First in a Series of Occasional Posts on Shop Maintenance

Photography and Story by Jim Marotta


The Compressor Room

Few pieces of shop equipment are used as regularly as air compressors.  To ensure that an air compressor continues to run smoothly day after day, install compressors in a clean, well-ventilated area. Some shops place their compressor in a (clean, well-ventilated) room that's apart from the general shop area, often referred to as the compressor room. This special room may also include an external clean air intake for the compressor.

Protect your Investment

As a safety precaution to protect equipment that is run off the air compressor, install a filter, regulator, lubricator, and/or gauge in your system. Attach these units to the line no less than 10 to 12 feet from the air compressor. This distance allows the air to semi-cool before going through the filter, allowing the filter to do its job better.



To insure a constant supply of clean, regulated air, install a filter in your system. If you use air tools that require lubrication, add a lubricator or oiler. (Photography by Jim Marotta.)

Maintain Correct Pressure

A pressure gauge is essential for maintaining pressure within tool manufacturers' recommended levels. Incorrect levels can cause safety hazards and impair tool performance. The pressure gauge can also help detect any leaks which may be in the lines.

Extend the Lifespan of your Tools and Equipment

Install lubricators (often referred to as oilers) between the filter and the machine the air compressor powers. Lubricators feed oil directly into the air line, constantly lubricating your air tools. This lubrication can significantly extend the lifespan of your tools and equipment.

Keep it Cool

Use an air dryer to help cool the compressed air after it leaves the compressor on its way to your tools and equipment. This cooling of the air lowers the dew point, which turns any water vapor in the air into liquid. The dryer then removes the moisture from the air line. There are a few different types of dryers on the market today, so be sure to discuss with your supplier which one best fits your shop's needs based on what you will be using the compressed air for on a daily basis.

Stay Cool By Keeping It Clean

Keep the entire air compressor clean, as dirt can act as an insulator and cause the unit to run hotter than necessary. Under normal use, temperatures inside an air compressor can exceed 400° F. Anything you can do keep this temperature from escalating will help your air compressor run better and last longer.

Compressor Maintenance

Proper compressor maintenance includes: 1. Draining the water from the main tank, 2. Changing the oil, 3. Inspecting the drive belts, and 4. Changing the air filter.

1. Drain Water from the Main Tank

Drain water from the main air tank on the compressor daily (or if used less frequently, any day you use it). Drain the tank manually or through an automatic device that opens the bottom drain for a specified period of time each day.


Draining water from the tank daily prevents a buildup of moisture inside the tank that may cause premature tank failure. It also helps to keep the air supply clean and dry. (Photgraphy by Jim Marotta.)

2. Change the Oil

Change the oil in your compressor regularly. A low oil level can cause the pump to work harder and run hotter. Change the oil at least every 6 months or in severe applications, every 2 to 3 months.

3. Inspect the Belts

Perform a safety inspection on your shop's air compressor regularly. Inspect the drive belts for any signs of wear. If you find damage to either belt, always replace both belts at the same time. Replacing the belts as a matched set maintains balanced tension from the drive to the pulley.

4. Change the Air Filter

Change the air filter on your compressor regularly. Many filters can be cleaned and reinstalled.  A dirty filter causes the pump to work harder and run hotter.

Cleaning the air filter periodically helps the compressor to run cooler. (Photography by Jim Marotta.)


Removing a caliper piston from its bore is one of the many uses for an air compressor in a shop. Follow Jim's tips to keep this most valuable tool cool, extending its life as well as the lifespan of your air tools.

Like your air compressor, ChiltonPRO is one of a shop's most valuable and often used tools; while ChiltonDIY is here to guide the do-it-yourselfer and enthusiast. Like any good tool, key information when you need it saves you time and money. A good tool repays its cost many times over, so tool maintenance is an investment in yourself. Continue to invest in yourself by keeping your Chilton subscription up-to-date.

A muscle car enthusiast and drag racer, Jim Marotta is a freelance automotive writer with more than 20 years experience in the automotive industry.