The best inflator
An inflator is one of those devices that you may not think you need ... until you truly need one. Maybe you have a low car tire in the morning when you're late for work, or you need to blow up an air mattress for a sleepover. You'll suddenly wish you had bought an inflator.
Inflators are available in many different sizes and many different output capacities. Larger units will deliver faster inflation for large jobs. If you're ready to learn more, this guide will help you find the one that's right for you. One of the most reliable inflators is the EPAuto 12-Volt Portable Air Compressor, which gets the job done quickly.
Considerations when choosing inflators
For starters, think about how you will use the inflator and pick a maximum pressure rating that matches. Although it may be tempting to select the inflator with the largest pressure rating, you may not need that much power, allowing you to save a bit of money.
A low pressure inflator delivers less than 10 psi (pounds per square inch). It is suitable for inflatable sports balls or pool toys. It will work for some air mattresses, too, but the inflation may take a long time.
An average inflator will deliver 10 to 60 psi. This typically can handle air mattresses and bike tires. A medium-size inflator will fill average-size car tires, but it could take a while.
With a high-pressure inflator, you can receive anywhere from 60 to 120 psi. You will need a powerful inflator like this to put air inside truck tires or RV tires.
Although some small-size inflators claim to deliver a high level of pressure, they may only run for a couple of minutes or so before overheating or draining the battery.
After you've determined the right level of air pressure for your inflator, you can pick from a few features that will set these units apart from each other.
Adapters included with the inflator allow you to blow up multiple types of items. You'll need an air needle for a basketball, a large nozzle for an air mattress, and a valve adapter for a tire.
Some inflators ship with only one type of adapter, meaning you have to buy extra adapters separately. Other units may ship with several types.
Some units will automatically shut off when the unit being inflated reaches a certain psi level. Others will shut off if the inflator starts to overheat, which is possible when using small inflators to inflate large items.
Body size and weight
If you want to carry your inflator with you in a car or on a bike ride, you'll want a small and lightweight device. If you need a unit with the ability to deliver lots of air pressure, though, you'll probably need a larger unit that can weigh 10 pounds or more.
Some inflators plug into a standard household 110V outlet, which is a reliable power source but also limited by the physical location and length of any extension cord. Others plug into the 12V socket inside your car, which is perfect for inflating car tires, and some run from a battery, making them ideal for inflating water toys at the beach or lake. However, you'll need to account for fresh batteries. Determine where and how you'll be using an inflator before making a decision about power.
The gauge lets you know how much air pressure is currently inside the item being inflated. This gauge is designed to help you avoid overinflating the item. The gauge can be a digital screen or an analog dial.
Simple inflators can cost from $15 to $30, but these are small units that take a long time to fill a big item with air. Larger units will cost $30 to $100.
Q. Can I completely rely on the air pressure gauge on the inflator?
A. Probably not. Analog gauges or display screens on cheap inflators probably won't be accurate enough to give you a precise pressure measurement for things like car tires, in which case you may also want to purchase a separate, more accurate gauge.
Q. What options do I have to power an inflator?
A. Some inflators will plug into a standard household outlet. Others will plug into the 12V socket inside your car, and some run from a battery.
Inflators we recommend
Best of the best: EPAuto's 12V Portable Air Compressor
Our take: Excellent air pump for a variety of uses, including when you have a large item to inflate.
What we like: Includes a clearly visible dial to track the current air pressure. Doesn't require much time to complete the inflation job.
What we dislike: Even though it calls itself portable, it's pretty heavy to lug around.
Best bang for your buck: Coleman's Quickpump
Our take: Not powerful enough to handle big jobs, but it's great for small jobs, like basketballs, air beds, or bike tires.
What we like: Has a compact design, so it's easy to store in your garage.
What we dislike: It runs extremely loud. No battery-operation option, so its portability is limited.
Choice 3: Audew's Portable Air Compressor
Our take: Extremely small inflator, so you can carry it with you in the car for emergencies.
What we like: Has a 10-foot power cord, which enhances its flexibility in how you'll use it. Small enough to carry on long bicycle rides.
What we dislike: Only runs from a battery or a 12V socket. Car tire inflation is slow.
Kyle Schurman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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