Person holding black temperature gauge that is connected to a red air compressor

Top 5 Tips to Help You Choose the Right Air Compressor

Shopping for air compressors can be an overwhelming task, especially if you’re a first-time purchaser. Between petrol, diesel, electric, hydraulic and under bonnet systems available in a range of different sizes and powers, it can be useful to do your research. Luckily, your selection can be really easy to narrow down as most of them are designed for specific uses. If you know exactly what you plan on using your compressor for it’s much easier to ma­ke a choice. 

What Are You Using It for?

The first thing you need to determine before even narrowing down your options is what you plan on using it for. If you’re planning on using it for light work such as pumping car tyres or blowing up inflatable objects, you won’t need a high-power air compressor and can save money buying a smaller machine. As compressors can get pretty bulky, this also means you can opt for a lighter and compact machine. On the other hand, as you would expect, heavy tools require more pressure and volume, so you will need to select a machine with high volume and pressure to ensure a sufficient power supply. To determine which machine is going to be suitable, consider the pressure (PSI) and volume (CFM) requirements of the tools you’ll be using the air compressor for that your work efficiency can be optimised. 

Yellow portable air compressor being used on a car tyre

Pressure (PSI)

An air compressor’s PSI is an indicator of how powerful the air is that’s being produced. Pressure and volume can be adjusted down for less powerful tools, but you cannot produce higher pressure or volume than what it’s designed to do.

For instance, if you need to power a tool that requires 150PSI, your air compressor must have a PSI of at least 150. Therefore, it’s recommended that you find your tool with the highest PSI and purchase an air compressor that matches this. At the same time, it’s important not to power tools that don’t require as high PSI with too much air pressure as this can damage tools.

Blue air compressor gauges

Free Air Delivery (CFM)

Free air delivery, otherwise known as CFM, is a measure of the volume of air that’s produced by a compressor. This is important to know if you have a variety of air tools you plan on operating at once, where you will need to ensure your compressor’s CFM either equal or surpasses the total CFM requirements.

Let’s say you’re using the same air compressor to power multiple tools at the same time: a sander (14cfm), drill (10cfm) and saw (6cfm). You’ll want to get a compressor that can produce at least 30cfm or air (14+10+6).

Where are You Using It?

If you’re using it on a residential construction site, you may need to be aware of the noise level of your machine and if it will disrupt the peace of the neighbourhood. Other workplaces, mining and construction sites often have compliance standards whereby decibel ratings, safety ratings and fuel type must be adhered to. Luckily, there are plenty of options that are specifically designed to meet these standards, so it’s helpful to have these compliance standards on hand when making your decision. If you’re especially conscious about the noise, diesel-powered air compressors are the quietest of them all.

Portable Air Compressors

Additionally, if you will be using the air compressor for off-site projects, you’ll need to consider the portability of your air compressor. Portable air compressors are lighter, smaller and more compact than regular air compressors and are perfect if you’re looking for your next 4WD adventure. Look for compressors that provide free air-on-demand; Otherwise, you’ll need to carry an extra tank if your portable air compressor has a small tank capacity.

Timber workbench with an orange compressor and vacuum underneath.

VMAC Air Compressors

VMAC stands for Vehicle Mounted Air Compressors. These compressors are specially designed to be mounted and installed onto your vehicle as opposed to sitting in the tray of your ute. VMAC air compressors are also known as under-bonnet air compressors as they sit within the engine bay of your vehicle. The two most common types of mobile air compressors are reciprocating air compressors and rotary screw air compressors. Reciprocating air compressors are more traditional and have been around for decades, while rotary screw air compressors use modern technology to allow greater air pressure and longer durability. 

Price or Quality?

While it can be tempting to choose the cheap option when shopping for an expensive machine, it’s important to always prioritise your requirements above cost. Many of the cheaper options are suited to occasional, lighter use; therefore, if you’re planning on using yours every day for high power machinery a cheap option is not going to cut it. Additionally, some cheaper machines are higher maintenance, and frequent maintenance may not suit some busy workplaces. It is highly recommended that you carefully weigh up all your options before deciding to go for a cheaper option. 

How Often are You Using it?

Consider how often you’ll be using your machine when thinking about the duty cycle. The air compressor’s duty cycle refers to the ratio between when your compressor is working its hardest and when it’s in its resting or cooling down phase. You’ll often find that compressors that operate more than 60% of the time will tend to become faulty at a faster rate and not work as well as they should. If you know that you’ll be using your compressor quite frequently, you may want to invest in an air compressor that has a larger duty cycle and a bigger tank compressor.

3 large air compressors in a garage

Seek Professional Help

Finally, one of the smartest decisions you can make to ensure you’re choosing the right air compressor is to engage with a professional. Air compressor experts are passionate about their field and are here to help you choose the right machine. They’ll be able to offer expert advice based on their extensive knowledge of each machine and make recommendations based on customer feedback. Contrary to what some people believe, they won’t just try and sell you the most expensive option but will truly take into consideration your specifications and needs.


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