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 and off-road vehicles.
In a hurry? Check out our top pick the VIAIR 450P-RV.
In this article we’re going to review the following 12 volt air compressors:
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 this happens while camping 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.
Best 12 Volt Air Compressor: Crash Course and Buying Guide
Before we get to the recommendations, let’s take a look at some useful information about using air compressors, and why having one around is a smart idea.
Why Do YouYou 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.
Then 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 an 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.
Our Top 4 Best 12 Volt Air Compressor Picks
VIAIR 450P-RV Automatic Portable Compressor Kit: Top Pick for RVs
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.
If there’s one aspect of the VIAIR 450P-RV that we weren’t quite as thrilled about, it’s the built-in tire pressure gauge. The built-in gauge was often somewhat inaccurate in its readings compared to our dedicated tire pressure gauge.
That said, this 12v air compressor offers an outstanding value and exceptional performance, making it perfect for RVs and other large vehicles.
- Two 30 ft. coiled air hoses can join to make a 60 ft. hose
- Lightweight—only 13 pounds!
- Lots of extras
- Automatic shutoff
- Built-in pressure gauge not completely accurate
- Gets quite hot
- 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.
VIAIR 400P Automatic Portable Compressor: Top Pick for Off-Road
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.
- High CFM for quick inflation
- Overheating protection
- Tire inflation gun with built-in PSI gauge
- Great accessories
- Inappropriate for inside dually tires
- 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
TIREWELL 12V Tire Inflator: Best Value Pick
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.
- Our most lightweight pick
- Very affordable option
- Impressive CFM of 2.12
- Superb customer service
- Excellent 3 year warranty
- Somewhat slow inflation
- 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
VIAIR 300P Portable Compressor: Best All-Rounder
While not quite as budget-friendly as the TIREWELL tire inflator, the VIAIR 300P is still a great affordable 12 volt air compressor that doesn’t skimp on features and additional accessories.
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.
While all the above 12-volt air compressors have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, we found the VIAIR 450P-RV 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 450P-RV in a wide variety of environments and circumstances, which makes it ideal for any type of adventure.