We’ve looked at some of the most popular portable air compressors to determine which one is the best 12 volt air compressor. We’re pleased to present the ones we found the most suitable for RVs, off-road vehicles, and emergencies.
In a hurry? Check out our top picks!
12 Volt Air Compressors Top Picks
So you’ve aired-down your tires to go off-road but there’s no roadside air pump in sight to air up once you’re back on the road?
What if you’re camping in an RV and you notice your tires are on the low side? What if this happens while you’re far from a gas station? Do you really want to risk driving your overloaded vehicle on underinflated tires?
There’s a solution: keep on-hand a 12 volt air compressor.
In this article we’re going to review the following 12 volt air compressors:
Best 12V Air Compressor Reviewed
- VIAIR 450P-RV Automatic Portable Compressor Kit (Best RV air compressor)
- VIAIR 400P Automatic Portable Compressor (Best off road air compressor)
- TIREWELL 12V Tire Inflator (Best small air compressor)
- VIAIR 300P Portable Compressor (Best portable 12 volt air compressor)
- GSPSCN 12v Air Compressor (Best portable air compressor)
- VIAIR Heavy Duty Onboard Air System (Best 12 volt air compressor with tank)
Best 12 Volt Air Compressor Picks
1. VIAIR 450P-RV 12 Volt Air Compressor Kit
Best RV Air Compressor
If you need a quality 12 volt air compressor to reliably inflate the tires on your RV, the VIAIR 450P-RV was designed for you.
But the best part is, you can use the 450P-RV air compressor for just about anything you need to inflate. Thanks to the outstanding extras package, you’ll have all the necessary attachments to inflate things like sports balls and even the kinds of items that you would normally have to inflate manually or with your own mouth, like pool toys and air mattresses.
It also comes with a tire inflation gun. This piece is particularly convenient, as it’s trigger allows for automatic starting and stopping without having to shut it off at the compressor. It even features a “bleeder” button that drains air out of the tire if you overinflate it.
The 450P-RV has a duty cycle of 100% which may be a bit slower filling than the 400P-RV, but it can be run continuously at 100 psi for up to an hour before needing to cool down as opposed to 20 mins with the 400P. We consider this a good reason enough to make the 450P-RV a winner for RVs.
- Max Pressure: 150 PSI
- Duty Cycle: 100% @ 100 PSI
- CFM: 1.8 CFM
- Max. Amp Draw: 23 Amps
- Dimensions: 10.9 x 5.8 x 7.5 inches
- Weight: 13 pounds
- Extras: Tire inflation gun and gauge, pressure switch, air hose, RV accessories, heavy-duty carry bag.
2. VIAIR 400P 12 Volt Air Compressor
Best Off Road Air Compressor
Just as VIAIR supplied our pick for the best RV 12-volt air compressor, they’re also the minds behind our top air compressor pick for your off-road needs.
One thing you’ll notice right away is that the features and our review of this 12 volt air compressor are going to seem pretty familiar. That’s because the VIAIR 400P is essentially just a smaller version of the above, RV model.
There are some key differences, though, between these two versions. The differences are related to each model’s CFM and duty cycle. While the 450P-RV boasts a 100% (that is, continuous) duty cycle, the 400P has a duty cycle of only 33%, which should be sufficient for smaller tires.
As for CFM, the 400P runs at 2.3 CFM, compared to the slower 1.8 CFM of the 450P model.
Overall, this is the optimal choice for smaller tires and off-road purposes. It packs in most of the great features of the VIAIR 450P-RV, in a more compact size with even greater portability.
- Max Pressure: 150 PSI
- Duty Cycle: 33% @ 100 PSI
- CFM @ 0 PSI: 2.54 CFM
- Max. Amp Draw: 30 Amps
- Dimensions: 11.25″L x 4.00″W x 7.00″H
- Weight: 8.5 pounds
3. TIREWELL 12V Air Compressor Tire Inflator
Best Lightweight Air Compressor
For those of you looking for a more budget-minded option that still packs in the necessary functionality and features for tire inflation, the TIREWELL 12V tire inflator might be you’re after.
The TIREWELL tire inflator is the lightest of all the 12-volt air compressors we’ve recommended. It’s also one of the most affordable, while never sacrificing great functionality.
