air compressor troubleshootingOwning an air compressor is a fantastic way to speed up tasks around the home, or on a job site.

With the help of pneumatic tools it’s possible to do professional level painting, automotive repairs, trim work, carpentry, and even hammering, chiseling, and cutting. Quality air compressors like the ones from Dewalt, Senco, Makita, and other manufacturers, are built to last for years.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that they’re guaranteed against damage or failure. Overloading, overuse, or even environmental factors could contribute to a drop in performance or a complete loss of operation.

Knowing how to do basic air compressor troubleshooting can help you to rectify smaller faults, or at least know what the fault is before you call a service center.

At Power Tools Ninja we’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the finest portable compressors in the industry. Compressors like the Makita MAC2400, the Rolair JC10, and even the Senco PC1010 have been massively impressive, but we have also run into our fair share of faults after rigorous testing.

To help you in the event that you’ve experienced a failure or drop in performance, we’ve put together this handy list of all the most common air compressor problems and solutions, for both oil-free and oil lubricated air compressors.

Air Compressor Troubleshooting Chart

Here are some of the common air compressor troubleshooting basics, at a glance;

My Compressor Is…Troubleshooting Steps
Not powering on…Check the outlet has power. Remove any extension cables. Check the circuit for sufficient amperage.
Constantly tripping a breaker…Ensure there are no other appliances on the circuit, and that the breaker is rated above the requirements of the compressor.
Losing air…Check for leaks at all seals and connectors. Perform air compressor troubleshooting: check valve.
Running hot…Ensure it is in a cool, well ventilated environment. Don’t exceed the duty cycle.
Turning off in use…Check the duty cycle is not exceeded, and avoid using extension cables. Check the circuit for sufficient amperage.
Seizing or slowing down (motor)...Make sure the motor is lubricated and that oil is clean. If so, or if the compressor is oil-less, contact a service center immediately.

Basic Air Compressor Electrical Troubleshooting

My air compressor is only running from a single outlet – Most homes have multiphase wiring, and they will also have different circuits coming from different breakers. Check that the compressor is the only appliance being run from the circuit you want to use, and ensure the breaker rating matches that of your compressor.

My air compressor is tripping a breaker – Some larger compressors can draw a lot of power, especially during start up. The breaker you use should be at least 15amp, and you shouldn’t run other appliances from the same breaker when you are using your compressor.

My air compressor shut down in use and won’t restart – Most compressors have a protection function where they will shut down when being run outside of tolerances. If your compressor unexpectedly shuts down, make sure that you unplug it from the power source and wait for 20 minutes before operating it again. If your compressor features an electrical reset switch, make sure this is activated before you try to power on your compressor again.

Air Compressor Troubleshooting Basics

My air compressor is consuming too much oil – It is normal for your compressor to consume oil. Most of the oil that is depleted enters the air tank as part of the compression process. However, excess consumption that is not typical to normal use should be addressed.

  • Check that the air filter is clean and securely mounted.
  • Inferior oil (budget/unbranded) can burn more easily and can increase wear on your compressor.
  • Ensure you are operating the compressor within the duty cycle (see your owner’s manual).

My air compressor runs hot whenever I use it – The two main reasons for an overly hot compressor are; running over the duty cycle, or operating the compressor in a warm climate with poor ventilation. Exposed elements on the compressor will always become hot, simply because air heats as it is compressed. Most compressors will automatically shut down when they reach a temperature threshold. Ensure you are always within the duty cycle, and avoid using the compressor in direct sunlight or in a small space that lacks adequate airflow.

My air compressor slows down or seizes – A compressor that slows down during operation may not be receiving regular voltage from the power supply. Ensure that no other devices are running from the same circuit. Try testing your compressor on another outlet, and ensure that it is directly connected rather than running through an extension cord.

If your compressor completely seizes, and there are no known electrical faults, there may be a problem with the lubricant coating (oil-less), or oil level (oil lubricated). If you experience this fault with an oil-less compressor you will need to contact a service center or the manufacturer.

If you identify the problem to be oil related, check the oil level and ensure that the oil is clean. Clean oil will have no signs of debris, and will be amber in color. Dark brown or black oil should be replaced immediately. (Also see our Air Compressor Oil Guide).

My air compressor is making a knocking sound while running – Knocking can be a serious problem with the piston inside the cylinder. As soon as you identify knocking, discontinue using your compressor to avoid further damage. Contact a service center or the manufacturer immediately.

My air compressor is not holding pressure – A leaking compressor can mean that you work less efficiently, but you also run the risk of overusing the motor as it struggles to maintain pressure.

Check for leaks by applying a mixture of detergent and water to all seals and connections on the compressor.

Run the compressor and check for bubbles. If you identify a leak, check that the connections around the leak are properly secured. Some leaks can be caused by cracked piping, or damaged components.

Contact a service technician or the manufacturer.

My air compressor problem is low pressure – Follow the above instructions for a compressor that is not holding pressure. Additionally, check the air intake. A dirty or clogged intake will prevent air entering the cylinder. This can mean long charge up times and rapid pressure consumption. Finally, ensure that the tools you are using do not exceed the rating of the compressor.

How to perform air compressor troubleshooting check valve – If the tank is not holding pressure and the air can be heard escaping from the unloader valve (this is the valve that releases a burst of pressure immediately after the motor shuts off), you will need to perform troubleshooting on the air compressor check valve.

Begin by storing as much air in the tank as possible, and then shut down the compressor. Locate the feeder cable that runs from the compressor to the tank inlet.

At the tank end is the check valve, and on the compressor end will be a compression nut. Unthread the compression nut and observe. If air feeds back from the tank, then the check valve is defective.

If there is no air coming from the tank, then the check valve is performing as intended. Check for other leaks, and contact a repair technician or the manufacturer.

Always Choose Professional Repairs

Although things like air filters and oil are intended to be user replaceable, most components are not designed to be replaced by the average user. Above you will find troubleshooting steps to identify some of the most common faults, although in some cases you will need to go back to the manufacturer or a licensed repair technician. Complex air compressor issues repair is best left to professionals.

Remember: Always follow safety instructions and operating procedures. Read all documentation before using a new air compressor.

Different models have different tolerances, and there may be specific air compressor troubleshooting steps for your unit. When in doubt, contact a professional or the manufacturer hotline.

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Knowing how to do basic air compressor troubleshooting can help a lot when something goes wrong.This guide helps you save time and money!