Save Money and Travel Safely With a Portable Air Compressor

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you’ll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

Every time before I get in my car, Rosie, I take 30 seconds to walk around my car and do a visual check on the air pressure in my tires. Am I neurotic? Obsessed? (Well, I don’t think so) I think I am safe and thrifty! I have had my share of flat and low tires. Now, I prefer to deal with that situation in my driveway rather than by the side of the road. 

How do I do this, you might ask?

Well, I have a superhero of an auto gadget that I would not want to live without: my portable 12 Volt Air Compressor

There Was a Time When I Was Afraid to Check My Tires Air Pressure

I dreaded doing it. Why?

Well, I don’t think anyone ever showed me how to do it, and I didn’t have any confidence. Now, it seems like such a simple thing to me. I don’t have to go to a garage, and I can do it myself. There is no need for batteries or an extension cord from my house, as my air compressor runs off the 12V power supply of my car (formerly known as the cigarette lighter). I just turn on the car and plug it in. My air compressor has a built-in pressure gauge and a digital display that is easy to read. All I have to do is put the hose on my tire valve stem and lock it on. My compressor gives me an instant reading of my tire pressure. 

I always used to be afraid when filling my tires at a garage that I would overfill them, and they would explode. I love that my air compressor allows me to set the pressure I want for the tire and then fill it and automatically shut off. Whew! No more checking and rechecking to make sure I got the right amount. My air compressor gives me an extra psi or so, as some air usually leaks out as I remove my hose. I have not ever had to check my tire pressure at night, but the compressor has a bright safety light that I could use to see if I did.

Why Bother With Tire Pressure Anyways?

It is generally recommended to check your tire pressure at least monthly, as temperature changes can affect the pressure. There are many benefits to properly maintaining the air pressure in your tires.

What is the first benefit of keeping your tires properly inflated, Frugalites? Saving money!

Tire America tells us:

The U.S. Department of Energy says the optimal tire pressure level will increase your gas mileage by over 3% in any season…Do the math, and you’ll see that, ultimately, the proper tire pressure can save the average consumer up to $94.00 a year and take some pressure off your budget.

(Not sure if the pun was intended. I sure hope so!)

In addition, there are significant safety issues related to either under-or over-inflation of your tires:

If your car is pulling to the left or right, that could be a sign of under-inflation, which causes increased friction because more of the tire is touching the road. The extra contact leads to overheating, which could cause tire failure. Over-inflated tires are problematic because less tread touches the road, which means less stability and traction.

I don’t want those problems! My older car, Rosie, does not have any automated monitoring of her tire pressure, so it is up to me. I use the tire pressures in her owner’s manual as a guide. There is often a tire pressure sticker on the driver’s side door, too, but hers had fallen off before I got her.

How Having My Own 12V Air Compressor Helps Me

Because I own an older car, I have the Premier CAA (AAA) membership. I am happy to spend this money to have peace of mind. Not long ago, Rosie burned out not one but TWO alternators in pretty short order. I was relieved to make a phone call and get her towed to my mechanic without blinking an eye. 

While my membership permits me to have five service calls per year, I am careful about this. I do not want to use a service call for something I can manage myself. Any service calls above my five, I am charged for at their going rate. I am proactively thrifty!

Also, I am a busy person. If I see a low tire, I can use my air compressor to fill the tire. Then, I set a timer for 15 minutes (how long it would take me to drive to my garage). What is the pressure now? If the tire still has a decent amount of pressure, then I can keep my plans and take my car to my mechanic when it suits me. They are generally quite good about fixing something like this on the spot. I much prefer to assess the situation myself and not have to wait for a service call. If, after 15 minutes, the tire is too low, then I can decide what is next: will I put on my spare?

How I Have Been Able to Help Others

Many years ago, I was staying over with a friend in the city. She needed to drive her kids to school, and I was about to leave for home. As she was about to get in her car, she noticed one tire was pretty low. She was going through a divorce, and her husband had always looked after the car. She had never even seen anything like my little gem. I gave her a quick demonstration and pumped up her tire for her. She has thrilled and decided she would soon buy her own.

My elderly aunt had a vehicle with a tire pressure warning system. One tire seemed to have a slow leak, and she didn’t want to drive to town the way it was. I was happy to pump it up for her. 

One time in our rural area, I stopped at a local restaurant for a slice of their famous Coconut Cream Pie on “Pie Day” when it was on sale (yes, frugal of me!). A woman was standing by her vehicle, looking upset. She had a low tire and a child in a car seat in the car. I pumped the tire up, and we waited fifteen minutes together. The tire was holding pretty well. I pumped it up again. She only had a short drive home down the highway. 