Given it’s relatively small size, the TIREWELL inflator manages to boast an impressive maximum pressure of 150 PSI. That’s quite a lot of power in such a small unit!
But the thing we liked best about this TIREWELL unit is the company’s outstanding customer service. Not only does the company provide prompt customer assistance, but they also truly stand behind their products. That is, the warranty package offered with this 12 volt air compressor is one of the most generous of all the products we’ve evaluated.
- Max Pressure: 150 PSI
- CFM @ 0 PSI: 2.12
- Duty Cycle: 15% @ 100 PSI
- Max. Amp Draw: 30 Amps
- Dimensions: 12.67 x 6.91x 8.19 inches
- Weight: 8.36 pounds
4. VIAIR 300P 12 Volt Air Compressor
Best heavy duty 12 volt air compressor
The VIAIR 300P is a great affordable 12-volt air compressor that doesn’t skimp on inflation power and features.
Just like its larger counterparts, the VIAIR 300P comes with some awesome extras. It comes with a storage bag, an extension hose, and a variety of attachments for inflating things besides tires, like pool toys and sports balls.
Despite its smaller size, it still packs in a lot of inflation power, with a maximum pressure of 150 PSI. Further, with its 2.3 CFM inflation rating, it can efficiently and quickly inflate tires of up to 33 inches.
Plus, you can purchase this portable air compressor with the knowledge that you’re buying from one of the best regarded air compressor manufacturers out there. What’s more, they stand by their product with a one-year limited warranty.
- Max Pressure: 150 PSI
- Duty Cycle: 33%
- CFM @ 0 PSI: 2.40
- Max. Amp Draw: 28 Amps
- Dimensions – 9.80″L x 4.90″W x 7.50″H
- Weight: 8.6 pounds
5. GSPSCN 12V Air Compressor
Best Portable Air Compressor
The GSPSCN is a great all-round portable 12V air compressor. You can inflate anything from pool toys, bike tires, truck tires to RV to tires. It’s lightweight and it comes in an Oxford bag which means you can easily take it anywhere you go.
The GSPSCN air compressor uses a high-quality direct drive motor with a double metal cylinder. It’s a low rotating speed and high-efficiency pump that is powerful enough to inflate most car tires.
This 12V air compressor comes with a cigarette lighter with built-in 25A fuse (with a spare fuse), a 11.5ft power cord, and a 1.8ft inflation tube. It also includes a battery clamp and 3 adapters for bikes, balls, pool toys, etc.
The high-quality screw connector connects tightly to the tire gas mouth and inflates a standard car tire in 2 minutes (200/70/R18, 0-40psi).
Overall, the GSPSCN tire inflator is a fast and reliable 12 volt air compressor that will help you maintain the correct tire pressure on your vehicle, on the road and off-road.
- Max Pressure: 150 PSI
- Duty Cycle: 33%
- CFM @ 0 PSI: 2.5
- Max. Amp Draw: 25 Amps
- Dimensions: 8.6 x 3.1x 7.2 inches
- Weight: 6.8 pounds
6. VIAIR Heavy Duty Onboard Air System
Best 12 volt air compressor with tank
VIAIR’s Heavy Duty Onboard Air System is a great all-in-one compressed air solution that you mount on your vehicle. If you’re after a 12v air compressor that inflates tires, actuates an air horn and that can power your air tools, this is a great choice.
The VIAIR Onboard Air System is a mid-range system that features a 150 PSI, 33% duty cycle compressor. It works quickly putting out 2.54 CFM flow at 0 PSI.
It comes complete with a 2.5 gallon air tank, and all the components you need to install it on your rig.
It can inflate tires up to 35″, it can also power air tools, manage air bag suspensions and more.
Overall, the VIAIR Heavy Duty Onboard Air System is really versatile and a great 12 volt air compressor if you like to venture off-road and you want a little workshop with you.
- Max Pressure: 150 PSI
- Duty Cycle: 33% @100 PSI
- CFM @ 0 PSI: 2.54
- Max. Amp Draw: 26 Amps
- Dimensions: 26.50 x 14.50 x 10.00 inches
- Weight: 30.15 pounds
Best 12 Volt Air Compressor: Crash Course and Buying Guide
Let’s take a look at some useful information about using air compressors, and why having one around is a smart idea.
