We’ve researched hundreds of air compressors and compiled a list of our favorite 12v models.
Just like any other tool, not all 12-volt air compressors are created equal. In fact, some are junk, not worth your money, and not something you ever want to have in your vehicle to help you out of that tight spot mentioned above.
It’s a bit daunting when looking at the portable air compressor market. There are models with tons of cool looking and sounding features and accessories.
There are some with eye-catching designs and form factors. So, how do you sift through the hype?
By reading this article, of course! We’ll run through the good and bad points of each, and in the end, give you enough information to decide which is the right compressor for your needs.
Have you ever heard of feature fatigue? What happens when people look at products with a bazillion (it’s in the dictionary) features.
It leads to feeling overwhelmed and can cause the buyer to either make a poor decision or move on to something else.
Why are we mentioning this? As we noted above, some of the models we review are loaded down with features.
You may not need all of them. Some may have so many features, no one of them are executed well.
5 Best 12-Volt Air Compressors Reviews
Why not start with the best of the bunch? Based on our research, Viair makes and sells the best 12-volt portable air compressor currently available.
This is a rock-solid workhorse that will serve you reliably, no matter the situation. Viair is the real deal as a company.
They are ISO 9001 certified (the only one in the list), have been in business for more than 20 years, and their only focus is, “fractional horsepower DC oil-less air compressors & air accessories for on-road, off-road, and industrial markets.”
Why is this focus important? They know air, air compression, and how to make a product that delivers it every time without fail.
That’s precisely what you want in the trunk of your vehicle. They cost the most of any portable compressor we cover, and they are worth every penny. Here’s why:
What are the negatives or downsides to this 12-volt compressor? We list the “warts” below and offer this caveat, none of these should be considered a deal-breaker except the price.
If your budget can’t handle it, and we can relate to that, check out our next review.
- Rugged metal construction with a minimum of plastic
- Alligator battery connectors to ensure the best battery connection
- Excellent PSI/CFM (120/1.42)
- The longest power cord and air hose of the bunch
- Good warranty with a stellar support reputation
- Designed for autos but able to handle basketballs, rafts, and such
- Most expensive
- Storage case costs extra
- Analog pressure gauge
- No auto shut-off
If you can swing it financially, grab this jewel. When the chips are down, or the raft needs inflating, you’ll rest easy knowing your Viair 88P has your back.
Note: PSI is the most tempting criterion for choosing a portable air compressor.
It is, however, a bit misleading. It is always the “maximum” rated capacity so, yes, more can be better.
But it needs to be considered in combination with CFM. That represents how much air the tool can supply per minute, and it drops as the PSI increases. It’s better to have more CFM.
Best for the Money
Okay, moving on, we come to our silver medalist, the EPAuto portable air compressor.
The EPAuto grabbed second place by delivering excellent performance and value for the money.
From a performance standpoint, the EPAuto compressor matches up well against the Viair, although the Viair is more powerful.
It offers a digital pressure gauge and features you might appreciate such as auto shut off when reaching the desired PSI setting.
This portable comes with a ding or two of its own. Below are the ones we think you need to consider.
- One of the least expensive in the lineup
- Ships with storage case
- Overheating shut down
- Auto air shut-off
- Excellent performance for the money
- The build is not as robust as Viair but is better than the others
- No warranty mentioned but the company receives excellent support reviews
- A plastic twist-on connectors
We picked this as the best value and recommend it for your needs if the price for the Viair isn’t palatable.
Reviews and other research show the EPAuto to be an excellent choice and well suited to automotive and other applications.
Note: Four of these 12 V portable air compressors offer an auto shut off feature that stops the motor when the setpoint PSI is reached.
We recommend never leaving any air compressor unattended when it is running for safety reasons.
You don’t want anything to explode from overpressure or to have your compressor burn out.
Sitting dead center in the pack is the Helteko 150PSI portable. As you might guess from the model number, this compressor provides up to 150 PSI, matching the Viair.
