Best Air Compressor Under $500 2020 – Reviews & Buying Guide

Air compressors can assist us to do work in many ways. So if you like to do minor maintenance and repair work yourself, then you certainly need an air compressor. Hand tools are fast becoming things in the past. Everything now seems like moving so fast and an air compressor is a handy tool to speed things up. If you wonder how to get one, we are here to guide you on how to choose the best air compressor under $500.

First of all, what is an air compressor? An air compressor is a mechanical hand tool used to compress air.  So it can use either electrical energy, diesel or gas to produce such power. It forces air into the tank to increase pressure. The compressed air in the tank now provides the power ready for use in a variety of ways.

You can use it to power nail gun for carpentry works, spray gun for painting, attach it to ratchet tool to remove bolts and many other jobs around the house.

Best Air Compressor Under $500 2020

Top 5 Air Compressor Under $500 Reviews

The specifications and functions stated on an air compressor would probably make you crazy because you’d have no clue on what they mean. So don’t worry, we have made it a lot easier for you.

We have spent many hours to scrutinize details of many different models and brands and finally come up with top 5 models offered in the market. Either you’re looking for best air compressor for home garage or best air compressor for painting, we are here to guide you.

1. Makita Big Bore Air Compressor

This is one tough-looking device with cast iron cylinder. It is engineered to be highly durable so that it can operate at tough sites.

The twin-stacked tank has a capacity of 4.2 gallon and able to stand a pressure of 130 PSI.

The pump is lubricated by oil.  Therefore it runs at lower temperature as well as reduced wear and tear. Furthermore, it has thermal overload built into it to protect the motor.

The design is such that the inner working parts is covered by a cage-like cover. Hence, the cover acts as a protective shield to withstand rough conditions at the work site.

Pros

  • Tough and durable with cast iron cylinder.
  • Twin-stacked tank that produces high pressure.
  • Operates at low temperature.
  • Easy and cheap maintenance.
  • 12 months manufacturer’s warranty.

Cons

  • Tank capacity is little bit small.

2. California Ultra Quiet Air ToolsBest for Multipurpose Uses

As the name suggests, this air compressor is very quiet because it operates at a low 1680 RPM. Not only that, it can also run continuously for a long time.

Furthermore, it has an oil-free dual piston pump designed to be used at all weather conditions.  Likewise, it is suitable to be at uneven terrains due to absence of oil in the pump.

A wheel kit is attached to this air compressor.  Hence it is easy to move it around despite the large capacity tank.

A drain valve situated at the bottom of the tank ensures water flows out smoothly.

Above all, this air compressor is multi-purpose. You can use it to pump car or bike tires, as well as using it to remove bolts and nuts. It is also one of the best air compressor for air tools.

Pros

  • A very quiet air compressor
  • Oil-free pump for convenient operation
  • Simple machine and worth buying
  • High volume air flow
  • 12 months manufacturer’s warranty

Cons

  • Some parts has poor welding work

3. California Ultra Quiet Air Tools with Aluminum Twin Tanks – Our Top Pick

Similar to the model above with the same brand, this air compressor operates quietly, only smaller in size. However, due to its portability, it’s more convenient to carry about. Therefore, it’s suitable for quick and easy maintenance work. If you’re looking for best portable air compressor for car, then this one might be your answer.

This air compressor operates as quiet as its sister mentioned above and can run continuously for a long time as well.

Furthermore, it has an oil-free pump which is very convenient to operate at various weather conditions. Likewise, it is suitable to be at uneven terrains due to absence of oil in the pump.

More importantly, this air compressor is multi-purpose. You can use it to pump car or bike tires, as well as using it on air tools to remove bolts and nuts conveniently.

Pros

  • A very quiet air compressor
  • Its motor is developed to extend duty cycle so that it can run continuously longer
  • High performance dual piston pump structure
  • Oil-free pump for convenient operation
  • Manufacturer’s warranty available

Cons

  • Intake filters stick out, making it awkward to carry
  • Quite a small equipment, not recommended for heavy duty work

4. Twin-Stack Portable Air Compressor

This portable air compressor is manufactured by Ingersoll-Rand, a well-established diversified industrial manufacturing company. Air compressor is one of the company’s best sellers.

