Electric motor start-run capacitor selection guide:
This article explains how to choose & buy an electric motor start capacitor, hard start capacitor, or run capacitor that is properly rated for and matches the requirements of the electric motor such as an AC compressor motor or fan motor where the capacitor is to be installed.
This electric motor capacitor article series explains the selection, installation, testing, & use of electric motor starter start and run capacitors used on various electric motors found in or at buildings such as air conditioner compressors, fan motors, some well pumps and some heating equipment.
These electric motors use a capacitor to start and run the motor efficiently. We explain the choice & wiring procedures for a hard start capacitor designed to get a hard-starting air conditioner compressor motor, fan motor, refrigerator, or freezer compressor or other electric motor (such as a well pump) going.
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The best option if you are replacing a starting capacitor or a start/run capacitor is to match the existing device on your system. [Click to enlarge any image]
Capacitor energy ratings are expressed in farads - the amount of electrical power stored in the capacitor, where uf = microfarad (10-6 farads) and is the same as mfd (microfarads) written in other references.
Capacitors are also rated for the voltage range in which the capacitor can safely operate, such as 220V or 440V.
You can substitute capacitors on a cooling system but the substitute capacitor must be able to handle the voltage. For example you can't sub a 110V-rated capacitor into a 220V system.
Depending on the application, the micro-farad range of starting capacitors varies according to the motor size. Run capacitors typically range in micro-farads from 1.5 to 50uf. Start capacitors typically range from 20-30 uf up to 250-300 uf. The example capacitor charts (left) are adapted from AFCAP. 
You can also check a capacitor to compare its performance with its microfarad rating by using an ohmmeter. In a working capacitor ohms will build-up and then fall off (when the capacitor discharges).
If you reverse the + and - leads of the DC ohmmeter. leads it will repeat. If you do not see any resistance in the capacitor then it has an internal short and it's shot - you need a new one.
HVAC suppliers sell general-use starting capacitors that are intended for use across a range of electrical motors and motor sizes.
But at least some industry sources (the Sealed Unit Parts Company or Supco) make a more careful argument explaining that it's best not to install a significantly oversized starting capacitor on an electric motor. According to Supco, [quoting]
If the start capacitor is too large for the application, the capacitor can actually mask the developed voltage in the start windings and keep the start capacitor in the circuit continuously. .... The ... run-start voltage is suppressed below the trigger voltage of the start device. As a result, the start capacitor remains in the circuit as the motor runs.
A secondary, fail-safe method is necessary to ensure that the start device is ultimately removed from the circuit.
... A start device that fails to remove the start capacitor from the circuit has the potential to cause premature failure of the start windings in the compressor. ... If the capacitor is never removed from the start windings, premature winding failure could occur. As such, care should be taken when selecting capacitor sizes for an application.
Care should also be taken regarding products that tout a "bigger capacitor is better" approach to compressor starting. SUPCO E-Class devices provide a secondary timing safety device to ensure that the start capacitor is dropped from the circuit in a fail-safe mode.
[Italics are ours-Ed.].
6/16/2014 Danno said:
I'm replacing the capacitor in my AC condenser. The original/stock unit says 35/5 440 AC. This is the cap I ordered from a distributor, but upon receiving it, the box says "5/35 440" (the 5 and 35 are transposed. Distributor says its the same thing. Is this correct? Thanks for any 411
Danno I think the scrambled order is not an issue as long as the key numbers on the capacitor match its application or match the old one AND as long as you connect the proper wires.
(NOT specifying your particular capacitor)
What may be important also in capacitor selection (see our article above for details) is the distinction between
Start capacitor - just used to get the motor spinning from a stop
Run capacitor - keeps the motor spinning
Dual capacitor - combines two capacitors in a single physical device, one to run a higher-amperage motor such as the compressor in an air conditioner compressor/condenser unit, and a second smaller capacitor to run a smaller motor such as the cooling fan motor in the compresor/condenser unit.
Reader Mark (18 June 2014) has given us a helpful and detailed translation of the markings found on start capacitors, repeated here:
Run capacitors: I always was taught that 35/5 was a [dual] run capacitor. 35 is the microfarad rating for the compressor & 5 microfarad was for the fan. (three terminals) not:
Decode a 35/5/440 marking on a motor starting capacitor:
The capacitor you are describing marked 35/5 440 is probably a dual run capacitor.
35/5 : The first two numbers are the capacitance 35 uF (for the compressor) and 5 uF (for the fan motor).
