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What are the most common causes of hydraulic system failure?

3 months ago

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There are many reasons that could cause a hydraulic system to break down, many of which are preventable if carefully monitored. Here we take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of hydraulic failure.


Fluid contamination

One of the main reasons hydraulic systems fail is due to fluid contamination. Whatever the type of fluid being used, if it becomes contaminated with any dust, dirt, or moisture, this can reduce the pumps ability to control system pressures. This in turn, can lead to overheating or a build-up in the system that causes the parts to seize and fail.

Always ensure that the different components and fluids are clean and fit for purpose before use, to prevent failure from occurring.


Poor or irregular maintenance

Servicing is vital to keep a system running smoothly. It is important to ensure that the system’s oil and filters are changed appropriately. Poor or irregular maintenance could cause the system to become contaminated, increasing wear on the pump and associated equipment.

The suction hose between the tank and pump also needs to be in good condition and replaced if any sign of wear.

It is good practice to inspect a hydraulic unit regularly, checking the oil levels, cleaning up any spillages and reporting any defects immediately.


Misuse and human error

It is imperative that proper instruction and training is given to anyone that is using an application operated by a hydraulic system. Faulty installation, using incompatible parts or improper usage are all major factors that can cause failure.


Environmental & operating factors

Temperature and working conditions all have an impact on the system.

The power unit needs be housed or operated in a well-ventilated area, so that the oil coolers are kept free from dust and contamination.

Is the application operating in high temperatures? If so, close attention will need to be given to the type of fluid used and specialist seals will need to be installed, in all applications. Always avoid using mineral based oils in high temperature applications, these are refined from crude oil and have a flash point, which means that they will ignite at a certain temperature.

If the application is operating in cold environments, a tank heater may need to be installed, in order to maintain the fluid viscosity. Hydraulic fluid that is too thick or too thin can cause damage to the system.

Aggressive working conditions can also put strain on a system, leaving it vulnerable to failure. External shocks and vibration can cause surging and cavitation between the tank and the inlet of the pump. This can be avoided by properly mounting the power unit on special anti-vibration units.

The hydraulic tank also needs to be mounted higher than the pump and kept as close together as possible.


No matter what the application, hydraulic system failure is inevitable at some point. However, issues can be avoided if you ensure that you regularly follow all maintenance procedures and make certain that the appropriate components are installed or replaced correctly. If you are unsure of anything, don’t be afraid to call on your industry peers or hydraulic professionals for their help and advice.