when choosing an inflator. You can inflate a bicycle's tires, balls, mattresses, brushing tools, and powering nail guns with this type of inflator.


You do not want to be carrying a load in your vehicle all day. Considering the weight of your tire inflator is a crucial feature to consider when purchasing one. Most of the portable inflators weigh between two and six pounds. Some models will have handles that make them easier to move around, while others do not have the handles.

Length of the Hose and Cord

You want an inflator that can go around your vehicle when checking all your four tires. Therefore, you have to consider the length of the cord when choosing the inflator to avoid inconveniences. It is recommended you get an inflator with a power cord that is at least eight feet long and a hose length of 18 to 26 inches long.

Cord Storage

Models with a compartment for cord storage will attract you if you like to keep your tools organized. You will be able to coil the cord and keep it in the storage cavity. Some models will not have this feature, and it may not be possible to keep the device in your vehicle in an organized manner.

Built-in Lights

An inflator with this feature will come in handy at night when stuck on the road. It can alert other motorists while illuminating the tire you are working on.


You can consider this option when noise bothers you or when you do not want to distract other people around you. Depending on the size and purpose, inflators can be exceptionally loud, irritating everyone.

Duty Cycle

You may find out that you cannot continuously use your inflator, especially if it has a long duty cycle. Inflators with a 50 percent duty cycle will not need some cooling down period; thus, choosing the ones with short duty cycles is preferable.

Tank Styles of Tire Inflators

Tire inflators work solely from the air stored in their tanks. Inflators have different styles of tanks depending on the power and type of the compressor.


This is a very small portable inflator with a capacity of 1 to 6 gallons. It’s very light and used for minor repairs. They use an oil-free pump and have no belts; thus require little maintenance.


These are heavy and not easy to carry around since they have been made from two tanks. The arrangement of the tank makes them look like a wheelbarrow. These compressors are designed for heavy-duty use since they have powerful motors.


It is small in size but heavier than the pancake model. It can only be used for small tools since it has only one cylindrical tank.


This inflator has two tanks placed on top of each other and looks like the hotdog model. They are used to power larger tools since they have a larger capacity.

Compressor Pump Types

Single Stage

This type of inflator can compress air up to 150 PSI with only a single piston stroke. They are more powerful than the two-stage inflators since they compress air with each piston's rotation when air is drawn in.


As its name suggests, it compresses air in two processes. They can compress air up to 200 PSI. In the first stage, the air is compressed to an intermediate pressure when it is drawn in. The air is then passed to a cooler chamber before being compressed again in the second compression to the final pressure.

Oiled Compressors

This type of compressor splashes oil onto cylinder walls and bearings as the crank turns. The disadvantage of these compressors is that they require high maintenance. They are placed on a level surface when operating and require constant oil checks and changes.

Oil-free compressors

These are more suitable with tools or situations that do not require oil being splashed on them, like spray painting. They depend on permanently lubricated bearings instead of oil baths.

What are the Categories of Tire Inflators in the Market

Tire inflators come in several sizes and shapes. There are small handhelds that can easily fit in the boot of your car and the larger ones found in gas stations.

There are several types of inflators in the market that serve the same purpose but designed differently. Based on your needs, it is up to the user to decide which one to purchase.


Cordless inflators are equipped with rechargeable batteries that make carrying them around easier. The batteries' adapters have a range of 12V and 120V. They can be used to inflate your tires; however, you need to ensure they are charged and have enough power throughout.

12V Tire Inflator

This is a small portable inflator that you can plug into your car's cigarette lighter or the 12V outlet. They perform very well, and one does not need to connect it to the battery, unlike the larger ones.


The electric inflator is more powerful than the 12V inflator. It performs faster, and they are plugged into sockets for efficient use. They can also be plugged directly into the battery, especially when the vehicle is not running since they will drain out the power in about 20 minutes.

Hand Tire Inflators

These inflators are the most common and have a cylindrical shape with a footrest on their bottom. They are operated by pulling up the piston found on top of the rugged steel cylinder. The inflator has a double-dipped handle and a hose connected to its valve.

This inflator is the simplest of all types, easy to carry around, cheap, and found in most places. The disadvantage with this inflator is that it is not easy to use, and it depends on the effort put by the user on the piston. You have to put more effort into the piston as the size of the tire and load increase.

Foot Operated Pump Tire Inflator

This is a mechanical portable inflator operated by pumping air from the foot. The pump's piston rod is connected to a foot pedal that squeezes the air from the barrel to the tire.

The advantage of this type of inflator is that it is even easier to use than hand tire inflators. They are cheaper compared to most other inflators, and are still easier to move around. They are light in weight, and the user can use their foot without bending to squeeze the piston.

The disadvantage is that anyone with foot issues like arthritis cannot operate this inflator. Compared to the hand tire inflators, they require a lot of effort to operate because the piston and cylinder are too small.

Mini/Compact Tire Inflator

This inflator is similar to the hand tire pump operated only with the hands, unlike the other inflators that require both the hand and foot. You only need to hold the inflator with one hand and use the other one to squeeze the piston.

The inflator is small, light, and very easy to use. The disadvantage is that it cannot be used for big tires since it is tiny.

CO2 Tire Inflators

This inflator is much faster than other types in the market. It inflates the tire using CO2 cartridges, which can only be used once. You will fill the tire with pressure from the CO2 cartridge that you install to the inflator using the setup. You then puncture the seal of the cartridge using the handle that comes with the manual and guide the CO2 into the tire.

The inflator is much smaller than all the others mentioned above. It is also easy to carry around due to its lightweight.

The disadvantage with this inflator is the use of CO2 cartridges. You need a lot of cartridges since they can only be used once. It will cost you more when using this type of inflator because you will use more cartridges as the size of the tire increases.

