12 Volt Portable Air Compressor Review
A mini 12 volt portable air compressor has many uses in and around your vehicle. We’ve used several good, and bad, compressors over the years. When an Amazon seller asked if we’ve liked to test their compressor at a significant discount in exchange for offering our unbiased review we were happy to agree. We’ve been using the mini portable 12 volt air compressor featured in this review for nearly 2 years now. In our testing we’ve put this through typical use and storage scenarios. Has it stood the test of time? Is up to the challenge of bouncing around in your vehicle’s trunk? Should you buy this or pass on it for something better? Read on to find out!
Before we get started with the actual review, a little background information is crucial. If you just want to jump down to our review click here. If you’re considering one of these mini portable air compressors you must know what you are purchasing. As with any product, you need to be realistic and have a suitable purpose in mind.
This is a small compressor. The length of our review sample measured approximately 6 inches. Yes. It is small. It is supposed to be. It is designed to be a compact compressor that can be stowed away in a vehicle and used in emergencies for inflating tires or other items while away from home.
This is not a full blown (pun intended) air compressor. If you intend to use one of these to power air tools, or do anything that requires a ton of airflow you’ll be extremely disappointed.
This small portable air compressor is powered by a 12 Volt Direct Current Power source. This is typically the cigarette lighter or power port in your vehicle. While you could hardwire it to a fused 12 volt power source if so desired, it comes equipped with the standard adapter cord you plug into your cigarette lighter or 12V power auxiliary power outlet. It cannot be plugged into a wall outlet without some sort of adapter.
Why would you need a portable 12 volt air compressor? You’d be amazed how many times a year one of these come in handy in every day life. I first started carrying a portable air compressor in my car when I had a vehicle with a collapsible space saver spare tire. A small portable 12 volt air compressor like this is intended for use in and around a vehicle. These compressors are ideal for inflating a spare tire in an emergency or for topping off a tire that has leaked down slowly. Over the years I’ve also used them for inflating things like: soft bike tires , balls, beach toys and other equipment on the go.
Our review compressor came with a small instruction booklet. If you need the instructions you’ll probably be disappointed. Like many affordable products from China, the instructions are very poorly translated into English. Fortunately they aren’t even necessary. This thing is pretty idiot proof. First, plug the power cord into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter or 12 volt auxiallary power outlet. Next, hook up the nozzle to your tire’s valve stem or to the air valve of whatever you’re inflating. (You may need to use one of the adapters provided.) Start your engine. Now just flip the power switch on the end of the compressor on and keep an eye on the pressure gauge for a general idea of how much pressure your tire or other item has. If you’re not mechanically inclined, no worries. We’ll walk you through the entire process of inflating a tire with this device for informational purposes.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind we can't be held responsible if you manage to harm yourself or your property while using the information provided here. Always exercise common sense. Know the recommended and maximum inflation pressures for whatever you're inflating. Recommended tire inflation pressures for most vehicles are usually posted on a decal or badge somewhere on the vehicle, at least for vehicles sold in the U.S. The driver's side door or door sill area is a great place to look. The owner's manual or a quick internet search are possible sources for this information as well. In a complete emergency you can use max inflation pressures as a guide. Many tires have a maximum inflation pressure listed on the side wall. If all else fails you can find this value and inflate the tire to something a few pounds (3-5 psi) less than that value. Keep in mind this is a last resort. While generally safe, it is always a good idea to inflate tires to the recommended pressures for your vehicle.
Let’s look at inflating most common tires found on cars, motorcycles, bikes, trailers etc. If you’re inflating a tire you’ll need to screw the compressor’s air hose onto the tire’s valve stem. To do that, first locate the black valve stem coming off of your bike or vehicle tire. Unscrew any cap on the valve stem. Many times they are missing. It is always a god idea to make this a two handed procedure, especially on older tires. If you are too rough it is possible, although not common, to damage your valve stem. That unfortunate scenario could result in a leaking, flat or ruined tire. Hold or support the valve stem gently but firmly with one hand. Unscrew any cap in a counterclockwise motion with your other hand.
Next, screw the threaded air hose onto your tire completely by hand. You don’t need wrenches or anything crazy tight here. Just screw it on reasonably tight by hand. You’ll probably notice any air pressure gauge on the compressor reads some pressure. (Assuming there is any pressure in the tire of course.)
