Best mini air compressors for car tyres
Keep on top of your tyre pressures and avoid expensive damage with our in-depth test of popular tyre inflators
Looking after your tyres properly is one of the most important elements of your car maintenance regime. As well as checking regularly for tread wear and any damage, that also means keeping an eye on your tyre pressures.
When your tyre pressures are incorrect, your car’s handling, braking and cornering grip may all be compromised. That’s why lots of drivers keep a mini compressor in the boot or garage so they don’t have to worry about queuing up and finding 50p for the tyre inflator at their local filling station.
When you’re looking for the best 12V plug-in tyre inflator to use at home you need to make sure it’s up to scratch. Adjusting your pressures using a cheap tyre inflator could make your problems worse if the gauge is inaccurate. If you want to use a mini compressor to help deal with a flat tyre at the roadside, it’s vital you can trust it to work reliably too.
For this mini 12V compressor review we’ve rounded up a variety of the most popular options - including plug-in and cordless tyre inflators as well as heavy duty options - and subjected them to a range of tests so we can recommend the best tyre inflator to suit your needs. We’ve also provided useful links to help you find our favourite compressors online.
Luckily, as our inflator test results prove, it needn’t cost an arm and a leg to get kitted out with a reliable car tyre pump, although you can spend quite a bit more for extra features.
The wrong tyre pressures can increase your fuel consumption and cause uneven or illegal wear, forcing you to replace your tyres sooner. So a fairly small investment in a mini compressor/ tyre inflator could quickly be repaid. So which tyre compressor is the puff daddy? We plugged in the best on the market to find out.
How we tested them
As with our test, we timed our compressors to see how long they took to inflate a 15-inch tyre from 20psi to 30psi, checking for gauge accuracy at the start and finish.
Extra points were awarded for compressors with long hoses and power leads, extras such as adaptors and bags or cases, as well as practical features, such as clear displays. A preset shut-off option makes these devices so much easier to use. We also tested the compressors for noise, measuring the increase from ambient using an iPhone app, before factoring in prices from online sources.
Since carrying out the above test, cordless compressors have become a more enticing option, which is why we conducted a separate mini test for such machines. The test was similar to that above, in that we timed how long each took to add 10psi to a 15-inch tyre. Inflation and deflation times on a double airbed were also rated, and we measured noise in decibels (dB). Clear, accurate gauges, good instructions and long hoses won marks, as did extras like a light, adaptors and power sockets. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the results.
It is a rare joint first place as the Ring RAC635, Ring RTC1000 and Ryobi R18I-0 One+ have all scored the maximum points in our test. Closely behind the joint winners was the Ring RTC6000 Cordless and the Sakura 12v which both deserve worthy mentions
- =1. Ring 12v Preset Digital Air Compressor RAC 635
- =1. Ring RTC1000 Premium Rapid Digital Tyre Inflator
- =1. Ryobi R18I-0 One+ 18V Inflator (+ 4Ah battery & charger)
Ring RTC1000 Premium Rapid Digital Tyre Inflator
Price: around £48Rating: 5 starsTime 20-30psi: 1min 38secs
The RTC1000 won straight out of the trap earlier this year, even at a higher price than its predecessor. The market has cut that cost, adding to its competitiveness. Its inflation time is still very good, and the noise level was a touch higher than other rivals. It was 0.5psi off at 30psi, and had three scales (psi, KPA and Bar), three accessory adaptors and a screw-on valve adaptor with bleed valve.
We love the big central display, its wide LED light and huge on/off button. The 70cm hose wrapped neatly around the device, and the 3.5-metre cable is the best yet. Neat and well packaged, the zip-up padded bag protects it while being stored.
Ring 12v Preset Digital Air Compressor RAC 635
Price: around £32Rating: 5 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 12secs
We could see no changes to this over the preset Ring RAC 635 that won our previous test. Only its HD sibling beat the 70mm hose length and the 3.5-metre power cable was the longest on test, able to reach all four wheels on all but the largest car. We liked the padded zip-up case and the large display, although at some angles it was tricky to make out. On the other hand, the noise increase was the highest, at 58dB. However, the time for the pumping test was excellent, equal third best. Despite a price rise, it keeps its crown, but only just.
Ryobi R18I-0 One+ 18V Inflator (+ 4Ah battery & charger)
Price: around £53 (+£93.94)Rating: 5 starsInflation time (tyre/airbed): 135/198 secs
On paper, the Ryobi looks as if it loses out to the others. That’s because it has a small display, it has no LED light or USB socket, and it can’t be used or charged from the car. However, the 4Ah battery has masses of power in reserve, and even after all our tests it still showed a full four bars.
The gauge was accurate to within 1psi, and the tyre-pumping time of 135 seconds was good, even if it didn’t match the Ring's. The Ryobi was peerless in the time it took to inflate and deflate the airbed. If you already have the charger and battery (which can be used with other machines), this compressor is a bargain. If not, it’s best seen as an investment.