Canned Tire Inflators

These inflators are suitable for use only once and particularly more effective when the tire is flat. They are equipped with a mixture of three components: sealants, solvents, and propellants. The sealant seals the puncture while the solvent makes the sealant stick to the rubber.  The propellant pushes both the sealant and solvent into the tire.

The advantage of these inflators is that you can quickly fix a puncture without professional help from the mechanics. The disadvantage is that you can only use it once and seal the puncture for a limited period.

Air Compressor Tire Inflators  

There are two types of inflators in this category. One is stationary and large and cannot be moved around. It is fast and inflates the tires very fast. Its air compressors have a capacity of 10 to 120 gallons.

The other type is portable, light, and is carried around easily for use with automobiles. The capacity of its air compressor is a maximum of 6 or 8 gallons.

The advantage of using these inflators is that they require very little labor, inflate the tires very fast, and are very easy to use.

The disadvantage is that they are more expensive than other inflators. They require one to constantly check the pressure when inflating since the tire can easily burst when overinflated. It also takes a while to compress air with these types of inflators.

Gas and Electric Air Compressors

Gas air compressors are a great choice when you do not have access to electricity. The main difference with the electric models is that they do not have the start or stop switch. The pressure in the tank is determined by the opening and closing of its valves.

They are convenient for paint sprayers that need continuous airflow since the motor is constantly running and pressurizing the air. The disadvantage of these compressors is that they are too noisy and cannot be used indoors.

Electric air compressors are less portable than their gas counterparts since they need a nearby source of power to operate. The motor is automatic and can turn itself on or off, which regulates the pressure in the tank.

The disadvantage with these compressors is that you cannot use an extension cord, especially if the power cord is too short. When you use an extension cord, it fails to draw enough power causing the motor to overheat and fail. A short cable will turn itself off to avoid damage from overheating and burning out.

What is the Importance of Having a Portable Tire Inflator

Have you been wondering whether you should carry a tire inflator in your car or buy one for use at home? You may probably think, well, I visit the gas station often, and I can use the one over there. But then you are wondering how many types are there in the market? How do I choose the best for my car? Will I be able to operate it on my own, or will I need assistance?

  • A portable inflator will save you time and money when you want to fill up your tires quickly.
  • It is easy and only takes a few minutes to save you the drive to a gas station or the mechanics' shop.
  • You can utilize the TPMS feature on your car and avoid the dealership every time your air pressure is low.
  • You will always experience problems with under and over-inflated tires. A portable tire inflator will make your tires last longer; thus, you should always keep them properly inflated.
  • You stop worrying about the weather and whether the air compressor will still work in grimy weather.
  • It is also possible to fill a flat tire using a tire inflator as long as the tire can still hold air.
  • After sealing a puncture with either a can of aerosol inflator or a tire repair kit, you can inflate the tire with your tire inflator.

Price Range for the Portable Tire Inflators

A small and high-quality portable tire inflator can cost you between $30 and $40, which is quite affordable. Such inflators will comfortably add pressure to your tires without you spending a lot of money.

If you are looking for inflators with extra features, you need to budget within $40-$100. A budget of over $100 will get you the heavy-duty inflators that can be used on trailers and RVs.

How to Maintain Your Tire Inflator

Does your tire inflator need any form of maintenance? How long can you use it before servicing it? You need to check your inflator after every use.

You can check out for:

  • Leaking air or oil
  • Change the air filter
  • Replace a worn compressor belt
  • If applicable, you should change the inflator oil

Quick Tips to Consider For Tire Inflators  

  • Just like most electronic devices, you should store your inflator in a moisture-free environment to prevent it from rust.
  • You are required to switch off your inflator as soon as it reaches the desired PSI unless it has the automatic shutoff feature.  You need to be careful with the gauges as they fill your tire to avoid overinflation.
  • Do not underinflate your tire to avoid damage to the tire. It is always dangerous to drive with an underinflated tire since it can easily cause an accident.
  • You will save more fuel when driving with a properly inflated tire than an underinflated tire which uses more energy, causing strain to the engine.
  • Regularly check your tire pressure at least once a fortnight. The tires lose pressure for various reasons, which you may overlook.
  • Allow your tire inflator time to cool off for models with a long duty cycle.

What is the Best Portable Tire Inflator?

There are a few portable inflators that can be ranked among the best. They include ontel Air Hawk Pro Cordless Tire Inflator, Powerhouse Digital Inflator, and EPAuto AT-006-3 12V Car Portable Air Compressor among others.

Where Can You Buy a Tire Inflator?

In addition to buying a tire inflator at various online stores, you can find the right tire inflator for you at a nearby local store. Just make sure you are armed with the features that you want and know exactly the type of tire inflator that you’re going for.

Where to Buy Air Dragon Tire Inflator

An Air Dragon tire inflator is a superb portable tire inflator. It’s a hand-held air compressor that can be reliably be powered from a 12V outlet in your vehicle, so it’s always available for use. All you have to do is plug the Air Dragon into the 12V socket in your vehicle and set the recommended PSI.

The best part about this tire inflator is that it comes with an extra-long 14ft. cable  that can reach the farthest wheel. It doesn’t have batteries that may leave you stranded by the roadside if you forgot to charge. More importantly, this tire inflator has superb additional adaptors for all your inflatables.

The best place to buy the Air Dragon tire inflator is at a store near you or online.

How to Attach Tire Inflator to a Tire

It is of great importance to check the tire pressure in your vehicle’s tires to make sure that the tires are inflated correctly. This video shows how to attach the tire inflator to a tire.

Tire Inflator - A Complete Guide

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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