Stay safe and improve your braking and fuel efficiency with the best car tyre inflators
When you’ve got the best tyre inflator to hand, it’s easy to check the pressure of your tyres and pump them up whenever needed. They plug into your vehicle’s 12V power socket and typically take around two minutes for a top-up.
With all new cars now fitted with tyre pressure monitors, having an inflator means that you can respond immediately to any warning that your tyres are running low.
Keeping your tyres at optimum pressure delivers maximum grip and braking performance, can reduce wear and may lower fuel consumption. It makes sense to check them regularly and a tyre inflator makes the task a whole lot easier than an old-fashioned foot-pump.
To help you find the best tyre inflator for your needs, we tested inflators from a range of manufacturers for the accuracy of their gauges, the time taken to pump up tyres, their ease of use and additional features.
How to choose the best tyre inflator for you
How do I find the correct tyre pressure?
Car manufacturers list the correct pressure for each tyre on a sticker that you’ll either find close to the fuel filler cap or around the driver’s door. In the latter case, it’s usually on the frame or the edge of the door itself.
The stickers often carry the pressures for different wheel sizes and specifications. Each one is identified by a series of numbers and letters that describe the tyre’s size and width. You just need to find the sequence that matches the one on the wall of your tyres.
The pressure is usually shown in two formats: bar and psi. There are typically two sets of these. The lowest is for normal use, but you may well see another set of higher pressures for when the car is heavily loaded, increasing the weight that’s pushing down on the tyres.
Tyre pressures are typically between 30psi and 40psi (or 2 bar and 2.8 bar).
How to test your tyre pressure
Each of the inflators tested here has a gauge that gives you an instant readout that lets you know whether the tyre needs pumping. To use them, simply remove the dust cap from the valve on the tyre and push the end of the air hose over it, before pressing or releasing any catch to clamp it in place. Petrol station tyre inflators have pressure gauges, too, but these aren’t always accurate so it’s best to test using your own equipment.
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How often should you check your tyres?
The AA recommends checking your tyres every fortnight and doing so when they are cold, as the pressure increases slightly when your tyres warm up through driving. According to Michelin, one of the major tyre manufacturers, tyres that are under-inflated by 15psi (1 bar) will raise fuel consumption by 6% and increase your braking distance by 5m when travelling at 56mph.
It’s a good idea to examine each tyre’s condition at the same time, testing the amount of tread left and ensuring that there are no cracks or bulges that could lead to one of them bursting. It’s illegal to have less than 1.6mm of tread around the central part of the tyre, covering three-quarters of its area. One quick way to test your legality is to place a 20p piece between the grooves. If the border is still visible on the side touching the tyre, your tyres will probably need replacing soon.
What should I look for in a tyre inflator?
Size is probably the most important thing. The smallest inflators are around 20 x 20cm, so you can leave them in your car without losing too much luggage space. The best don’t skimp on the length of the power lead and air hose, which makes it easier to reach all four valves. Most can be preset to stop inflating when your tyre reaches the correct pressure.
Larger inflators include rechargeable batteries, which make them completely portable. These are a better option if you want to pump up, say, bicycle tyres, without having to wheel the bike next to your car. You may also need a larger inflator for tyres that need higher-than-average pressures, such as a larger van or campervan.
What about extras?
With mini torches, adaptors and USB ports, some tyre inflators sound like they’ve dropped out of a Christmas cracker, but these features can come in surprisingly handy. Any light source can be useful when you find yourself having to inflate a tyre late at night, while adaptors allow you to pump up bicycle tyres, children’s toys and footballs.
Some inflators have 12V ports so they can effectively be used as an extension lead that connects other accessories to your car’s power. If your car isn’t fitted with a USB port, it’s useful to have a tyre inflator with this feature so that you can charge a tablet or smartphone on the road.
How we test tyre inflators
We test tyre inflators by timing how long it takes to inflate a 15in tyre from 20psi to 30psi, taking note of the pressure displayed before and after inflation. We measure the noise levels during operation. We check the accuracy of the display, as well as verify the length of the hose and of the power cord. We evaluate how easy it is to connect the inflator to the tyre, and how easy it is to use. Finally, we take a look at any accessories, including bags or cases and adaptors for balls or inflatables.
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The best tyre inflators you can buy in 2024
1. Ring RTC4000 Cordless Digital Tyre Inflator: Best tyre inflator overall
Price when reviewed: £60 | Check price at Ring
The Ring RTC4000 packs a lot of tyre inflator into a package smaller than the average lunchbox, measuring just 15 x 10cm; it’s only 6cm thick. It’s cordless – powered by its own internal lithium ion battery, which charges over USB Type-C. Despite being cordless, Ring does supply you with a 3m 12V cable so that you’re not stuck with a flat tyre just because you forgot to recharge the battery. The 60cm air hose stows away nearly into a compartment underneath the unit, while another compartment, concealed beneath a flap at one end, houses the ball, cycle and inflatable toy adaptors.
