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Which Is The Best Air Compressor for Auto Body Work?

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Painting or waxing a car takes more precise application of primer, paint and top coatings than many other painting jobs.

To get the paint or wax applied evenly without drips is best done with the aid of an air compressor. Not all air compressors are appropriate for the job. A key factor to look for in finding the best air compressor for auto body work is the CFM, or cubic feet per meter.

Portability weighs into the choice as it is best to be able to move the compressor around rather than possibly have a hose drag across a freshly painted or waxed surface.

To get the best quality job, we will look at three of the best machines suitable for auto body work. These will include the DeWalt D55146 Hand Carry Compressor, the California Air Tools 5510SE Air Compressor and the Porter-Cable PCFP02003 Pancake Compressor.

DeWalt D55146 Hand Carry Compressor

Main Features

This DEWALT D55146 Air Compressor isn’t designed for painting cars from the bare metal to fully finished but it is great for waxing and painting small spots to restore a car to looking its best.

At 90 PSI, it will give a CFM of 5 and has a 4 ½ gallon capacity for paint.

The DeWalt D55146 is easy to carry though it is made of steel, which makes it very durable. The valves and gauges connect quickly so you can get started with it very quickly. The machine is designed so it can be operated either laying flat or stood up vertically.


  • Runs very quiet at only 79 decibels. It is possible to have a conversation even while standing next to it.
  • It has a quick recovery time so jobs go much faster since little time is spent waiting on the compressor to recover.
  • Compact and light enough to be carried easily.


  • Some users have reported leaks developing.
  • The plastic grommets used tend to break. Same with other plastic parts.

This compressor can be purchased on Amazon at this link:

DEWALT D55146 4-1/2-Gallon 225-PSI Hand Carry Compressor with Wheels
  • 225 PSI max tank storage pressure provides a user with 80% more usable air than the industry leader; Tool Length : 33.5 inches
  • 5.0 SCFM at 90 PSI allows the compressor to recover quickly after its initial tank charge is exhausted
  • vertical stand feature and collapsible handle allows a user to save space by transporting or storing the compressor in a vertical position
  • 78 dBA operational noise level for a quieter work environment
  • 10-inch non-flat foam tires allow for easy transportation around the jobsite; Ehp efficient high pressure technology allows for longer pump and motor life

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Our view on this DeWalt D55146 Air Compressor

It is fine for light work, such as waxing and touch up painting. If this is all you need an air compressor for, this one could work well for you.

California Air Tools CAT-5510SE Air Compressor

Main Features

This is a popular choice of air compressor for all types of painting and waxing jobs because it works at a PSI low enough to put paint or wax where it needs to be without so much of it going into the surrounding air.

The fact it is oil free means it needs less maintenance. The 5 ½ gallon capacity allows you to keep spraying longer rather than stopping to let the tank fill again.

Up to 120 PSI can be delivered with this 1 HP air compressor and it can continuously run for quite a while due to the increase of the duty cycle.

You will get 3.10 CFM when the compressor is running at 40 PSI. At 90 PSI, you will get 2.20 CFM. Your paint or wax will go on evenly and smoothly with this air compressor.

As you will likely be working in an enclosed space to avoid getting debris on the fresh paint or wax, you will want a compressor that operates as quietly as possible. This air compressor will do that as it is built to be ultra quiet.


  • At 60 decibels, this is one of the quietest air compressors around.
  • The pump is maintenance free.
  • The increased duty cycle allows the machine to run longer at a time.
  • The large tanks allow it to operate smoothly.


Not much in the way of cons but a slow leak that some have reported.

This air compressor is on Amazon at

California Air Tools CAT-5510SE,1 HP,Portable Compressor,5.5 Gal,Horiz,120 PSI,2.2 CFM,1-Phase 110V
  • BRAND: California Air Tools
  • PHASE: 1
  • VOLTAGE: 110

Our Take on the California Tools CAT-5510SE Air Compressor

This air compressor turns up among the top choices for painting and finish work so it is no surprise it also turns up as a contender for the best air compressor for auto body work.

It will get the job done and the price is nice too.

Porter-Cable PCFP02003 Pancake Air Compressor

Main Features

The tanks on this air compressor have a 3.5 gallon capacity and able to deliver 2.0 CFM when running at 90 PSI. With its compact construction and light 26 pound weight, it is easy to move around.

Though there are quieter compressors, this one isn’t too loud at 82 decibels so it can be used in an enclosed space for quite a while.

The 1 HP motor and the rapid recycle means it can make small jobs go much faster. The construction is aimed at durability and the machine remains stable during use due to its rubber feet.


  • Easy to move from one place to another because of the light weight.
  • The oil-free pump doesn’t need maintenance.
  • Recovers quickly and can be run for a long time.


  • Takes longer to paint a car from scratch with this compressor.
  • Some report that there isn’t a clear way to change the pressure flow to the hose from the tank.

This air compressor is available from third party sellers through Amazon at

PORTER-CABLE PCFP02003 3.5-Gallon 135 PSI Pancake Compressor
  • 2.0 SCFM delivered @ 90 PSI pump, 3.5 gallon tank and 135 max PSI for longer run time and quicker recovery
  • Durable oil-free pump for long life and no maintenance
  • Low Amp 120V motor
  • Only 26 lbs. for easy portability

Is The Porter Cable PCFP02003 Air Compressor a top choice in our view?

If you need an air compressor light enough to carry easily, this one is worth considering. It seems to be better suited to spot painting and waxing a car than a from-scratch complete paint job. If this is all you need it for, it will be fine.

Our Final Pick

When considering which air compressor is the best air compressor for auto body work, we have to recommend the California Air Tools 5510SE Air Compressor as it will do everything in the way of auto body work while the other two are more for the smaller jobs.

Of course, it all depends on just what your needs are. If you are doing a complete paint job, including the finish top coat, The California Air Tools air compressor is definitely for you but if you just need it for detailing, spot painting and waxing your car, either of the other two will work just fine.

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