Adam holds a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Linguistics, and creative writing has always been his greatest passion. For more than 25 years he's been working for several well-known automobile and travel magazines as an editor and expert consultant, but when Adam started his writing path here, at WisePick, it turned out that he's capable of writing practically anything about everything.
Initially being an engineering specialist, Tom has never stopped learning and acquiring other knowledge and skills. Now he’s involved in technical support for a well-known household appliances manufacturer, so no wonder he knows everything about almost everything you buy for your home.
Last updated: May 30, 2021
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The main problem with bigger air compressors is that they are much too loud and not so portable for everyday use or smaller jobs. If you are looking for a highly mobile, quiet, yet versatile model, then you need to look for the best 12V air compressor. These smaller models will give you enough power for most jobs, but won’t take up a ton of space or hurt your ears.
Of course, not all of the different 12V compressors out there are the same. To find the right one, you need to take how much pressure they can create, the inflating speed, the noise level, and the dimensions into account. It’s also a good idea to think about where you are going to be using them since this will change the type of plug you need.
While this might sound like a lot to think about, don’t worry! We have done all of the hard work for you. After spending tens of hours looking through thousands of different user reviews, we narrowed down our list of the best 12V air compressors. If you are still unsure of what to look for, then you can check out our buying guide, which will give you all the info that you need to make an informed choice. Also make sure you check out the detailed reviews of the top 12V air compressors available right now.
This might be the best 12V air compressor on the market today. It is a more modern style of a compressor, in that it is an entirely self-contained one and comes with a variety of extra features that make it a perfect emergency tool to keep in your car all the time.
The biggest thing that stands out with this compressor is how durable it is. This is a big deal since the carrying case that comes with the compressor is a bit flimsy. Thankfully, the compressor is built with a hard case, which is all the protection that it needs.
This compressor also comes with a wide array of different nozzles, which make it perfect to use for a variety of inflation jobs, such as filling bike tires, sports balls, or inflatable pools. It can also be used to inflate most vehicle tires unless they are for a larger style truck.
The Helteko has an extremely high PSI and CFM for a 12V air compressor. This gives it some of the best inflation times for car tires of any compressor out there. For a standard car that is completely deflated, this tire should only take about three minutes to inflate it completely.
Using the compressor is also super simple since all you have to do is set the pressure and let the machine do the work for you. If you choose this compressor, be sure to take the time to figure out how to fit the nozzle on correctly, as this can be a bit tricky.
The first thing that stands out with this compressor is the fact that it doesn’t come with any power cords. Instead, it has the same style of clamps that you would see on a set of jumper cables. This is both a useful design feature and a bit of a hindrance. If you are looking for a compressor for when you are going off-roading or riding an ATV, then this feature is perfect, since these don’t usually have a DC socket, making the clamps both necessary and useful.
This will, unfortunately, limit this compressors usefulness for any vehicle with a larger battery or one that is more difficult to reach. Since you will have this compressor hooked up to your vehicle’s battery, you might have a tough time reaching some of your tires. The air hose that comes with the unit is pretty long, but if you have a larger vehicle, you might want to purchase an even longer one.
This compressor is great for filling pretty much any tire or ball, mostly due to its high CFM.
Something else to take into consideration with this model is that it does not come with an automatic shutoff. While this certainly isn’t the biggest deal, it does need to be taken into consideration, since you don’t want to overinflate your tires. If you choose this compressor, make sure you keep an eye on it so this doesn’t happen.
One of the biggest problems facing a 12V air compressor is the fact that they overheat quickly. This can ruin the machine, which is less than ideal. This compressor fixes this problem since it has an overheating protection system that will shut the unit down if it gets too hot. This will help extend the life of your compressor, making it one of the best values on the market.
While the maximum PSI on this unit is not high, it will still work perfectly for a variety of uses. This includes filling a variety of vehicle tires and balls. Of course, you need to make sure that whatever you are inflating is not too far away from the compressor, as the hose is not all that long.
