Best mini air compressors for car tyres 2018

We test the best 12V tyre compressors to inflate flats and keep your air pressures correct…

Convenient, safe and economical, a 12V compressor has everything going for it – there are even cordless compressors available which don’t require a 12V or mains connection to work. There’s no wait in a queue at a petrol station air line – a double bonus, because many garage gauges are inaccurate – so you can check and top up your tyres whenever you need to.

With correct pressures, your car will handle, brake and corner as it should, while low pressures would mean poorer mpg, too. In addition, they can cause uneven or illegal wear, forcing you to replace your tyres sooner. So a fairly small investment in a mini compressor could quickly be repaid. Which is the puff daddy? We plugged in the best on the market to find out.

• Tyre reviews: best car tyres on sale

How we tested them

As with our test, we timed our compressors to see how long they took to inflate a 15-inch tyre from 20psi to 30psi, checking for gauge accuracy at the start and finish. 

Extra points were awarded for compressors with long hoses and power leads, extras such as adaptors and bags or cases, as well as practical features, such as clear displays. A preset shut-off option makes these devices so much easier to use. We also tested the compressors for noise, measuring the increase from ambient using an iPhone app, before factoring in prices from online sources.

Since carrying out the above test, cordless compressors have become a more enticing option, which is why we conducted a seperate mini test for such machines. The test was similar to that abive, in that we timed how long each took to add 10psi to a 15-inch tyre. Inflation and deflation times on a double airbed were also rated, and we measured noise in decibels (dB). Clear, accurate gauges, good instructions and long hoses won marks, as did extras like a light, adaptors and power sockets. Scroll the the bottom of the page for the results.

Verdict

The Ring RAC635 retains the top spot, but the new entrant from Sakura was threateningly close behind, with the well-priced Wolf holding on to third place. 

  • 1. Ring 12v Preset Digital Air Compressor RAC 635
  • 2. Sakura 12v Digital Air compressor SS5332
  • 3. Wolf Glovebox Genie 3 in 1 Digital Tyre Inflator
  • ReviewsRing 12v Preset Digital Air Compressor RAC 635

    Price: Around £32
    Rating: 5.0
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 12secs 

    We could see no changes to this over the preset Ring RAC 635 that won our previous test. Only its HD sibling beat the 70mm hose length and the 3.5-metre power cable was the longest on test, able to reach all four wheels on all but the largest car. We liked the padded zip-up case and the large display, although at some angles it was tricky to make out. On the other hand, the noise increase was the highest, at 58dB. However, the time for the pumping test was excellent, equal third best. Despite a price rise, it keeps its crown, but only just. 

    Buy now from Amazon

    Sakura 12v Digital Air Compressor SS5332

    Price: Around £28
    Rating: 4.5
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 7secs

    The Sakura almost scored a shock upset over the Ring establishment, especially as it was a bit cheaper, and quicker in our pumping test. As with most of our compressors, the instructions were limited and didn’t mention only inflating cool tyres, but we liked the display and easy-to-use controls. Supplied with a soft nylon bag, it also comes with a long three-metre 12V power cord, although the hose was only average, at 60cm. The noise increase was almost the same as the Ring’s, at 56dB, yet it lost just enough points here and there to miss the top spot – but it was close. 

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    Wolf Glovebox Genie 3 in 1 Digital Tyre Inflator 

    Price: £19
    Rating: 4.0
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 39secs 

    In common with some others, the Glovebox Genie stuck with a formula that worked, namely doing most things well and, more importantly, for a cracking price. The cable length of 2.6 metres was reasonable, as was the hose length of 66cm. As with most of the competition, pumping time was down from our last test (due largely to the hot weather); two minutes 39 seconds was the slowest here, albeit by only seven seconds. But with a clear and totally accurate display, LED light with three modes and handy storage size, it keeps its place on the podium. 

    Buy now from Amazon

    Halfords Rapid Digital Tyre Inflator

    Price: Around £39
    Rating: 4.0
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 12secs 

    The Halfords Digital steps up a place from our last test thanks largely to cost; its own price has dropped by £8, while the Michelin’s has risen. The similarities with the Ring RAC635 were noticeable; both feature a large display, screw-on valve connector, preset function and three scales (psi, Bar, kpa) which were easy to scroll through. This was also equally noisy, although the 12V cable isn’t quite as long, at three metres, and there’s no deflator. But its accuracy was spot-on during our test and the pumping performance was impressive, and exactly the same as the Ring’s. 

