The neo-industrial design of this miniature workhorse is a delight to both hold and look at. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as satisfying to work with.
Let’s be clear: the Viair 88P is incredibly fast at inflating tires. We were blown away (sorry!) by the performance of this device. In fact, next to the monster from Milwaukee in our lead image above, no other compressor in our test came close to inflating our test tire as quickly as the Viair. However, its sole power supply—alligator clips that connect directly to the car battery—and old-school dial gauge keep the Viair 88P from being the ideal car tire inflator for the everyday driver. For the time being, anyway.
Viair built its trusted reputation on its high-quality industrial and commercial air compressors and the 88P is, in form and function, a scaled-down version of one of those. But why the seemingly outmoded power hookup? Why the quaint-but-wonky analog gauge? We didn’t want to fault a company we know and trust without hearing its side of the story, so we reached out.
Dave Rittenhouse, Viair Corp.’s Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, told us Viair’s main concern is providing a quality product that works, and a direct line to the battery was the only way to achieve that with the 88P. “This unit requires about 16–19 amps for its compressor motor to function effectively,” he said. Unfortunately, the typical 12V accessory power port in any car “tops out at around 15 amps. AC power runs a different type of compressor motor, and Li-Ion batteries wouldn’t provide the power required to drive this motor,” Rittenhouse said. Thus, the need to draw directly from the car battery. Dave assured us that options are in the works from Viair. But, for now, alligator clips it is.
The integrated analog dial gauge on the Viair looks as quaint and cool as the rest of the unit, but it didn’t get as satisfying a justification from a Viair rep as its choice of power supply did. It proved wildly inaccurate during testing, running about 10psi higher than the actual tire pressure while the unit was powered on. When the needle hit 30 psi and we shut the compressor off, and the needle dropped to around 20 psi. We had to shut the motor off, check the dial, measure the psi with our handheld gauge, then top the pressure off. We did this several times all the way to 45psi before we got an acceptable reading on our handheld pressure gauge. Basically, the analog dial gauge on the 88P is worthless (unless you know how high the dial gauge runs—and if you owned an 88P, you’d probably figure that out pretty quickly).
From where we’re sitting, the 88P outperformed its competition by leaps and bounds, so we’d love to see Viair come up with a more user-friendly compromise between practicality and efficiency. (An integrated work light would be appreciated too.) In the meantime, if you’re comfortable working with alligator clips to your battery and repeatedly double-checking your tire pressure, the Viair 88P is affordable, small enough to stash in the car, includes plenty of inflation accessories, and it’s all wrapped up in a convenient carrying case—which is great, because this is an awful lot of hose and cord to wind up every time you use it.