Why Do You Need an Air Compressor?
If you have an RV or an off-road vehicle or you’re simply a caring, practical friend, you’ve probably been told that you should invest in an air compressor. But why is it so important to have a glorified tire inflator on hand?
The answer is simple: keeping your tires properly inflated has many practical and financial benefits. It is also an important piece of equipment to have if you plan on venturing off-road. Let’s go over those now.
Keep Your Tires Happy, Healthy, and Strong
Maintaining proper tire pressure is a crucial responsibility in caring for your vehicle, and being diligent about it will certainly pay off in the long run. Here are some of the reasons this diligence is worth it:
- Extends Tire Lifespan: properly inflated tires promote even tread wear, resistance to tire damage from road hazards, and prevents excessive heat in tire sidewalls (which can ultimately lead to tire failure).
- Enhances Vehicle’s Fuel Economy: adequate tire pressure reduces tire friction, which allows your vehicle to burn less fuel.
Some Helpful Terminology
It’s a good idea, before you start shopping around for portable air compressors, to learn some of the critical terminology that you’ll likely run into in your pursuits. Take a look at these terms, as some may be unfamiliar to you.
An automatic air compressor is simply a type of air compressor that has the ability to automatically shut off when you stop inflating a tire. Typically, the mechanism the 12 volt air compressor uses to achieve this is a trigger on the air compressor’s tire inflation gun.
But why is this a useful feature?
For one thing, it saves you the hassle involved with some non-automatic 12-volt air compressors that you have to manually shut off prior to removing the chuck from one tire and moving on to the next.
Secondly, since most 12-volt air compressors have pressure gauges that cannot provide tire pressure readings while the air compressor is in use. An automatic air compressor simply stops the flow of air when you release the trigger. Once you release the trigger, you can get an accurate pressure reading for that tire without having to return to the compressor to power it off each time.
It might not seem that important, but if you experience the greater convenience and ease of use you get with an automatic 12 volt air compressor, you might just wonder why anyone would use anything else.
Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM)
Cubic feet per minute (CFM) is a unit of measurement that describes the amount of air an air compressor can push into a tire.
The most important thing to know about the CFM measurement is that an air compressor with a higher CFM will inflate your tires faster than an air compressor with a lower CFM.
Why would you buy an air compressor with a lower CFM?
There are a couple of reasons why you might want to go with a 12 volt air compressor with a lower CFM:
- Cost: typically, the higher the CFM, the more expensive the air compressor.
- Power: air compressors with higher CFM require more power to run, which might not be ideal if the compressor is powered by your vehicle’s battery.
- Size: generally speaking, the higher the CFM, the larger and less portable the air compressor.
Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI)
The unit of measurement known as pounds per square inch (or, PSI for short) is used to describe tire pressure. Simply put, PSI is the unit of measurement that tells you how much air is in your tire.
It’s basically impossible to know how much air to put into your tires if you don’t know two things: one, each tire’s current PSI reading, and two, the ideal PSI level for your specific vehicle and intended use or load.
To find this second piece of information, you’ll have to check the tire inflation and load chart for your tires’ model and size. You can easily find this information online via tire manufacturer websites.
A 12 volt air compressor’s duty cycle simply refers to its run time. That is, the compressor’s duty cycle rating will tell you the maximum amount of time you can run the compressor non-stop until it requires a cool down period.
Duty cycle is expressed as a percentage out of a single hour. So, for example, a 12v volt compressor with a duty cycle of 50% has a continuous run time of 30 minutes before it has to rest to avoid overheating.
For most people, this isn’t all that important of a consideration, since most air compressors are going to feature a duty cycle that is sufficiently long to easily inflate your tires. So, unless you’re inflating all four tires from completely flat to completely full, you shouldn’t run into any issues as far as duty cycles are concerned.
Here’s a useful video on tire pressure for off-roading.
Things to Look for in a 12 Volt Air Compressor
The amount of power a 12-volt air compressor produces is an important consideration, especially if you have a vehicle with larger-than-average tires.
