Air compressors are important pieces of equipment to power pneumatic tools and machinery. Choosing the most suitable compressor for you will typically come down to a choice between electric-powered and gas-powered air compressors.

This page will focus on gas-powered air compressors, comparing them with electric-powered air compressors, and providing you with all the relevant information to be able to select the right gas-powered air compressor for you!

Table of Contents

What is a Gas-Powered Air Compressor?

Gas-powered air compressors stay very true to their name, they are air compressors powered using gasoline or natural gas. These types of compressors work by burning the gas in the combustion chamber which initiates their operation to compress air.

A gas-operated air compressor doesn’t turn on and off by itself, they instead use pilot valves that open and close to determine how much pressure is in the tank at any given time. Gas-powered compressors typically have a pilot valve and unloader valve combined which allow them to run continuously.

When the compressor is continuously on, this is great for tools that require a continuous flow of air like sprayers, grinders, or sanding tools. The most common gas-powered compressor designs are reciprocating air compressors or rotary screw compressors. For more information on them, please visit our guides!

Rotary screw gas compressors are very common for industrial uses as they can provide a steady continuous air supply to pneumatic tools and devices. A tankless air compressor for a service truck is the best option for a lot of companies because they are typically half the size and weight of a compressor with a tank. This can help reduce the weight of service trucks and therefore, save fuel.

Both offer their own benefits. You’ll find these compressors in a range of different sizes, from small portable compressors to the ones made for service trucks. You may come across centrifugal compressors too, which are typically used for power fertilizer, refinery, and industrial processes.

How Do Gas-Powered Air Compressors Work?

Gas-powered air compressors are rather straightforward to understand. First, we must understand the two key components that every gas compressor will have:

  • Air End
  • Gas Engine

The gas engine converts gasoline or natural gas into motion which forces the air end to move and subsequently compress air. The gas engine works as the power source for the compression stage.

The air end is the part of the compressor that compresses the air by drawing atmospheric air into its compression chamber, where it is then forced into a smaller compact space. By forcing the air molecules closer together and “compressing” the air, you’re left with pressurized air which can be used to power pneumatic tools.

The air end will typically include pistons in reciprocating air compressors, or rotors and a rotor housing in rotary screw air compressors. Within a gas-operated air compressor, there are several key components that help you better understand how the compressor works, these components and their purposes are summarized in the table below!

ComponentSummary
Air EndWhere the air is compressed
Air Intake FilterFilters particulates and contaminants from the air before it is compressed
Air Receiver Tank (optional)A reservoir that holds compressed air for later use
BatteryProvides necessary electrical current for the electric starter on the engine and the electric components in the system
Coalescing FilterRemoves oil aerosols from the compressed air stream
Electronic Key SwitchPowers the system on and off
EngineDrives the compressor with its belt and pulleys
Engine Throttle ControlAllows for the increase and decrease of engine speed in response to the air demand. Typically actuated by air pressure
Fuel TankHolds the fuel/gasoline
Lifting Hook (service truck mounted gas compressors)Provides a safe connection point for a crane or hoist when mounting or removing the system from a service truck
UnloaderDecreases the engines load, as well as helping to reduce noise and fuel

Gas-Powered Compressors Cooling & Oil-Filtering

All gas-powered compressors tend to use one of two cooling methods. When air is compressed, it naturally generates a lot of heat due to the correlations between volume, pressure, and heat. The most popular cooling methods and the two used commonly on gas-powered compressors are natural air convection, and air to liquid heat exchangers.

Reciprocating gas compressors typically use the natural air convection method, where cooling fins are used to help keep the compressor cool. In contrast, rotary screw gas compressors use air to liquid heat exchange to keep their systems cool.

When it comes to oil filtering, this typically depends on whether the compressor is oil-injected or oil-free. Though most rotary screw gas air compressors are oil-injected, some may not be. Those that are, require the oil to be filtered from the air before air exits the system, and so, oil filters are used alongside coalescing filters.

First, particulates such as dust or rust are removed using an oil filter to stop them from recirculating through the compressor system, helping to extend the lifespan of the compressor. And then, coalescing filters are used to remove any oil mist from the air stream to protect your air tools or projects from poor results.