It is devised to be portable and lightweight with ergonomic design to make it handy and convenient to hand-carry it around. This is simply one of the best small portable air compressor ideal for DIYers.

Similarly, it is user friendly and very easy to handle so that you will have an excellent experience using it.

Furthermore, being manufactured by an infamous company, its cast-iron cylinder is able to perform in the toughest conditions.

Above all, this air compressor is built to last with its durable outer and inner parts.

Pros

  • Great value-for-money buy
  • Portable, convenient and powerful motor perfect for DIYers
  • High performance dual piston pump structure
  • Reliable, durable and long-lasting
  • Quick fill from start to auto shut-off only takes about 1 minute

Cons

  • Quite loud for a small air compressor

5. ARB High Performance Portable Air Compressor

This machine is the most popular in ARB’s range of air compressors. It’s designed to be lightweight, using very high quality materials for durability.

Furthermore, there are two specifications available – portable and vehicle mounted kit. The portable version comes with an air hose (6 meters), battery fastener, inflation tool and off-course a carry case.  Meanwhile, the vehicle mounted version comes with cable assembly and mounting gadget so that you can install this air compressor easily to the vehicle.

Likewise, it’s designed to have high flow rate so that you can complete the work fast, like inflating tires effortlessly.

Also, the seal ensures it is free of moisture and dust.  Hence, this machine is suitable for harsh conditions outdoor jobs.

Above all, carbon fiber material seals the piston and the motor is protected from damage by extreme temperature condition.

Pros

  • 2 options available – portable and vehicle-mounted
  • High flow rate for fast work
  • Sealed from moisture and dust
  • Reliable, durable and long-lasting
  • Wirings are included

Cons

  • Small leaks could appear on the hose after heavy use
  • A bit over-priced

Buying Guide: Air Compressor Under $500

Probably, from the above-mentioned list you could have already identified one particular air compressor that suits your needs perfectly. However, many would still have a lot of things going in their mind.

One could’ve asked questions like what would be the best 30 gallon air compressor there are in the market to replace their old one. What tools are you going to use? Or, how frequent are you going to use it? Well, these are the detailed guide and analysis to consider before you decide one.

Type of Air Compressor

First, let’s have a look at how the basic mechanic behind how various types of air compressor motor work.

The most common of all is the reciprocating type. It works much like the car engine where the crankshaft move the pistons up and down. In this way, it creates a vacuum that draws the air in and then pushes the air out. This type produces more friction and also hotter and louder when in operation.

Another type is the rotary screw. It produces high power because it maximizes air intake and air going out. The moving parts are sealed with oil and therefore produce less friction, resulting in less maintenance cost over a period of time.

Lastly, there is a scroll type. It uses two circular pieces, one rotating, while the other remain stationary to produce compressed air. Operating in the cleanest and quietest conditions, it is ideal for indoor usage where cleanliness and silence are very important.

Motor Power

To many people, horsepower of the motor seems like the only factor to consider when buying an air compressor.  No matter what other specifications and accessories available, the level of work will decide how much power is needed.

However, many will get misguided by the marketing gimmick that exaggerates horsepower rating in order to increase sales. If you look at the horsepower specification indicated on the machine, it may not be the real power it is able to generate. Luckily there is a simple way to tell if the horsepower rating is real.

You can verify it by looking at how much amps that the motor will draw.  For example, a 5HP motor will run at 24 amps on a 220 volt circuit, whilst an overrated 5HP motor can only draw 15 amps on a 110 volt circuit.

In contrast, horsepower on a gas motor will need to produce almost twice as much power to same level of power that an electric motor produces.

Durability

Buying an air compressor is not like buying an electronic gadget. A smartphone or a laptop can only be used for a short duration, like a couple of years or maybe a little bit longer due to upgrading necessity.  In contrast air compressors technology doesn’t evolve that frequent.  So after buying one, you would intend to use it for a long time.  After all, it won’t get outdated in a space of 5 or 6 years at least.

