In the past, having pressurized air and thus a compressor was considered essential for a car workshop. With chorded electric tools considered unsafe (due to the high voltage) and unwieldy, air tools were used extensively. Thanks to Lithium batteries and brushless electric motors, this has changed completely. Many tools, such as impact wrenches, ratchets, and sanders, are now available as powerful battery-powered versions. This also eliminates the air hose, and while the batteries aren’t cheap, you can usually get by with a few for different tools, as long as you stick to a single manufacturer.
As a compressor is large, expensive, and noisy, air tools alone (even though they are still lighter than electric versions) are little reason to get one. The two main reasons to get a compressor are
- For bead blasting
- If you want to do your own car painting
Bead blasting is the more accessible application. A bead blaster is a very handy tool when it comes to cleaning up old metal parts. The downside is that bead blasters are large and need quite a large volume of air. But if you have the space and lots of metal parts to clean, I’d definitely consider it.
Regarding painting, long gone are the days of the Ford Model T and brush-applied paint. The only way to get a good paint job is by spray painting with a paint gun and a constant pressure air source, i.e. a compressor. Spray cans can be used for stuff like undercoating and priming in invisible regions, but will not get you a good result. Getting a car painted is expensive, so doing your own paint may sound like a good idea – but there’s a reason why paint is expensive: a good paint job needs a lot of preparation (lots of filling and sanding), a dust-free paint booth, and skill and experience with the paint gun. So expect to invest quite a bit of time and money until you achieve a good finish. But, once again, if you have the space for a dedicated paint area, and plan to paint regularly, it might definitely be worth getting a compressor.