This compressor has a relatively low CFM. This means that it will not inflate anything in a fraction of a second since it can’t move a lot of air very quickly. While this is indeed not a deal breaker, you should keep it in mind before you make your final decision. If you are someone who doesn’t want to wait a long time to inflate anything, then this probably is not the best compressor for you.
Like a lot of other air compressors, this one comes with an auto-shutoff feature that makes getting to the right pressure quick and easy. All you have to do is hook up the nozzle, set the pressure, and press start. The machine will do the rest.
The first thing that should jump out at you with this air compressor is its astoundingly high PSI and CFM. Of all the different 12V air compressors that we looked at, this is by far the most powerful. It can easily inflate all type of tires and balls. It could also be used for light duty pneumatic jobs, like nailing, without any trouble.
Unlike a lot of other 12V air compressors, this one has a nice long runtime of 30 minutes. This makes it a great choice if you want to use your air compressor for an extended period without losing pressure or needing to take a break.
Of course, with all of this power, there are bound to be some drawbacks. One of the biggest ones for this model is the fact that it will occasionally overshoot its pressure target, even though it has an automatic shutoff. While this is not the worst thing in the world, it is something to consider, especially if you are inflating something smaller, like bike tires. Even just a few extra PSI could be disastrous for this type of tire, so be careful.
Something else to keep an eye on is the fact that the pressure gauge doesn’t always give an accurate reading of how much air is in something before you fill it. To combat this, you can get a cheap pressure gauge at any hardware store. That way, you can have a better understanding of how much pressure you have before you get started.
If you need a high-quality compressor for a pretty fair price, then look no further than this model. It is highly portable air compressor and is easy to use, with a beautiful sturdy design, which makes it perfect for throwing into the back of your car and keeping it there for an emergency. It has a high maximum PSI, which is ideal for a variety of uses, whether you want to use it for your car tires or balls at home.
While the air hose for this particular model is relatively small, you shouldn’t have any problem reaching all of your tires, since the power cord is pretty long.
This is also a pretty good compressor to have on hand in emergencies because of its built-in LED flashlight. This will help you see what you are doing if you have to fill a tire in the dark. It can also be used as a way to signal other drivers that you require assistance.
Even though this is a cheaper model, it is surprisingly accurate. This is true for measuring the current pressure level in a tire and only adding the proper amount of air when you are filling the tires.
Finally, this is also one of the quietest air compressors we looked at. Its quiet operation makes it ideal for use in a confined space, such as a garage. Even if you run this compressor for as long as possible, you won’t need to worry about the noise level.
If you have a smaller car, then this is going to be the air compressor for you. It is extremely compact, which will allow you to fit it in pretty much any vehicle. But don’t let this small size fool you. Even though it is light and compact, this compressor is capable of a very high PSI. The CFM rate is also pretty quick for such a small air compressor, which makes it an excellent choice for a variety of uses.
This is also one of the more accurate 12V compressors out there. The automatic shutoff on this model works like a charm. You can rest assured that whatever pressure you set this compressor to is the pressure you are going to get, which is, apparently, ideal.
Another surprising feature for such a compact compressor is the length of its cord. While the air hose is pretty small, the power cord is one of the longest on the market. This will allow you to reach your entire vehicle with ease, even if the car or truck you drive is long.
The only real design flaw with this compressor is where the air intake is positioned. It is on the back of the compressor, which might not seem like that big of a deal, but it is somewhat problematic. If you choose this compressor, you need to be sure that you never lay it down during use. If you do, it will end up sucking up dirt and debris from the ground into the air intake slot. This could cause the compressor to break.
This compressor is by far the most versatile model that we reviewed. Unlike all of the other compressors, this one does not only operate with a DC power source. With this compressor, you have the option of plugging it into an AC wall outlet. This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities since you can use it in both your car and your home.
The pressure gauge is an older dial style, which is, unfortunately, a bit difficult to read. This is especially true for initial readings, though it can also be challenging to get an accurate read while you are inflating. Luckily, this model has a long continuous runtime, so you can keep it pumping until you reach the pressure exactly where you want it to be.
Another thing that helps make sure you get to the right pressure is the slow inflation rate. While this might not be a great idea for someone who doesn’t have a lot of patience, it will keep your pressure levels where you want them to be.
