FAQ: Air Compressor Regulations in California

California has some of the toughest regulations in the United States across many industries and air compressors are no exception. Further, California’s legislation often pioneers the laws adopted by the rest of the nation. From anti-idling laws to air receiver tank sizes, we’ll help you understand all of California’s current air compressor regulations in this FAQ.

Who sets air compressor regulations in California?

Regulations are typically set by the U.S. government or state governments. California’s clean air regulations are currently determined by the California Air Resources Board, which has 12 members appointed by the Governor and formalized through the Senate. Other regulations, including air compressor regulations, are currently decided by the California government’s Department of Industrial Relations.

Can I idle my diesel truck to run an air compressor in California?

The short answer is “yes.” California has some of the toughest anti-idling laws out there, restricting the idling of heavy-duty diesel vehicles over 14,000 lbs for more than five minutes. Light- and medium-duty diesel trucks under 14,000 lbs are currently excluded from the restrictions.

However, even heavy-duty vehicles can idle if they are operating a power take-off device. Direct-Transmission Mounte air compressors and hydraulic air compressors are both examples of power take-off devices. In addition, the UNDERHOOD™  70 Green Series has intelligent digital controls that turn your truck engine off when air isn’t needed and turn the engine back on when air is needed again, giving you yet another option in spirit with California’s clean air regulations.

Can I idle my gasoline truck to run an air compressor in California?

Yes, there are currently no idling restrictions for gasoline vehicles. However, proposed legislation suggests expanding the anti-idling regulations to all vehicles that are allowed on highways. This includes both gasoline and diesel trucks, vans, and cars. If you’re planning for the future, it’s safest to assume anti-idling laws will apply to your vehicle in the coming years.

Do I need a permit for my air compressor?

You don’t need a permit for an air compressor but you may need one for your air compressor’s air receiver tank. A permit is required if you have an air receiver tank that exceeds 1.5 cubic feet (11.2 gallons) or 150 psi.

Fortunately, air receiver tanks over 1.5 cubic feet that don’t exceed 25 cubic feet (187 gallons) or 150 psi will receive a one-time permit called an “indefinite permit” at their first inspection. Indefinite permits don’t need to be renewed. Most mobile air compressors will fall into this one-time-permit category.

Because the permits are for the receiver tanks, air compressors without an air receiver tank don’t require a permit. Therefore, many operators avoid air receiver tank regulations by choosing a rotary screw air compressor that can meet their CFM requirements without an air receiver tank.

Do I need inspections for my air compressor?

If your air compressor has an air receiver tank that requires a permit, you will need to have the receiver tank on your portable air compressor inspected every 3 years. Air receiver tanks that aren’t portable but require permits must be inspected once every 5 years.

However, air compressors with air receiver tanks that are 25 cubic feet (187 gallons) or less and have a maximum pressure of 150 psi, are given an “indefinite permit” when first installed. These permits are always in effect, which means your air receiver tank doesn’t need to be inspected.

Air compressors that don’t require a permit are never inspected.

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What air compressors help me avoid permits, inspections, and regulations?

The current California regulations for air compressors are focused on air receiver tanks, not the compressors themselves. Therefore, choosing a rotary screw air compressor without an air receiver tank is your simplest bet, as there is no need for permits or inspections. (By contrast, all reciprocating air compressors need an air tank.)

If you do need an air receiver tank, the next simplest option is an air compressor with an air tank that holds up to 1.5 cubic feet (11.2 gallons) of air and operates at 150 psi or less. These air receiver tanks do not require permits. VMAC has several air compressor and receiver tank options that meet these requirements, including air compressors that don’t require an air receiver tank at all, and air compressors with a recommended 6-gallon (150 psi) or 8-gallon (150 psi) low profile air receiver tank.

If you need even more air, you can minimize the need for permits and inspections by choosing an air compressor with an air receiver tank that has a maximum working pressure of 150 psi and holds less than 25 cubic feet (187 gallons) of air. These air receiver tanks will need an inspection before going into service but are given an indefinite permit at that inspection, which eliminates the need for future inspections or permits. VMAC air compressor systems with a 12-gallon (150 psi) low profile air receiver tank fall within this category.

How Clean Air Regulations Impact Vehicles With Air Compressors

Federal and state air regulations play an important role in keeping communities safe and healthy and have driven significant innovation in the clean energy sector. But what does this mean for the mobile air compressor industry, which often requires an idling engine to power the air compressor?

In this article, we’ll break down the major players in air regulations, including California state and U.S. federal governments, and talk about how they impact you and your business.

