Today I’ll be doing a comparison between each of these portable tire air inflators offered by Kobalt, Craftsman, Dewalt, and Milwaukee.
I woke up last week to see the tire pressure was low in my car. I was getting ready to fill it back up but forgot the cheap inflator I bought on Amazon bit the dust months ago.
So, I decided to purchase one of these nicer cordless, tire air inflators with a digital gauge in hopes of finding that it’s of better quality than the Chinese junk that dominates the Amazon search results.
Spoiler alert: They all are.
And by the way, full disclaimer, I paid for each of these out of my own pocket, with battery and charger. This set me back about $500-$600. In other words, this is NOT a sponsored post or video!
However, if you do decide to purchase one of these, using the links in this article will take you to Amazon where I receive a very small commission if you do decide to purchase. This does not cost you anything extra.
I’ll be covering three general areas – Power, Interface, and Performance.
I did perform a test to determine which cordless air inflator was the quickest, so I’ll go more into that later.
Let’s go over each of these air inflators. Starting with their power source. With the exception of the Kobalt, all of these have the ability to run off of a wireless lithium-ion battery, ranging from 12V to 20V.
The batteries do require an additional charger that adds to the actual cost, which I’ll cover towards the end of this article.
In addition to battery power, the Dewalt, Craftsman, and Kobalt can be powered from the 12V power supply through the cigarette lighter in your car. The Milwaukee cannot; its only power source is its 12V battery.
Similarly, all but the Milwaulkee also have an AC power cord so they can be plugged into the wall if used within the home. I also want to note the Dewalt’s AC cord is sold separately.
In addition to the power input, the Craftsman and Dewalt models can accept both 12 and 20v batteries from their respective manufacturers. Milwaukee does not make a 20v battery for this air inflator, so it’s limited to the 12v.
Lastly, in the power category, let’s check out the cord length on the Dewalt, Craftsman, and Kobalt. The Dewalt’s DC cord measured almost 14 feet at 164 inches. The Craftsman measured just past 10 feet at 122,” and the Kobalt was the longest at 16 feet or 192 inches.
And while we’re measuring cord lengths, let’s look at the length of the inflation and AC cord. The Dewalt measures at 30″, the Craftsman and Milwaukee both at 27.5″ and the Kobalt at 30″.
The AC cord measures at 19″ for the Craftsman and the Kobalt measures at 23.”
Light Up Screen
Let’s take a look at the interfaces. Every one of these has a light-up screen, so in the event you’re stuck on the side of the road at night, you’ll be able to see what you’re doing. The Kobalt is the only one that also illuminates its buttons.
All but the Kobalt, have the ability to read pressure in BAR and KPA, in addition to PSI. If you don’t know what those are, you probably won’t need them.
Additional Air Hose and Accessories
The Dewalt and Craftsman also include plastic Flexi-hoses to air up objects with a wider mouth like air mattresses.
If you plan on airing up basketballs, soccer balls, or anything that requires a needle, each one of these air inflators also includes a needle, a secure storage area for it, and some other miscellaneous inflating attachments.
Let’s take a look at the cord management.
The Dewalt’s inflation cord wraps around the right-hand side, and the DC cord is tucked into a side compartment that is buckled closed.
The Milwaukee simply wraps around the back, similar to how the Kobalt’s AC cord is stored. The Kobalt stores the DC and inflation cord in the sides under some flimsy feeling plastic covers.
Lastly, the Craftsman’s air cord wraps around the left-hand side, and the DC cord wraps around the right-hand side. The AC cord is stored snugly in the inner wrapping of the air inflator.
Automatic Shut Off and Adjustability
Moving on to the adjustability and setting of pressure.
Each automatic tire inflator has the ability to set it and forget it. Meaning, you can set your desired PSI, then walk away and let it run. Once it hits the desired PSI, it will automatically shut off.
The Milwaukee uses two big push buttons that move in single increments until you hold down, where they increase by units of 5.
The Craftsman and Kobalt both increase by units of one, but if held down will speed up.
Lastly, the Dewalt uses a dial, which makes it much easier to increase or decrease the setting rapidly.
Air Hose Chuck
Finally, let’s look at the chuck attached to the air hose. This is an important piece as it’s easy to get damaged, and without it, the air inflator is useless.