Gas-Powered Air Compressor Uses

Gas-operated air compressors are used for various industrial applications ranging from air gas feeds to petrochemicals. Compressed air can be the only option for some industries that require the safety of a non-heat-producing power source, and certainly a reliable flow of power.

The demand for compressed air has consistently grown from the specific beginnings of equipping the mining and fabrication industry to now becoming a necessity across industries and being referred to as the fourth utility.

All air compressors are designed for the same function, to increase the pressure and reduce the volume of gas, compressing air. However, each gas compressor is designed to work with specific applications.

A small, portable, and compact gas-powered air compressor can be found powering all kinds of regular pneumatic tools. Slightly bigger rotary screw compressors will be commonly found with roadside repair crews powering all sorts of air tools.

Service truck-mounted gas compressors, taken from construction site to construction site are used to power pneumatic tools like chipping hammers, jackhammers, paving breakers, diggers, air angle grinders, and rivet busters.

Industrial sized gas-powered air compressors can also be found being utilized in the following industries:

  • Agriculture
  • Constructions/Manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Energy
  • Food and Beverage

For productive and profitable farming operations, gasoline-powered compressors have been used for a long time to provide lasting performance. In manufacturing, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in assembly plants, fabrication, or production, a gasoline-powered air compressor aid the manufacturing process.

Where to Buy Gas-Powered Air Compressors

Gas-powered compressors are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, making it possible to find the suitable one for your needs. These compressors range from being small, portable twin-stack gas-powered air compressors to more commercial wheelbarrow, service truck-mounted, or town behind air compressors.

I’ve picked out a couple of examples of gas-powered compressors that are available on Amazon. the first is this NorthStar portable gas-powered air compressor which utilizes a Honda GX390 engine and a 30-gallon tank to be able to provide 24.4 CFM at 90 PSI.

This compressor is designed to be mounted on a service truck’s bed to use in remote locations that lack electricity. It boasts great reviews, and is suitable for construction equipment, repairing farming equipment, repairing roadside vehicles, performing roof work, and many more applications that require compressed air.

Below, is a wheelbarrow design Ingersoll Rand gas twin pontoon compressor, boasting an 8-gallon tank and a 5.5 HP Honda engine allowing you to have 11.5 CFM of compressed air. The compressor is designed for maximum versatility with its convenient wheelbarrow design that allows workers on construction sites and homeowners who need compressed air outside, the ability to maneuver the compressor even on the roughest terrain. Making it ideal for environments where electricity is not available.

I’m by no means saying that these are the best gas-powered compressors out there, I just wanted to give you a closer idea of the types of compressors we’re talking about. There are far better places to purchase a gas-powered compressor than on Amazon, and if you’re looking to get one, I would first recommend visiting reputable air compressor manufacturers websites like:

Clicking the links above will take you directly to our brand-specific pages on this site where you can find out more information on the manufacturers along with contact details, and their websites. In the case of VMAC, I’ve directed you straight to the gas-driven air compressors section of their website where you will find the models and insightful YouTube videos like the one below!

The manufacturers themselves are just one of a number of ways you can get your hands on a gas-driven compressor. It’s always worth contacting or visiting your local compressor store to see what they have and whether they can help. Otherwise, there’s an abundance of retailers online who may have exactly what you’re looking for. For example, air compressors direct have a variety of gas-powered compressors available, and clicking here will take you directly to their products.

Conduct thorough research online and in-person to ensure you walk away with the best compressor you can get. My advice is to set yourself some targets or requirements that must be satisfied before you can even consider spending the money. The requirements you should look for will be outlined in the buying guide to follow!

Gas-Powered Air Compressor Buying Guide

When selecting a gas compressor that is right for you, you will be facing several decisions that you will need to make based on the following considerations:

  • CFM requirements
  • PSI requirements
  • Horsepower
  • Type of design
  • Type of engine
  • Budget
  • Portability
  • Noise level
  • Warranty

If you don’t pay attention to these, you may end up buying a gas compressor that isn’t suitable for the work you wish to conduct. So, let’s look at each of these in more detail so you can gain a better understanding.