Michelin 12312 Programmable Rapid 4 x 4/SUV digital tyre inflator
Price: £70Rating: 4.5 starsTime 20-30psi (mins:secs): 1:28
The name suggested it had extra power for large tyres and heavier vehicles, and our test inflation time of just 1 minute 28 seconds was the best ever. The unit was also really easy on the ears, at around 72dB. However, at 2.25kgs, this Michelin was twice the weight of our test winner, the Ring.
We liked the clear display, and its lead and hose were okay. That said, wrapping the hose round the handle smacked of an afterthought, and we’d have liked a more substantial holder. Overall, a very impressive unit and, although it’s dear, it still earned 4.5 stars.
Ring RTC6000 Cordless 4 in 1 Digital Tyre Inflator & Air Pump
Price: around £90Rating: 4 starsInflation time (tyre/airbed): 80/625 secs
Ring's offering had a long list of attributes, with a large digital display showing the pressure and battery state, and a good hose length (70cm).
Setting the target pressure was a doddle and, although the accuracy on the tyre was 1psi optimistic, it only took a stunning 80 seconds to inflate the tyre by 10psi. It wasn’t so good pumping up the airbed – taking more than 10 minutes – and its noise level rose from a loud 85dB to an ear-splitting 95dB during this test. Overall, it’s a nice unit for tyres and accessory-charging, but it’s not so hot on inflatables.
Sakura 12v Digital Air Compressor SS5332
Price: around £28Rating: 4 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 42secs
The Sakura is still the best of the rest and managed to beat its previous inflation time by 32 secs, while being almost totally accurate at the same time. Its backlit display was clear and the pressure selection was easy. The 60cm hose was reasonable rather than great, although the screw-on connector did include a deflator. Happily, that and the 3.0-metre cable each had their own compartments.
The set-up had the usual three adaptors (football, airbed, cycle), an LED light and a thin nylon bag. It is noisier than others but generally, smoother in use.
Wolf Glovebox Genie 3 in 1 Digital Tyre Inflator
Price: around £22Rating: 4 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 40secs
The Wolf is similar in design to the above Sakura, featuring a reasonable 66cm hose, albeit without a deflator. The noise level was the same, at 51dB over ambient. Its cable reached all four tyres, but was the shortest in our test. It was just 1psi out and the inflation time was only one second different to last time, but the change in the Sakura’s form meant it gained ground here. Unlike other rivals, it boasts four scales, not three and, while the digital display was clear, it was the smallest here.
Halfords Rapid Digital Tyre Inflator
Price: around £39Rating: 4 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 12secs
The Halfords Digital steps up a place from our last test thanks largely to cost; its own price has dropped by £8, while the Michelin’s has risen. The similarities with the Ring RAC635 were noticeable; both feature a large display, screw-on valve connector, preset function and three scales (psi, Bar, kpa) which were easy to scroll through. This was also equally noisy, although the 12V cable isn’t quite as long, at three metres, and there’s no deflator. But its accuracy was spot-on during our test and the pumping performance was impressive, and exactly the same as the Ring’s.
Draper 12v Cordless Air Compressor 20582
Price: around £49Rating: 3.5 starsInflation time (tyre/airbed): 150/825 secs
We liked the design of this lightweight (just 860g) unit; its pistol-style grip was easy to hold and use. The 15cm hose was a bit short, but its tyre-inflation result of 150 seconds and accuracy – out by only 0.5psi – weren’t at all bad.
By removing the 12v, 1.5Ah battery and inserting the adaptor, it could be used from the car socket as a conventional compressor, and it was easily the quietest, at just 80dB. Unsurprisingly, it struggled with the airbed, but its price and versatility make it good to keep in the boot for an emergency.
Michelin 12266 High Power Rapid Tyre Inflator with DPS
Price: around £58Rating: 3.5 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 18secs
We really rate the superb build quality of this model and the piano black finish on the front was stylish. We liked the bright, white display and protective nylon bag, although the 63cm hose length was only reasonable and its storage was awkward. The pumping time was very good, and the controls were easy to use. Accuracy was good, being just 0.5psi adrift. Uniquely, it came with 12v and USB sockets, giving it more versatility. But we couldn’t find a lower price, which hammered its points score.
Clarke 12v Tyre Inflator/Air Compressor CAC100
Price: around £28Rating: 3 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 22secs
Another compressor suffering a slight price hike, we still liked its design and layout, which was simple but complete. The display was clear and the controls made it easy to select one of the three scales and adjust the preset limit. We liked the screw connector and end-mounted compartment for the 12v cable and three adaptors. Its performance was third worst on the day, though only 0.5psi off at the higher figure, while its sound level was third best. A reasonable machine, stuck in the middle ground.