For that reason, it is important to look at the build quality and durability of the compressor. You could ask about the life expectancy of the compressor. Generally, the higher the quality, the more expensive it would be. Since it is going to be used for a long time, it is worthwhile to invest a little bit more, which in the end would prove to be a smarter decision.

Probably, it is better to buy a bigger compressor.  For example, if you need 5 HP compressor, get the with higher capacity say at 10 HP. Therefore, you would not have to work you compressor to the fullest. In the long run your air compressor would have a longer running life.

Air Pressure Level

Air pressure is normally indicated by pounds per square inch (PSI). As a general indication, an air compressor can run appropriately at above 90 PSI.  However, 90 PSI may not be enough to produce a power to operate properly. The air compressor must have a higher shut-off pressure than that in order to maintain power at 90 PSI.

Furthermore, most air compressors normally kick in at more than 100 PSI. The normal range of air pressure level for hobby air compressor is between 125 to 135 PSI. We would suggest that you look at shut off level as high as possible because you need to consider the restrictions you might have in the hose and couplers.  These restrictions will cause the air pressure to drop significantly, that you may find your air compressor will not have enough power to operate.

Air Volume

We measure the amount of air in an air compressor in cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM rating depends on the size as well as speed of the pump.

CFM rating when the machine is not operating is meaningless. You will look at the correct CFM rating when the air compressor is working at 90 PSI or more.

Just like HP rating, CPM rating can also be exaggerated.  But as a general indication you should be looking at 3 to 4 CFM at HP rating of 90 PSI.

Tank Size

You may think that a large tank produces more power, but that is not necessarily be the case. Having a larger tank means that you can store more air in the compressor. By having more air storage you would not have to repeat the refill too often. Therefore, you can continue work for longer time.

In contrast, a smaller tank will only store smaller volume of air.  Hence, you need to rebuild pressure more often.

Therefore, you need to decide whether to opt for air compressor with small or big tank depending on the type of work you intend to do. Smaller tank is best for works with short break like air tools.  While bigger tank is suitable for job that requires less stop and go time like sanding.

Single or Double-Stage Air Compressors

There is a misconception that a double-stage air compressor has better quality compared to the single-stage one. It is not necessarily so.

A double-stage air compressor produces more pressure, like the name suggest, in two stages. Hence producing more air pressure. You would only need a double-stage air compressor if you really need high pressure for the intended work. Otherwise, a single-stage one would suffice.

Belt or Direct Drive

A belt-drive compressor is where the pump is worked through a belt connected to the motor. The belt is lubricated with oil for smooth running. By using the belt, the pump runs slower than the motor due to loss of energy in between. It normally has longer life span since there is less wear and tear. This type is more suitable for static work where you don’t have to carry the machine around or when you need more air volume.

In contrast, a direct drive air compressor is directly attached to the motor. Since the pump runs as fast as the motor, the life expectancy is shorter due to high wear and tear.  Furthermore it is normally oil free which produces more frictions. Some are engineered so that the pump will run faster than the motor itself, making it wears even faster.

Duty Cycle

A duty cycle of an air compressor is the duration of time that the machine can run continuously.  It is measured as a percentage of the number of minutes it can run in a span of 10 minute. For example if it can run for 6 minutes out of a 10 minute period, then the duty cycle is expressed as 60%.

So what does this figure tells you? A higher percentage would indicate that the air compressor has longer span of continuous working and shorter wait time for it to continue work again. In short the higher the percentage, the faster you can finish the job. As a result, an air compressor with high duty cycle would cost more, but it is worthwhile to get one.

Ability to Control Moisture

Moisture will develop every time you use the air compressor.  This is because compressed air will get hot and when it gets cool, then moisture will build up. The more and longer you use the air compressor, the more moisture will develop.

Look out for the air compressor that comes with moisture trap. However, moisture trap alone will not remove moisture totally, because the trap is designed to collect water droplets.  Water droplets will form only after the water vapor cools down, so some moisture will stay before it is collected by the trap.

Alternatively, it is better to get a bigger compressor, since it won’t get hot too easily compared to smaller one. Likewise, you can use drying agent such as silica gel to draw up moisture.

