Stay safe and improve your braking and fuel-efficiency with the best tyre inflators available in the UK
Having a tyre inflator in your car makes it easy to check the pressure of your tyres and pump them up whenever needed. They plug in to 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 buy 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.
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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 30 and 40psi (or 2 bar and 2.8 bar)
How to test your tyre pressure
Each of the inflators tested here have gauges, which give you an instant readout that lets you know whether the tyre needs pumping. To use them, simply remove the dust cap from the valve 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 five metres 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, then 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 that 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, then it’s handy to have a tyre inflator with this feature so that you can charge a tablet or smartphone on the road.
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The best tyre inflators you can buy in 2018
1. Ring RAC 635 12v Preset Digital Air Compressor with LED Light: The best budget tyre inflator
Price: Around £30 | Buy now from Amazon
An accurate pressure gauge, decent performance and extremely competitive price make the RAC 635 compressor the best all-round tyre inflator tested 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
2. Michelin 12267 Cordless Rechargeable Inflator with DPS: The best cordless inflator
Price: Around £70 | Buy now from Halfords
The gadget to power all gadgets: tyre inflation is just one function of this Michelin product, which can also charge or power devices through its 12v or USB outlets, and provide crisp white light, thanks to its LED bulbs.
Key to its versatility is the integrated rechargeable battery, enabling it to provide power and compressed air without being plugged in. This is useful for cycle tyres and inflatable toys, for which adaptors are included. The 12267 takes four hours to fully charge and, once complete, can operate for around half an hour, which is enough to inflate ten average tyres from flat to full.
It’s not perfect, though, as it took almost 14 minutes to inflate an airbed in our tests and there’s no deflator option. You can’t set the desired pressure, so will need to monitor it while it works. You’ll also need to find a mains socket once the battery runs out, as this heavy-duty, 4kg inflator isn’t designed to charge from a car’s power outlet.
Buy now from Halfords
Key specs - Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 53secs; Power lead length: 3m; Air hose length: 60cm
3. Ring RAC 830 Rapid Digital Tyre Inflator: The best inflator for bigger tyres
Price: Around £65 | Buy now from Amazon
When compared to this powerhouse, most other inflators look like they’d be as effective as a small child blowing through a straw. Beefed-up to cope with big tyres, like those fitted to off-roaders and SUVs, the RAC 830 has twin motors that make it twice as fast as many of the others on test. What’s more, it’s rated to achieve pressures as high as 100psi. You use a simple rotating dial to pre-set the required pressure, and the gauge is very accurate.
The device is built to service a bigger vehicle, with a longer-than-average air hose that ensures no wheel will be out of reach. It also comes with adaptors for a range of valves, as well as a built-in light. It’s heavy, at almost 3kg, but not unmanageable size-wise, being 17 x 26 x 13cm (HWD). Naturally, you pay more for all this power, but it’s a reasonable price for the performance.
Key specs - Inflation time from 20-30psi: 1min 10secs; Power lead length: 3.5m; Air hose length: 85cm
4. Halfords Rechargeable Multi-Purpose Inflator: best lightweight rechargeable inflator
Price: Around £60 | Buy now from Halfords
Weight less than 2kg, this Halfords inflator is half as heavy as its rechargeable Michelin rival further up this list. That makes it easier to carry between deflated cycle tyres, flat footballs and sagging airbeds.
It offers plenty of flexibility, with the option to charge from either mains power or your car’s 12v socket. There is a USB port and 12v socket to power mobile phones and other devices, in addition to the air pump, which comes with four adaptors. You can set your desired pressure, so there’s no need to watch over it while it’s inflating, which is good as it’s a slow and noisy process. After inflating a tyre by 10psi, then pumping up an airbed and deflating it, the battery indicator showed that only half the power remained.
Buy now from Halfords
Key specs - Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2min 38secs; Power lead length: 3.2m; Air hose length: 60cm
5. Michelin 12260 High Power Tyre Inflator and Detachable Digital Gauge: The best-designed tyre inflator
Price: Around £32 | Buy now from Amazon
If you choose a tyre inflator with the aim of impressing your neighbours, then this flying saucer design will be top of your list, because it’s as stylish as these products get. However, most buyers will be more interested in the fact it’s relatively light at 1.3kg and has a neat removable pressure gauge, which makes it easier to check whether your tyres need pumping before positioning and connecting the inflator.
The cable wraps neatly into a storage compartment that also contains four adaptors, while the air hose is housed in the base. Inflation time is fairly average and you can’t set the desired pressure, but the bright integrated lights mean that you’ll always see what you’re doing.
Key specs - Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2min 32secs; Power lead length: 3m; Air hose length: 65cm
6. Michelin 12266 High Power Rapid Tyre Inflator with DPS: The best mainstream inflator over £50
Price: Around £60 | Buy now from Amazon
Michelin tyre inflators make up half of this list, partly thanks to their practicality and sturdy build quality, but many lack the ability to pre-set the pressure you want. The 12266 does have that feature, which makes it that little bit more convenient, as you don’t need to monitor the compressor while it’s at work.
With the most accurate gauge on test and a swift inflation time of 2mins 18secs to add 10psi, this Michelin device is efficient – as it should be, given the price. It includes 12v and USB power outlets, bright LED lights, adaptors, and a less-than-straightforward stowage system for the hose.
Unlike the lower-specification version, it also comes with a carry-case. For some, these additions won’t justify the £15 price premium, but for others it will be money well-spent.
Key specs - Inflation time from 20-30psi: 2min 18secs; Power lead length: 3m; Air hose length: 60cm