The Federal Clean Air Act

The Federal Clean Air Act was first enacted in 1970 and later revised in 1990. This Act sets out guidelines and requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and individual states to protect people’s health and the environment.

The objectives of the Clean Air Act include:

  • Improve air quality
  • Improve visibility
  • Protect the ozone layer
  • Reduce common & toxic pollutants
  • Reduce acid raid

The EPA works with individual states to enact different aspects of the Clean Air Act. Some objectives give states more autonomy than others.

Improve air quality & visibilityStates are responsible for implementing enforceable plans to reduce pollutants in protected areas; the EPA provides guidance
Protect the ozone layerEPA issues & enforces rules for the use and disposal of chemicals known to deplete the ozone
Reduce common pollutantsEPA develops standards, states are responsible for creating enforceable plans to meet the standards
Reduce toxic pollutantsEPA controls national limits for major sources, while states can elect to take on partial or complete enforcement of the limits
Reduce acid rainEPA implements, tracks & monitors compliance with the federal Acid Rain Program

California Air Regulations Set A Higher Bar

California has struggled with air quality for decades and, in 2002, became the first state to set clean air standards that go above and beyond the Clean Air Act. Over the next decade, another 13 states followed California’s lead and created state-based legislation that requires higher standards.

This legislation has resulted in more efficient vehicles that produce fewer emissions. California essentially forced the auto-makers to create lower emission cars and, interestingly, the auto industry complied with little fuss.

However, a change in political perspective disputes California and other states’ autonomy over cleaner air. On August 2, 2018, the acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler announced that California will no longer be allowed to set their own rules; instead, the state will only need to follow the federal requirements. California is expected to challenge this decision in court.

United States Anti-Idling Laws

The federal government has not issued anti-idling laws. Instead, the majority of states have implemented their own anti-idling regulations. Because California set the initial bar for environmental regulations, many states have followed their example in anti-idling:

California Anti-Idling Rules

  • No idling longer than 5 minutes
  • Minimum $300 fines
  • Exceptions include:
    • Service or repair vehicles
    • Work trucks using power takeoff (PTO)
    • Certified Clean Idle vehicles
    • Emergency or health & safety vehicles

Individual cities within a state can set additional regulations on idling, including specific rules and fine amounts. To see the regulations in your county or state, check out the American Transportation Research Institute’s Compendium of Idling Regulations.

Fortunately, most states let vehicles idle if they are performing work-related tasks. Operators who use air tools are typically allowed to use air compressors that utilize the vehicle’s engine, such as an UNDERHOOD™ air compressor, or PTO-drive systems like a Direct-Transmission Mounted air compressor.

Air Compressor Manufacturing Regulations

Reputable air compressor manufacturers have regulations and procedures that should be followed in the creation, assembly and installation of their air compressors. However, most of these regulations are focused on safety and engineering, and don’t pertain to air quality.

However, there is one notable exception: The EPA’s “Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule” requires manufacturers to meet exhaust emission standards for all small diesel engines, including those used in air compressors. This regulation has been in full effect for all nonroad diesel engines since 2015.

Similarly, truck manufacturers are also required to follow strict regulations and guidelines when developing their product lines. For example, California’s Air Resources Board recently passed regulation to increase the greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles within that state. These changes need to be taken into account when designing engine-driven air compressors, like the UNDERHOOD™ air compressor.

While it’s unreasonable to expect consumers and operators to be aware of the regulations developed for manufacturers, operators can help protect themselves by purchasing their products from a reputable air compressor manufacturer that is committed to implementing a high degree of standard and quality control.

How Do Clean Air Regulations Impact Air Compressor Operators?

Fortunately, clean air regulations don’t tend to impact workers who are operating vehicle mounted air compressors. Reputable air compressor manufacturers ensure their products stay up to date with federal emissions regulations, while even the strictest states, like California, have anti-idling exceptions that allow operators to run their vehicles for the sake of their work. At the end of the day, most jurisdictions give a free pass to pneumatic tool operators including tire techs, construction workers, and other roadside operators.

How to Choose A Mobile Air Compressor For Your Work

Mobile air compressors are a beautiful thing. They make life easy by offering mobile air on demand, wherever you are, and can power high-quality pneumatic tools. But choosing a mobile air compressor can feel overwhelming, with an abundance of information and decisions to consider.

Fortunately, we’re going to make it easy for you to narrow down your options. In this blog, we’ll talk about the simple steps you should follow to choose the best mobile air compressor for the jobs you do.

1: Determine your CFM and PSI requirements

The very first thing you should do is determine your air needs. Pneumatic tools all require different amounts of air and these needs vary quite a bit, even within a single type of tool, which is why you should find out what your tools need as your first step.

