Best Portable Air Compressors: Top 3 on the Market Right Now

By: // Updated: August 29, 2020

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When vehicle maintenance is a necessary part of your weekly routine, increasing the convenience of every step will help you get back to earning money as a rideshare driver as fast as possible. One tool that we highly recommend for drivers is the best portable air compressor for your needs.

Portable air compressors can be a rideshare driver’s best friend when it comes to keeping tires properly inflated and powering important tools, but like many products, they come in many shapes and sizes. Selecting the right compressor for you can make the difference between true convenience or an outrageous expense.

In this article, we’ll go further into detail about air compressor needs specific to your career, and provide a list of our top picks.

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What Is a Portable Air Compressor?

An air compressor is a device that uses electricity or gas to create energy, which is then stored as compressed air within the device’s tank. This energy can then be used to power all sorts of tools, including nail guns and drills, while also providing a fast stream of air to inflate basically anything in the matter of seconds or minutes.

While these devices were once primarily found in professional workshops and at gas stations, affordable portable air compressors have recently become popular among many career drivers, car enthusiasts, and hobbyists. Plus, with new options decreasing in bulkiness, even people without much garage space can find a place to fit their at-home compressor.

Why Do I Need a Portable Air Compressor?

Closeup of wheel on car

Portable air compressors are multipurpose tools that you can use to avoid trips to the mechanic for a handful of issues, reducing a bulk of the rideshare expenses you may experience.

Predominantly, portable air compressors are used by drivers to inflate their car tires. This is the simplest and most common usage, and one that will allow you to replace your one-use tire inflator with a device that will come in handy in a variety of situations. Some air compressors even come with a built-in tire pressure gauge, so you can monitor your tire health and prevent flat tires or complete blowouts.

In addition to saving you trips to the mechanic, the portable air compressor will save you trips to the gas station whenever your tire pressure is low ⁠— which can be quite often if you live somewhere with cold weather.

If you’re an Uber driver who doubles as an Uber Eats courier on bike or scooter, the air compressor can also inflate those wheels, too.

Air compressors can also help with other aspects of car maintenance. They’re incredibly helpful for:

  • Installing and cleaning a PCV valve
  • Performing your routine engine tune-up
  • Removing stubborn or rusted parts, when powering other tools with the compressor

As a plus, your portable air compressor will also come in handy in other home repair projects, and when you’re inflating an air mattress for your guests or a pool tube for the summer.

Portable Air Compressor Features to Consider

Air pump at gas station

The average rideshare driver doesn’t need a professional-grade heavy duty air compressor, so we’ve narrowed down the features that you should look for in a portable air compressor. Your final selection should minimally:

  • Have an oil-free pump. These types of air compressors are maintenance-free. While they aren’t necessarily as long-lasting as compressors with pumps that need oil changes, oil-free compressors will still last long enough to be well worth the investment and saved time. Since you won’t be using your air compressor as heavily as a professional who uses it daily, you shouldn’t expect noticeable wear and tear for a decent amount of years.
  • Generate at least 100 pounds per square inch (PSI). Good PSI is an indicator that your tank will last longer, which means you won’t have to constantly refill your air compressor.

In addition to these features, you may want to consider the actual portability of the portable air compressor. Larger tanks will allow you to go longer without refilling your compressor, but at the same time, they may be difficult to move around and even store. Larger tanks can also be heavier.

Also note that many portable air compressors still require being plugged in to a power source during its usage, so consider whether that’s feasible for you.

Three Best Portable Air Compressors 

Taking into account the features that are compatible with rideshare drivers’ needs, these three portable air compressors are a step above the competition.

Porter-Cable C2002 Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor

Best portable air compressor: Porter-Cable

Pancake-style compressors are popular among both professionals and amateurs, as they tend to be extremely stable and durable in design. This Porter-Cable product is one of the leading products in the market from a highly trusted air compressor brand, and is fairly low-cost for the power it reliably provides.

The Porter-Cable C2002 compressor has six-gallon tank and an impressive maximum tank pressure of 150 PSI — perfect for your DIY car maintenance needs. The portable air compressor pump is also oil-free, checking another box on our list.

In terms of portability, this product is a decent size for a six-gallon air compressor (just over 30 pounds). It also has a well-designed handle and lasts long without needing to be plugged into an outlet. When you set down the compressor and actively use it, it won’t constantly move, since the pancake-style tank sits on rubber feet.

