When your air compressor has failed, should you repair it or replace it? The choice between replacement and repair isn't always obvious. Most of us don't want to keep pouring money into an older unit that is likely to fail again soon. On the other hand, replacing an industrial air compressor is a considerable capital expense—one you don't want to make before you need to. How do you know which is the right decision? It depends on your air compressor, your available resources, and your business goals.
How Do You Choose Between Replacing or Repairing a Compressor?
When an air compressor goes down, your entire business may have come to a screeching halt—especially if you rely on the air compressor for production like you do electricity. An emergency down situation can lead to expensive business losses and production delays. Plant managers need to quickly make a decision on whether to replace or repair the lungs of their plant!
The choice between replacing and repairing an air compressor isn't always clear. Both decisions have costs and benefits. You need to consider:
- What are the total costs of replacing vs. repairing?
- How quickly will you be able to get back up and running, and how much downtime cost?
- How reliable will the compressor be, and how important is it for your facility to have a reliable supply of clean, dry compressed air?
- How well does your existing compressor meet your needs when it is working?
When to Repair an Air Compressor
Is it worth it to fix an air compressor? Repairing an existing air compressor will almost always be less expensive than buying a new air compressor. Air compressor repair or service may be needed if:
- You notice oil leaking or excessive oil in the air lines.
- The compressor fails to start or fails to stop.
- You are experiencing tripped breakers or air compressor overheating.
- You notice air leaks in the compressor.
- You are experiencing pressure or flow problems.
- You have a broken hard to source compressor component.
Many air compressor repairs can be made fairly simply, quickly and cost-effectively. If that is the case, repairing the air compressor may be the best option. On the other hand, putting money into a compressor that is near the end of its life or likely to need a lot of additional compressor repairs in the future may not make sense. Repairing an air compressor may be the better option if:
- The compressor is relatively new or still under warranty.
- You have an extended warranty that will cover the repair.
- Parts are easily sourced and not too expensive.
- The unit is generally reliable, energy efficient and in good operating condition.
- The unit is able to keep up with your demand for air when it is working.
- You can find a qualified service technician who can fix the air compressor.
When to Replace an Air Compressor
When is it time to replace an air compressor? Air compressor replacement will cost more up front than repairing your existing compressor, but sometimes a compressor change is the better decision in the long run. A new replacement air compressor can reduce your energy costs, improve compressor reliability and uptime, and help you prepare for future business needs. When considering whether to replace a compressor, look at the big picture of your business needs. A new air compressor may be in order if:
- Your existing compressor is nearing the end of its service life.
- The existing compressor has been generally unreliable, and you anticipate needing more repairs in the future.
- Your business depends on 100% compressed air uptime, and your existing compressor is not up to the task.
- You have an older compressor model, and it is difficult to find parts or qualified service technicians who can fix the compressor.
- Your air compressor is not energy efficient, and a new compressor would substantially reduce energy costs.
- Your existing compressor is too small to keep up with your compressed air demand, or you anticipate needing a larger compressor in the future.
- You qualify for compressed air energy incentives from your energy company that may help defray the costs of a replacement compressor.
Making the Right Decision: Pros and Cons of Replacement vs. Repair
The decision to replace or repair a compressor really comes down to a cost-benefit calculation. Here are some pros and cons of replacement vs. repair.
Less money up front (usually)
May be faster and less disruptive (depending on the repair)
A new, more reliable compressor
Option to resize to better meet your demand
Option to keep older compressor as a backup
An older, less reliable, and less energy-efficient unit
Future repair costs and downtime
Higher energy bills
More money up front
May require additional changes (e.g., compressor room set up, ductwork, etc.)
Repairing or Replacing an Air Compressor: Top Three Factors to Consider
What factors should you consider when deciding between replacing or repairing an air compressor? There are many variables that come into play, including the cost of repair vs. replacement, how much time you would need to wait for a repair vs. installation of a new air compressor, and your overall business goals. But there are three key questions to ask in the replace-or-repair decision: how old is the compressor? How reliable is it? And how energy efficient is it?