The Kobalt, unfortunately, uses cheap plastic, clamp-on chuck. The Craftsman is slightly better since it uses a mostly metal housing clamp-on chuck. However, the Milwaukee and Dewalt use the most durable, brass chucks.
These are the ones you want as they screw onto the threads of a car tire, and you can almost hammer these things, and they won’t break or bend.
Alright, let’s move into the performance category.
Starting with the Max PSI, each can reach. Now honestly, I did not have a good or safe way of testing this, so I’ll be covering the ratings as advertised by each manufacturer.
- Milwaukee: 120+ PSI
- Craftsman: Up to 160 PSI
- Dewalt: Up to 160 PSI
- Kobalt: Up to 120 PSI
A few reasons you might want to reach higher PSI’s is for items other than car tires. For example:
- Performance Road Bike Tires: 80-130 PSI
- ATV/4-Wheeler Tires: 50-60+ PSI
Moving onto the size.
The Craftsman measures 12″ in length, 6″ wide and 8″ in height with battery and including the handle.
The Dewalt measures 12″ in length, 5.5″ wide, and 10″ in height with battery and including the handle.
The Milwaukee measures 6.75″ in length, 6.5″ wide, and 7″ in height with battery and including the handle.
Finally, the Kobalt measures 12.75″ in length, 7″ wide, and 8.5″ in height.
The clear winner here in terms of compactness is the Milwaukee.
Next, let’s look at the rubber feet on each, or lack thereof. One of the things I hated most with the cheap Amazon one I had was it vibrated so much that it would move around on my garage floor while running. Not only annoying, but it was able to wiggle itself loose from the tire.
Here’s the good news, none of these vibrate so much to the point they will run away, and with the exception of the Craftsman, all have rubber feet to help stabilize them.
Originally I planned on doing a test relating to each inflator’s accuracy, but I decided against it. The pressure in your car or truck tires is going to fluctuate based on the temperature and time of day. So as long as it’s relatively close, say plus or minus a half to 1 psi, then you’ll be alright.
The only exception to this is the Kobalt. If you decide to purchase this one, set the PSI at least 3 or 4 above what you want it to be. In the next test, it appeared the Kobalt always came up short when measured against a separate gauge, and when compared to the other models.
Inflator Speed Test Overview
And Speaking of that test, let’s go over which one was the fastest.
Here’s what I did. I deflated the tire on my car to 20psi before the start of each test, 13 below my car’s recommended PSI, so the target was set to 33. I started with a full battery on each inflator, with the exception of the Kobalt, which was plugged into an AC outlet.
I plugged each inflator into the tire, fired it up, and timed how long it took before each one stopped. Then I removed each inflator, measured the psi with a gauge, drained the tire to just below 20 psi, and topped it off with the craftsman inflator, so each had the same starting point. I did this test 3 times for each one and rotated them between tests, so they were allowed to cool off.
Note that I used 20V batteries for the Craftsman and Dewalt. You might get different results with a 12V battery on those because they’re not able to draw as much power as quickly.
Inflator Speed Test Results
At first glance, the Kobalt looks the fastest, but that is false. The Kobalt was the quickest to get done, but it did not inflate the tire to the set PSI.
The fastest of each test turned out to be the Milwaukee, followed closely by the Dewalt, and then the Craftsman. Now looking at the data, we’re talking about mere seconds here.
So does it really matter? Probably not, but it can’t hurt to have this information. At the very least, all but the Kobalt, appear to be consistently accurate. Remember that a little PSI is lost while I’m unhooking the air hose, so that’s what accounts for the .5 psi each one is off as shown on the table.
One other feature I felt was worth mentioning, but did not fall into a specific category was the LED light on the Dewalt and Kobalt. The Kobalt’s is a little cheap feeling, but if you’re stuck on the side of the road without any other light, it’ll do the job.
The Dewalt’s is nice because it’s intelligently placed on the handle, angled up, and is on the side closest to the air hose so you’ll be able to see what you’re doing.
Factors to Consider
Now that you have all of this information, what should you actually be considering when you’re choosing to purchase one of these? Let’s take a look at the actual cost, what your perceived value may be as a result of other uses, frequency of use, the size of your car, charger availability, and batteries you may already have.
Let’s start with the actual cost. While none of these require a battery to be operated, I highly recommend purchasing one. One, just so you don’t have to deal with moving a cord in and out of your vehicle if you need to air up every single tire – especially in the cold when all your tires start to lose some pressure.
