Common Air Compressor Problems

Common Air Compressor Problems [Air Compressor Troubleshooting]

Air compressors have become essential in various industries and are commonly used for DIY projects. As versatile and valuable as they are, they can sometimes encounter problems that disrupt their performance or cause them to stop working entirely.

In my experience, common compressor issues include the inability to turn on the machine, unstable pressure levels, or poor air quality. There are roughly 6 to 7 common air compressor problems you should be aware of. Not only do you need to know what problems may arise, but you would also be prepared to troubleshoot and resolve them, ensuring that the compressors continue to run effectively.

Throughout this article, I will share my knowledge of the most common compressor problems, discuss their causes, and guide you through the troubleshooting. If you are interested in learning more, keep reading!

Understanding Air Compressors

It is not every day that you see an air compressor failing, but it does happen sometimes. If you have any issue with your compressor, you should troubleshoot it, but only if you have a solid understanding of how the compressors work and what components are involved.

Air compressors function by converting electrical energy into kinetic energy, which is then stored in the form of pressurized air. They typically consist of a motor, a pump, a pressure switch, storage tanks, and various safety features. The motor powers the pump, compresses the air, and stores it in the tanks for later use. The pressure switch activates the motor when the air pressure drops below a predetermined level, ensuring a steady supply of high-pressure air.

Considering the complexity of the machine, one can easily guess that a ton of things could go wrong with it. Whether it is a malfunctioning pressure switch, insufficient compressor oil being used, or a faulty pressure release valve, all these things may cause your compressor not to work.

In the following section, I will mention some of the most common problems that may arise when working with a compressor. So, ensure you read that part if you want to learn more!

Common Air Compressor Problems

Common Air Compressor Problems-2

Here are the top six problems that could be preventing your compressor from functioning properly:

Power Problems

One common problem with air compressors is that they won't turn on. Issues related to the compressor motor might be due to:

  • Electrical problem
  • Faulty wiring
  • Malfunctioning motor.

Checking if the reset switch has been triggered is necessary before identifying potential wiring, power, or other internal issues. It could be a faulty power switch or motor causing the issues, but it might also be a disconnected power cord.


Another common issue with compressors is overheating due to extreme air heat or a problem within the machine. This can cause the system to shut down or even damage internal components. A few causes of overheating include:

  • Insufficient lubrication
  • Clogged air filter
  • Blocked ventilation or cooling system

To address this problem, ensure the machine has enough oil and does not have the wrong oil viscosity. After that, clean or replace any old air filter and ensure the ventilation system is unobstructed.


Another issue with compressors is that they might be leaking air. Air leaks mean that the compressor lacks sufficient air pressure and could malfunction. Leakages can lead to decreased performance and increased energy consumption. Potential causes of air leaks include:

  • Worn or damaged seals
  • Loose connections or fittings
  • Cracked or damaged hoses

If you suspect an air leak, carefully inspect all components and fix or replace any damaged parts as necessary.

Oil Problems

Oil-related issues can also arise in air compressor use. You could have too much oil or not enough oil in the oil tank. Then, you might have improper oil viscosity or have forgotten about your oil changes for a while. It can all happen, but an empty or overfilled oil tank is cause for concern.

Maintaining the correct oil level is crucial for smooth operation and avoiding damage. Indications that there could be oil problems include:

  • Excessive oil consumption
  • Oil leaks
  • Air compressor is not starting

I usually check the oil level regularly and top it up as needed, using of the manufacturer-recommended oil. You should never use improper oil viscosity or let your compressor run on aerosolized oil. Additionally, you should always inspect for air leaks and address them promptly.

Unusual Noises

Air compressors can sometimes produce unusual noises that signal a potential problem. Common sources of these noises include:

  • Loose parts or bolts
  • Damaged bearings
  • Misaligned components

Checking for odd sounds and addressing the cause early can help prevent more significant issues. I always inspect the compressor for loose or damaged parts, like worn piston rings or power switch failure. Furthermore, I ensure proper alignment of all components, including the power source, vibration pads, and other compressor parts. I advise you to do the same.

Pressure Issues

Pressure issues can impact the overall performance and efficiency of the air compressor. There can be issues with the compressor's air intake due to a defective pressure switch or a problem with the compressed air system. Some common pressure-related problems are:

  • Inconsistent pressure levels
  • Pressure drop
  • Excessive pressure

First, the compressor might not be building enough pressure. This often indicates a worn-out pump or damaged seals. To properly diagnose the issue, monitor the compressor as it operates, paying attention to any unfamiliar noises or vibrations.

Second, air leaks could appear around fittings, pressure switches, or storage tanks. Conducting a thorough inspection will help identify the source of the problem.