1. Air Compressor Age
Air compressor age may be the number one consideration in deciding if the air compressor is worth repairing. If the compressor is new and under warranty, of course repair will be the way to go. If the compressor is no longer under warranty but still fairly new, it probably still makes sense to repair—especially if the repair is relatively simple and the unit performs well otherwise. If the compressor is nearing the end of its service life, it may be worth considering replacement. The air compressor repair cost and the likelihood of future repairs will factor into this decision.
How long do air compressors last? A high-quality industrial air compressor can easily last twenty years or longer if it is well taken care of. The air-end of an oil-flooded rotary screw compressor (the part that makes the air) typically lasts 35,000 to 40,000 hours before needing a rebuild, while the air-end for a rotary vane air compressor can last 100,000 hours or more. Rebuilding the air-end of an otherwise good-condition rotary screw air compressor can be well worth it to keep the unit going for another 35,000+ hours.
2. Air Compressor Usage History
The usage history of the air compressor may also be part of the repair-or-replace decision. If the machine has been reliable overall and is still within its expected service life, it's probably worth repairing. But if the air compressor has a history of problems, it might be time to think replacement, even if the unit isn't that old. If you are experiencing a lot of periods of downtime with various causes, it's possible you just have a lemon—and at some point, it's time to throw in the towel.
It's also possible that the compressor was just never sized properly for your needs. If the compressor has been running at or over its capacity for some time, the strain may simply be too much for it. If this is the case, you should consider replacing it with a larger air compressor that is better equipped to handle your demand. It may be possible to keep your old unit as an emergency backup or secondary air compressor once it is repaired.
Also, consider how your compressor has been installed and maintained. Is a poorly ventilated compressor room causing your compressor to overheat? Has the oil been allowed to get too low, or have you gone too long between oil changes? Has varnish built up inside the machine? A poorly maintained air compressor is likely to have a lot of emergency-down situations through no fault of its own. It's important to diagnose and fix problems that may have contributed to your compressor's demise before simply replacing it with a new unit that will soon exhibit the same problems.
3. Air Compressor Energy Efficiency
Air compressors use a lot of electricity—in fact, Energy Star estimates that up to 75% of the lifetime costs of an industrial air compressor come from energy use. If you have an older air compressor, you may benefit from replacing your unit with a newer model that is more energy efficient. A replacement air compressor may pay for itself within a few years simply through lower energy bills.
For example, if you are using an older fixed-speed air compressor, it may make sense to upgrade to a variable speed drive (VSD) air compressor rather than try to keep your older unit running. A VSD compressor can significantly reduce energy costs. And many energy companies or consortiums—including ComEd (Illinois), Xcel (Minnesota), Focus on Energy (Wisconsin) and DTE Energy (Michigan)—offer incentives to cover the cost of replacing a fixed-speed air compressor with a new VSD compressor. These incentives, when added to the energy savings, can make it well worth it to consider replacing your air compressor with a more energy-efficient model.
Is Replacing a Compressor More Expensive?
Yes, replacing an air compressor is usually more expensive up front than repairing your old compressor. But when you consider the total lifetime costs of the air compressor, replacement may end up being less expensive in the long run. In addition to the direct costs of repairing or replacing the air compressor, you also have to consider energy use and downtime. Looking at the total lifecycle cost of your air compressor can help you make a smart decision.
- What are the monthly and annual electricity costs of the new unit vs. the existing unit?
- How often does your air compressor go down, and how much does downtime cost your operation in terms of lost productivity, client relationships, and other direct and indirect costs?
- Are you anticipating additional repairs in the near future, such as an air-end rebuild?
- How many more years would you expect to get out of the compressor if it is repaired?
Conclusion: Replacement vs. Repair
Deciding between replacing vs. repairing an air compressor is very much like trying to decide whether to continue to repair an older vehicle or take the plunge and buy a new car. Repairing is usually the first choice for manufacturers, but there comes a time when putting more money into repairs just doesn't make sense.
Not sure whether to replace or repair your air compressor? Fluid-Aire Dynamics can help. We offer emergency air compressor repair service to get you back up and running quickly—and if we think your unit isn't worth the cost of repair, we'll tell you. If it's time to replace your air compressor, we have a large number of units in stock and ready to install. We can even provide an air compressor rental to keep you going in the meantime.
Contact us for expert advice on air compressor replacement or repair.