    Buy now from Halfords

    Michelin 12266 High Power Rapid Tyre Inflator with DPS

    Price: £58
    Rating: 3.5
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 18secs

    We really rate the superb build quality of this model and the piano black finish on the front was stylish. We liked the bright, white display and protective nylon bag, although the 63cm hose length was only reasonable and its storage was awkward. The pumping time was very good, and the controls were easy to use. Accuracy was good, being just 0.5psi adrift. Uniquely, it came with 12v and USB sockets, giving it more versatility. But we couldn’t find a lower price, which hammered its points score. 

    Buy now from Halfords

    Clarke 12v Tyre Inflator/Air Compressor CAC100

    Price: Around £28
    Rating: 3.0
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 22secs 

    Another compressor suffering a slight price hike, we still liked its design and layout, which was simple but complete. The display was clear and the controls made it easy to select one of the three scales and adjust the preset limit. We liked the screw connector and end-mounted compartment for the 12v cable and three adaptors. Its performance was third worst on the day, though only 0.5psi off at the higher figure, while its sound level was third best. A reasonable machine, stuck in the middle ground. 

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    Michelin Hi-Power Tyre Inflator and Detachable Digital Gauge 12260 

    Price: £41
    Rating: 3.0
    Time 20-30psi: 2mins 32secs

    This model’s USP is the gauge’s digital display, which can be removed and used separately. It was accurate, although we thought it stingy not to provide the three LR44 batteries it needed. We liked the 12v cable storage compartment that also held four adaptors, while the 64cm hose wrapped around the base, but it was second slowest to 30psi. The price might make sense if you don’t already have a gauge, but it lost out here.

    Buy now from Amazon

    Ring 12v Heavy Duty Air Compressor & Accessories RAC900

    Price: Around £75
    Rating: 3.0
    Time 20-30psi: 57secs

    This HD model was connected directly to the battery as it drew too much current for the 12v socket, so it’s no surprise that it finished our test in less than a minute. Coming in a large, padded textile bag with two compartments, the hose was a 7mm curly version as used on full size compressors and awash with solid brass fittings. Unusually, it had an analogue gauge: it was perfectly accurate, but there was no preset or light. A cracking device and easily the quietest on test, ideal for harder work if you can afford it.

    Buy now from Amazon

    Best cordless mini car compressorsRyobi R18I-0 One+ 18V Inflator 

    Price: £53 (plus battery/charger)
    Rating: 5.0
    Inflation times (tyre/airbed): 2mins 12secs/3mins 21secs

    This device follows Ryobi’s clever One+ principle, where one battery fits multiple tools. The price is for the compressor only; it needs a charger and battery (from £65), which is a consideration. We used a 4Ah battery; impressively it was still full when we finished, and its tyre inflation time was as good as the best in our 12V compressor test. 

    Included is an inflator and a deflator; their operational times were almost identical. When used on our airbed, it was considerably quicker than its rivals. The R18I-0 doesn’t feature any extra sockets or a light, the preset reset to 10psi every time and we’d prefer a screw-on connector, but you can’t argue with the performance.

    Buy now from Amazon 

    Michelin 12267 Cordless Rechargeable Inflator 

    Price: £90
    Rating: 4.0
    Inflation times (tyre/airbed): 2m 7s/13m 45s

    You get two 12V cigar lighter (CLA) and two 1A USB sockets on the Michelin, but it’s hefty at 3.5kg. As with the Ryobi, it has three scales, three adaptors and a preset function. The motor was the quietest and added 10psi in one of the quickest times we’ve ever seen. But there is no deflator option and pumping up the airbed took almost 14 minutes, even though the battery still showed full. 

    Buy now from Amazon

    Halfords Rechargeable Multi-Purpose Inflator

    Price: Around £60
    Rating: 3.0
    Inflation times (tyre/airbed): 2m 38s/10m 4s

    This has a good price and spec, with four adaptors, CLA and USB sockets, as well as mains or 12V charging. We liked the logical layout, preset control and clear display. It was the lightest compressor here, at 1.8kg, but this hinted at weight saved with the motor, and slow, noisy performance proved this. After the three tests, it was down to 50 per cent battery life. 

    Buy now from Halfords

    Looking to keep a closer eye on your car‘s tyre pressures? We tested the best tyre pressure monitoring systems on sale… 

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