The compressor does not come with a carrying case but is equipped with an easy-to-carry handle, which makes it simple to lug around with you wherever you need it. It is a bit on the heavy side, however, which isn’t too surprising, since it can run off of both AC and DC power sources.
The inflation hose on this compressor is relatively short. Thankfully, the power cords are nice and long, which will make it easier to reach everything you have to inflate.
One of the most significant issues with a lot of these 12V air compressors is that they have an insanely small hose. This is not the case with this model. It comes with an 11.5-foot hose. When you add in the 10-foot power cord, this model can give you up to 21 feet of reach. This makes it a great choice for larger vehicles in case you don’t mind taking a long time to inflate the tires. This is because, the longer the cord, the lower the CFM.
Even though the compressor itself is not very flimsy, the case that it comes with is a great addition due to its added durability. This case will also make carrying the compressor around that much more comfortable, too. Since this compressor is one of the heavier models out there, the carrying handle on the case makes moving it much less of a chore.
If you do choose this model, you need to be careful when using the automatic shutoff. While this is a nice feature, the pressure gauge is not always accurate. It would be a good idea to get a cheap pressure gauge so that you can make sure your tires are inflated properly.
Why are we impressed?
Sturdy carrying case
Can be used as a charger through USB
Long air hose
What negatives must you be aware of?
Heats up quickly
Inaccurate pressure measurements
Things to Consider
In this section, we will go through everything that you need to know to find the best air compressor for you and your family.
What can 12V air compressors be used for?
12V air compressors can be used for a variety of simple, yet essential, jobs around the house. Their first and most common job is inflation. These smaller size compressors are perfect for inflating car and bike tires, as well as all manner of sports balls.
They are, of course, not limited to inflation jobs alone, however.
These compressors also work well as portable backups for specific tools. For instance, if you want to use a pneumatic nailer for a small job, then this type of compressor would work really well. They are not, however, suitable for this type of job if you need to do it for an extended amount of time. Since they don’t have a high CFM (airflow), they might not be able to keep up with a big air type of tool.
Features to consider while choosing a 12V air compressor
As you can imagine, these amazing devices have a ton of features that you need to take into consideration before you make your final selection. In this section, we will review what to look for in a 12V air compressor.
The best thing about these air compressors is that they do not require a ton of power. This makes it easy to take them with you no matter where you want to get your work done and run them safely. Of course, this does come with a bit of a condition. Most of these air compressors are set to run off of DC power only, which is the type of power that your car emits from the cigarette lighter.
While this makes these compressors perfect for running off of your car, they are not all that helpful if you want to work off of AC power, which is what comes out of a socket. Of course, you could get an inverter, which can change DC to AC, but that would add cost. If you think you might want to run your compressor off of both types of power, you could get the Kensun AC/DC Swift Performance Portable Tire Inflator. This compressor comes with an AC and DC plug, making it quick and easy to use either type of electricity.
Wattage and maximum current
Another thing to consider when you are getting one of these compressors is the amount of wattage they require to run. While none of the models that we looked at were big power hogs, it is still something to consider, especially if you have an older battery in your vehicle. The last thing you want to do is drain your battery while you are trying to inflate your tires.
You will also want to make sure that your battery can handle the amount of current, or amps, that the air compressor requires. Since the wattage of these devices is relatively low, they don’t really have too high of amperage needs. It is still a good idea to make sure that your car can handle it, however, since you don’t want to ruin your new compressor with too many amps, or not get the power you need if your setup can’t provide enough.
The amount of compressed air is described as PSI (Pounds per Square Inch). Most 12V air compressors do not have a terribly high maximum PSI. This makes them perfect for smaller jobs, such as inflating balls and light pneumatic work.
To figure out how much pressure you need, take what you intend to use it for into account. If you are only going to be inflating tires and balls, you won’t need a ton of pressure. On the other hand, if you are looking to run some pneumatic nails, such as nailers, you will need more pressure.
The user manuals for your tools will tell you how much PSI is required, so make sure you check them out first before you come to your final decision.