Preventive Maintenance

Air Compressor Maintenance

As someone who uses an air compressor regularly, I cannot emphasize the importance of preventive maintenance. Maintaining the air compressor can help prevent common problems and ensure long-term efficiency. So, let's explore some essential preventive maintenance steps you should follow:

  • Firstly, drain the liquid from the tank. Moisture accumulation is common, but not clearing it can cause rust and impair the compressor's performance. Draining the liquid ensures that the air compressor remains in optimal condition.
  • Next, it's crucial to check and tighten fasteners and electrical connections. Due to the regular operations, vibrations can sometimes cause loose connections and fasteners, leading to inefficient performance or dangerous situations.
  • Inspection of hoses and connectors is also essential. Check for any wear, tear, or leaks, as these may compromise the system's performance and cause pressure fluctuations. Replacing damaged hoses or connectors should be done promptly to avoid complications.
  • Keeping the external components clean is another significant aspect of preventive maintenance. Dust, grime, and other debris can accumulate over time, affecting the air compressor's efficiency. Wiping down the exterior surfaces helps maintain their effectiveness.
  • Regarding air filters, checking and changing them regularly is a must. Dirty or clogged filters can result in poor air quality and reduced air compressor performance. I usually replace air filters as needed, depending on the usage, but replacing them after 2,000 hours of use is recommended.
  • Oil levels in the air compressor should be checked regularly. Ensuring proper lubrication by checking and refilling oil when necessary keeps the compressor running smoothly. Of course, changing the oil periodically is also part of the preventive maintenance, while using oil with proper viscosity is essential.
  • Lastly, testing safety mechanisms is crucial to ensure systems function correctly. This includes checking pressure release valves and emergency shutdown systems for malfunctions or defects. Regular testing helps ensure the safety of both the equipment and the operator.

Troubleshooting Air Compressors

When experiencing common air compressor problems, I always start by identifying the symptoms my air compressor is displaying. This helps me to diagnose and resolve the issues effectively. Here are the common symptoms your compressor might be displaying and what you should do to resolve them:

If the air compressor doesn't turn on, check if it has a reset switch. If it's a one-time issue and the compressor runs fine after that, the problem is resolved. However, if the problem prevails, investigate the wiring, power switch, electrical power supply, and anything else you think could be causing the problem.

If you notice a faulty compressor unloader valve causing the compressor to stall out, get replacement valves for a quick fix. To replace the unloader valve, disconnect the old one and install the new one, ensuring it's securely in place.

Be aware that using the wrong pressure setting can cause air compressor problems. Always ensure the pressure is set to the correct level for your task. Over-pressurizing the air tools can lead to damage or decreased efficiency.

If the air compressor starts making strange noises, perform a thorough inspection to identify the source of the sound. Loose parts, worn belts, or internal damage can cause noises, and addressing these issues promptly can prevent further damage to the compressor.

Lastly, if you cannot find the source of the problem, consult the user manual or the manufacturer's air compressor troubleshooting guide. They often provide valuable information and may even have brand-specific tips and solutions for common problems.

Types of Air Compressor Problems Based on Models

Types of Air Compressor

In my experience with air compressors, I've encountered several common problems that can arise within different models. To help you better understand these issues, I've divided them into categories based on the types of compressors.

Positive Displacement Air Compressors

These air compressors work by trapping air in a chamber and then reducing its volume. Examples of positive displacement air compressors include reciprocal, rotary screws, and scroll compressors.

  • Symptoms: Low pressure, excessive noise, and overheating are common issues with these compressors.
  • Solutions: Regular maintenance, such as changing oil and checking for leaks, can help prevent issues in positive displacement air compressors. Replacement of worn parts and the use of appropriate lubricants can also extend the life of your compressor.

Roto-dynamic Air Compressors

These compressors use rotating impellers to accelerate the air, converting the kinetic energy into pressure energy. They are less common than positive displacement air compressors but still experience some common problems.

  • Symptoms: Reduced airflow, vibration, and bearing failures are typical issues with roto-dynamic compressors.
  • Solutions: For these compressors, it's important to monitor and replace worn parts, maintain proper alignment, and regularly inspect impellers for damage or corrosion.

Signs of Air Compressor Failures

Sometimes, there could be a more significant problem with your compressor. It might not be a leak or blockage causing the problem but a total system failure. If you suspect this is happening to your compressor, here are some of the tell-tale signs to look out for:

  • Lack of Power: If your air compressor won't turn on or produces less power than usual, it could be due to electrical issues such as a tripped circuit breaker, a faulty starter switch, or even engine problems.
  • Low Pressure or Airflow: This can be caused by leaks in the system, dirty or clogged filters, or incorrect oil viscosity.
  • Overheating: When your compressor gets too hot, it can lead to reduced performance, premature wear, or even complete breakdowns. The signs are a compressor that is hot to the touch, emits a burning smell, or shuts down as a safety measure.
  • Unusual Noises: These can be caused by loose parts, dirty piston at the cylinder head, crankcase failure, or worn or hardened gaskets.
  • Leakage: If your compressor's pressure gauge drops while it is turned off or the compressor consistently restarts to counter the situation, it could indicate an air leak within the system.

Many of these signs are similar to the compressor problems I discussed above. To ensure a simple problem does not become a total system failure, ensure proper maintenance and inspection as often as possible. That way, you can avoid compressor failure and improve its overall longevity.


Thank you for reading this guide on the most common air compressor problems. From poor performance to unstable pressure levels, understanding each issue will assist you in properly diagnosing and resolving the issue as soon as possible. Use the tips provided above to deal with any problems. If that is not an option, consult the manual or contact professionals for assistance.

Remember that some complications can be easily fixed with the proper guidance, while others may warrant a more thorough inspection or even professional repairs. By being confident, knowledgeable, and attentive to these common air compressor problems, you'll be well-prepared to tackle any challenges and keep your air compressor running at its best.

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