Now simply locate your vehicle’s power outlet or cigarette lighter. We’ll plug the compressor’s power cord in here. Start your vehicle. Of course make sure your vehicle is outside or if in a garage, make sure the door is open or the area is otherwise very well ventilated to prevent build up of exhaust fumes and potentially harmful or fatal carbon monoxide fumes. Locate the power switch on the front of the compressor and flip it to the on position. You should hear the compressor turn on. Check to make sure you don’t hear or feel any air leaks around the connection between the air hose and valve stem. If you do, you may need to turn the compressor off and remove and reinstall the hose onto the valve stem a bit tighter to ensure an adequate seal.
If you’re inflating a large tire that was completely flat or something that requires a lot of air the process may be slow. These compressors can run a little hot when left running for more than several minutes at a time.
Now just keep a careful eye on the air pressure gauge on the top of the unit until it inflates to the desired air pressure. It is always a good idea to not trust the gauge on the compressor and verify the readings with a good quality tire pressure gauge. Once you’ve reached the desired pressure turn off the compressor, turn off the vehicle and remove the air hose.
The procedure is similar for inflating other devices except you’ll use the screw in inflation needle attachment for sports balls. You’ll use one of the other attachments that fit into the air valve on whatever else your’e inflating.
Not too difficult right? Even for someone who has no prior experience this mini compressor is fairly simple to use. The only thing we can see someone overlooking is the fact that the compressor will likely work much better with your vehicle running as opposed to just having the key on. If you turn your vehicle on and leave the engine running the alternator supplies power and the compressor runs much better than off your vehicle’s battery alone. Starting your engine also reduces the likelihood you’ll run your car battery dead while using the compressor.
With all of that out of the way, on to our actual review.
Mini 12V Portable Air Compressor Review:
Our product arrived packed well in a lightweight and flimsy printed cardboard box. The box doesn’t bother us much since it basically is just an outer slip cover for the Styrofoam insert that houses and protects the product itself.
Size and Storage –
This is a small, lightweight and portablecompressor measuring approximately 6 inches in length. The compact size means it easily be stored in your vehicle’s trunk, under a seat or in some other out of site area. It is small enough it can be stored inside a spare tire rim or other area on many vehicles which keeps it out of site. No storage case came with our unit. Ours came packaged in a cardboard box with molded Styrofoam inserts to house the unit. We stored ours in a trunk of a car for about 6 months like this. It didn’t take up much more space and served to pad the compressor from bumps and other jarring impacts. Unfortunately we used the air compressor enough that the box started falling apart from us taking it in and out so frequently. We’ve had no issues with this simply sitting in a small fabric trunk organizer in our trunk.
This portable air compressor features a metal housing with a quality air hose and fitting. We were actually surprised with the quality of the air fitting, air hose and the compressor body. There’s a small metal handle at the top of the unit that feels a bit less stout, but still serves its intended purpose without issue. The power cord and connector are the typical quality you’d expect.
The main durability concern of this compressor for us is the cheap pressure gauge. The gauge is constructed of cheap plastic. While ours hasn’t suffered any damage yet, cracking or damaging it with careless handling seems entirely likely. The pressure gauge is unlikely to survive a drop or fall, although the placement of the handle over it does offer a small amount of protection.
We love the fact that the hose fitting for valve stems is metal and screws on. This offers durability and a tight and secure seal. A previous compressor we’ve used had a horrible plastic push on fitting with a cheap locking tab that needed to flip to lock things in place. Needless to say, that design frequently leaked, popped off, and eventually lead to complete breakage and failure. This design is so much better. We have not experienced any leaks or issues. With the exception of the pressure gauge, this unit feels reasonably well constructed and has stood up to repeated use and storage in a daily driver for nearly 2 years with no issues to this point.
The compressor comes with a couple different nozzles or fittings that screw into the end of the air hose. No fitting is required for inflating tires with a normal valve stem. We received an inflation needle used for basketballs, footballs, volleyballs or similar items. The extra fittings are ideal for blowing up things like inflatable pool toys, beach balls or other products. The variety of fittings and adapters provided mean you should be able to inflate pretty much anything that you’d encounter in normal daily life.
There is no shortage of power cord length with this product. The cord measures approximately 9 feet long and it allowed us to reach all four corners on all vehicles we used it with. On larger vehicles we had to be smarter than the product and run the power cord across the inside of the vehicle and out a door as opposed to around or under the vehicle.
