Why is My Commercial Compressor Failing?

Naturally, it’s critical to know about your compressor’s age and service history. As compressors reach and exceed ten years of age, diligent maintenance becomes even more essential. Even the best compressor will eventually “age out” and need to be replaced. In cases like this, the failure point may be no mystery.


If a compressor is relatively new and well-maintained and still has issues, something else is in play.

Luckily, there are several potential causes of compressor failure common enough that investigating them first can save you time and money. Pinpointing these issues ensures a safe and stable operating environment for any compressors you need to install in the future.

What are the usual root causes of a commercial compressor failure?

Watch out for these issues:

Loss of Lubrication
Loss of lubrication is seen by many compressor experts as the #1 cause of compressor failure. In the advanced semi-hermetic screw compressor designs offered by Trane, for example, you’ll see a range of design updates intended to prevent refrigerant migration that can result in lubrication loss. A flooded start can cause failure of rod bearings, thus causing most compressors to lock up. 

Slugging is the movement of liquid – including oil or refrigerant – from the suction line or evaporator into the compressor. Since compressors cannot pump liquid, this causes significant damage. This is most likely to happen on the compressor startup. Slugging drives mechanical failure within a short period of time: Rods, gaskets, and valves can all be affected.

System Leaks
Even a small leak can rapidly deprive a compressor system of the pressure it needs to operate. For most commercial compressors, tolerances are very tight and system failure will eventually result. Luckily, the self-diagnostics of many modern compressors equip you to notice the problem and take the system offline fast. This enables you to maintain compressor operation by repairing the leak.

Dirty Components
One of the biggest reasons why commercial compressors need regular maintenance is also the simplest: They get dirty! Any buildup of dirt and grime throughout the system can eventually lead to failure. The components most likely to be affected include the evaporator, filters, and condenser. Your regular maintenance should always include replacing filters according to manufacturer specifications.

Miswired Controls
Today’s “smart” control systems mean that control system failures are less likely than they were even a few years ago. Compressors can adjust to changes in demand and control systems can even bring the system safely to a stop in the event of exceptions. However, it’s still a good idea to ensure the controls are calibrated correctly and wiring is free of damage.

Improper Oil Usage
Although it may seem obvious, it can still be overlooked every now and then: You need the right oil for your system’s refrigerant. The system can give you various signs you might have a mismatch, including improper oil temperature for your system.


Compressor Down for Good? A Remanufactured Compressor Will Get You Back in Action

Many of the problems that cause compressor failure can be prevented with routine maintenance. Even if an issue strikes, you may be able to salvage the situation and repair the compressor if you act quickly.

However, compressors are surprisingly sensitive. Sometimes a situation spirals before you can get a handle on it. When you need a quality compressor quickly, a remanufactured compressor can help.

A remanufactured commercial compressor means you get a discounted price without compromising quality. The unit is fully disassembled, components are replaced, and everything is completely cleaned prior to testing. You get quality comparable to an all-new unit on a far accelerated timeline.

Plus, a strong relationship with a remanufacturer helps you keep your system in top shape with best-in-class maintenance and personalized advice on extending your compressor’s longevity.

Compressors can be finicky, but a commercial compressor should also stand up to thousands of hours of regular use without major issues. If your compressor loses performance or stops working out of the blue, get in touch with qualified compressor technicians to root out the real cause of the problem.

Your next compressor (and your facilities budget) will thank you!


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