However, it’s CFM is lower, a reflection of a less powerful tool. It offers reasonable performance for the price and has an attractive vertical case design.
It comes with a storage bag, the same tips as the previous two compressors, and has a digital gauge with auto shut-off.
Unique among all the models in this article is the 90o connector. It slides over the valve stem, and the user closes a lever, much like bicycle pumps.
This can be an advantage for individuals who have difficulty with a screw-on connector. The positive aspects of this model are noted below.
On the debit side of the ledger, we found the following items.
- Compact, vertical shape makes it easy to store
- 90o connector
- Good price
- Optional 120 VAC adaptor for inside use
- Good service
- Extensive use of plastic
- Cigarette lighter connector has a loose fit
- The 90o connector can be difficult to use
- Some issues with premature failure
If you like the design, this might be your compressor. Saying that the better choice in the price range is the Helteko.
Hint: Reading through the operation instructions for these compressors, we noted to our satisfaction that they tell customers to keep their vehicle running while using the compressor.
This is very important because these compressors put a massive drain on the battery and can run it down to the point it won’t start your car if the engine isn’t running.
Coming in at number four and out of the medal race is the TireTek TT-303 RX-i compressor. This unit is a significant step down from the Viair.
On the surface, this compressor impresses. It has a hard plastic case that stores the compressor and all the accessories.
It comes with the most extensive array of accessories of any in our review. However, this is a situation where the cover is much better than the book. The operative word here is cheap.
What were the positive aspects of this compressor?
On the flip side are the negatives of this tool. Based on our research, these issues were frequently noted.
- Self-storing cord and hose
- Storage case and plenty of accessories
- Short (18”) air hose
- Flimsy plastic parts and fittings that break
- Accuracy is poor (doesn’t deliver the PSI you set)
- Service is reported as spotty at best
- Auto shut off doesn’t work reliably
The question you may have on our inclusion of this product is, “Why, if there are so many issues?” The reason is simple: it sells a lot, likely because of the accessories and the overall design.
TireTek would serve its customers better by spending more on quality parts than on design. No offense to any product designers out there.
Hint: Keep a tire gauge with your compressor or in the glove box. There are enough reports of inaccurate PSI delivery that it makes sense to double-check, especially when it comes to auto tires.
Bringing up the rear is the AstroAI. We don’t know what the AI stands for but are confident it isn’t artificial intelligence.
Just joking. This is a compressor you should steer well clear of. That’s a shame too because the company that manufactures it makes several excellent automotive-related products.
The appearance of the compressor is cool, and their use of a digital rendition of an analog gauge is clever. But beauty is skin deep for this tool.
What did we find that were good points? Not so many as you’ll see. We didn’t list price as a pro because you’re wasting your money no matter what they charge.
Below are several of the more common issues users experienced with this compressor. Caveat emptor must be their product tag line, or maybe it should be.
- Good form factor and design
- Uses brass for connectors
- What looks like metal is fragile plastic
- Consistently inaccurate in PSI delivered
- Unable to handle larger jobs like car tires
- Issues with auto shut-off failing
- Complaints of burning plastic smells
- Poor fit and finish
- Several reports of the unit being DOA (dead on arrival)
Because of its appearance and price, a lot of people buy this compressor. We include it for that reason to help our readers avoid a bad investment that might fail at an inopportune time.
Hint: Overfill the tire or other inflatables by .5 – 1.0 PSI. Why? To maintain your target pressure.
When you take the compressor hose off, you’ll lose some air. Overfilling compensates for that.
12v Air Compressor Buyer’s Guide
It can be very confusing when you’re comparing what air compressor you should purchase.
This is because they have a whole load of features and one air compressor may have one awesome feature, while another one has a different awesome feature.
However, there are some certain things that you may need to look out for before you do purchase an air compressor.
This is where our buyer’s guide comes in very handy because we’ve listed and discussed the things that you need to double-check before you do buy one.
Different Types of Sockets
You may notice on some of the air compressors that they sometimes come with different power sockets; for instance, some may be able to plug into a cigarette socket or a standard plug socket.