We have not babied this compressor and probably even put it to more frequent use than the manufacturer originally intended. Whenever we’ve needed to adjust car tire inflation or help someone out over the past year we’ve used this instead of dragging out the hose for our real air compressor. This compressor has inflated low car tires, bike tires and more. Performance is adequate for these purposes, albeit a little slow. Things aren’t painfully slow unless you’re trying to fill a large air mattress etc. Some nearly completely flat automotive tires were inflated to 25 or 35 PSI within a 3-5 minutes.
Here are the specs as listed on the box for our review compressor:
- Voltage – DC 12V
- Max. Amperage – 10 amp
- Max Run Duration – 12 to 15 minutes
- Maximum Pressure – 150 psi
- Displacement – 35 L/min
This product worked well for us. We liked the built in air pressure gauge which is a convenient feature. The only minor issue we noticed was the air pressure gauge seems to read a little low if compared to the reading from a dedicated stand alone tire pressure gauge. We also noticed that process of unscrewing the air hose can routinely cause a loss of 1-2 psi if you aren’t quick with removing the air hose. It could be the manufacturer forgot to account for this by calibrating the compressor gauge to read 1-2 psi high as well. None of this really bothers us.
We tend to inflate beyond our desired pressure and then bleed down to the correct reading intentionally on most occasions anyway. We quickly discovered we could get pretty accurate results for the desired end inflation by simply adding 2 psi. If we want to inflate a tire to 30 psi we simply inflate until the compressor gauge reads 32 psi. After removing the air hose and verifying our pressure with a tire air pressure gauge we’re usually at or very near the desired 30 psi. So what about noise levels?
There is a bit of noise with any of these portable compressors. We were honestly pretty shocked at how quiet this thing is. The compressor this replaced was a cheap plastic compressor with an extremely noisy and tiny electric motor. It was so noisy it would draw stares from across a parking lot when being used. This compressor is much quieter in comparison. What about heat? It is no secret these small compressors can be inefficient and run hot.
When used as intended, this compressor has run pretty cool for us. Of course any compressor can get hot if you run them for too long without stopping. We’ve run this one several minutes at a time and have never noticed anything hotter than slightly warm to the touch. We’ve used this to adjust tire inflation on stored vehicles on multiple occasions on various 4 wheeled vehicles. We experienced no issues with heat at all when running for 2-3 minutes per tire with just enough down time to unhook and hook to the next tire between. That doesn’t mean this should be trusted to run for long duty cycles. These are good for low volume, short duration tasks like inflating tires. If you try to routinely run this continuously for 10 minutes or more you’ll likely be disappointed because the product isn’t intended for that use. I’m guessing it would probably overheat and or fail if ran for extended periods of time.
+ Compact and light. Makes for a great portable 12 volt air compressor solution.
+ Easy to store in a trunk etc.
+ Works well for the intended uses.
+ The Power cord has a good length of approximately 9 feet.
+ Quality construction in critical areas
+ The Rubber feet reduce movement, noise and vibration
– Poorly translated English in the instruction manual.
– The air pressure gauge on the compressor isn’t all that accurate or at least won’t be accurate by the time you disconnect the air hose. Still great for a ball park figure. You should be verifying tire pressures with a tire pressure gauge anyway.
– Cheap plastic air pressure gauge could be damaged or broken with rough handling.
– Some cheap plastic is used in some areas. Fortunately only in a few non critical cover pieces.
– The suggested retail price when we received this review item was $35.95. That may be a bit high.
Overall we are very pleased with this portable 12V air compressor. It has reasonably durable construction and performed well in our testing to date. We originally put this compressor into use on April 16th of 2016. It is now February 6th, 2018 and it still works as well as the day we first received it. It has been bounced around in a daily driver for nearly two years now and we have no significant complaints or issues. We’ll update this long term review periodically and post any issues we have.
The MSRP $35.95 we were originally provided might be on the high end we’d be willing to pay. This is because better heavy duty compressors are available if you’re willing to chip in another $10 to $20. Fortunately this is a generic design available from multiple sellers over a wide price range. We’ve provided some resources for buying below. We feel this is good buy at $24.00 to $30.00. It’s a great buy if you can somehow manage to score it in the $20 or less range.
Where to Purchase:
12V Portable Automobile Air CompressorPrice: Varies
- Lightweight and Compact
- Good portable 12V air compressor that is easily stored in vehicle
- Decent performance
- Power cord has good length
- Reasonably quiet and cool
- Cheap plastic air gauge
- Poorly translated English in instruction manual
- Pressure gauge not incredibly accurate (but close enough)
- Cheap plastic used in a couple areas
- Pricing varies from seller to seller