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Lifewire / Jeffrey Daniel Chadwick
Fast inflation times
Easy to carry and store
Exposed metal gets hot
Gauge overstates air pressure while in use
Must connect directly to car’s battery
No automatic shut down
The Viair 88P Portable Compressor is the best choice for those who value raw power over convenience, but there are some big downsides to be aware of.
The Viair 88P Portable Compressor is unique among the portable tire inflators we reviewed. It has the look and feel of a professional tool, rather than a device you keep around for those “just in case scenarios.” It requires a lot of power and gets hot and loud while in operation, but that’s easily forgiven considering the results it yields.
Of all the car tire inflators we tested, the 88P looks the most like an air pump. All the other products were covered in a hard, plastic shell, hiding their compressors and other parts. The 88P, by contrast, has its pump elements on full display. It’s the type of device that you know is going to perform excellently just by looking at it.
Weighing in at 4.75 pounds, it’s a bit heavier than portable air pumps like the Audew Portable Air Compressor which is a mere 2.65 pounds. But that doesn’t mean much in terms of portability. Any pump weighing less than 5 pounds is light enough for even children to carry easily.
In order to use it, you must open the hood of your car, attach the jumper-cable style clamps onto the battery, and start the engine.
The heavier design doesn’t affect the compactness of the pump, and at just 9.8 inches long, 3.2 inches wide and 6.5 inches high, it doesn’t take up much room in your trunk or storage shelves.
This pump can draw up to 20 amps of power when it’s turned on which is double the maximum power draw of the other portable air compressors we reviewed. In order to get the power it needs, it draws energy directly from your car’s engine. In order to use it, you must open the hood of your car, attach the jumper-cable style clamps onto the battery, and start the engine. This is good in that it ensures that the pump gets the power it needs to run efficiently, but it also adds several steps to the process of getting your tires filled.
All the other products we tested allow you to simply hook an adapter into your car’s 12V socket, which is far more convenient than attaching power clamps to your battery. Additionally, it means that your engine must be running for the pump to work. Drawing power from the 12V socket allows other tire inflators to work while the car’s power is turned on but not the engine.
However, there are some perks that come with the extra power provided by your engine. The most visible of which is the range of the pump. The air-hose on this portable tire inflator is a lengthy 16 feet and Viair sells a 6-foot extension for an even greater range. Other products we tested all had hoses that were around 3 feet, limiting their flexibility.
Another big benefit of having a hefty pump is that you can operate it in extreme temperatures. The 88P’s can withstand a maximum ambient pressure up to 158 degrees and as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Most portable tire inflators don’t publish their maximum operating temperature, so it’s anyone’s guess at what point they cease to work. So although you almost certainly will never reach the upper temperature threshold, you can be sure that this pump will perform when you need it in the desert during a heatwave.
This is the only portable air compressor we tested that lacks a digital readout. Instead, it features an analog pressure gauge that displays pressure in up to 120 PSI (pounds per square inch) and 8.5 kPa (kilopascals).
The 88P’s can withstand a maximum ambient pressure up to 158 degrees and as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, the 880 lacks the ability to shut down automatically once the desired air pressure has been achieved, meaning you’ll have to constantly monitor the air pressure to make sure you don’t overfill your tires.
As mentioned above, the Viair 88P has a few more steps involved to get it up and running, but the extra power yields several benefits. We timed how long it takes from stepping out of the car to having the pump running, and on average, it took about three minutes to get started.
The instruction manual is brief but comprehensive. Virtually any adult should be able to operate the 88P effectively after a single reading.
This is roughly double the time it takes with the other compressors we tested, so take the time to learn how it’s done before you put it in your trunk. The instruction manual is brief but comprehensive. Virtually any adult should be able to operate the 88P effectively after a single reading.
When we tested this portable tire inflator, we took it on an interstate road trip, many miles into the wilderness. Stopping at gas stations and rest stops along the way, we deflated the tires on Kia Rio to 20 PSI (to the point where they would be dangerous low to drive on) and then used the pump to inflate them back up to recommended 32 PSI. On average it took about 55 seconds to inflate all four tires, which is the fastest average fill time we recorded during our testing.
You can run this portable air compressor continually for about 25 minutes before you need to shut it down for a few minutes. We recommend at least 10 minutes of cool-down time before you try to use it again. However, unless you’re inflating something particularly large, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach the 25-minute limit.
The exposed metal components of the compressor are slightly hot to the touch. We measured its surface temperature with an infrared thermometer and found the hottest it got was 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It stayed hot to the touch for about five minutes after shutdown, so you’ll want to wait a bit after your done pumping to wrap it up and put it away.
On average it took about 55 seconds to inflate all four tires. Which is the fastest average fill time we recorded during our testing period.
Pumping air through a compressor makes a lot of noise. The Viair 88P was the loudest of all the products we tested. When we used a decibel meter to measure how loud it got, the highest sound level we recorded was 99 decibels. But it usually hovered between 96 and 97 decibels. That’s enough to drown out any conversation you might have and will definitely disturb the household if you use it in your driveway.
To test the accuracy of the 88P, we compared the air pressure displayed on the gauge to that of a simple pencil-style gauge. We found it to be generally accurate within a 2 PSI, range which is fine for most circumstances.
However, we noted that while the pump is in use, the gauge overstates the air pressure between 5 and 10 PSI. When you turn it off, it will drop to the correct reading. This can be quite frustrating, and if you overfill your tires, you have to detach the pump, let some air out, and then measure it again to see if it's in the right pressure range.
Additionally, it takes a few seconds to unscrew the tire nozzle from the tire stem, which causes a bit of deflation. You can lose up to 1 PSI if you don’t detach the pump as quickly as possible.
The list price of the Viair 88P Portable Compressor is $66, putting it in the middle among the tire inflators we tested. There are some budget models we saw for as little as $25, depending on where you shop. However, you won’t get the power and range this model gives you.
We tested the Viair 88P Portable Compressor and the Kensun Portable Tire Inflator simultaneously. Although they’re designed for the same purpose, they’re very different devices. The most noticeable distinction is that the Viair has most of its compressor elements exposed, while the Kensun has a hard plastic shell around its compressor.
But the most important difference is how they draw power. While the Kensun lacks the ability to connect to your battery directly, you can power it through your car’s 12V socket which is much more convenient. Additionally, it’s the only portable tire inflator we tested that allows you to draw power from an AC wall outlet. On the downside, the Kensun can only inflate objects up to 90 PSI, and it comes with a much shorter 2-foot air hose.
A serious tool with plenty of power.
The Viair 88P Portable Compressor is a serious tool that requires a lot of power, but it delivers pressure when you need it the most. While it’s not perfect, it’s fast, reliable, and far-reaching. It does have its frustrating points like loud operation and the necessity of hooking it up to your car’s battery, but on the whole, it’s a fine device you won’t regret buying.