September 14, 2012 by quirkyuncle
To inflate tires, you need a source of air. While you can get compressed air at many gas stations, either for free or a small charge (typically 25-cents), it is very convenient to have a way to blow things up while at home or when on the road.
Low cost pumps are available that can be pumped manually or are powered from your car’s 12v accessory plug (cigarette lighter). These are all simple pumps with low capacity, enough to get your tire pumped up fairly quickly, or inflate a basketball or beach float. Add a tire pump to your Essential Tools.
In all but the worst tire failures, a pump (one of the electric ones) can get enough air in your tire to let you move the car without needing to get dirty changing a flat – you can delay the tire repair until you’ve driven to a safer location. I look at carrying a tire pump as cheap insurance.
Here are some basic tire pump types to consider, with estimated prices:
Hand pump ($10)
The cheapest pump alternative is powered by you! There are no batteries to wear out, but you sure will. There is a huge difference between that bike tire you pumped up by hand as a kid and the monstrous blob of rubber bolted to your car. It will take you a LONG time to manually inflate a tire. To give you an idea, the last hand pump I used required 15-20 strokes to raise the tire pressure by 1 pound – it’s OK to top a tire off, but a bit too much effort to inflate one that’s 20 pounds low.
A typical hand pump is shown below. You can also get a foot pump, that you stomp on to inflate the tire, for about the same price. Foot pumps are easier to use, but because they have a smaller capacity, you’ll need to pump them more times to move the same amount of air.
12v electric pump ($15)
We have a 12v electric pump in every car the family owns, and they have seen quite a bit of use over the years. A heck of a lot easier to use than a hand pump, even the cheapest can put enough air in a flat to get you moving in under 15 minutes. Some electric pumps even include emergency lights. This can be a huge amount of help at night, if your flashlight is dead.
Look for a pump with a hose long enough to let the it rest on the ground when connected, even if the tire valve is at the top of the tire – this way you don’t have to stand in the rain holding it while the tire fills. Also make sure that the power cord is long enough to reach all four tires, while they are on the car – it kinda reduces the usefulness if you can’t fill the tire that is flat.
12v electric pump with tire sealer ($40)
This type of 12v electric pump is more of a specialty item for cars that don’t have a spare tire and don’t use run flat tires (RFT). I have the Slime Safety Spair, shown below, in my car. It is one of the few (and the cheapest) tire sealant systems available that is not supposed to damage your expensive tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Pumps are made by a lot of different companies and can be purchased at stores that sell auto parts, sporting goods (in the bike department), and general merchandise. You can also order them online. I’ve owned a number of tire pumps over the years – cheap or pricey, all have functioned reliably. The biggest difference I’ve seen is how quickly they fill a tire to a decent pressure level – higher price generally equates to a faster pump. Read the specifications for the pumps you are considering and see how they compare.
Whenever you to use a tire pump, make sure you use a tire gauge to ensure that you are inflating the tire to the correct level. Many pumps have gauges built in, but these are generally not very accurate.
You can use your tire pump to check and adjust your tire pressure.
(Updated 22 September 2012 – added link to “DIY – Checking and adjusting tire pressure.”)
Note: Cool artwork of tire pump guy by Philip Martin