Compressed Air for DIY Home Car Repairs
Do you need compressed air for at home car repairs? The short answer is, no you don’t. However, you should read this article covering the pros and cons of having compressed air available for car repair projects before making a final decision about buying a compressor.
Compressed Air at Home
Having an air compressor available for driveway auto repairs can elevate your game to the next level. Unfortunately, this increased capacity can bring troubles along with it. As an example, running pneumatic automotive tools and having pressurized air available can increase the chance of injury.
On the other hand, if I’m replacing head gaskets on a V-6 engine I certainly wouldn’t want to crank out each individual bolt by hand. Although an air ratchet might come in handy when reassembling the V-6, you never want to use air tools for tightening the head bolts themselves. Here we’ll talk about some more pros and cons of purchasing a compressor specifically for at home auto repairs. We’ll also talk a little about price versus capacity if you should decide that owning one of these things is right for you.
Pros of Having a Compressor at Home
When we look at the positive things that come with compressed air, many revolve around speed and power. One of the most common automotive maintenance services can represent a solid argument for the pro side of this discussion. Most automotive manufacturers recommend a tire rotation every 6,000 to 10,000 miles. Doing so can extend the life of the tires dramatically.
Cranking off each individual lug nut by hand can turn this easy service into an all day and dreaded maintenance procedure. However, a half inch drive impact can make quick work of this task. It can also make you feel like a member of a NASCAR pit crew. Using a torque stick at the end of your thunder gun can eliminate the chances of over tightening the lug nuts. Improper lug nut torque is the number one cause of a brake pulsation caused by warped rotors.
Cons of Owning a Compressor
With great power comes great responsibility. The addition of the compressor should go hand-in-hand with additional auto repair safety equipment. One of these safety devices is often overlooked. Sound blocking earmuffs should always be used around pneumatic impact tools. Failure to wear noise canceling headphones will almost certainly result in hearing loss. Another thing to consider is the electric compressors commonly used in at home auto repairs are just as loud as the tools they run. In fact, these things are so loud it might be worth having a conversation with the neighbors and family members before you lay down the money to purchase this equipment.
Another disadvantage of having the power of compressed air at your disposal is the tendencies to miss use it. There are times when the old-fashioned hand ratchet or box end wrench should be used to avoid damaging fasteners and components. A prime example is the replacement of spark plugs. If you whip out the plug with your half inch drive impact gun you could take the threads of the cylinder head along with it. In this scenario you have just turned an easy weekend project into something that might be beyond your capabilities. Use an abundance of caution whenever removing bolts from aluminum threaded holes. It’s also a bad idea to install or remove oil drain pan plugs with air tools.
Compressor Price and Capacity
If you don’t spend enough, you could wind up with a unit that lacks the capacity to run air hungry tools like an impact hammer, 3/8 drive air ratchet or a pneumatic orbital sander. If you spend too much money on a compressor that exceeds your needs this is just as wasteful as buying too small. Larger compressors draw more power and might even require the installation of a dedicated 220 V outlet instead of using a standard 110 V household outlet.
The good news for do-it-yourself car mechanics is a 1.5 hp compressor with a 20 gallon reserve tank is a nice compromise between price and capacity. These units sell in the range of $250-$500. Although they have the ability to run at a maximum of 150 psi, try setting the output pressure to 90 psi. This is sufficient to run common pneumatic automotive tools and reduces compressor run time needed to fill the reserve tank.