Hydraulic cylinder failure symptoms

Hydraulic cylinders provide the muscle for a wide range of equipment and machinery. They generate massive amounts of power from pressurised liquid passing in and out of the cylinder and are arguably the most important component in any machinery for industrial applications. 

Hydraulic cylinders still need maintenance to continue to perform to their required specifications. Without maintenance, cylinders can and do fail. Given that they are the muscles of the machine, this can have serious consequences. It pays to know how to spot problems before they occur, so here are the most common hydraulic cylinder failure symptoms. 


Fluid contamination 

One of the most common causes of failure is contamination in the hydraulic fluid. Dirt, dust or debris in the fluid causes damage to the interior and compromises seals and fittings. This will cause rapid degradation in operational performance.  


Damaged seals 

Any damage to a seal prevents the cylinder from maintaining the correct operating pressure. This adds unwanted load to the machinery and affects performance over time. Damaged seals should be replaced immediately to prevent further damage to machinery. 


Side loading from improper installation 

Hydraulic cylinders apply force along an intended axis aligned with the cylinder. When properly installed, the cylinder is placed in the optimal position to deliver the force required. However, some cylinders get installed at a different angle to the intended direction of movement, which is known as side loading. Improper positioning puts unnecessary strain on the cylinder and results in complete failure over time, depending on how badly it has been aligned. 


Damage to pistons 

If pistons or the nuts that secure them loosen over time, damage can occur from premature wear or contaminants getting into the cylinder. If either happens, the cylinder will fail, resulting in the complete loss of power to machinery. 


Insufficient or too much pressure 

To work to specification, hydraulic fluid has to be delivered and maintained at the required internal pressure for the ram. If there is too much pressure or not enough, the cylinder won’t perform properly. Always monitor pressure and adjust it as necessary to avoid damage to rams and machinery. 


Less common hydraulic cylinder failure symptoms 



Any external damage to the cylinder, such as when there has been an accident, can cause a variety of problems, all of which lead to failure. Cracks can leak fluid, a damaged piston will develop wear, or the ram itself could become misaligned and cause side loading. If you have an accident, get an expert to inspect the damage before continuing to use the machinery. 


Improper maintenance 

As we mentioned in our article about maintenance, proper maintenance is essential for cylinders to keep working to specification. Poor maintenance will lead to performance issues or, ultimately, outright failure. These, of course, lead to downtime, which always has an impact on the bottom line for any business, especially unplanned downtime. 


Choose the right cylinder for the job 

Not all hydraulic cylinders are built equally. More robust and durable cylinders are much less likely to develop failures and require less maintenance. If you’ve had a failure, try a Motus cylinder in your machine and enjoy the quality difference.