5 Reasons for Compressor Burnout and How to Prevent This - Samco

Compressor burnout is unfortunate. This is why it’s ideal to know the key reasons for it and prevention tips.

Reciprocating compressors are machines that can operate for an incredibly long period. However, proper maintenance procedures and repairs play a crucial role in prolonging the life span of a compressor.

But when a reciprocating compressor suddenly fails and requires replacement, it is expedient for technicians to, first of all, pinpoint the cause of failure. This is crucially essential because if the cause or causes of the initial breakdown of the older compressor is not identified, the replacement compressor may also be affected.

What Causes Compressor Burnout?

Several issues can cause reciprocating compressors to burn out or break down unceremoniously.

One of those major causes of compressor failure is motor burnout. Motor burnout – or compressor burnout as often referred – is a specific failure type that typically originates from the high temperatures generated within motor windings.

When temperatures far exceed the maximum permissible limits of installed insulation classes, it rapidly degrades the winding insulation. And when the insulation between motor windings is insufficient, it results in short circuits and motor burnouts.

Moisture within the environment, power issues, poor lubrication, and non-condensable can also bring about motor burnout. Other causes of compressor burnout include loose electrical and mechanical connections as well as corrosion within the motor itself.

Mild compressor burnouts can occur likewise severe burnouts. Technicians use acid test kits to determine how severe compressor burnout is.

If the acid test result is negative, it implies that the compressor burnout is mild. But if it is positive, the motor burnout is severe. These will determine the amount of work or repairs that must go into fixing the failed reciprocating compressor to get it operational again.

If the compressor burnout is too severe, it may necessitate the replacement of the equipment.

The following are the causes of compressor burnout:

1. Excessive Friction

There is always friction between components of a functional reciprocating compressor. Friction can be caused by the combination of vibration and misalignment of components.

Every electric motor produces vibration during operation. But a misaligned motor can bring about an incredibly high level of vibration during operation. This may result in a series of mechanical problems such as:

  • Bolt breakage
  • Wear and tear or coupling blocks
  • The degradation of bearings, etc.

Excessive friction cause compressor components to start wearing out, leading to additional load on the motor.

This extra load decreases the compressor motor’s efficiency and causes it to draw in excessive current. The outcome of this development is overheating, the #1 culprit of compressor burnout.

2. Improper Cooling

Three unique conditions can cause compressor motors to overheat:

  1. Starting the motor at an inappropriate or wrong current value
  2. Running motors rated for intermittent duty applications continuously and for prolonged periods or below their recommended duty cycle.
  3. Operating the compressor motor in high ambient temperatures.

High ambient temperatures – which come about due to overheating – have adverse impacts on internal compressor motors.

Common causes of compressor overheating include:

  • Excessive wear and tear
  • Low suction pressure
  • Poor ventilation
  • Lack of external cooling
  • Electrical issues
  • Short cycling
  • High head pressure, and
  • Lack of adequate lubrication

All these factors can prevent compressor motors from cooling down sufficiently between cycles. This makes the motor increasingly hot between cycles, resulting in compressor burnout.

3. Short Cycling

Short cycling is a problem in which the compressor motor switches itself off and on repeatedly or at irregular intervals. Motors usually draw more current when starting than in full operational mode.

When short cycling occurs, it causes the motor to draw in much more current than required in order to maintain its torque. This puts a lot of pressure on the windings since they keep carrying more than what they are designed to carry efficiently per time.

As this event causes the motor to undergo this undesirable process, it significantly boosts energy consumption. Moreover, since the motor keeps starting and stopping irregularly, there is heat buildup.

The built-up has little chance of dissipating before the motor starts again. This raises the temperature of the motor over time.

Short cycling can also bring about more starts per hour than the maximum or usual limit the manufacturer recommends. It eventually shortens the lifespan of the compressor motor by causing burnout.

4. Electrical Overload

Short circuited conductors are the primary culprit of electrical overload issues. A low or high voltage supply can cause the compressor motor to take in more current than required to maintain its torque efficiently.

When the motor is forced to take in more current than its windings can sufficiently carry and maintain safely or efficiently, it creates overload conditions.

Overload conditions force the motor to overheat unceremoniously, severely damaging the winding insulation.

5. Electrical Problems

Electrical issues such as phase loss, surge voltages, and unbalanced voltages are highly unpredictable events. These events occur suddenly and mostly without warning, and their considerable impact on compressor motors is great.

When any electrical problem crops up, it usually results in overheating of the motor. If left unchecked or undiscovered, it leads to compressor burnout.

How to Prevent Compressor Burnout

There are several ways to prevent all the causes of compressor burnout or motor overheating. By implementing these actions, technicians can significantly minimize the risk of failure and prolong the life span of the compressor.

The most efficient way of preventing compressor burnout is by certified technicians regularly servicing the equipment.

Authorized technicians have been trained to quickly identify potential problems and nip them in the bud before they become too big to handle.

The technicians may also install adequate motor protection modules, which help prevent damage to the compressor motor while ensuring minimal interruption and optimal efficiency.


Reciprocating compressors can function for many years, but only if they are properly taken care of. This includes regular maintenance checks and repairs.

However, a compressor may burn out due to several factors highlighted above. Compressor burnout will be minimized if all the proper measures are put in place, and there will be zero risks of downtimes and wasted resources.

From industry standards like Ariel compressor parts to Clark and Cooper Bessemer compressor parts, we carry compressor parts you can trust and the service you can count on.