CFM Requirements

The very first consideration you should assess when selecting the right gas-powered air compressor for your needs is determining how much CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air you need. Gas compressors can range from anything around 10 CFM to above and beyond 100 CFM.

This big range can often prove difficult for buyers as they look to determine what is suitable for them. The trick is, determine how much CFM each individual tool requires to find the highest amount. If you plan on running multiple tools together simultaneously, then add their CFMs together and you will have the minimum CFM your compressor can be.

The more CFM you require, the greater the cost of the gas air compressor. For this reason, you will want to purchase a compressor that meets your needs without being too overpowered.

PSI Requirements

Most air tools operate at 90 PSI, which is a set standard across the compressed air industry. Conveniently most gas-powered air compressors will be rated between 90 to 125 PSI allowing you to comfortably power your pneumatic tools and devices.

Some smaller tools may not need this amount much pressure, and it’s certainly more important to consider CFM over stocking pressure above 90-100 PSI. However, if you were to have tools that need over 90 PSI, you must pick out an air compressor that can handle it.

At the same time as reviewing your tools for their CFM, also take note of their operating PSI so that you’re set for these two specifications!

Horsepower

Horsepower is a measure of the motor’s capabilities. Though it is not as important as picking out the CFM and PSI, it’s still something to be aware of. The capacity of the engine has an impact on every aspect of the compressor’s performance, typically you’ll expect greater CFM with greater motor HP.

Type of Design

As mentioned earlier, there are different designs of gas-powered air compressors, some offering benefits over others. Discussion the most common, rotary screw compressors come at a higher cost than reciprocating compressors, but they boast being a smaller size and lighter in weight.

Reciprocating compressors require an air receiver tank while rotary screw compressors do not, this makes them almost double the size and weight of their counterparts. So the decision is really down to your requirements.

Along with the design, also should be mentioned is their duty cycle rating. If you require 100% continuous use then you would want to purchase a compressor with this rating, typically a rotary screw air compressor.

If you only require intermittent use, then maybe a reciprocating air compressor with a 50% duty cycle will suffice.

Type of Engine

Separate from the horsepower of the engine, now let’s focus on the actual manufacturer of the engine. Gas-powered air compressors are available will a variety of different brands of engines, some more reliable than others. Honda has recently become one of, if not the, most popular supplier of gas engines for air compressors.

Honda engines provide hard-working powerhouses that can provide optimal results in difficult conditions. Though, there are several reputable gas engine manufacturers out there that include:

  • Briggs & Stratton
  • Honda
  • Kohler
  • Predator
  • Subaru

It’s important to purchase a compressor where the manufacturer has sourced an engine from a reputable brand and offers a good warranty on the engine. While the engine does have an impact on the performance and capabilities of an air compressor, you will clearly see it reflected in the specifications. And so, an engine should be a secondary consideration, if you meet your CFM and PSI needs.

Budget

After putting consideration into your technical requirements, it’s time to consider your budget! Gas-powered air compressors can grow into significant price ranges, but with that price is an associated longer life expectancy.

The better your gas compressor, the greater the cost. If an air compressor costs twice as much but is built to last three times as long, it’s worth the investment. If you only plan to operate the compressor for a few years, then the cheaper compressor is probably better for you.

However, if you will require a fully operating gas compressor for years to come, the bigger investment may prove beneficial as the compressor will be able to last longer.

Portability

If you need to use your gas-powered air compressor in various locations, you’ll want to consider which design or type of compressor is going to be the easiest to transport. The weight, size, and features that enable you to move the compressor are going to be crucial in your investigation.

Most gas compressors will be wheelbarrow type with twin tanks and a compressor and engine to help you keep up with heavy jobs outside and move around the site. As long as you have enough fuel, you will be able to power your tools!

Noise Level

Gas-powered air compressors are going to make a lot of noise unfortunately due to their combustion process involving gasoline or natural gas. Some are of course louder than others, and this will typically be due to the size.

Given that I presume you’ll be operating the gas-powered compressor outside, the noise level is probably a secondary consideration. Focus on your CFM and PSI, and then compare the noise levels of the suitable compressors. I would strongly recommend wearing ear protection whenever operating a gas compressor anyway.

