hydraulic system maintenance checklist

Author: Michele Baker Ph.D

Hydraulic System Maintenance Checklist and Tips

When it comes to operating heavy machinery and equipment, a hydraulic system likely does the heavy lifting. These powerful pieces of equipment are capable of moving impressive weights and are behind some of the most vital tasks of many businesses. With all the work they do, proper hydraulic system care is critical. Without it, you risk damaging the components, losing efficiency and injuring workers by creating safety hazards.

Many maintenance tasks need to be done regularly, so it helps to keep a list handy. We've compiled a hydraulic system maintenance checklist, so you can ensure your system stays clean and healthy.

Table of Contents

  1. Why Is Hydraulic System Maintenance Important?
  2. How to Maintain a Hydraulic System
  3. Hydraulic System Maintenance Tips

Why Is Hydraulic System Maintenance Important?

A hydraulic system is a critical component of most heavy machinery. The fluid power a hydraulic system generates enables the force needed to lift and move heavy parts.

Hydraulic systems themselves feature numerous intricate components that must operate efficiently for the system to function. Keeping each assembly in working order requires a regular maintenance routine.

Regular hydraulic servicing will ensure the following:


Your employees are the heart and soul of your organization — ensuring their safety allows you to continue doing what you do. Working around hydraulic equipment is dangerous, especially when the equipment malfunctions or breaks down. Instituting a regular maintenance routine will help you notice and repair potentially hazardous issues to minimize the chances of a harmful incident occurring.


Time is money, so you do everything you can to keep your crew on schedule. Regular equipment maintenance is a critical aspect of workplace efficiency, as servicing your equipment will help prevent breakdowns and injuries that could halt your operations. Rather than falling behind due to unforeseen incidents, work regular maintenance into your schedule to maximize uptime. The comparatively small amount of time you dedicate to hydraulic equipment maintenance will increase your organization's productivity in the long run.


Your organization spent a lot of money purchasing hydraulic equipment, so it is wise to preserve that investment through consistent maintenance. A breakdown could cause you to spend even more money repairing or replacing those resources. Maintenance technicians clear the clogs and corrosion that could damage your system's critical components. By investing a small amount in hydraulic servicing, you will save your business from the high costs of repairing components, replacing your entire system or covering employee medical bills.

Hydraulic System Maintenance Checklist

Before starting on this checklist, you may want to have your system's literature with you, to check manufacturer specifications for things like filter schedules, oil specs and average temperatures.

Here is our collection of hydraulic system maintenance tips:

1. Oil Maintenance

oil maintenance for hydraulics

Check your hydraulic oil on a consistent schedule — it needs to remain clean and free of any contaminants. You should empty and replace the hydraulic oil after every 1,000 hours of work or per the manufacturer's instructions.

You can help minimize the risk of contamination by keeping the area around entry points, like dipsticks and fuel plugs, clear of dust and debris.

Read the manufacturer specifications to confirm how often you should change the fluid and other factors of hydraulic fluid care. It is essential to use the same type of hydraulic fluid every time you top off your levels. If possible, use the same brand each time as well.

2. Changing Filters Regularly

Filters take on the task of removing even the most minuscule particles that could clog your hydraulic system. However, the process of keeping particulates out of the system causes the filters themselves to become clogged over time. Your filters will lose efficacy as they accumulate pollutants, so replace them often. If applicable, make sure to clean the filter bowl as well.

3. Rod Conditions

Visually inspect the rod for wear, such as corrosion and pitting. These issues can lead to moisture within the fluid, which compounds and can cause many problems for your hydraulic system, like increased wear and inadequate lubrication.

4. Seal Replacement

If rod corrosion occurs, it can damage the seal from excess friction. Other dangers to seals include excess pressure and fluid contaminants. A worn seal may leak, causing equipment hazards and environmental health and safety concerns. If there are signs the seal is damaged, check with your equipment manufacturer about proper replacement.

5. Regular Hydraulic Lines Checkup

Fluctuations in pressure or line thickness can lead to equipment damage. For example, excessive pressure from the cylinder can cause ballooning, where the line dilates and allows too much high-pressure fluid to pass, thus wearing out the seals. Regularly inspect the condition of the lines and make sure they are not ballooning.

6. Inspect Fluid Levels

For optimal functioning, you must watch your fluid levels, adding to them as needed. Too little hydraulic fluid can damage your pumps. Just like when replacing contaminated oil, be sure to follow the specifications given by the manufacturer and take care to avoid mixing oils.

