If you’re new to the air compressor market, you may think that you can’t get a good air compressor for less than $1000. Most manufacturers certainly aren’t going to imply that anything other than that is the case. However, the truth is that not only can you get a great air compressor for less than one grand, but you can get a model you’ll love for less than $500.
It’s not always easy to shop for these great machines online, however. Some manufacturers strip out everything unnecessary to lower the price while keeping the quality high, and some just tank the quality. We want to help you make sure that you get one of the former while avoiding those models that will quickly break down and leave you frustrated.
Our reviews are designed to show you the good and bad about each air compressor and to help you find one that meets your needs. We’ve also included a short buyer’s guide to help you think through the buying process, so you can select like a pro.
We also have an article where we compare & review portable air compressors.
|Industrial Air IL1682066.MN|
|California Air Tools 10020C||83 lbs||4.65/5|
|Makita MAC2400 Big Bore|
(Best for the Money)
The Industrial Air IL1682066.MN is the best overall air compressor on our list, and you can get it for a hair under $500. This model comes wired for 120-Volt outlets, but it can be easily rewired to work on a 240-Volt circuit if you have one available. It comes with a large, 20-gallon tank, which should keep you working for long periods of time without having to stop and wait on the air compressor to refill. It can provide up to 135 PSI, which is more than enough for most tools. It can also add 5.3 CPM when working at 90 PSI, so you may be able to work indefinitely with more air-efficient tools.
This model also comes with a cast-iron pump, which will provide good strength and excellent durability. That’s a big part of the reason that it’s hard to find complaints about mechanical failure with this model. Our only quibble with this model is that it could have gauges that were larger. The ones included with this model are on the small side. Still, if you’re looking to get a powerful air compressor with a large tank for less than $500, this is your best option.
If you’re looking to get an air compressor for far less than $500, but still have heavy-duty air compressor needs, then the California Air Tools 10020C could easily be the model you’re looking for. It’s cheaper than the previous model, and also runs more quietly. It puts out 70 decibels of sound, which isn’t exactly quiet, but relative to many other compressors you’re not going to find this model as oppressive. It also features an oil-free pump, which won’t require any oil over the rest of its lifespan, and will require little maintenance relative to other pumps.
At 90 PSI this air compressor can provide 5.3 CFM, which is quite good, and means you’ll be able to rapidly refill the air compressor so that you can get back to work. It comes wired for 120 Volts, but you can rewire for 240 Volts if that suits your operation better. What keeps this model out of first place is its crummy fittings, which can be replaced in a few minutes for a few dollars, but we’d like to see better ones installed from the get-go. Overall, this is a decent model, and with better fittings, it could take first place.
The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore air compressor takes its name from the single large piston it uses to replenish the air thank. Everything about this model is done with bigness and toughness in mind. The entire engine is mounted in a roll cage, and while we wouldn’t advise you to roll any air compressors, this is one of the few models that could shrug off such an accident. It isn’t oil-free, but it does an exceptional job of keeping the motor cool while it works, which leads to a much longer life relative to most air compressors.
You can also get it for about 40 percent less than our top model, making this one the best for the money on our list. However, it does have some flaws that keep it out of our top two. It’s noticeably heavy relative to its capacity and power, weighing 81 pounds, and since it lacks wheels, that’s something you’ll notice. It also has gauges for operation and maintenance on all four sides, so you can’t permanently position it against a wall. Still, if you’re looking for a rugged air compressor at a great price, this is the model for you.
When it comes to buying an air compressor for less than $500, you want to make sure that you’re getting a good deal for your money, and that means thinking through a few critical areas.
You want to get as much power as you can, but you should also make sure that power is translating into a high CPM so that your air compressor refills more quickly when you drain the tank. 240-Volt air compressors generally last a bit longer than 120-Volt models and use slightly less power, so they can be a good long-term investment if you have access to a 240-Volt outlet.
You also want to make sure that you’re getting an engine that will last. Oil-free pumps don’t require much maintenance or regular oil changes. Instead, their internal components are coated in Teflon and rest in oil that doesn’t need to be changed, and they’ll last as long as the Teflon coating does. Generally, that means years and maybe a decade or two. Machines that require regular oil changes and maintenance are more expensive in time and money, but they can last for decades when properly cared for.
The Industrial Air IL1682066.MN is our top air compressor due to its great maximum pressure, compatibility with 120 and 240 Volts, and its cast-iron pump. In second is the California Air Tools 10020C which comes with quiet operation and an oil-free pump, though its poor-quality fittings drop it out of the top position. The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore air compressor is the best overall for the money, due to its cool operation, roll-cage durability, and fantastic price.
We hope that our reviews and buyer’s guide have taught you everything that you need to know about air compressors and have helped you find a model that’s right for you.
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