Warranty

I mentioned the engine’s warranty already, but now let’s discuss the gas compressor’s warranty. A high-quality air compressor that is built to last several years will in most cases be backed by a warranty.

Warranties are important to protect your investment, allowing you to have peace of mind and save you a lot of money should anything go wrong. If a compressor manufacturer offers an above-average warranty, it typically means that the air compressor is very high-quality.

Some compressor manufacturers may even offer a lifetime warranty to stand behind their products and make a statement that their compressor will not fail. Individual parts may have their own warranty, for example, it’s likely that the engine will have a 2-3 years warranty and then all other components have a 1-year warranty.

Gas-Powered Air Compressors vs. Electric-Powered Air Compressors: The Differences

When it comes to comparing the two with each other, we can look at several significant details which clearly indicate how they are different from one another. These details include:

  • Power source
  • Energy efficiency
  • Environmental impact
  • Safety concerns
  • Noise levels
  • Price

Let’s look at each in greater detail!

Power Source

Of course, the first place to start, and probably the most considerable difference, is the power required to operate them. Staying true to their names, gas-powered compressors rely on gasoline or natural gas to function while electric compressors need to be powered by an electric outlet.

Gas compressors are a useful alternative to the more traditional electric air compressor as they are particularly handy in rural areas or spaces far from an electric power source. By relying on gasoline, you’re able to take the compressor wherever you like, making them the far more portable of the two.

The problem with gas compressors though, is that they tend to be a lot heavier than electrical compressors due to their gas engine being a lot heavier than the electric motors. For use at home, electric air compressors won’t be a problem, as you’re always likely to have a nearby power source.

Both compressors are available in multiple sizes and offer similar power outputs unless you were to opt for a much larger gas engine that has a greater horsepower. Gas air compressors keep running at their ideal pressure zone, while electric compressors automatically turn off when the air pressure drops.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is the measure of the difference in energy costs to complete a job. Gas compressors rely on gasoline or natural gases, each of which will vary the output and fuel costs of the compressor. Electric air compressors are available in many variations, some designed for greater efficiency than others.

It’s difficult to say which is more efficient because it depends on the project. They use energy differently, and so, they may result in higher and lower costs based on your project and usage.

Electric compressors typically have lower costs, firstly due to their initial buying price, and secondly due to not needing to regularly buy additional gasoline to run them. Most consumer gas compressors use gasoline, which results in lower energy efficiency and higher costs than natural gas and electricity-powered compressors. But, if using natural gas to power the compressor, may result in better efficiency costs.

Environmental Impact

It’s very common for people to opt for electric air compressors instead of gas-powered compressors because they have a lower environmental impact. Gas-powered air compressors release more harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere due to their combustion process resulting in the production of harmful chemicals.

Running gas-powered machines will contribute to pollution, greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Industrial-sized gas compressors will produce even more, and so, if environmental concerns are very important to you then electric air compressors are the more suitable choice.

Air compressors manufacturers are always looking to improve their technology and produce compressors that are more energy-efficient and have a lower impact on the environment. But results are not always guaranteed!

Safety Concerns

The general risks or safety concerns associated with either compressor will typically depend on the environment they are in. Electric compressors are deemed safer because they do not rely on a flammable liquid to operate, and they do not emit toxic gases.

It can generally be advised that when you use a gas compressor, you should take the following precautions:

  • Avoid closed and confined spaces where ventilation is poor – this could result in significant toxic chemical exposure
  • Always follow instructions specified by the manufacturer – see user’s manual or contact them directly to ensure safe operation
  • Only add gas when the compressor is not running and has had time to cool – this will help reduce the risk of a fire or explosion

It’s advised to operate gas-powered compressors outside, or only inside where there is adequate ventilation. This will help you to avoid inhaling high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be very dangerous and harmful to your health. It may even result in death!

Of course, electric air compressors come with their safety concerns too, just like any electrical device they should be plugged into a properly grounded outlet to help prevent damage or a fire. You should also limit the use of long cords because this can result in tripping hazards.

