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What Is a Tire Compressor?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A tire compressor is a small air compressor that is designed primarily for the inflation of automobile tires. Often referred to as a mini compressor, the tire compressor is available in both a standard household electrical current model as well as a battery-powered version intended to be carried in the vehicle to provide emergency air service. Unlike more powerful small air compressors designed to provide power for air nail guns or air tools, the tire compressor is only powerful enough to inflate a tire.

In the early years of the automobile, a hand-operated air pump was common on a vehicle. The rough roads and poorly designed tires combined to create many flat tires for the first drivers. The first tires were very much like bicycle tires, therefore, a hand pump was all that was required to inflate a flat. Tires evolved into much larger models and using a hand pump would take a long time to inflate a soft tire. The tire compressor is often able to accomplish the task in minutes with little to no physical exertion required of the operator.

While the battery-powered version of the tire compressor does not typically include an air tank in its design, the household current model occasionally does. This allows the user to turn the tire compressor on and build up a small reserve of air to take to a flat tire that may not be able to be brought to the air pump. The user simply unplugs the small compressor once enough air has been compressed into the reservoir tank and carries the tank to the tire, where it is inflated by using an on-board air hose and nozzle. Once the tire is no longer completely flat, the vehicle can often be driven to the garage or to another compressor location to be completely filled with air.

It is not typically recommended that a tire compressor be filled with air and then stored in the trunk of a vehicle to be used in case of an emergency. If involved in a crash, the air tank could explode with the ferocity of a small bomb, injuring or killing the driver or passengers in the vehicle. This is the reason that the battery-powered compressors have no air tank and, therefore, cannot be used in this manner. The fast speed of the battery-powered compressor pushes such a quantity of air into a tire that a reserve air tank is not required to inflate a tire.

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