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Air compressors can sometimes struggle to restart after reaching the cut-off pressure and switching off. The question is, why won’t the air compressor restart under load? This article will provide all the possible reasons as to why your air compressor won’t restart under load, along with existing reader questions & responses.

Table of Contents

Reasons Air Compressor Will Not Restart

When the air compressor will not restart, the compressor troubleshooting process is similar to that of when your air compressor won’t start in the first place.

Except, that you know for sure your air compressor will run as it just did that. But now, that the pressure in the tank has reached cut-out and the air compressor stopped, the compressor will not restart when air is used.

If the compressor won’t start, there are a number of conditions that will cause this. These include:

  • Power supply
  • Overheating mot
  • Faulty unloader valve
  • Faulty capacitor

Power Supply

Since the compressor was just running, you can typically pass on checking the power supply. The compressor is trying to restart, which means that power is still getting to the motor circuit. If it was running before, the compressor tank pressure reached cut out and the compressor stopped normally, it’s likely that the power supply is okay.

Overheating Motor

If you’ve run the air compressor for a long time in a single session, totally ignoring the fact that many air compressors have a duty cycle and need time to cool down every ten minutes or so, it may be that the motor has overheated.

Compressor motors often have an air compressor thermal overload switch in them which trips open and stops the power to the compressor motor if it gets too hot. If you’ve been abusing your compressor a bit in terms of how long you’ve had it running, see the page on this site about duty cycle for some tips.

Faulty Unloader Valve

One of the easiest diagnoses is to determine if the compressor unloader valve is working. Check out our Air Compressor Unloader Valve Explained, Adjustment & Common Problems guide if you don’t know what the unloader valve is. If the unloader isn’t working your compressor may not restart, though it wants to.

If you pull the power cord, open the tank drain, and let the tank empty completely, you are emulating what the unloader valve is designed to do. Once the tank is empty, make sure to close the drain and plug the compressor back in.

If it starts easily now, then you can be pretty sure that the compressor unloader valve isn’t working properly, and you will need to correct that.

Faulty Capacitor

In the simplest of terms, a start capacitor boosts the compressor motor to help get it going. If the start cap is weak or failing, though it tries to, your air compressor motor may not re-start, even though it had been working fine just a short time before.

Checking the start capacitor will require a bit of fiddly work, including removing it from the motor side without shocking yourself, and using a multi-meter to check it. Visit

Is your air compressor still not re-starting? Is it because the air tank is full? Please read on!

Air Compressor Won’t Start Under Load

When an air compressor won’t restart after the air tank is full, it suggests that the check valve is stuck in the open position. This will cause a reverse pressure through the system from the tank into the compressor pump itself, meaning the compressor motor struggles to restart the compressor overcoming the tank pressure.

Air compressors have unloader valves for this same reason, to remove compressed air from between the tank and the compressor pump to enable restarting. Therefore, this could also be an unloader valve problem.

Testing if Check Valve is Preventing Compressor Restarting With Pressure

To test if the check valve is stuck open, release pressure from the tank until you reach and go below the cut-in pressure for the compressor motor. You should hear the pressure switch click to indicate the motor is being provided power. If the compressor doesn’t pump, it’s likely you have a check valve issue.

Diagnosing if Unloader Valve is Stopping Air Compressor Restart Under Pressure

To diagnose if the unloader valve is working, simply listen to the compressor closely as it reaches the cut-off pressure. Just after the compressor stops running you should hear a short sharp discharge of air from the unloader valve usually located on the pressure switch itself). If you don’t hear the unloader valve releasing pressure, this could be the cause of your air compressor not restarting when there’s pressure in the tank.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What causes an air compressor not to start?

The first thing you should do when your compressor won’t start is ensuring that the unit is receiving power. It is likely that a fuse could have been blown or that a breaker has been tripped. Check the power supply, the unloader valve, the check valve, motor, and capacitor to diagnose your problem.

Reader Questions & Responses

Compressor Will Only Start With Little Or No Pressure In Tank

Question

Bill, my compressor will only start with little or no pressure in the tank. The compressor is a Northern Industrial Tool 2 HP 8 Gallon.

The compressor will only start with no or very little pressure in the system and will fully charge starting from there. When it runs and reaches the pressure at which it should turn on it struggles and eventually trips the breaker on the unit.

Northern Industrial Tool 2 HP 8 gallon air compressor
Photo: manualzz.com

From reading all your posts it seems it’s either the start capacitor or the start relief valve? Is there any way to tell the difference or any other recommendations? Thanks,  by Jay (Enfield, CT)

Question

Jay, from the sound of it, your compressor may have an unloader valve problem.

The unloader valve’s job is to open when the air compressor stops to allow any air trapped over the piston to escape. Why? Well, compressor motors run so close to the line in terms of their ability to start that any added load may be enough to prevent the compressor from starting unless all the air is let out of the tank.

There is a page detailing what they are and what they do link from the troubleshooting page. Check out the UNLOADER VALVE page and take corrective action as noted on that page. If this doesn’t resolve your issue, please post to this thread.


Air Compressor Will Not Start Under Load – Air Compressor Troubleshooting

Question

When the compressor is first turned on it will fill with air (because it doesn’t hold air), but when using it after it is full it does not want to start again and the motor cuts out.

Response

This sounds like the same issue that Jay was experiencing with his compressor in the post just above. I think that since it runs to cut out pressure when the tank is empty, and then shuts off, you may not get a typical “unload”.

Tell you what. Drain the tank to zero, close the drain, plug it in, and listen to the unloader valve as the pressure in the tank nears and then reaches cut-out pressure. When the compressor stops, does a blast of air come out of the unloader valve?

If not, then there is likely air pressure trapped over the piston, and when the compressor tries to start, it cannot overcome the additional load, and the motor cuts out on overload.


If you have any questions regarding an air compressor not restarting underload, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!