If your vehicle has standard-sized tires, you’ll probably be safe to buy a more affordable compressor with less power. However, if your vehicle has larger tires, you will want to find an air compressor that offers greater airflow power.
How and where you intend to use your air compressor will determine the extent to which you need to consider portability when shopping for the best 12-volt air compressor.
That said, all of the 12-volt air compressors in our list of recommendations are at least somewhat portable, but their weights vary considerably. Be sure to take this into account before you buy.
Output (in CFM)
See above for a discussion of CFM. Before you buy an air compressor, it’s good to consider how quickly it can inflate your tires.
Price and Value
Obviously, price is going to be one of the biggest concerns for any shopper. So it’s wise to do a thorough comparison between models, taking into account each one’s price, features, and suitability for your individual needs.
Who doesn’t love getting freebies?
Many 12-volt air compressors come with additional accessories, like spare components, extension hoses, as well as carrying and storage bags. Make sure you take these extras into account when determining each model’s value.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How does an air compressor work?
An air compressor works by using a small motor to drive a piston inside a cylinder to pump air. It draws in atmospheric air and pumps it into an enclosed space such as a tire or a ball. As the piston moves up and down it pumps more air into the tire or ball. Similar to blowing up a balloon with your lungs acting as the air compressor.
What size air compressor do I need to inflate tires?
Most compressors on the market will inflate a tire, the differences will be in how quickly the compressor will inflate the tire and to what air pressure.
The size you need comes down to the type of tire you want to inflate. If you need an air compressor to inflate bike tires or beach toys you won’t need it to be of the same caliber as if you needed it to inflate tires on an RV.
If you want a portable 12V air compressor to inflate the tires on your off-road vehicle or RV you will want a tire inflator with higher CFM. In this case, the VIAIR 300P, VIAIR 400P or VIAIR 450P-RV would be great options. The Tirewell Tire Inflator and the GSPSCN 12v air compressor would also be suitable options.
If you are after an all-in one solution to inflate tires, actuate an air horn and to use air tools, you would want to look into a heavy duty 12 volt air compressor with a tank. The VIAIR Heavy Duty Onboard Air System can be mounted on your vehicle and would be a great choice.
What PSI should my compressor be?
When purchasing your compressor make sure to check that it is rated to a higher PSI (pounds per square inch) than the tire you want to inflate. Generally for most average 4×4 trucks and car tires 40-50 PSI would be enough.
How do I increase the PSI in my air compressor?
Your compressor would be rated to a safe PSI and if the compressor doesn’t have a holding tank then it will be unable to be adjusted. Think of your lungs; these would be limited to a certain amount of air pressure.
If your compressor is equipped with a holding tank you can adjust the holding pressure in the tank up to the PSI specified limitations of the tank.
Your tank needs to be equipped with a limited adjustment screw which will maintain a higher or lower PSI within the tank. Refer to the manual for detailed instructions on how to increase or decrease the PSI of the holding tank.
What is CFM and how is it calculated?
CFM refers to cubic feet per minute and is a measure of airflow. It simply refers to how much air can be pushed thru the compressor in a minute.
If you had a balloon that held 2 cubic feet of air and a compressor could blow this up in 1 minute then the compressor would be rated to 2CFM or 2 cubic feet per minute.
If the balloon held 100 cubic feet and the compressor could blow this up in 1 minute the compressor would be rated to 100 CFM, the higher CFM the more air the compressor can move per minute.
Unfortunately CFM is not an exact measure as it’s influenced by atmospheric air pressure, temperature and relative humidity.
While all the above 12 volt air compressors have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, we found the VIAIR 400P to be the most versatile.
What makes this air compressor stand out from the pack? Frankly, just about everything. It’s powerful enough to effectively inflate larger tires and smaller ones alike. The package of extra accessories allows you to use this 12 volt air compressor for just about every kind of inflation purpose you can imagine.
We really like the fact it manages all of its power, speed, and efficiency in a relatively compact package. You can use the VIAIR 400P in a wide variety of environments and circumstances, which makes it ideal for any type of adventure.
I hope you enjoyed our article about the best air compressors and that we’ve helped you determine which 12v air compressor is ideal for you. Happy Exploring!