11 Common Air Compressor Problems & How To Solve Them

It can be quite stressful when your air compressor doesn’t work as it should. Air compressors aren’t as complicated as they seem, but troubleshooting can be tricky when you don’t know where to start. So, where should you start with air compressor troubleshooting?

Check the filter and oil level first when troubleshooting your air compressor. Low oil and excessive oil can break your air compressor, and oil can turn into sludge if it’s too cold. Check the inlet valve and hose for debris and corrosion if the airflow within your compressor is weak. Plug your air compressor into an outlet instead of an extension cord.  

Inspect your air compressor daily before you use it to catch leaks, rust, and loose parts before it’s too late. This can add time to your compressor’s lifespan. Follow along as we explore 11 common air compressor problems and highlight the best troubleshooting solutions.

Air Compressor Troubleshooting

Air compressor troubleshooting is easy if you inspect your compressor daily. It’s important to check the inlet valve, bearings, gaskets, oil level, and filter as often as possible. Let’s look at the most common air compressor troubleshooting problems and see how to solve them.

1. Worn Bearings

Does your air compressor screech when it runs? If so, then it’s likely because the bearings are worn and damaged. The unpleasant and shrill sound of an air compressor isn’t just annoying, but it’s also a sign that something is wrong.

Air compressors can also screech when the belt drive is broken, but corroded bearings are the most common cause. The sound comes from the metal surface rubbing against another metal surface. Bearings can wear out over time from moisture and physical damage.

They can also wear out when lubricant leaks out of the compressor. Luckily, this is the easiest one of the problems to solve with air compressor troubleshooting. Simply replace the worn bearings and your air compressor should run smoothly.

2. Moisture Buildup

Air compressor troubleshooting is all about finding the root of the problem and solving it. Context clues make this much easier, and it’s easy to spot moisture problems with an air compressor. This can happen due to too much moisture within the condensate tank.

Drain the condensate tank every day before or after you use your air compressor. Moisture can also damage your air compressor if you keep it in a humid environment. Most of the parts of an air compressor are made of metal, and moisture can quickly damage them.

Rust and corrosion are two of the biggest threats to air compressors, and both can occur from too much moisture. Keep your air compressor in a well-ventilated room so moisture doesn’t build up as quickly, and drain the condensate tank daily.

3. Low Oil Level/Sludgy Oil

Oil changes are just as important for air compressors as they are for cars in many ways. Sure, you can find oil-free air compressors, but oil-injected compressors rely on lubricant to run. You must change the oil in an air compressor every 100 to 200 hours or sooner.

The oil can also become contaminated over time from pollutants and dust, and you’ll need to change it sooner in that case. Cold weather can even ruin your air compressor’s oil. Oil thickens and even turns into sludge when the temperature drops, and that makes it useless.

That is quite inconvenient when you live in a cold climate, but you can avoid it. Simply put your air compressor in a space with strong insulation so it doesn’t get too cold as the temperature drops.

4. Clogged Filter

Air compressors rely on filters to ward off contaminants, pollutants, and moisture. The filter within your air compressor can easily clog over time. This happens because of debris, dust, and even sludge that comes through your air compressor.

Any seasoned air compressor operator will tell you to check the filter each day after heavy use. Your air compressor can lose pressure or run loudly if the filter gets clogged. It can even stop working altogether if no air can move through the filter.

Replace your air filter every 6 to 12 months or as needed when it becomes clogged. Most filters can handle 2,000 hours of use before you must replace them. Filters are quite cheap and you can buy packs that include 6 of them for under $10 in many cases.

5. Damaged Inlet Valve

No air can get into the chamber in your air compressor without an inlet valve. This important part affects everything from your compressor’s capacity to the airflow. Inlet valves can rust and corrode over time, and that makes them useless in most cases.

You can tell the inlet valve is damaged if air comes out from it. Sadly, you cannot repair a broken inlet valve. They are cheap and easy to install, however, and replacement inlet valves cost as little as $11. Stainless steel inlet valves are the best option because they are durable and aren’t too likely to rust, but rust can form over time.