7. Check Breather Caps, Fill Screens and Breather Filters

Breathers must be kept clean or risk contaminating the hydraulic system. Clean the breather regularly and inspect it for holes or tears. Different types of breathers may have additional requirements, so check the manufacturer's instructions. Spring types, for instance, may need to be replaced annually to avoid tension loss that allows contaminants. Others can have indicators that tell you when to replace filters or caps. Be aware of any additional steps such as these.

8. Inspect Filter Indicators

Most filters have pop-out buttons that trigger when they become clogged. Check for any of these indications and replace the filters as needed.

9. Visually Check All Pipes, Pipe Connections and System Hoses

check all pipes connections hydraulic hoses

If hoses are pinched, kinked, frayed, bubbling, stretched or otherwise damaged, they can restrict the flow of fluid or lead to pressure leaks. Most of these problems are visible from the outside, but others occur internally, so inspect the inside for damage that could cause a clog.

Additionally, check pipes, fittings and couplers for any dents or corrosion. Fittings should be snug, but not overly tight. Couplers need to stay clean to prevent contamination or leaking.

Leaks cause excessive oil consumption, overheating and severe safety and environmental hazards. These can be difficult to clean up and dangerous for employees, so watch out for signs to prevent leaks in the first place.

10. Check the System Temperature

If your system temperature gets too hot, it could indicate an issue with your cooler or relief valve. Low fluid levels could also contribute to heat. Use built-in or infrared thermometers to check temperatures. Do not touch components that you suspect may be hot, as this can lead to severe burns.

11. Visually Inspect Inside the Reservoir

Aeration within the reservoir can cause overheating and wear on seals and system components. Aeration happens when air bubbles enter the oil stream due to low fluid levels, low fluid temperatures, air leaks and bad seals. Foaming, loud gurgling noises and whirlpools at the suction strainer indicate aeration.

12. Listen to the Pumps

Similar to aeration, cavitation is the result of gas bubbles experiencing rapid changes in pressure. The gas bubbles implode, causing miniature shock waves. The shock waves generate repeated stress on the metal surfaces, damaging the components.

If a pump is cavitating, it will release a high-pitched whining sound. Listening to the pumps gives you an idea of cavitation that may be present.

13. Inspect a Sample of Hydraulic Fluid

To check your fluid for quality, take a small sample and inspect it. Do a quick visual inspection for color abnormalities and visible contaminants. You may also want to inspect for any unusual odors. Performing a contamination test can offer a more accurate review of the fluid's qualities. It offers detailed findings for particle contamination, water contamination, viscosity, acidity and signs of overheating.

14. Perform Hydraulic Valve Maintenance

Scan electrically controlled Servo valves using an infrared thermometer and check the temperature of these valves. If it is higher than 150℉, you may have a problem with the valve. Slow or errant operation at the valve points can be a sign of contaminated fluid.

15. Check the Electric Drive Motor

Keep your infrared thermometer out and use it on the electric drive motor to detect any areas of high heat. These areas could be on the housing or rotor bearings and require servicing to avoid further damage to the equipment.

Hydraulic System Maintenance Tips

hydraulic system maintenance tips

As with any maintenance task, it's important to approach it the right way. Here are some hydraulic system troubleshooting tips that can make the process easier and faster for your employees:

  • Watch your access points and pressure readings: When setting up your system, place frequently accessed components, like filters and gauges, in easy-to-reach places.
  • Label your reservoirs: To ensure accurate fluid changes, label the reservoirs. You can also mark normal fluid levels on the reservoir sight glass, to make this step faster and simpler.
  • Consider automatic drain valves: Installing automatic drain valves may be worth it to eliminate certain maintenance tasks.
  • Safety first: Always remember how much power a hydraulic system is capable of. Only allow skilled, trained technicians to perform maintenance on them to avoid injury or damage.

York Precision Bear-Loc® Hydraulic Locking Actuator

York Precision Machining & Hydraulics is leading the way in precision fluid power components and systems. York Precision is home to the renowned Bear-Loc® and Bear-Loc® Hydraulic Locking Actuator, the most reliable locking solution available. More information about Bear-Loc and York Precision products and capabilities is available here.

Proper hydraulic maintenance and a quality hydraulic locking actuator can help protect the longevity of your system and the safety of your employees. For more information about hydraulic systems and how Bear-Loc® can improve yours, reach out to a representative today.

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