Cordless Tire Inflators Prove to Be an Easy Way to Get the Job Done

CR evaluates models from Ryobi, Craftsman, Stanley, and Ideaworks

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Tire inflator Consumer Reports - John Powers

Keeping your tires properly inflated is key to driving safely, but adding air can be a real chore if you don’t have a compressor near where you live or work. Cordless tire inflators, or cordless air compressors, provide a handy, portable solution. To see whether these products just blow hot air, CR recently bought four to evaluate.

Handheld cordless tire inflators compressors run on rechargeable batteries, as cordless drills do, making them easy to use without having to drag around a power cord and a long hose. They typically come with a connection to inflate car tires and a needle adapter to inflate basketballs, footballs, and the like. Most also include a special adapter for blowing up inflatables (like pool toys), and some have adapters for inflating high-pressure bicycle tires.

In our evaluation, we checked out how well they inflate automobile tires only. All four did a good job of topping off a tire that needs just a bit more pressure. These compressors can inflate to more than 100 psi at low volume. Inflating a completely flat car tire seems feasible, but based on our experience, continuous operation could overheat these devices. You should consider buying a large compressor with a tank reservoir if you often need to inflate completely flat tires.

Handheld cordless tire inflators compressors have a trigger-like switch to add air, and two of the evaluated units (the Craftsman C3 Digital Inflator and Stanley AIRit 120) have an automatic feature to inflate to a specific setting.

The Ryobi One+ ($78.97 with battery and charger) gets good marks for its relatively quick inflation time. It proved able to add 5 psi to our car tire in about 40 seconds. The Craftsman C3 ($110.98 with battery and charger) takes a bit longer, at 90 seconds. Both the Stanley AIRit 120 ($49.98) and Ideaworks ($43.03) took 2 minutes or longer to add 5 psi, but they are the cheapest units (with battery included).

The best deal is the Ryobi One+ at $19.97, but that's only if you already own other Ryobi cordless tools and already own a compatible battery and charger.

Bottom Line

These gadgets are good to have around to keep your tires properly inflated and are also helpful in topping off higher-pressure temporary spare tires.

Below are highlights from our experiences with portable tire inflators used at the CR Auto Test Center, presented in order of the tire team's preference with the price paid and the retailer we bought it from.

Ryobi One+

Tire inflator

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The Ryobi One+ had the most muscle with the fastest inflation performance. It’s a bit pricey when you add in the cost of the battery and charger, but the battery can be used with dozens of other Ryobi cordless power tools. We liked the convenient air chuck, the piece that clamps onto the tire's valve stem. The dial gauge is legible and accurate to our test gauge, but it is not as easy to read as the digital gauges on other units.

Cost: $19.97 for the inflator. $59 for the 18-volt lithium battery and charger, sold separately.

Retailer: Home Depot

Craftsman C3 Digital Inflator

Tire inflator

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The Craftsman Digital Inflator has an easy-to-read digital pressure gauge that we found to be accurate when compared with our test gauge. The tool can be set to inflate to a specific pressure setting, although we found the actual tire pressure to be about 2 psi lower than the pressure we asked for. The handheld trigger makes it easy to inflate and fine-tune the pressure. The Craftsman compressor air chuck conveniently clamps to a tire’s valve stem. The pricey battery and charger can be used with several other Craftsman cordless tools.

Cost: $40.99 for the inflator. $69.99 for the 19.2-volt lithium battery and charger, sold separately.

Retailer: Sears

Stanley AIRit 120

Tire inflator

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The Stanley handheld tire inflator works well. The battery pack isn’t removable as it is on the other units, but the unit comes with two chargers; that lets you recharge the battery from either a home outlet or from a car’s power outlet. We like the illuminated pressure gauge, and the light that can light up the tire's valve stem. The digital gauge showed pressures that were in line with what our test gauge found. The screw-on air chuck connection is a bit more tedious to use than the clamp-on type found on other units. Similar to the Craftsman unit, there is an automatic feature to set pressure and it shuts off just shy of that setting, but it's easy to control the amount of air you want using the handheld trigger switch.

Cost: $49.98 for the handheld compressor, battery, and charger.

Retailer: QVC

Ideaworks Cordless Inflator

Tire inflator

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This handheld compressor can add air to a tire, but the tiny dial gauge is almost illegible and is inaccurate. If using this tool, have your own separate air gauge handy. The screw-on valve chuck is less convenient than the clamp-on type, and the short hose forces you to stay close to the tire.

Cost: $43.03, including battery and charger.


Gene Petersen

Because I took the tires off my toys as a kid, my mother thought I would be a truck driver—not a tire-testing engineer for more than three decades and counting. I still marvel at how complex and durable tires are and how much they contribute to car performance and safety. When I'm not obsessing over tires, I enjoy carpentry, gardening, and just being outdoors every chance I get.