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A Hydraulic Engineer’s Guide to Failing Components ben lee

In today’s uncertain economy it’s critical to practice proactive hydraulic system maintenance to avoid untimely failure of components and the associated cost. If you suffer from a failure, then check whether your components are still under warranty from the supplier. If they aren’t, then your maintenance budget will have to bear the cost.

Avoid component failure

For this reason, our recommendation is to put focus on the following activities to lower the risk of component failure:

·         Maintenance should be proactive as opposed to reactive

·         Apply the rock solid principle of using the right oil and keeping your machine dry, cool and clean

·         Design your hydraulic system to deliver the results you want in terms of reliability and maintenance goals

·         Apply the use of checklists to ensure regular maintenance and to determine hidden failures

However, the reality of operation is that it’s still possible for failures to occur even when all these preventative fundamentals are applied. When a component fails the first query is usually about who will cover the cost? Normally it would be the party who has been negligent. But identifying who has been negligent and then getting everybody on the same page with it, is often far easier than it sounds.

Factory Produced or Refurbished?

If the component in question was installed pretty much straight from the factory floor, then questions will be asked whether it was installed correctly and about the conditions of its operation. These questions will include how clean the oil was, how hot it was and whether the oil had the correct viscosity. Was there any wrongdoing by the operator, faults with the circuit design or incorrect operating pressure? Although it’s possible that the manufacturing plant produced a defect, it’s not common and this will usually be ruled out.

However, if the component was refurbished or rebuilt, then the quality of this in addition to the above questions will be asked.

Whatever the source of the failed component is, it’s critical that a complete and detailed analysis takes place to identify the cause. In truth, analysis of component failure is a critical task that plays into proactive and preventative maintenance of any upkeep program.

The rationale behind this is that if the reason why a component has failed is not found and rectified, then the same fate could happen to a replacement part.

Specialist Knowledge

Handling analysis of the component failure requires specialist expertise. There needs to be a full understanding of hydraulic circuits in addition to a good understanding of the construction of the component and their methods of failure. This will usually be taken on by the manufacturer or the rebuilder of the component. This then leaves the machine owner’s perspective out of the equation, which can cause some frustration depending on what information you may have to add.


Having witnessed and been involved in a number of warranty claims – both here and at previous companies, we have learned the following:

1.      The analysis of a failed component is not always clearly determined.

2.      Although a rebuilder may recognise that he has made a mistake, he is not always willing to admit to it.

3.      It’s not everybody who gets involved in a warranty claim that has the expertise and experience to do so.


4.    Of course contamination and cavitation can have adverse effects on components, they cannot always be used as reasons why.

In some cases, it really does make you wonder whether avoidance of taking responsibility is a strategy to avoid warranty claims.

However, it’s important to understand what has compromised the longevity of a component. Is it operational issues, storage or erroneous installation?

Component suppliers worth their weight in gold are those that advise on potential pitfalls.

In summary, if there’s one thing that needs to be applied in this industry, it’s this: Wherever you are positioned in the component cycle, manufacturer, supplier or operator, it’s your duty to take reason steps to stay outside of the warranty claim process. 

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