Why Does My Air Compressor Trip The Breaker on Startup?

Are you noticing that your air compressor is tripping your circuit breaker as soon as you switch it on? This problem is more commonplace than you might think – and thankfully, there are ways and means through how you can fix it.

Your air compressor likely trips the circuit breaker on startup because there’s an internal problem with your machine. In some cases, it may be that you need a new filter, your motor may be broken, or you may even need to inspect the circuit breaker itself.

Circuit breakers are important because they can help us to stop excess current from causing accidents and even damage to your circuit. Essentially, they act like failsafes – so that if there is a problem in the supply, your breaker kicks into play.

Your circuit breaker’s there for a reason – and if it’s tripping when your air compressor starts up, there is a problem down the line that you need to address. In this guide, we’ll let you know what to do.


How to stop an air compressor from tripping the circuit breaker

Let’s be fairly clear on this from the beginning – if you are unsure of what to do when inspecting or troubleshooting an air compressor, you should always consult a professional technician or an engineer dispatched by your compressor’s manufacturer.

If you do wish to inspect the components of your air compressor yourself, then always make sure to wear a pair of goggles and electrical safety gloves before getting deep into troubleshooting.

We’d also advise that you should never open up your air compressor before consulting your warranty information. In some cases, limited warranties can be voided if you open or modify your machine in any way. Save yourself the extra expense and read your manual from front to back.

When inspecting your air compressor for internal issues, make sure that it is unplugged from the outlet and that it is powered down. Consult your operations manual on how to safely open up your machine and inspect. Various parts you will need to inspect for problems include the motor itself, the pulleys, the pump, and your belts, too. If any of these parts appear to not move properly or are stiff and/locked, it’s likely you will need to call in expert help.

Why your air compressor is tripping the circuit breaker

Generally, your air compressor is likely to trip a circuit breaker if there’s a problem with the electrical supply, or if there’s a mechanical issue in the compressor itself.

Your air compressor will, for example, trip the circuit breaker if your pumps or valves are stiff to move, or are locked in place. Sometimes, you may need to replace inner parts if this is the case. That will likely be a quicker option than most.

We’ll take you through how to inspect your air compressor thoroughly a little further down. In the meantime, here are some of the most common reasons why your air compressor is tripping the circuit breaker.

It’s a faulty motor

Air compressor motors come under a lot of pressure and are very likely to be a clear cause of your circuit breaker tripping. If your compressor motor is shorting, that means it’s pulling in too many amps at any one time. That’s going to raise red flags to your circuit breaker and therefore cause it to trip.

It may not be your motor alone that’s tripping the circuit breaker, however. It may be that there’s an associated part or component that is causing the issue. In any case, when your air compressor is tripping the breaker on startup, you are going to need to take your machine to a professional technician for further advice.

It’s your air filter

An easier remedy, thankfully, is simply cleaning out the air filter. Dirty or clogged air filters can cause all kinds of problems, meaning that you’re going to need to keep switching them out. A regular maintenance schedule is pivotal for all air compressors no matter the size or type. It’s a good idea to look into your own maintenance specifics via your manufacturer’s manual or website if you are unclear on what to do first.

If you have a dirty filter that’s tripped your breaker, it’s time to change it out – no ifs or buts. In most cases, switching out the air filter will be the first course of action to take, and it’s often the quickest fix.

Your extension cord is broken

Yes, believe it or not, the circuit breaker trip may be caused by issues in the cord you’re using. An extension cord is a complicated beast – and while there may not be any problems either at the air compressor or at the circuit itself, this midpoint connection could still trip your breakers.

A very easy way to see if this is the case is to unplug your air compressor and, if possible, plug it directly into a power outlet with enough capacity to handle the machine. If your circuit breaker doesn’t trip on direct insertion after a few minutes of breaking in your air compressor, then you are going to need to either replace your power extension or get it fixed.

Your circuit breaker is broken

In some cases, the problem may not be anything to do with your air compressor’s motor or filter. A faulty circuit breaker will, naturally, trip when it isn’t supposed to – and while new air compressors will hopefully arrive with fully functional breakers, older systems can develop faults over time.

It’s normally fairly easy to swap out a circuit breaker – however, for the best course of action, always follow your instruction manual and/or consult your compressor’s manufacturer for the safest steps to take next.

Your cylinders are clogged

Even the best value air compressors on the market have complex fittings, and in some cases, their internal cylinders may be getting clogged up to trip the breaker. If this is the case, you may need to replace said cylinders outright.

That, again, is likely to be a matter for a professional repair team. Whether or not you can physically tell that your cylinders are clogged, if it is your last option, get in touch with the manufacturer for advice.

It’s a pressure switch issue

Pressure switch issues can be rare, but they can still develop faults – in which case, it makes sense to have them inspected. If your pressure switch is tripping the circuit breaker, it will likely spark when activated. The only way to see this is to actively open up your air compressor and the breaker cover to check.

As this means powering up your air compressor and opening up your machine, we highly recommend this is an issue you consult your manufacturer with.

Your unloader valve isn’t working properly

Unloader valves can sometimes lead to circuit breaker headaches, and thankfully, this is another issue that should be relatively easy to fix. Generally, you’ll need to drain your tank of all its air in the first instance. Your unloader valve is going to cause issues when, on breaking down, it allows for pressure build-up in and around your piston.

In any case, if your circuit breaker is still tripping after you’ve drained your air compressor, then you’ll need to try something else. You need to drain your air compressor regularly of water and air in any case – now would be a good time!

Other potential causes

In very large air compressors, there may be a chance that your start capacitor is failing to work properly. In which case, this is a technical issue that an expert is going to need to look at for you.

It may also be that your pump is locking – as mentioned earlier in the guide, be sure that you inspect your internal workings carefully – or ask an expert technician to do so – if you are fairly sure this is the case.

Will I need to buy a new air compressor?

If you are finding that your air compressor isn’t starting up properly, or you’re scared to run your air compressor for a long time, it’s time to reach out for help. In rare cases, you’ll need to buy a whole new machine. However, with the best air compressors on the market that are still actively supported, it should be easy enough to seek out a repair.

In any case, don’t immediately assume that an air compressor tripping your circuit breaker is necessarily the end of the world! Make sure to address the points above and reach out to a manufacturer-approved technician if it’s a deeper issue at stake.