For the most part, the Porter-Cable compressor is a pretty ideal compressor, but we will note its major downside: Its noise level is loud. Even compared to similar models, this is not a quiet air compressor, so if this is your selection, be careful not to irritate your neighbors.

You can purchase the Porter-Cable C2002 Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor on Amazon for $116.33. If you want to upgrade your purchase, the company also offers affordable bundles that include helpful accessories and a tire gauge.

California Air Tools 8010 Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free Air Compressor

Best portable air compressor: California Air Tools

This steel tank air compressor is an ultra quiet model for a reason. Starkly different from the Porter-Cable pancake compressor, this portable compressor runs at just 60 decibels. For reference, this is equivalent to a conversational tone of voice, while the Porter-Cable C2002 is just slightly quieter than a lawnmower at 82 decibels. This quiet model can fill up its entire eight gallons in less than three minutes, all while making far less noise.

The price tag on this device is admittedly high for personal usage, and it does not come with a compact design. However, if you want the quietest possible compressor, this one’s a great choice. It’s also one of the most durable designs out there, built to handle a wide variety of terrains and temperatures.

With an oil-free pump and the ability to generate 120 PSI max, this checks both of our requirements, while providing a handful of other benefits. These benefits include portability, as the California Air Tools product makes up for its 54-pound weight with a strong handle and a set of wheels.

You can purchase the California Air Tools 8010 Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free Air Compressor on Amazon for $225.

Senco PC1010 1-Gallon Compressor

Best portable air compressor: Senco

If you’re prioritizing a highly compact air compressor that’s easy to store and carry around, this one’s the perfect product. This compressor has a one-gallon air tank that can still generate a maximum pressure of 120 PSI. Plus, at only 20 pounds, it can easily be taken on-the-go.

In addition to achieving our desired pressure for rideshare drivers, the Senco product is an oil-free compressor that doesn’t require any special maintenance. It has a mid-range noise level, at 73 decibels. While this may seem high, compared to the insanely impressive California Air Tools noise level, this is actually considered pretty low for an air compressor.

While this compact compressor won’t have the longest run time, due to its single gallon tank, it will be enough. Senco products are especially trusted for home DIY projects, so you know it functions well enough to work power tools and move around job sites with ease. Plus, if you’re working on a longer project, its portability allows it to easily be taken to an outlet and charged full quickly. Professionals likely won’t select this tool, but as we mentioned before, rideshare drivers don’t necessarily need a professional-grade option.

You can purchase the Senco PC1010 1-Gallon Compressor on Amazon for $149.

Frequently Asked Questions

Flat tire on car

Shopping for a portable air compressor could easily lead you down a rabbit hole of information, so narrowing down what you’re looking for will save you a significant amount of time. To help you find the perfect tool for you, here are our answers to three common questions:

1. What’s the difference between a portable air compressor and a tire inflator?

The biggest difference is that a tire inflator is solely for the purpose of inflation, whereas portable air compressors can additionally work with power tools and provide pressurized air for a variety of purposes. The latter also tends to be more powerful, as standard tire inflators often do not work with truck tires.

When shopping for portable air compressors, be aware that many smaller, lower cost (usually $50 and under) options are actually just tire inflators. This is because the product names are often used interchangeably. Make sure to read product details and reviews to ensure you’re purchasing a multipurpose tool.

2. Can I use an extension cord to connect to a power source?

If you end up purchasing an air compressor model that needs to be plugged in when used, we recommend consulting your owner’s manual before using an extension cord. If your manual doesn’t specify, we recommend not using an extension cord. This is because air compressors tend to use a large amount of electricity, and often are not built to handle long-distance connections. If this is the case and you don’t connect directly to a power source, you can cause a short circuit.

3. Is my portable air compressor purchase tax deductible?

In most cases, rideshare drivers can claim a tax deduction for their portable air compressor purchase. The total amount deducted can depend on how much you’re using the device for your vehicle, versus other home DIY projects, but you’ll typically receive a sizable tax cut. Consulting with your accountant before claiming deductions can help you avoid penalties.

Invest in the Best Compressor for You

Nowadays, portable air compressors exist for pretty much every need. Even if you’re a home repair contractor by day and a rideshare driver by night, there’s likely a good match in the market for your needs. We hope this guide helps you narrow down your desired features, so you can find your preferred device.

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