Air power is typically measured in two metrics: CFM and PSI. CFM or “Cubic Feet per Minute”, is the amount of air that’s being delivered. PSI or “Pounds per Square Inch” is the amount of force behind that air.

Most tools are rated to run optimally at 80 to 110 PSI, so you’ll want to find an air compressor that can deliver the right CFM at the PSI your tools require. The best way to determine your PSI and CFM requirements is to review all the tools you will be using and check with the manual or manufacturer. If you plan to use more than one air tool at the exact same time, you’ll need to add the CFM requirements of each tool together to determine your total CFM requirements.

For now, you can get a general idea of your CFM requirements here.

2: Decide on a Rotary or Reciprocating Air Compressor

The next step is to determine what type of compressor you need. VMAC exclusively manufactures rotary screw air compressors because they last significantly longer, are a higher quality, can provide air instantly while maintaining constant air flow, and are smaller and lighter. But let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of both types of air compressors:

Rotary Screw Pros:

  • Continuous airflow / 100% duty cycle
  • Longer lifespan
  • Larger quantities of air
  • Higher CFM per hp
  • Quieter
  • Smaller
  • Lighter

Rotary Screw Cons:

  • More expensive up front
  • Requires skilled maintenance

Reciprocating Pros:

  • Capable of high pressures
  • Less expensive
  • Easier maintenance

Reciprocating Cons:

  • Interrupted flow rates
  • Low life expectancy
  • Maintenance costs
  • Excessive heat
  • Louder
  • Heavy
  • Bulky
In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a cheap way to get your jobs done for the next year or two, a reciprocating air compressor is probably the way to go. But if you need reliable mobile air for the next 5 to 10 years and are willing to pay more for a better-quality solution, rotary screw air compressors are your best bet.

You can read more about reciprocating air compressors versus rotary screw air compressors in this blog.

3: Consider Tow-Behind or Vehicle-mounted

Now it’s time to think about how you want to move your air compressor around. There are two major contenders that you can consider:

  • Tow-Behind Air Compressors
  • Vehicle-mounted Air Compressors

Tow-behind air compressors are air compressors that are mounted onto a trailer and towed by the hitch of your vehicle. They’re not our favorite option and we outline the reasons why don’t love tow-behind air compressors in this blog. However, if you need high CFMs, plan to leave your air compressor in the same spot for weeks or months at a time, or you simply love towing things around, a tow-behind air compressor may be worth considering.

Otherwise, you’re looking at vehicle-mounted air compressors as your best bet. There are two common ways that air compressors are mounted to a vehicle:

1. The simplest way to mount an air compressor is to simply attach a compressor with its own diesel or gas engine onto the back of a truck (or in a van’s cargo hold). Here’s a photo from TiNik Inc. that shows off this style perfectly:


Mounting air compressors in this way is relatively easy and inexpensive, which is why a lot of operators love this style.

2. The other way to mount an air compressor is to intertwine the air compressor components with a vehicle’s existing components. These installs are sophisticated and most people can’t even see the air compressor because it’s tucked away in the engine compartment. Take a look:


Engineers at companies like VMAC work with vehicle manufacturers to determine the best way to install these air compressors, ensuring the vehicle warranties are always still in effect. However, whether an air compressor can be mounted in this manner depends on the specific vehicle. You can see if your vehicle is compatible here!

4: Determine Your Power Source

Air compressors can be powered by many different sources. If you’ve decided on a tow-behind air compressor, you’ll be limited to gas or diesel engines. In this case, it makes sense to just go with an air compressor that uses whatever type of fuel your vehicle already takes, for simplicity.

But if you’re going ahead with a vehicle-mounted mobile air compressor, you have options! Some air compressors have their own gas or diesel engines, while others can integrate into a truck’s existing engine or hydraulics. Air compressors that mount under the hood use these existing systems, which makes them convenient.

As one example, here are the product lines that VMAC offers for various power sources:

VMAC Systems table

Consider what type of power sources you already have available and think about whether they will work for your air compressor. Using your vehicle’s engine or existing hydraulics can be a highly convenient way to power an air compressor. However, if that doesn’t work for you or your vehicle isn’t compatible, air compressors with their own gas engine or diesel engine can be just as effective in getting the job done.

5: Find An Upfitter That Knows Air Compressors

By this point, you should have an idea of what you’re looking for in an air compressor and be able to answer some simple questions. Let’s break them down:

  • How much CFM do you need?
  • Rotary screw or reciprocating?
  • Tow-behind or vehicle-mounted?
  • What is the power source?