Other important safety concerns for both electric compressors and gas-powered compressors include avoiding excessive pressure levels and conducting regular preventive maintenance.

Noise Levels

Another very evident difference along with the power source is the amount of noise the compressors make. Due to gas compressors relying on engine combustion and moving parts, they tend to make a lot of noise. While electric compressors are now designed to be ultra-quiet and can produce very low amounts of decibels (dB).

Air compressors will typically range from 40dB to 100dB. Which is a significantly great range right?! The louder the compressor, the more likely it is to cause damage to your hearing which might even result in hearing loss.

Gas-powered air compressors fall at the higher end of the scale, with the larger more industrial-sized ones potentially producing upwards of 85 dB which is certainly harmful. Electric compressors have advanced in recent years with innovative motor designs that in some cases can produce as little as 40 dB.

It is strongly recommended to wear ear protection when working with gas-powered air compressors, if close to the machine. If you prefer to have a quieter air compressor, then electric compressors are the better choice. There are many “silent” or “quiet” air compressors around on today’s market, it really isn’t hard to find the right one!

There are some measures you can take to reduce the sound levels your gas-powered, or electric-powered, air compressor makes. These include:

  • Creating a sound-dampening encloser
  • Placing rubber under the compressor and covering the motor to absorb vibrations
  • Installing an improved air intake

Price

Many consumers are very price-sensitive and rightly so. You naturally want to save as much money as possible when investing in compressed air technology, to be able to invest that money elsewhere!

It’s important to consider how often you will use the compressor, for frequent use it may be better to spend the additional costs for a more reliable system. But for less frequent use, why spend all that money?

Gas-powered air compressors are typically more expensive than electric compressors due to their larger and heavier engine, along with the reoccurring fuel costs. Electric compressors have less expensive technology and are far more compact and smaller.

The decision will also depend on your jobs, how much CFM and pressure you require, as mentioned in the gas-powered compressor buying guide. Larger gas-powered air compressors will be more expensive but more powerful.

You may expect gas compressors to be twice the price of electric compressors, but if you need a compressor for a not so easily accessible work area that lacks power sources, then the cost is certainly worth it!

Gas-Powered Air Compressor or Electric-Powered Air Compressor: Which Do I Choose?

GasElectric
Remote or rural locationsIndoor use
Power outagesPower outlet proximity
Temporary need for airEnvironmental impact
Safety
Infrequent use
Gas-Powered or Electric-Powered Use Comparison Table

To summarise, gas-powered air compressors are best suited for:

  • Remote or rural locations – with a lack of power sources
  • Power outages – will not cause you to cease operation
  • Temporary need for air (rental) – more suitable for getting up and running

In contrast, electric-powered air compressors are best suited for:

  • Indoor use – safer than gas compressors because they do not release toxic fumes
  • Power outlet proximity – if you have power outlets nearby
  • Environmental impact – Electrical compressors limits your ecological footprint
  • Safety – less hazards involved
  • Infrequent use – smaller, more convenient, and less expensive

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are there gas-powered air compressors?

Yes, there are many gas-powered air compressors available in all designs, shapes, and sizes. They go from being as little as small compact and lightweight gas compressors to truck-mounted or tow-behind gas compressors.

What is better gas or electric air compressor?

This comes down to where you are using the air compressor. If it’s indoors, an electric compressor is a far better choice as gas compressors release fumes so without proper ventilation you’re putting yourself at harm. Gas compressors are the better choice in areas where there are no power sources, like on construction sites for instance. Electric compressors have less of an environmental impact than gas compressors and are typically safer to use in harsh environments because they don’t function off flammable liquid like their counterparts.

What are gas air compressors used for?

Gas-powered air compressors are typically used for providing compressed air to pneumatic tools and devices in rural or difficult to get to areas where there are no electricity sources. Small portable or wheelbarrow gas compressors will be found being used by homeowners needing compressed air outside, or by construction workers powering all kinds of pneumatic tools. Service truck-mounted or tow-behind gas compressors may be used to power pneumatic tools like chipping hammers, jackhammers, paving breakers, diggers, air angle grinders, and rivet busters.


If you have any questions regarding gas-powered air compressors, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!