The Price

Off-course this is a big factor – you would also need to see how much money you would be prepared to part with.  In this guide we only list out those priced below $500, because anything above that would be considered a very high-end compressor and not really necessary for many people.

If you really on a tight budget, but in dire need of an air compressor, then you can go for the lower price at $100 to $200.  However, please bear in mind that these machines may not last that long and they normally vibrate more and noisier.

Best Brands of Air Compressor

You would be spoilt for choices when it comes to the brands that produce air compressor.  There are established brand names and there are also less known manufacturers. Like many other products, China is always there in the picture. However, we have studied many brands and would list out two of the best here.

Ingersoll-Rand

Ingersoll-Rand is probably one of the most well-known brand in industrial and commercial machinery. It started way back to 1871 in Ireland. Through the years it has progressively manufactured all kind of commercial, industrial, construction as well as household tools and portable equipment, including well received air compressors.

Today this company offers highly effective solutions and services to the various industries and markets, including household and daily life needs and necessity.

Innovation has always be at the center of perspective here at the company.  Through innovative products and methods, it promotes efficiency in operations and procedures.

The management is very progressive minded and always open to new things and out of the box way of thinking. Hence, creating new possibilities for employees and the community in general.

The company aspiration is to increase global reach, especially in the emerging markets.  This will be achieved by overcoming all kind of challenges and grabbing the opportunities undauntedly.

California Air Tools

It all started when a group of highly knowledgeable and expert industry professionals in the air tool section combined to form a company California Air Tools inc. the objective of the company was to design and produce new and inventive air tools that exceed consumer’s expectations. This is in line with the company’s mission to “Change the Way You Work”.

Similarly, the company stresses upon creation of machinery and tools that produce effective features and market-leading performance.

Likewise, the company concerns a lot on the highest level of customer service to provide exceptional consumer experience in using their high quality products.

Air Compressor FAQs

Still after going through what we have comprehensively presented thus far, you would somehow have a lot of queries.  Do not panic, we have also listed all the most important FAQs that you may find useful.

Q1: What is ‘stop-start’ and ‘constant run’?

A: A ‘stop-start’ is a switch to turn the compressor on and off with one push. A ‘constant run’ air compressor runs continuously to supply compressed air.  The stop-start type is better for household and small job uses, while the latter is more for industrial operations.

Q2: How often to change oil?

Answer: it is best to check with the manufacturer for frequency of oil change.  However, in general you should change oil every 8000 hours of use.

Q3: How often to change filters?

Answer: When tears and holes appear in the filter.  Anyway, you should clean the filter at least once a week.

Q4: Can I use a generator to run my electric compressor?

Answer: Yes you can, but it is advisable not to do so because a generator will produce uneven power, while a compressor requires a consistent power to run.

Q5: What is the one thing to ensure my air compressor lasts longer?

Answer: Just like in a car, you need to maintain it regularly and on schedule consistently.

Q6: Which power supply to run my air compressor?

Answer: For DIYers and home use, it is adequate to use the normal domestic electricity supply. You can also look at the information tab where the manufacturer indicates the Volts and the Amps.

Q7: What is meant by “capacity” of a compressor?

Answer: It is a measure on how fast your air compressor can bring air and it is measured in CFM (Cubic feet per minute).

Q8: Can I store my air compressor outdoor?

Answer: Yes, but you still need to cover it up so that it is not exposed to rain of snow.

Q9: Is it ok if water leaks in my air compressor tank?

Answer: No. Compressor tank is made of steel, so water will lead to corrosion. You don’t want that to happen at all.

Q10: How frequent do I need to service my air compressor?

Answer: It much depend on how often you use it. If you rarely use it, then it’s sufficient to service it annually. However, if you use it more frequently then it’s better to service it quarterly.

Final Verdict

After seeing all the choices you might still have a divided mind on which one is the perfect air compressor to help you with your work. If you ask us to single out for the best air compressor, we would choose our fourth item, i.e. Ingersoll-Rand Twin-Stack Portable Air Compressor. We think that this one has it all – reputable brand, portable, multi-purpose and value for money.


See similar buying guide: Best Car Wash Hose Attachment Buying Guide and Reviews 2020

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