The inflation speed of an air compressor is described as CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute. This tells you how quickly your air compressor can collect, compress, and move air into whatever you are inflating or operating.
To put it as simply as possible, the higher the CFM rating, the faster your compressor will inflate something. This will also add a bit of cost to your purchase price but may be well worth it depending on what you are going to use your compressor for. If you don’t care how fast your compressor works, don’t need to run any pneumatic tools, and would like to save a bit of money, then you can look for a model with a lower CFM.
Continuous work time
No air compressor can run forever, especially not smaller models like a 12V. They will eventually begin to overheat if they are run continuously. This can be a bit of a nuisance, especially if you have a lot that you want to accomplish in a set amount of time. Luckily, there is a wide range of runtimes available.
12V air compressors will usually have a runtime range of a low 10 minutes in cheaper models, all the way up to 30 minutes in more expensive compressors. While it might cost a little bit extra, we highly recommend that you go for a model with a higher runtime, as this will be less of a limit on what you can accomplish with your compressor.
Power cord length
Power cords for 12V air compressors are relatively short when compared to AC powered models. While a short cord won’t be that big of a deal for most folks, you are going to want to look for the longest cord you can if you have a larger vehicle, such as a truck.
Obviously, with a shorter cord, you might not be able to reach all of your tires on a larger vehicle, and since extension cords are not recommended for air compressors, you will be better served getting the longest cord you can right off the bat.
Weight and dimensions
Since you are most likely going to be keeping your new compressor in your car, it makes sense to take the weight and size into consideration. If you have a smaller vehicle, then you will want to get a more compact model, though this will sacrifice a bit of power, as larger models can provide more PSI and CFM.
Like all machines, air compressors have a ton of moving parts. That is why you need to make sure that you look for a model with a good warranty. This will help protect your investment since even the best models are going to suffer an unexpected failure every once in a while.
When looking for a good warranty, make sure you read all of the fine print very carefully. Lots of companies will claim that they offer a long warranty, but then you’ll find out that it doesn’t cover the entire compressor. A complete or comprehensive warranty is always your best bet since that will mean that the whole device is covered if it breaks down on you.
There are a ton of additional features that you should consider when you are looking for a 12V air compressor. Since most of these devices are going to be kept in a car, it is a good idea to look for a model that is equipped with a flashlight. This feature is super helpful when you are trying to inflate a tire at night. These lights will usually have a couple of settings, and can even be used to signal other drivers that you need assistance, as in the case with the Helteko Portable Air Compressor Pump.
Another feature that you might want to consider is an additional or extension hose, such as comes with the TireTek RX-i Digital Car Tire Inflator. This makes it easier to reach farther than you typically could with a standard compressor hose.
In short, yes, they are! Most 12V compressors are powerful enough to fill pretty much any vehicle tire, whether you are talking about something big like a truck, or something small like a bicycle. Of course, for larger vehicles, like an RV, tractor, or super duty style truck, they might take a bit longer to fill the tires, though they will eventually get the job done.
Of all the different air compressors that we’ve reviewed, the P.I. Auto Store – Premium 12V DC Tire Air Compressor Pump is going to be the most compact. It is a minuscule 7 x 3 x 6.5 inches. It is so small that you should have no problem fitting pretty much anywhere in your car, which will help keep it out of the way until you need it.
Of all the different models that we reviewed, the Helteko Portable Air Compressor Pump is most definitely the best 12V air compressor. It is highly durable and super simple to use. This model will help take all of the guesswork out of inflating pretty much anything since it has an automatic shutoff system. It also comes with a ton of different nozzles, which makes it extremely versatile. If you truly want to have the best compressor out there, we highly recommend you check this one out.
If you are looking for a good compressor to take with you when off-roading or ATVing, then you have got to check out the Viair 00088 88P. It clamps right onto your vehicle’s battery, which makes it perfect for those times that you have to inflate a tire on the trail.
Safety should be your number one concern with any type of tool, but especially with an air compressor. The safest 12V compressor has got to be the EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump. It has an overheating protection system that shuts it off when it gets too hot. Not only will this help to keep you safe, but it will also help extend the life of the compressor.