Secondly, if you do find yourself stuck on the side of the road somewhere, god forbid your cigarette lighter doesn’t work.
Anyways, this table breaks down the base cost of the air inflator without a battery, along with the cost of extra individual batteries without the charger.
*Prices last updated: 12/12/2019 – Lowest I could find on either Amazon, Lowe’s, Home Depot.
Some models, like the Craftsman, only come in starter packs that include two batteries, so those are shown the price per battery. If you want to see the most up to date prices, check the links in the description for my blog post, which I will update periodically.
The best value actually turns out to be the DeWalt if you are only purchasing a single battery. You’re getting the most power with one of the better picks for about $160. The cost per amp hour is the cheapest and remains that way if you decide to purchase additional batteries.
Now that we’ve covered the actual cost, you might be even more confused with the different battery sizes, so I feel it’s important to touch on voltage, amp-hours, etc. briefly. Don’t worry; you don’t need to be an electrical engineer to understand this.
Let me start by saying these are lithium-ion batteries. Each of these packs contains some supersized double AA’s, called 18650’s, like the ones seen here. Fun fact, these batteries actually powered the first generation Tesla’s. Yes, thousands of these batteries can power a car.
These 18650’s a pretty efficient too and hence why they’re used in these battery packs. They’re very stable, can withstand cold and hot temperatures without much effect on them.
They lose very little energy over the course of a month, and if I recall correctly, some less than 1% of their overall charge when sitting idle. What this means is you can leave them in the trunk of your car for several months, and if you need to air up a flat, you’ll have the power to do so.
The voltage of a battery, 12V, or 20V refers to how quickly the battery can supply power. The amp hours, abbreviated aH, refers to the capacity of the battery.
Batteries with a higher aH rating will generally have a longer lifespan than batteries with lower ones. The voltage simply means a device, like the air inflator, can draw more of that power while in use.
In regards to lifespan and performance, it all depends on the battery you use in your air inflator. The Craftsman has options for 20V batteries up to 4aH, and the Dewalt has options for up to 9aH.
The Milwaukee has options up to 6aH; however, the lifespan is a little different since that’s a 12V option. You can find out more about these options by visiting the blog post for this video, linked in the description and comments.
If you’re like me, you simply want something that’s going to work and isn’t going to break after the first couple of uses. While I don’t need all the extra features like a light-up screen, different attachments, etc. that’s what I have to pay to get a product that isn’t garbage.
As I already told you, I bought a $30 one-off of Amazon, and it was a waste of money. I would have been better off buying one of these the first time around and being done with it.
I don’t have any kids, and as of right now, I’m not married, so it’s just me. But I’m sure there are people watching that have kids, maybe even grandkids, and or a family.
So sports equipment is going to need to be aired up, the air mattress for sleepovers, and when you can’t get the bonfire going like me, this air inflator comes in handy.
If you’ve ever had to fan the bonfire, you can relate. This is a lot easier by just blowing air straight into the fire.
Frequency of Use
This co-mingles with the other uses I just mentioned, but consider how often you’ll use it. If there are 3, 4, or even five cars in your family, the battery pack makes moving from car to car easier when that first frost hits in the morning.
Additionally, consider the size of your car. You will need a larger cord for larger vehicles, and again, this all boils down to how difficult do you want this task to be?
If you’re fortunate enough to have batteries compatible with one of these air inflators already, I’m sure that plays a role in your decision. It’ll already be much cheaper if you don’t have to purchase these batteries, or at least already have the charger.
Alright, so we’ve covered a lot here. If you’d like to see some more visuals, tables, and comparisons – again, those can be found in the blog post linked in the description and comments.
Let me give you my bottom line recommendation. My pick is the DeWalt.
Simply said, it is one of the best performers, and considering the actual cost + additional batteries if you choose to buy them in the future, is the best value. You get the most bang for your buck, in my opinion.
Personally, having used this and the others, it’s the most well designed. It’s tight, compact, and that light on the handle really comes in handy when you’re searching for the tire valve.
Upfront, it is less expensive than the Craftsman, and the batteries last significantly longer than the Milwaukee, as I found in my speed test.
If you’re on a budget, the Kobalt isn’t a bad option, either. In my opinion, spending an extra $20 over a cheap $30 model on Amazon is a good idea.
Just make sure the wires are tucked away neatly in the storage compartments and adjust the PSI value a couple of ticks higher than where you want it.