If you’ve arrived here, there shouldn’t be any issues with your hydraulic fluid levels, so we can move on to the next common enemy of the functional hydraulic system – the bad filter. Of course, filters keep your fluid from becoming contaminated by debris. They are an absolute necessity. As a result, they are often obsessively checked and re-checked (far often than hydraulic fluid is).
Unfortunately, sometimes they just aren’t checked enough. For this step, we’ll be looking at common indicators that a bad filter has caused the malfunction of your hydraulic machine. This process most often begins with a little bit of..
Standard Contamination Testing
If your hydraulic fluid is contaminated, chances are you’ve neglected or forgotten a filter somewhere. It is for this reason (among a few others) that many manufacturers will recommend checking the levels of contamination within a system every 500 or 1,000 hours of operation. Unfortunately, contamination testing is a lengthy, expensive, and highly specialized process. Most machines operators will be unwilling, or unable to complete the necessary tasks involved with standard contamination testing. So, we’ll have to get creative. Answer these questions regarding smell, sight, and texture of your fluid.
Does the fluid look darker?
Like all fluids that deal with mechanical energy, if it looks darker and “muddier” it probably has a good reason for looking so. Compare your fluid with fluid straight from a fresh container. It’ll never look exactly the same, but the contrast should never be night and day. If you find that your fluid is “muddy” or seems to have lumps when poured, contamination is a firm possibility.
Are their any odd smells?
This one is a tad strange, but still applies. People who’ve been around hydraulic fluid for many years (like us) can tell you the stuff rarely loses its distinct smell. Rain water or dirt and debris can alter the stench of hydraulic fluid in large quantities, however. Your sense of smell should not be forgotten here.
Pick it up, get a feel for it
The number one, absolute best way to diagnose fluid contamination is through touching the stuff. Often, contaminated hydraulic fluid will develop a distinct “muddy” texture that, honestly, leaves little to the imagination. If a hydraulic filter has gone out long enough for your system to develop problems due to fluid contamination, there might even be a slight debris or “sandy” texture to the fluid. Either/or spells bad news for your system’s inter-workings.
Why this step is important
Fluid contamination will ruin hydraulic systems, every-time. These sensory warning signs are your best bet for figuring out how long your filters have been running at less than operational condition on a budget. Implementing improved filter replacement practices and taking care to follow them religiously is also your best bet at preventing future system malfunction due to the disrepair of a filter. If your fluid appears normal, or your filters appear to be functioning appropriately, move on to the next step in the troubleshooting process –