Hydraulic Inspection 101: When to Check and What to Check For

Inspections of hydraulic systems are not one-time events. Inspection should be ongoing as part of a larger maintenance plan. However, this is not always the case. Unfortunately, there are plenty of operations out there without maintenance plans that simply fix things when they break. The problem with this method is that once something breaks, it has already affected other components, and damage can be irreversible. Close up of excavator

Catching possible issues ahead of time will result in greater efficiency and more up time. Knowing how often to check your hydraulic system and knowing what to check for is where some questions arise. We are going to address some of the key concerns in inspection and some of the strategies to set your operation up for success.

Simple inspections such as checking oil levels, temperature and checking for leaks should be conducted daily. 

More in-depth inspections that occur weekly include checking fluid levels, filter indicators and all hoses, pipes, fittings and connections. All hydraulic hoses should be inspected for wear, bubbles, leaks and twisting. Any corrosion in pipes needs to be addressed immediately. Fittings and connections should be carefully inspected to ensure proper fit and seal. Leaks do not occur overnight, and the best case scenario is that loose fittings and connections are caught before they manifest into leaks.

Air filters should be checked every six weeks. At this point, the condition of cylinders should also be noted and any visible dirt should be removed. Annual maintenance includes draining the oil tank, cleaning it out and refilling 

Close up of engine hoses and tubeswith new oil if possible.

While there are many different types of hydraulic hose, from spiral to braided to stainless steel Teflon® to thermoplastic, suction, flexible metal and performance, there is not much difference in how they are inspected. These hoses all have different constructions, but their purpose is singular in conveying hydraulic fluid, so inspection protocol is the same for all. If there is an issue with a hose, it will react similarly regardless of its type.

A couple of red flags to look out for regarding hydraulic hoses are cracked or stiff hoses. This happens if a hose has gotten too hot. If you notice any hoses in these conditions, it is time to cease operations and replace them immediately. Also ensure that you listen to anything that may sound out of place during an inspection, like whining pumps or air leaks.

Hydraulic hoses on mobile machinery

The best way to tackle a hydraulic inspection is to create an inspection schedule and checklist. Reference the list frequently and report findings. Keeping a log of inspections will keep the information fresh in your mind, and will ensure that no matter who is inspecting the equipment, everybody is on the same page. 

Hydraulic inspection is not something to be taken lightly. A hydraulic spill could cost you dearly. Even a small leak could cost up to $5,000 over the course of the year in fluid replacement. Beyond that, an environmental spill could result in the EPA hitting you with a hefty fine. 

Proper maintenance and inspection starts with having the right people on your team, who are held accountable for regularly conducting inspections, and making sure everything is documented. As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”