Hydraulic Cylinder Maintenance Tips: Assessing Common Problems and Upkeep

hydraulic cylinder maintenance tips

Hydraulic cylinders are built for tough applications and work environments. They are often exposed to heavy loads, extreme conditions, and debris from the work area. Regular maintenance can help avoid unexpected downtime due to breakdowns resulting in savings of time and money.

In this article, we’ll explore some basic maintenance tips that can help keep your equipment up and running and prolong the service life for your equipment. We will also explore common problems and potential causes that may help as you troubleshoot issues you encounter.

Hydraulic Cylinder Preventative Maintenance Tips

Regularly scheduled preventative maintenance on your hydraulic cylinders and system will help keep equipment working properly and minimize disruption to your work. These actions include visual inspection, greasing pivot points, cylinder rod lubrication, and hydraulic system maintenance. 

Visual Inspection

Regular visual inspection of the hydraulic cylinders on your equipment can identify potential issues before they become big problems. Clean off any dust and debris and pay attention to any areas that may show signs of oil leaking out of the cylinder. If excess oil is present, determine the source. Verify that all fittings are tight and consider resealing the cylinder if there is excessive oil buildup on the rod or it is leaking. Look for any damage to the plating or finish on the cylinder rod that could contribute to rod seal failure.  

Grease pivot points

Regular inspection and greasing of pivot points where the cylinder mounts to the equipment is important to maintain proper functionality and extend the service life of your cylinder and equipment. When greasing, it is also important to inspect bushing or bearings that may be worn or damaged. The mounting fit-up of the cylinder to the equipment is critical to ensuring proper and safe operation.

Cylinder Rod Lubrication

Corrosion of the cylinder rod can cause major problems. The most common result of cylinder rod corrosion is seal failure and leaking.  Once the cylinder rod is damaged, seal failure will occur rapidly and the rod will need to be replaced.  

The best way to avoid corrosion is to keep the cylinder rod lubricated. In most applications, this occurs naturally each time the cylinder cycles.  However, if the equipment operates for extended periods with the cylinder rod extended or if the equipment is stored for prolonged periods with the cylinder rod extended, the potential for rust and corrosion issues is heightened.  In those cases, it is important to lubricate the rod from time to time either by cycling the cylinder or applying lubricant to the rod.  

It is also important to make sure the cylinder rods are lubricated immediately after equipment washdown.  Washdown may remove all lubrication from the exposed cylinder rod and result in rust and corrosion very quickly. The best action is to cycle all cylinders fully after washing your equipment.

Hydraulic System Maintenance

Maintaining clean and uncontaminated hydraulic fluid is critical to cylinder life. Dirty hydraulic fluid can damage seals and other components leading to seal failure and leaking. It can also clog valves and fittings which can inhibit the intended functionality of the system.  It is important to follow the recommended maintenance plan for your hydraulic system that is provided by the manufacturer of your equipment. Make sure filters and fluids are changed on schedule.

Common Problems with Hydraulic Cylinders and Potential Causes

Leaking, settling, power loss, and excessive heat are a few common issues that can occur. Let’s take a look at each of these along with what could be causing them.


Leaking can occur at weld joints, hose port fittings, the rod seal, or at other locations within the hydraulic system. Leaks result in oil droplet or pooling when the equipment is in use or even when it is at rest. 

  • Weld leaks can result from a manufacturing defect or from fatigue or other operational stresses. Weld leaks will generally require a factory repair or in some cases are not repairable. 
  • Rod seal leaks can be caused by simple wear and tear on the rod seal. Premature rod seal failure can be caused by damage to the cylinder rod, contamination of the hydraulic fluid, or other factors. Often, rod seals can simply be replaced. If damage to other components is causing the rod seal failure, those components may need to be replaced as well.
  • Leaks from hose port fittings and other locations within the hydraulic system can be caused by loose connections, general wear and tear, or damage to components in the system. Regular maintenance and replacement of damaged components can help limit these issues.


Settling occurs when a load holding application fails to hold the load due to leakage somewhere in the hydraulic system. This could be noticed during operation or when the equipment is at rest for a period of time.  In the cylinder, this would most often occur if hydraulic fluid was able to bypass the piston seal due to wear or damage. This could also occur outside of the cylinder if valves or other load holding components are compromised.  

Piston seal failure can occur due to general wear and tear, extrusion due to excessive pressure, or damage due to contamination within the hydraulic system. Contamination and general wear and tear can also lead to bypass issues in other components within the hydraulic system. Regular maintenance and proper filtration are key to keeping the hydraulic system and fluid clean and functioning properly.

Power Loss

Power loss, or the seeming loss of working force of the cylinder, is often a sign of piston seal bypass in the cylinder or leaking/bypassing in other parts of the hydraulic system. Check the piston seals for wear and replace seals if needed. If seal failure is premature, check for damage to the inside of the cylinder barrel and for contamination in the cylinder or hydraulic fluid. 

Excessive Heat

Ensuring the proper operating temperature for your hydraulic cylinder is important for the function of your equipment and in avoiding damage to cylinders or other components. If your system temperatures are too high, check for filters needing replacement or issues with the cooling system for your hydraulics.

Have Questions About These Hydraulic Cylinder Maintenance or issues you are experiencing? Contact Aurelius

For over 40 years, Aurelius Manufacturing has specialized in designing and manufacturing high-quality custom welded hydraulic cylinders. Our team leverages our experience to develop designs that fit seamlessly into your application. We have experience with many cylinder types, including smart cylinders, double acting, displacement, rephasing, double rod, and more and our designs are tailored to your requirements, including cylinder bore, rod diameter, stroke length, mounts, porting, and material
Are you ready to start your project? Contact us today.

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