Now you’re ready to talk about specific brands and options. If you’ve decided to go ahead with a vehicle-mounted rotary screw air compressor, your next step will be to find an upfitter. The upfitter will be able to share the specific options available to your vehicle and provide you with quotes for purchasing and installing the air compressor. Check out our Dealer Locator to see our favorite upfitters!

If you’d rather have a reciprocating compressor or a tow-behind air compressor, there are numerous options available. Again, we recommend working with an upfitter who knows air compressors well and can help you choose the best compressor for your individual needs.

Curious what other operators are using? Find out in these posts:

VMAC G30 Customer Profile: Daniel Hysan, Sodel Diesel LLC

Daniel Hysan runs his own service company, Sodel Diesel LLC in Laurel, Delaware. As the President and sole employee, he works on a variety of jobs servicing large trucks, diesel equipment and engines. He owns two different vehicles, a Ford Transit service van, and a Ford Super Duty mechanic’s truck.

When he first started his business, Daniel was using reciprocating air compressors in his service vehicles: “I used to struggle every single time having to use a reciprocating compressor. I always had to wait for air to build, and I had to have a separate battery to start the unit; the list of challenges goes on and on.”

When enough was finally enough, Daniel started researching a better option. It was through his online research that he found VMAC’s website and reviewed a couple of options, an UNDERHOOD™ air compressor (Truck Series) and the VMAC G30 Gas Engine Driven Air Compressor. He ultimately decided to go with the G30 because he will be able to easily move the compressor to his next service truck when he replaces his vehicle.

VMAC G30, Powered By Honda

VMAC Gas Driven Air CompressorThe VMAC G30 is a rotary screw gas engine driven air compressor, which produces up to 30 CFM at 100% duty cycle, guaranteeing full air power, every time. “After watching several online videos of the G30 I found it was exactly what I needed to never have to struggle with air issues again,” says Daniel. Watch the VMAC G30 demo video.

Furthermore, this air compressor is 50% lighter and 50% smaller than comparable air compressors, does not require a bulky air receiver tank for it to produce full air power, and includes the battery. This lightweight and compact air compressor allows more space in the truck to store tools and equipment. This air compressor is popular with light and medium duty mobile mechanics, like Daniel, as well as mobile tire service technicians and light duty contractors.

VMAC G30 Solves Daniel Hysan’s Air Challenges

After his research Daniel was confident in his decision to purchase the G30, but like with any large purchase, he still had some concerns. “Of course, I was a little skeptical because of the purchase amount. But so far, I have had zero issues and no worries. The rep for my area, Brian Buckley, was very helpful when I was considering the G30, and he remains very helpful in answering any questions I have.”

So far, the change to the VMAC G30 has brought major improvements to Daniel’s workflow. “I can cut my labor time down by several hours at the end of each week. I can remove lug nuts from a truck faster than any air compressor I’ve ever used. I hardly burn any fuel when using the compressor because the run time is cut so short having the high output of air needed to get jobs done fast.”

The VMAC G30 has turned Daniel into an unofficial ambassador for VMAC air compressors in the Laurel, Delaware area. When he finds people who are not familiar with the VMAC G30 when they see it on his truck, and he takes this as an opportunity to spread the word. Daniel is always happy to run an on-the-fly demo for anyone who is interested in seeing the G30 air compressor in action. “It blows everybody’s mind when I start it and within seconds I have full air supply to run my tools. It’s a great feeling seeing how shocked they are after they see it perform—they think it’s too good to be true until they see it for themselves!”

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Sodel Diesel Saves Time and Money with the VMAC G30

Daniel-Hysan-VMAC-G30Daniel’s testimonial of the VMAC G30 is one you can trust—as owner and operator of Sodel Diesel, Daniel understands how equipment can make or break his company’s bottom line. “Long story short, not using a VMAC compressor made everything I did take so much longer, which directly affects making money.”

The change from a reciprocating gas driven air compressor to the rotary screw VMAC G30 has resulted in such an improvement in profitability, Daniel is eager to include another VMAC air compressor in his upcoming service van upgrade. “I am in the process of upgrading my service van and it will get an engine driven unit, the UNDERHOOD™ 40 Van Series Air Compressor, for sure from VMAC. The G30 is so well built though, I don’t think I’ll have much opportunity to buy another one because I don’t think you can break this thing!”

For owner/operators like Daniel, who are looking to get jobs done faster and without interruption, the VMAC G30 is the best choice. And as for what he would say to anyone considering a VMAC air compressor, the answer is simple: “Stop thinking about it and just do it!”

Are you ready to upgrade your gas drive air compressor to the VMAC G30?

You can also visit the VMAC G30 product page to see more details, including specs, components, demo videos and more.