Like the RTC1000, this inflator’s programmable: simply use the plus and minus buttons to select your desired pressure, then press the central power button and let the inflator do its stuff. It’s not super-speedy – taking just over two minutes for our 10psi inflation – but it makes up for that with its take-anywhere convenience and overall ease of use. It’s not too noisy either, with sound levels peaking at 72.1dB. Unfortunately, we found the screw-on fitting on the air hose slightly tricky to work with, and the area around the output connector became uncomfortably hot after use, but otherwise, this one gives you everything you need to keep your tyres in shape without the hassle of a cable or the expense of a separate battery and charger.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2mins 5secs; Power lead length: 3m; Air hose length: 60cm
2. Michelin Programmable Rapid Tyre Inflator: Best compact 12V inflator
Price when reviewed: £73 | Check price at AmazonWhile it’s relatively expensive for a 12V tyre inflator, Michelin’s Programmable Rapid Tyre Inflator is definitely worth the extra. For one thing, the digital pressure gauge is noticeably more accurate, reliable and easier to read than the analogue efforts you’ll find on many cheaper tyre inflators. More importantly, you can use the plus and minus buttons to set your desired tyre pressure, then press the power button and just let the Michelin pump away until it hits the spot.
It’s not the fastest inflator on test – taking almost two minutes to inflate our test tyre by 10psi – but it’s effective and, at just over 75dB, it’s relatively quiet. It also has a few useful extras, including ball and balloon adaptors, a bright LED light and even a USB output – perfect for charging your phone in an emergency. With its cable and air hose stowed away neatly, it’s a cracking compact inflator that you’ll be happy to have in your boot.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 54secs; Power lead length: 3m; Air hose length: 60cm
3. Ring RTC1000 Rapid Digital Tyre Inflator: Best value tyre inflator
Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at RingRing’s 12V rapid tyre inflator is a triumph of design and ease of use. The chunky round unit isn’t the most compact – measuring 22 x 20cm and 8.8cm thick – but it holds the 3.5mm power cable in an internal spool that you can wind in after use. A compartment on the left-hand side houses the 70cm air hose, while the right-hand side incorporates the built-in LED light. Ring also bundles in three adaptors for ball valves, cycles and inflatable toys, along with four spare valve caps, a fuse and a case. You even get a pair of latex gloves to keep your hands clean while you go to work.
It’s the fuss-free usage that makes this one so great. The backlit LCD display is easy to read, allowing you to see both the current pressure and the preset pressure – which you adjust using the small yellow wheel, then click down the massive on/off button and it inflates until the requested level is reached. You’re not left waiting either – our test tyre was inflated by 10psi in just 1min 27secs – while the 73.7dB noise level is relatively easy to live with too. If you’re not bothered by the presence of a cord and you need a speedy, no-hassle tyre inflator, the RTC1000 is as good as it gets.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 27secs; Power lead length: 3.5m; Air hose length: 70cm
4. Draper Storm Force Mini Analogue Air Compressor: Best budget 12V inflator
Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at AmazonThe Storm Force Mini does exactly what you would expect from a cheap and cheerful tyre inflator, no more and no less. It’s a compact air compressor with a 2.7m cable that plugs into your car’s 12V socket, an old-school analogue pressure gauge, and, well, that’s basically it. Plug it in and it starts working immediately, and you turn it off by unplugging it.
It’s noisy, dishing out 77dB in operation. And the pressure gauge can be difficult to read since, because it goes up to 250psi, that crucial 0 to 60psi zone is crammed into the first quarter of the dial. However, it pumped up our test tyre from 20 to 30psi in just under two-and-a-half minutes, with no fuss or faff. It’s a shame that the supplied accessories are so basic – just a ball inflator and two adaptors for inflatable toys – still, if you’re looking to spend as little as possible, then the Storm Force Mini does the job.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2mins 24secs; Power lead length: 2.7m; Air hose length: 46cm
5. VonHaus Cordless Tyre Inflator: Best tyre inflator for emergencies
Price when reviewed: £48 | Check price at Amazon
If you want to be equipped for every flat tyre eventuality, the VonHaus Cordless Tyre Inflator has you covered. It will run for up to ten minutes from the supplied 1.5A lithium-ion battery, but if you forget to charge it you can always switch to the bundled 12V adaptor, which comes with an unusually generous 3.5m cable. It has a small, but still readable, digital pressure meter. And you can just set your desired pressure, pull the trigger and let it go to work: it will stop when it reaches the right level.
