Can You Use A Bike Pump For A Car Tire: Why and how?


Many car users or bike riders never think to use their bike pumps to inflate their car tires. As someone who had not thought of this until a few years ago, it baffles me how much easier this option is than going to the local garage. As a keen cyclist who wanted to get the word out, I thought I would take the time to answer the question of whether or not you can use a bike pump for a car tire?

A bike pump will fully inflate a car tire in around 5 minutes. However, you need to ensure that your bike pump is compatible with Schrader valves (which most bike pumps are), as well as be able to cope with the PSI of your car tire. A floor bike pump is much more effective than a handheld one for inflating a car tire.

So, we’ve established that bike pumps make a good choice for inflating a car tire, but how long will it take you to pump up your flat with a bike pump, and how do you work out if your bike pump is compatible with your car tire in the first place? I take a look at these, as well as the steps you need to take to use a bike pump on a car tire in the rest of the article.

Can you use a bike pump on a car tire?

In reality, bike pumps often make a good choice for inflating car tires. However, before you start you need to confirm that the bike pump you have is compatible with your car tire. This will depend on 3 main factors.

1) If the pump fits onto the tire

Put simply, if the pump does not fit on the tire, then you’re not going to be able to inflate the tire at all.

2) If the pump can achieve a high enough pressure for the tire

Car tires and bike tires both have a set maximum size. As you add air to this limited space, it causes the air to create pressure in the tire.

Bike tires and car tires both require different pressures, so it cannot be presumed that all pumps will work for all tires.

3) If the pump can inflate the tire fast enough

Car tires are much larger than bike tires, and so will require more air to inflate than bike tires do. This is even more true if your car tire has an ongoing leak, as this will cause air to escape as you pump up the tire.

How to use a bike pump to inflate a car tire?

In the sections below I will take a look at each of these 3 criteria in more detail, but presuming your bike pump is able to inflate your car tires, the actual process of inflating them with a bike pump is quite simple.

  1. Ensure your car is parked on a flat and even surface
  2. Remove the valve caps on your tires, and place them somewhere safe
  3. Confirm the PSI needed for your tires (either use this link or look at your car manual)
  4. Attach the pump and check the current tire pressure
  5. Pump the tire – Use your legs while pumping as it will be harder than pumping a bike tire
  6. Remove the pump and place the valve cap back on

You can take a look at the video below for a bit more detail about the step-by-step process.

Does your bike pump fit onto your car tires?

Bikes commonly have one of 2 main types of valves on their tires, these are called either Presta or Schrader valves. Schrader valves were originally developed in the United States whereas Presta was developed in France.

Car tires also use Schrader valves. This means that if your bike pump is able to inflate both Schrader and Presta tires (which most can), or even Schrader valves alone, then you are in luck.

However, this does mean that bike pumps that only work with Presta valves will not fit onto a car tire. If your bike pump is designed only to inflate Presta valves, then you can get yourself a cheap adapter such as this one on Amazon that will enable it to work with Schrader valves.

Does your pump fit a Schrader valve?

So how do you know if your pump fits a Schrader or Presta valve?

Generally, you can tell if your pump works with Schrader or Presta valves by looking at the pump itself. Schrader valve pumps often have a small cross or blob in the middle whereas Presta valve compatible pumps do not.

In reality, most modern bike pumps are able to work with either type of valve.

How much PSI can a bike pump produce?

Not all tires are filled to the same pressure as each other. Even different bikes have different tire pressures that they need to aim for. In general the wider the tire, the lower the pressure.

Road bike tires require a rough pressure of 100 PSI, mountain bike tires require 30 PSI, and car tires require between 31 and 35 PSI.

For a pump to be able to inflate a tire past a certain pressure, it has to be designed in a way that enables this. Not all pumps are able to inflate a tire up to the same pressure.

You need to ensure that the pump you plan to use is able to reach the pressure you need to get to. To find out which PSI you need to get your car tire up to, take a look at this link from KwikFit which will tell you your tire pressure by putting in your number plater. On the other hand, you will also be able to find this information in your car manual.

Once you know what pressure your car tires need, you can then check that your pump can achieve pressures this high. You can do this by checking your bike pump details online. In general, almost all bike pumps are designed to achieve pressures way over the 35 PSI.

Take a look at the table below where I list some of the PSI limits on common bike pumps.

PumpPSI Limit
Lezyne Classic Over Drive60
Topeak Joeblow Mountain60
Lezyne CNC Digital Drive350
Scott Syncros Vernon 2.0HV40
SKS Air-X-Press 8.0140
Topeak Joblow Max 2120
A table showing the PSI limits on common bike pumps

How long does it take to inflate a car tire with a bicycle pump?

Whether or not your pump is able to inflate your car tire fast enough will depend on how quickly it can pump air. This is decided by how efficient the pump is, as well as how large it is.

A pump works by forcing the area in the chamber out of the valve as you push the handle down. The amount of air it pushes out will be decided by how big the champer is. This means that larger floor pumps are much more effective at pumping up car tires than smaller hand pumps are.

Car tires have a rough volume of 70,000 cm3, to inflate a tire this size up to 30 PSI requires 140,000 cm3 of air to be pumped into the tire.

Now take for example that the average size of a floor pump is 300 cm3, compared to the average size of a hand pump which is 50 cm3.

This means that by using a floor pump you will require 450 pumps to fully inflate your car tire. This same tire will require nearly 3000 pumps from a handheld bike pump.

The average floor pump will take 450 “pumps” to inflate a car tire

As such, using a floor pump such as the Topeak Joe Blow Sport that I own (and can be found here on Amazon), is a much more effective way of pumping up your car tires than a handheld bike pump.

Car tires require much more pumping than bike tires do. If I tell you that an average road bike tire has a volume of 1500 cm3, then you can see a floor pump is capable of fully filling one of these tires in 5 large pumps (almost 100 times less than a car).

So how long does it actually take to pump up a car tire? In general, it has taken me around 5 minutes to fully inflate my tires with a floor bike pump.

After some research, this appears to be a fairly typical amount of time for this. You can see a real-time example here of someone inflating their tire using a bike pump if that will help to give you a better idea of how much effort it will take.

It is important to remember that this process may take longer if you have an ongoing leak. And if you are not able to inflate your tire faster than the leak is letting out air, you will never be able to inflate your tire with a bike pump.

If your tire is not completely flat and has some residual pressure left over, you can estimate how many pumps the tire will require. On average, 10 pumps of a good quality floor pump seem to increase the pressure inside the tire by around 1 PSI.

Please note that this estimate is purely to work out how long it should take you, don’t use this method to try and pump up your car tires with a pressure gauge.

In general, 10 pumps of a floor pump is equal to around 1 PSI of care tire pressure.

Overall

As you can see, inflating a car tire with a bike pump is not only a possibility, it is actually a very good option. Certainly, in my case, it is often quicker to use a bike pump than it would be to drive to my local garage and use their air.

Not only this but keeping a bike pump in the boot of your car can make a great emergency option if you develop a flat on the road.

If you want to take a more detailed into lightweight bike pumps, take a look at my article here.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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