It really depends what you need to use it for and then you will know what type of power socket you need your adapter to have, for instance, if you need the air compressor to stay in your car just in case you get a low of flat tire then you will be better off with an air compressor that is can be plugged into your cigarette lighter socket in your car.
Another type of air compressor you can get is one that has a rechargeable battery, and this is very useful if you know that you need to use it somewhere that doesn’t have a power socket. This way you can still use it without a power socket.
The PSI is very important to check before you buy an air compressor. Plus, it’s very important to see what the PSI is of the tool that you’re planning to use with it.
This is because if your tool requires a very high PSI and the air compressor has a lower PSI, then this will affect how the tool actually works because it won’t be providing enough pressure to let the tool reach its full performance.
Therefore it’s always important to check this before you buy an air compressor.
You may wonder why some of the larger air compressors seem to have a much higher voltage than a portable one. This is because they tend to be used for heavier jobs.
However, a 12-volt air compressor is still able to work for quite a lot of tools and is still very useful. Voltage is the actual pressure from the electrical circuit in the air compressor.
This pressure then pushes the charged electrons through the wires in the air compressor.
Therefore if there were a higher voltage, then it means that there would be more energy that could be used from the exact same quantity of current.
Auto Shut Off
Only some air compressors come with an auto shut off, but it can be a very useful tool to have if you’re new to using air compressors.
This is because it will automatically stop working when something you’re inflating has enough air in so you won’t have to try and estimate it yourself.
This means that if you’re not sure how much air, for instance, a tire that is flat will need it will automatically let you know, so you don’t over-inflate it and end up damaging it.
This is very useful, but some air compressors do not come with this feature, so you need to keep an eye out in the description of the product to see whether it has it or not.
How to use a 12v Air Compressor?
A 12-volt air compressor is a lot simpler to use compared to a much larger one.
All that you will need to do is make sure that’s it’s plugged into the correct socket (unless it has a rechargeable battery), and then adjust the settings to the correct pressure that you will need and start using it. It should work straight away.
How to Repair a 12v Air Compressor?
This really depends on what is wrong with your compressor, because if there is a major problem with it, then it might not even be worth fixing.
However, there are certain steps that you should put in place to keep your air compressor well maintained, and if you don’t do this, then it can cause your air compressor to become damaged.
However, there are some issues that may arise after you’ve used your air compressor for a long time, but these are very easy to repair.
One may be that you need to adjust the airflow and to do this, you will need to adjust it with the upper screw.
The second issue you may face is that you may have to restore the power and to fix this you will just need to reset it.
There should be a button at the back of the compressor that will enable you to do this.
The third issue that you may discover is that there may be a leak. To solve this, you will need to use a plumber’s tape and wrap it around where the leak is coming from.
What to use a 12v Air Compressor For?
A 12v air compressor is normally used to inflate tires, but it can also be used for a variety of other tools or anything that needs compressed air to work really.
In fact that these are really portable and tend to be very small and lightweight to carry around with you, so you are able to easily take them on different jobs.
There is just one thing that they can’t really be used for, and that’s a big air tool, but it all depends on how much air pressure they require and what air compressor you buy.
To conclude, there are many different 12-volt air compressors that you can choose from online, but it can also become quite confusing because a lot of them have different features, and some of these can be pretty amazing features that can be really useful.
It really depends on what you want to use an air compressor for, and once you have decided this, then you will know which one will suit you more.
One thing you must be aware of is that a 12-volt air compressor may not be suitable if you want to use it on tools that require a lot of air pressure, but this really does depend on how much PSI the tool needs to work.
This is because it still may be able to work for a lot of other tools that you also have. Therefore before you buy a 12-volt air compressor, you will need to know exactly what it is you need to use it for.
It’s always important that you look after the hoses that are attached to an air compressor. This is because they tend to get dragged around a lot, so it’s always best to keep tucked away somewhere when you’re not using the air compressor.