The VonHaus isn’t superfast – taking just over two minutes on our test tyre – and it makes a bit of a racket while it’s on the job – we clocked it at 82.7dB. We would also quite like a longer air hose than the 15cm one provided, but it’s just what you need in an emergency, especially since it even includes a built-in, and very bright, LED lamp that can double as a flashing red hazard warning.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2mins 2secs; Power lead length: 3.5m; Air hose length: 15cm
6. Ryobi R18I-0 ONE+ Inflator/Deflator: Best cordless inflator
Price when reviewed: £69 (tool only) | Check price at Amazon
The Ryobi R18I-0 ONE+ Inflator/Deflator is built to take care of all your air-pumping needs, thanks to its ingenious two-way system. Simply press the rocker to the left and it will inflate airbeds, pool toys, stand-up paddle boards and just about any high-volume inflatables through its chunky air hose. Press it to the right and it will handle car tyres, bike tyres, footballs and other smaller, high-pressure items. It’s powered by the same ONE+ batteries used across Ryobi’s cordless power tools and, in practice, we found a single charge was enough to pump up all the tyres on two cars and still inflate a crocodile pool toy, with charge to spare.
This gives you the perfect combination of speed for large items as well as control and precision for tyres, and the R18I-0 is quick, inflating our test tyre in 1min 22 secs. The backlit digital pressure gauge is easy to read, and you can set your desired pressure and let the inflator do its job. It’s far from cheap, and you’ll need to budget extra for the battery and charger – unless you already have Ryobi ONE+ tools – but this inflator makes blowing up everything from tyres to air mattresses look easy and, when it’s time to pack up and go home, it will deflate your inflatables too.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 22secs; Power lead length: N/A; Air hose length: 70cm
7. Halfords Advanced Tyre and Leisure Inflator: Best inflator for home, car and camping
Price when reviewed: £60 | Check price at Halfords
A high-end tyre inflator at a mid-range price, the Halfords Advanced Tyre and Leisure Inflator is a great option for families and campers. Under a flap on the left-hand side, there’s a hose for pumping up airbeds and inflatables, while the 12V power cable and air pipe fit neatly into a compartment at the back, and there’s also a handy LED torch built into the right-hand side. The button to the left of the display handles the inflatables, while the button to the right pumps up your tyres.
However, the biggest selling point of this inflator is the custom pressure settings. Other inflators might allow you to define a specific air pressure level and then leave the inflator to reach it automatically, but this Halfords inflator allows you to program settings for different users and different cars, even the different tyres for those cars – a big plus for keeping your tyres in perfect shape. And while using a 12V cable for power isn’t as convenient as going cordless, it makes up for this with speedy operation, inflating our test tyre by 10psi in under 90 seconds. It’s even faster if powered from the mains with the cable provided, and the sensitive digital gauge and rotary control make it easy to use. If you’ve got the space for a great, versatile inflator for the home, the car, or the camper, this one’s our pick of the bunch.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 27secs; Power lead length: 3m; Air hose length: 60cm
8. Ring RAC635 12V Preset Digital Air Compressor with LED Light: Best budget tyre inflator
Price when reviewed: £34 | Check price at Ring
An accurate pressure gauge, decent performance and extremely competitive price make the RAC 635 compressor the best all-round tyre inflator here. It’s simple to use, thanks to a rotating dial that sets the required pressure and ensures the pump switches off when the tyre is correctly inflated.
The compressor is small, at 20cm long, and weighs just over 1kg. A long air hose and power lead offer plenty of reach, although stowing them is a bit fiddly. The 635 includes a large white light, as well as a red one for alerting other drivers. There’s also a three-piece adaptor for use with bicycle tyres, blow-up toys and footballs, along with a padded case for tidy storage.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2mins 12secs; Power lead length: 3.5m; Air hose length: 70cm
9. Bosch UniversalPump 18V: Best handheld inflator
Price when reviewed: £59 (tool only) | Check price at Amazon
The design of the Bosch UniversalPump 18V shows that a little more thought went into it than your average handheld tyre inflator. The 67cm air hose coils neatly around a section at the top, which also contains a flip-out compartment for the bundled ball, inflatable toy and French valve adaptors. The analogue pressure gauge is lit by an LED light, while there’s also a second light to enable you to see the valve when you’re pumping up your flat tyre. The chunky trigger has a lock to stop you squeezing it inadvertently, and it’s powered by the same 18V Power For All batteries used in most Bosch garden tools and power tools – fully charged, it should get you 15 minutes of inflating.
Best of all, it’s very speedy, inflating our test tyre from 20 to 30psi in around a minute. Unfortunately, the analogue pressure gauge can still be tricky to read, especially if you’re using PSI rather than Bar, and it’s pretty noisy, topping out at 86.3dB. You’ll also need to pay extra for the battery and charger unless you already have a Power For All kit. Otherwise, though, this is the king of handheld inflators.
Key specs – Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 2secs; Power lead length: N/A; Air hose length: 67cm