A dual "run capacitor" supports two electric motors, such as in large air conditioner or heat pump units, with both a fan motor and a compressor motor.
It saves space by combining two physical capacitors into one case. The dual capacitor has 3 terminals labeled
"HERM", which stand for the Common, Fan, and HERMetically sealed compressor.
440 refers to the ability to run voltages up to 440VAC
Dual run capacitors come in a variety of sizes, depending on the capacitance (µF), such as 40 plus 5 µF, and also the voltage. (Be sure to connect properly to compressor motor, fan motor and common)
A 440 volt capacitor can be used in place of a 370 volt, but not a 370 in place of a 440 volt.
The capacitance must stay the same within 5% of its original value.
Round cylinder-shaped dual run capacitors are commonly used for air conditioning, to help in the starting of the compressor and the condenser fan motor.
An oval dual run capacitor could be used instead of a round capacitor, but the mounting strap should be changed to better fit the oval shape
Watch out: Take a look at the wiring sheet that should be with your capacitor or wiring marked on the device itself to be sure that you are properly connecting the Start and Run wires and you'll be OK.
As we noted in the article above, the dual capacitor terminals may be labeled so that the three leads can be wired correctly:
I have a Wayne 1 HP motor used as a utility pump. The capacitor burnt out. It is a rectangle plastic capacitor with two wires coming off of it. The numbers on it are: 30 F /J/250VAC I don’t see a U before the F there are two symbols that look like arrows pointing to the right before the F letter. There is a name on it that says YUHCHANG ( P ) I read you article on how to choose a capacitor still it’s all Greek to me. So what am I looking for?
Thanks for your time, - Anonymous by private email 2016/06/19
Sorry I wrote in less than clear English. Just take the cap to your local electrical supplier; they'll be able to match it.
For readers whose capacitor has no markings whatsoever, your electrical supplier will want to know the technical details about the capacitor's intended use. Those can be found on the motor data tags for the motor served by the cap.
Also if you can, send me some sharp photos of the cap and its markings and I may be able to comment further. Use the page top or bottom CONTACT link.
Hereps a photo of the capacitor I'm talking about.
OK so we know this is probably just a single-purpose motor-start capacitor, since starting capacitors are most-oftem 125, 165, 250 and 330 volt devices while run capacitors are rated for higher levels like 370 and 440 volts. If it were a dual-purpose capacitor you'd see 3 rather than just 2 terminals.
You'll have no trouble buying a replacement at your local electrical supplier or even from an online supplier. Prices for a motor capacitor start at under $10. U.S.
Ask for a 30 microfarad 250VAC motor start capacitor. Take along the old sick one to show your supplier.
At HOW TO WIRE up a START CAPACITOR we show how to hook up a typical capacitor.
Watch out: Keep me posted on how you do, and work with POWER OFF so you live to tell me.
Continue reading at HOW TO WIRE up a START CAPACITOR or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see this
Article Series Contents
- MOTOR CAPACITOR TYPES
- CAPACITORS for HARD STARTING MOTORS
- HOW to CHOOSE a START / RUN CAPACITOR
- HOW a STARTING CAPACITOR WORKS
- HOW TO WIRE up a START CAPACITOR
- LOCATE the STARTING CAPACITOR
- TEST a MOTOR START or RUN CAPACITOR
- MOTOR CAPACITOR FAQs
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The SUPCO E-Class Series comprise the most advanced developments in start device technology:
1. Voltage sensing technology that monitors for motor start (current sensing devices require internal fuse protection).
2. A 2-wire connection that simplifies installation
3. A secondary timing circuit that ensures that the capacitor is not permanently left in the start winding circuit
4. A fully electronic device - minimizing the limitations of mechanical devices and secondary fusing associated with triac devices
5. A start device matched with an appropriately sized capacitor to cover the range of compressors for the intended application (one size does not fit all)
The use of compressor start devices results from a need to ensure that a compressor (usually air conditioning) will start under voltage conditions that are less than ideal. As discussed, several options exist in the market to address compressor start concerns. Start devices exist in many forms for specific applications. SUPCO provides a full range of products in all relevant technologies to effectively match the proper start device to the application. Care should be taken to utilize a device that meets the requirements of the job. Extra caution should be observed when employing the "one-size-fits-all" and "a bigger capacitor is better" approach to applying a start device. Consult SUPCO, a manufacturer with a complete product range, to ensure the greatest success in the start device application.