Harbor Freight 21 Gal Compressor

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Forum topic by KimR posted 01-16-2017 08:57 PM 1067 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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25 posts in 692 days

01-16-2017 08:57 PM

A couple months ago, I bought a harbor Freight 21 gal. vertical compressor. Yesterday, I finally got a chance to unpack it and set it up. I added oil and, per the manual, plugged in a female coupler, opened the outlet and let her run for 30 minutes. She ran fine and I turned her off. When my wife came out to the shop for a demo, I turned on the compressor and got nothing. The motor hummed but the compressor did not turn over. The reset button did not pop. I put a call in to Customer Service but it’s MLK Day. Any idea what’s going on here? Seems unlikely to have seized, but I’m not sure what elese it could be. And if it did seize and HF won’t replace it (due to passage of time since purchase), what are my options?

11 replies so far

View Ted78's profile


401 posts in 2141 days

#1 posted 01-16-2017 09:41 PM

I can only think of three things that would cause the motor to make noise but not spin. A bad motor, maybe a burned up start capacitor, a bad compressor, a piece physically broken or maybe seized up from getting too hot the first time it ran for some reason. If either of these are the case your only hope is probbly taking it back to HF. The other possibility is not enough juice to your outlet? If you are far away from your breaker box and the wire running to the outlet is a smaller gauge, or it’s on a long or skinny gauge extension cord, the compressor upon startup might be pulling enough amps that the voltage drop is enough that it won’t turn over. especially if there is already pressure in the tank. There aren’t too many things that draw as many initial amps as a compressor coming on, so other tools may work just fine but the compressor may not. Worth looking into I think unless you already know the distance and wire gauge feeding the outlet is sufficient.

-- Ted

View KimR's profile


25 posts in 692 days

#2 posted 01-16-2017 09:48 PM

What’s got me confused is that it ran just fine for 30 minutes. I turned it off. It cooled down. Then it refused to start up. It’s plugged into a 20 amp outlet without an extension cord, the same outlet on which it ran. And there’s no pressure in the tank. I’ve run it with a male coupler inserted in the female coupler, so nothing is going into the tank.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5067 posts in 4102 days

#3 posted 01-16-2017 10:42 PM

Take it back to HF. Be a bad dude, and don’t accept any crap.
Do you know how to be ugly? Don’t be a nice guy.


View syenefarmer's profile


506 posts in 3222 days

#4 posted 01-17-2017 12:26 AM

Is it cold where you are? If so, try emptying the air out of the tank and then try to start it. My compressor that I have in my garage sometimes refuses to start up in the winter but once I purge the air from the tank it starts right up.

View dhazelton's profile


2789 posts in 2438 days

#5 posted 01-17-2017 12:34 AM

I’d ask if you added the correct air compressor oil and how cold is it there? If those check out it’s probably a bad motor. My 1990s Craftsman (made by DeVilbiss) always starts, although it’s slow to start in the cold.

View KimR's profile


25 posts in 692 days

#6 posted 01-18-2017 10:01 PM

Ok. Customer service says this is a motor or capacitor problem and I should return it for exchange. I probably can’t get to that until late next week. But I’ll let you guys know how that goes.

View OSB's profile


147 posts in 667 days

#7 posted 01-18-2017 10:36 PM

I am glad it looks like they are taking care of it for you but this is the Harbor Freight experience.

Be careful about what you buy there.

I went through about three of their heavy duty pop rivet pullers putting in two boxes of rivets. It worked out cheaper than buying a quality tool for that one job but I probably would go a different way next time.

Compressors can lead a very tough life so I would go for a brand with a better reputation for compressors or a known good used compressor that has lived for a while doing the same type of work you have planned.

View KimR's profile


25 posts in 692 days

#8 posted 01-19-2017 01:37 AM

I hear you. I had a good experience with one of their trailers. The next time, I struggled through multiple miswelded pieces before pulling the plug and getting a better quality trailer elsewhere. I chose this to replace my 50 year old 20 gal. Devilbiss (my dad bought it) based on a number of favorable review online. But, as you say, that’s the HF experience.

View Boberto's profile


20 posts in 1109 days

#9 posted 01-19-2017 02:57 AM

I went thru 3 of those direct drive, 28 gallon, vertical compressors , 2 different brands, in the last 3 years. Not from HF but that same type of compressor. The plastic fan flew apart on all 3 of them. That was besides the fact they were so noisy. I gave up on them and got a 2 stage 60 gallon belt drive that runs much quieter and not nearly as long to pump up. Cost twice as much but so far much happier.

View Marshall1's profile


8 posts in 684 days

#10 posted 01-19-2017 03:27 AM

highly likely it is a motor start capacitor. Mine did the same after about 1 year. could not find the capacitor anywhere to replace. purchased a used Devilbis and used the tank for additional storage when needed.

View KimR's profile


25 posts in 692 days

#11 posted 02-11-2017 07:27 AM

So HF exchanged it without discussion. The replacement works well. A bit noisy but maintains pressure and operates all tools. Hooked up to the Rapid Air system.

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