Four Early Warning Signs Your Hydraulic System Is Failing

Hydraulic systems on heavy vehicles are used to control everything from lift gates to braking components to steering mechanisms. Should these systems fail, accidents can occur resulting in injury or costly damage to property. That is why it is important for vehicle operators to know the early warning signs of hydraulic system failure and when it is time to take a vehicle into the shop for inspection and repair. Below are four early warning signs and what may lie behind them:

Hydraulic oil overheating

If your gauge or system monitor indicates the hydraulic oil is overheating, you will know there is a potentially serious problem present. Hydraulic oil overheating can be caused by several factors:

  • Insufficient hydraulic oil volume - Hydraulic oil removes heat from the system by transferring it to the oil reservoir and heat exchangers. If the hydraulic oil level is too low, then there will not be a sufficient volume of fluid to absorb the heat in the system.

  • Clogged components - Heat exchangers that are blocked internally can also result in a buildup of heat within the system, if they are no longer able to allow heat transfer to occur.

  • External insulation of system - If any material or debris comes between the system components and the outside air, it can actually serve as an unintended insulator and prevent the oil from radiating heat into the atmosphere.

Overheating is a significant concern due to its destructive effects upon hydraulic components, such as seals around cylinders and pumps. Excessive heat causes deterioration of hydraulic fluid, as well, shortening its useful lifespan. Worst of all, too much heat inside a hydraulic system can be the cause of a destructive and deadly fire.

Clouded hydraulic oil

Another sign of trouble within your vehicle's system is hydraulic oil clouding. Clouding, which is when the hydraulic oil has a white, milky, or foamy appearance, can occur due to a couple of primary reasons:

  • Presence of air mixed with hydraulic oil - Air can be introduced into a closed hydraulic system by a variety of factors. Too much air can lead to problems described in the section below.

  • Presence of water mixed with the oil - Water inside the system can occur due to leaks or condensation. If water is present, it can lead to corrosion and loss of hydraulic oil effectiveness.

In either circumstance, hydraulic oil clouding due to air or water should be explored immediately to protect the equipment.

Unusual noises during operation

Hydraulic equipment can be noisy as a matter of normal operation, but if you detect the presence of abnormal sounds, such as banging, clattering and knocking, then a problem may exist. Typically, you can expect one of the following to be present, if you hear strange noises:

  • Excessive air - Too much air in the system can lead to bubbling in the fluid and loss of control of equipment. The presence of air is due to leaks around seals or hoses, and it may also occur during improper maintenance and a failure to bleed air.

  • Cavitation - This problem occurs whenever compressed air bubbles implode inside hydraulic oil, resulting in internal damage to components as well as fluid degradation.

Delayed or erratic operation

Another sign that your equipment's hydraulic system needs attention is failure to respond to input within an appropriate amount of time or if it exhibits erratic, jerky movements. Of course, this can be a dangerous situation if it makes usage unreliable or unpredictable and may cause injury or damage as a consequence.

Such erratic operation is possible for multiple reasons but primarily occurs due to leakage of hydraulic oil. The hydraulic oil provides the system with pressure to operate, so a loss of this pressure also corresponds with sluggish or odd operational characteristics. Leaks that occur on the outside of a system are usually obvious due to the pooling of hydraulic oil or spraying from a leak. However, leaks can also occur inside a system, which leads to no net loss of fluid from the equipment. Nonetheless, a failure to route hydraulic oil inside the system where it is needed will still cause operation problems. You can click here for more information.