Not Just Blowing Hot Air

So, as you can see, this nifty thrifty safety gadget has genuinely come in handy. It is not the cream of the crop of air compressors; it doesn’t fill a standard tire in 3 minutes, but likely more like 6 minutes. All of its features come for a current price of under US$50. Especially if you have lacked confidence dealing with your tires in the past, like me, I hope this gadget might help you gain your confidence and keep you safe in your future journeys!

Another suggestion to keep you safe is having an emergency kit in your vehicle. Don’t have one? Check out this article on The Organic Prepper, How to Create a Vehicle Emergency Kit.

What are Your Thoughts? (No Pressure!)

Do you own one of these gadgets yourself? Has it ever gotten you out of a tight spot? If you DON’T currently own one, do you think it would be worth $50 to you? Do you have any other automotive must-haves? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author

Colette is a seventh-generation farmer and homesteader. She grew up in the suburbs of a large Canadian city, but spent summers in her childhood visiting her family farm. She has worked professionally as a researcher and writer for decades, all the while travelling the world. She always knew she would return to the area near her family farm in Eastern Ontario, Canada and is now happily living not far from there on her Half-Acre Homestead. Soon, she will be launching a website full of tips for Frugalites and homesteaders alike.  If you subscribe to the Frugalite email list, keep an eye on your inbox to be one of the first to see it!

Save Money and Travel Safely With a Portable Air Compressor


Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, "Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture." Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

9 thoughts on “Save Money and Travel Safely With a Portable Air Compressor”

    1. Cool, Daisy! Yes, those are a great idea to increase your safety and autonomy. Another way to save an AAA/CAA service call, as well. How Frugalite of you!

  1. I had a tire with a slow link and hubby got me a battery powered air pump (LI rechargeable tool brand). It was a lifesaver until we were able to replace the tire. And I’m with Daisy, I go nowhere without my jump box. My older van is notorious for electrical issues, and I have replaced many batteries (always under warranty thankfully). That issue has been looked at by several different shops with no true diagnosis. Broke down and bought a ‘primo’ battery and have less frequent issues; it also seems to happen more in cool/cold weather.

    1. Hi Grammyprepper, Glad to hear that you are well equipped! Sorry to hear about the issues with your van. Has any of these garages checked the ground on the vehicle? My friend recently had a similar issue….draining batteries and went through two garages until one of them thought to check the ground. Daisy definitely has struggles in the colder weather, like your van. Hope it gets worked out in the future with your van! Safe travels!

  2. I also keep a pump in my vehicle, yes, it is very handy to have. I bought granddaughters one when they started driving. I also was able to help a disabled elderly lady when she had a flat in the doctors parking lot.

    1. How thoughtful to buy pumps for your granddaughters, Becky. I feel the same way about mine: so handy and always try to spread the news about how great they are to have. It is a really good feeling to be able to use it to help someone else: I am sure that elderly lady was quite grateful for you help!

  3. There’s no argument that when a tire suffers a slow leak that a tire pump of whichever type (12vdc, 110vac, hand-powered, foot-powered) that any of those tire pump types can provide the temporary solution needed. (I keep a 110vac pump at home and a foot-powered pump in my vehicle — both have built-in air pressure gages.) But if a tire develops a sudden leak such as from a nail, screw, thorn, whatever from the road, a jack, a board to set it on (if the road or ditch or snow surface is not solid), and a tire wrench will be mandatory to change that flat tire and mount the spare. Now if you haven’t kept your spare aired up properly, your tire pump of whichever portable type can come to the rescue. Otherwise, you’ll need to call AAA, your insurance company, or another towing service, etc. (Would the battery be up and ready in your phone, or would you need to resort to the older raise the engine hood method to signal for help?)

    One rare case where the tire pump won’t help was demoed by a local tribe of teenage vandals some years ago who went on an evening’s tire slashing rampage through my neighborhood. It took out all four tires on some 50 cars before they quit and ran. Today a vandal could do similar damage with a bucket of sharp nails dumped on your road.

    The point is that a tire pump of whatever type has a legitimate role in handling slow leaks. But fast leaks or multiple tires damaged is more than any tire pump alone can handle.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Lewis. You raise an important point about the limitations of the air compressor when it comes to slow leak vs. fast leaks or multiple tires. I agree that, in the case of the latter(s), using good judgement is key. It is a plus point that the air compressor would be there to inflate an underinflated spare, if need be! Sorry to hear about that rampage in your neighbourhood. What a sad sight to come out to see that morning and quite an inconvenience for everyone.

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