6. Too Much Pressure

Air compressor troubleshooting can be tricky, but it’s pretty easy to spot pressure problems. Excessive pressure is one of the biggest problems with air compressors, but it’s often a symptom of other issues. Corrosion, blockages, rust, and worn parts can make pressure accumulate within an air compressor.

This is a fixable problem, but it’s quite dangerous if you ignore the signs. Air compressors can explode when the pressure gets too high. Not only will this ruin your air compressor, but it can also harm you. That’s why it’s important to check your air compressor for clogs and debris each time you use it to maintain a safe pressure level.

7. Power Problems

It may seem that your air compressor is broken, but it may just be a problem with the power supply. The only way you can ensure a consistent power supply is to plug it directly into an outlet. Extension cords and air compressors don’t go well together.

Your air compressor may lose power and shut down if you plug it into an extension cord. That said, you can also experience power problems if you plug your air compressor into a faulty outlet. Find a spot for your air compressor where you can access a strong outlet that can withstand the power demands.

Typically, you must plug an air compressor into an outlet on a 30A circuit. You can get by with a less powerful circuit if you have a small, simple air compressor.

8. Air Leaks

Air leaks are among the most common and annoying problems with air compressors. This typically happens when the gaskets are loose, but it can also happen when the tubes and hoses get damaged. Inspect the hoses and tubes right away if you notice an air leak in your compressor.

Loose valve seals and O-rings can also make air leak from a compressor. Air can even leak if the condensate tank is too full of water. Over time, the water can damage the metal, and this will cause air to leak out of it.

You cannot maintain pressure if your air compressor leaks, and it will essentially be useless. Leaks can also happen if you attach a damaged air tool to your compressor. That is the best-case scenario because you’ll only need to replace a tool instead of a compressor, and that’s much cheaper.

9. Damaged Belt

Air compressors are complicated machines, but even a simple part like the belt can throw them off. Belts connect the motor to the pump, and they are necessary to provide power and airflow. That said, not all air compressors feature belts.

Compressors without belts are often low maintenance, but many people prefer air compressors with belts. They make it easy to change the power, pressure, and speed, but only when are in good shape. Belts can corrode over time, and they can get kinked as well.

Luckily, they typically cost under $20, and it’s easy to replace a damaged air compressor belt. Listen to your air compressor when troubleshooting. You can tell something is likely wrong with the belt if the compressor hisses and squeals as it runs.

10. Loose Bolts

Does your air compressor vibrate too much when it runs? If so, then it’s likely because the bolts are loose, and that’s easy to fix. An air compressor can vibrate and rattle even if the bolts are tight but uneven.

In most cases, you can simply remove the bolts and reinstall them so they fit tight. Check the bolts for rust as well and replace them if they are corroded.

11. Excessive Oil

A low oil level can damage your air compressor, but excessive oil is just as problematic. Many people mistakenly overlook this problem while air compressor troubleshooting. Only add as much oil to your air compressor as it’s rated for.

Compressors can often hold up to 4 liters of oil, but it varies between brands and models. Oil thickens and becomes frothy when you add too much to an air compressor. That makes the oil useless as the consistency is too thick and inconsistent to lubricate the machine.

Air will also struggle to enter and pass through the compressor if you add too much oil. Oil can also leak into other parts of your compressor, such as the discharge pipe. A gallon of oil for an air compressor costs up to $70, so the last thing you want to do is waste it.

So, How Do You Diagnose an Air Compressor?

Inspect the oil level and check the filter for sludge, dust, and debris when troubleshooting your air compressor. Air compressors can typically hold up to 4 liters of oil, and the compressor won’t work when there is too much or too little oil. Compressors also shake, hiss, and rattle when the mounting bolts are loose or the belt is damaged.

Your air compressor won’t work if you plug it into a power strip or extension cord in most cases. Worn bearings and excessive moisture in the condensate tank can also stop your air compressor from working optimally. Check the lines and hoses for air leaks and replace corroded valves and gaskets.

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