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Tire Inflators or Air Compressors: What is the difference?

Jul. 24, 2018
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Inflating tires or basketballs or mattresses is pretty much a straight forward thing, right? Well, yes, but there are various ways of getting the air into tires (and other things), and the difference is mostly between tire inflators and air compressors. The difference is mainly in size, the power you use and the pressure it can produce. But which one will work for you?

Your needs will determine if you need an inflator or an air compressor. First, we will look at some of the features of air compressors, and then second, we will look at tire inflators. Hopefully this piece will help you understand the difference between these tools and which one is for you.

Air compressors


An air compressor is a device that pumps air, and usually has a tank and runs from AC directly from a wall outlet. These compressors can take various forms, from the ones you know at the corner gas stations, to major ones in factories.

Air compressors are available in a wide ranges of sizes and can be used for many things around the house. When you buy an air compressor you suddenly find new uses for it and realize how many things can do with a little compressed air. You can use some of them with nail guns, or to blow dust and dirt out of engines compartments, but most importantly, fill your tires.

Air compressors are heavier and larger than small inflators. They usually work with pistons that compress the air, and therefore they need more power to create more pressure. Another type of system works with a rotary screw.

Often air compressors need wall outlets but some lighter ones also run off the 12 Volt cigarette port outlets in a car. The larger air compressors are designed to be a tool in your garage and home, they are less portable than lighter tire inflators.

The advantages of air compressors are that they provide easy to use sources of energy not just for filling tires, but also for powering nail guns, air brushing tools and so on.

They can work faster than smaller units and usually don’t have batteries that need to be charged. This means you can use them in a huge variety of settings and for a range of different applications. If you are a petrol head it will be an essential piece of kit in your garage.

Tire inflators

Like their name suggests tire inflators are designed to inflate your tires. They are actually the smaller cousins of air compressors, but they have a more specialized function. The great things about these smaller units are that they are very portable and come with extra features like flashlights, emergency signals or USB ports.

These units are usually 12V and can run from the cigarette port in a car. Some also have batteries that you can charge so you can use them without a power cord. There are also combination sets that come with an added jump starter.

The idea behind tire inflators are that they are more portable than the air compressors you would buy for your home or garage. The large compressors usually have tanks and wheels and so on, so they are not exactly built to be thrown into your trunk.

Tire inflators are lighter, usually smaller and will work well if you want to keep something in your car for emergencies. With the combination units you will be able to fill a flat tire, jump start your car battery or even charge your phone. You will also be able to warn passing motorists with a red warning light. Most of these inflators also come with carry cases to keep everything neat and tidy.

Tire inflator or air compressor?

These names, tire inflator and air compressor, are often used interchangeably by manufacturers. You could see small 12V units advertised as air compressors, but you might also see larger units that look like a standard workshop air compressors, but are labeled as tire inflators.

When you decide you need only a tire inflator, or that you need a multipurpose air compressor, take a look at the specifications. When you look at their specification and features, you should be able to get a clear idea of what the primary selling factor is.

Some small units are called air compressors but are not designed to be used on truck tires for example. Read past the label and look at what you need in your garage or car trunk.





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