EONO Essentials Preset Digital Tyre Inflator
Price: around £20Rating: 3 starsTime 20-30psi: 3mins 17secs
Launched for the big summer getaway, this EONO was small enough to fit in a glovebox. Its hose and cable shared a single compartment on the back, which made it a squash to pack them back in. We liked the screw-on connector (even without a deflator) and its clear, blue backlit screen. But it was a little inaccurate, 1.5psi off at both points, and took more than three quite vibratory minutes for our 10psi increase. At 50cm, its hose length was poor, although the cable was a reasonable 3.0 metres. Its price was very good but we would have liked a case or bag included with the price.
Michelin Hi-Power Tyre Inflator and Detachable Digital Gauge 12260
Price: around £41Rating: 3 starsTime 20-30psi: 2mins 32secs
This model’s USP is the gauge’s digital display, which can be removed and used separately. It was accurate, although we thought it stingy not to provide the three LR44 batteries it needed. We liked the 12v cable storage compartment that also held four adaptors, while the 64cm hose wrapped around the base, but it was second slowest to 30psi. The price might make sense if you don’t already have a gauge, but it lost out here.
Heavy-Duty air compressors
Ring 12 Volt Heavy-Duty Air Compressor RAC900
Price: around £80Rating: 4.5 starsInflation time: 30 seconds
Ring says this is used by the “UK’s leading breakdown firm” and it’s easy to see why. Its pumping power is hard to beat, adding 10psi to our test tyre almost twice as fast as its rival.
The coiled hose stretches to seven metres, with quality brass and metal connectors, while the dial pressure gauge matched the accurate Michelin digital version. Air release is not quite as intuitive as its rival’s but works well enough. Storage is in a tough bag with zipped compartments for the pump and airline, and space for the brass sports adaptors.
Crucially, the 2.5m lead clips to the car battery, which won’t suit some users. Plus there’s no light or pressure presets. Pumping power and quality still secure it the win, though.
Michelin Programmable Superfast 4x4/SUV Digital Tyre Inflator
Price: around £80Inflation time: 47.5 secondsRating: 4 stars
This is part of a new four-strong line-up, with all but one unit currently exclusive to Halfords. We've already tested the smaller version, and this double-piston unit is similar.
Despite a drawstring bag and clips for the three sports adaptors, it lacks proper storage, with the hose wrapping around the top and a Velcro strap for the three-metre lead. The 85cm hose, our preferred screw-on connection, cigar-lighter socket connection and air-release button impress more.
There’s also a three-LED light, choice of three scales and easy-read LCD gauge with preset. It was spot on at 20 and 30psi, and took 47.5 seconds to add 10psi to our wheel. Not as quick as the Ring, but a more balanced package.
Best cordless mini car compressors
Ryobi R18I-0 One+ 18V Inflator
Price: around £53 (plus battery/charger)Rating: 5 starsInflation times (tyre/airbed): 2mins 12secs/3mins 21secs
This device follows Ryobi’s clever One+ principle, where one battery fits multiple tools. The price is for the compressor only; it needs a charger and battery (from £65), which is a consideration. We used a 4Ah battery; impressively it was still full when we finished, and its tyre inflation time was as good as the best in our 12V compressor test.
Included is an inflator and a deflator; their operational times were almost identical. When used on our airbed, it was considerably quicker than its rivals. The R18I-0 doesn’t feature any extra sockets or a light, the preset reset to 10psi every time and we’d prefer a screw-on connector, but you can’t argue with the performance.
Michelin 12267 Cordless Rechargeable Inflator
Price: around £90Rating: 4 stars Inflation times (tyre/airbed): 2m 7s/13m 45s
You get two 12V cigar lighter (CLA) and two 1A USB sockets on the Michelin, but it’s hefty at 3.5kg. As with the Ryobi, it has three scales, three adaptors and a preset function. The motor was the quietest and added 10psi in one of the quickest times we’ve ever seen. But there is no deflator option and pumping up the airbed took almost 14 minutes, even though the battery still showed full.
Halfords Rechargeable Multi-Purpose Inflator
Price: around £60Rating: 3 starsInflation times (tyre/airbed): 2m 38s/10m 4s
This has a good price and spec, with four adaptors, CLA and USB sockets, as well as mains or 12V charging. We liked the logical layout, preset control and clear display. It was the lightest compressor here, at 1.8kg, but this hinted at weight saved with the motor, and slow, noisy performance proved this. After the three tests, it was down to 50 per cent battery life.
Mojietu Wireless Speed Air Pump
Price: £43Rating: 3 starsInflation times (tyre): 4m
This model is not much bigger than a soft drink can, but it has a high-quality feel. There’s a metal hose connector, a matt finish and black LED display and controls. It also has modes for balls, cycles, motorbikes and cars, plus presets and a light. The gauge was accurate, but its scales changed for each mode rather than by choice. It comes in a tough, zipped case, but the hose needs removing first.
Charging is via a short USB lead, and you need a mains or car adapter. The Mojietu is at the very limit of its performance on cars and is limited to small tyres and 2.8 Bar (40.6psi). It took four minutes in our test, but it got there – and pretty quietly. It’s too small for regular car use, so it’s better suited to being kept in the boot for cycles or emergencies at a cost-effective price.
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