Hydraulic Pump Problems: What to Inspect, Common Causes, and Basic Maintenance
The hydraulic pumps on construction equipment are critical components of the machines and even though they are often designed to work under vigorous and intense conditions, no pump will last forever. Discovering a problematic pump can be complicated as the effects might seem to originate in other connected parts, and, if failures are gradual, the cascading effects of a pump failure can spread throughout a machine.
To help in your diagnosis — and with a small dash of preventive maintenance — we’ve put together this basic, short list of common pump problems and their causes.
How Do I Know if My Hydraulic Pump is Failing?
A failing hydraulic pump can be a long and subtle process, a sudden and catastrophic calamity, and all shades in-between, but often a perceptive operator will notice the signs of a pump failure in advance. It might take a few minutes of stopping and inspecting, but knowing what to watch for and taking the time to inspect your hydraulic pumps can often pay off in the long run and lead to fast and simple fixes, instead of prolonged and labor-intensive downtimes.
Some of the most common signs of hydraulic pump problems are:
Leaks in Seals and Connections
A hydraulic pump is often secured behind a door or guard or integrated deeply into the body of a machine, but taking the time to inspect the pump for the presence of oil (or oil and dirt clumping) can lead to the early discovery of problems. If the issue is simply a loose connection, a quick tightening can often stop a small issue from growing.
Since a hydraulic pump has both seals to prevent fluid from exiting the pump and also fluid from prematurely entering from one chamber to the next, failing seals can be both internal and external. Spotting an exterior leak is, of course, simpler, but being aware of where seals exist inside the pump can also help you diagnose a failing internal seal.
Loud Noises, Whining Sounds, or Knocking
The most frequently noticed indication of a failing pump is often the start of a new sound coming from the hydraulic pump. An experienced operator will often immediately know and recognize a pump that is indicating issues through sounds, but for many it can be harder to pinpoint.
A problem with a pump can cause it to simply become louder in its operations, develop a whining sound, or even create a knocking sound. The sounds can indicate a number of problems, but often the cause is either cavitation or aeration in the pump.
Hot to the Touch
Over long spans of work and under intense conditions, a hydraulic pump will often heat up, but excessive heating is often a sign of internal issues in the hydraulic pump. Checking a hydraulic pump for excess heat should always be done with safety in mind and with a secure machine and proper protective equipment. Periodically ensuring a hydraulic pump isn’t overheating allows an operator to discover if the pump is under undue strain and on a path to failure.
Overheating in a hydraulic pump can also cause fluid to thin, cause internal components to more rapidly degrade, and introduce dangerous working conditions to the machine. Overheating in a pump is both a sign of current trouble and a cause of other growing problems.
Jumpy or Erratic Movement
Unexpected and non-fluid movement of parts can be caused by issues with the hydraulic pump, but since the culprit can be a number of other parts in the system, diagnosing pump issues from these movements isn’t always simple. Still, if you do notice non-uniform movements in your machine, taking time to rule out the hydraulic pump is important.
What are the Most Common Causes of a Hydraulic Pump Failure?
Knowing some of the common causes of hydraulic pump failures is a proven way of proactively discovering developing issues and correcting them before they become disastrous to the pump and the machine.
Contamination in the Pump
The internals of a hydraulic pump are designed to work with fluid that meets exacting specifications. When hydraulic fluid is contaminated it can lead to issues developing in the pump, force the pump to work harder, and cause the pump to work erratically. One common culprit for contamination is water, and it can quickly lead to increased corrosion, changes in viscosity that lead to inefficiencies, and the inability to properly regulate heat in the pump.
Other debris, either introduced from outside or from the degradation of internal elements, can also lead to issues in the pump and signal failing seals or other parts.
A hydraulic pump is often containing a high level of pressure and as this pressure exerts force on seals in the pump, the seals can begin to leak or fail. Even minor leaks in seals can lead to loss of fluid and create issues in the system. Leaks can be both external and internal. For an internal leak, fluid will move from one part of the pump to another in unintended ways and force inefficiencies into the pump as it has to work harder to compensate.
Overpressure and Overloading
While many hydraulic pumps are built to stand up to tough and continuous working conditions, every hydraulic pump is designed with an upper limit. Every time a hydraulic pump is subjected to overpressuring and overloading beyond what the manufacturer has specified, the pump is more prone to damage.
Air in Pump and in Fluid
All hydraulic oil has a defined amount of air dissolved in it, but increases to this amount can lead to inefficiencies in the pump and force the pump to work harder or erratically. An increase in air can also happen inside the pump and create similar problems. Even though the pump and hydraulic system have mechanisms in place to regulate air in the system, if excess air is introduced the system should be returned to a balanced system before prolonged use of the pump.
Low Oil, Incorrect Oil, or Too Much Oil
The hydraulic system on a construction equipment machine is designed to work within defined parameters. Operating a machine with too little oil or too much oil for even the briefest amount of time can cause the pump to overwork, lead to increases in working temperatures, or create conditions for non-uniform movement. The exact type of oil used — matched to the machine and the working environment — can also impact how the hydraulic pump operates.
How do I Maintain My Hydraulic Pump?
A simple and well-practiced maintenance plan can help prevent issues from developing and even discover issues early, leading to shorter and less costly downtimes.
A few components of a proper hydraulic pump maintenance plan would include:
Check Oil Often and Replace on Schedule
The operator’s guide of your machine will define the hydraulic oil change schedule and adhering to that schedule can extend the life of your hydraulic pump. When oil is changed, take time to examine the spent oil for signs of debris
Use the Right Oil for the Machine and the Environment
The operator’s guide of your machine will indicate the correct oil to use in your machine, but operators should also be aware of the conditions they are working under and be mindful if oil should be updated to match those conditions.
Keep A Clean Machine
No one wants to take a machine out of work for cleaning, but keeping the machine clean and ensuring pumps are not covered in mud, dirt, or other debris can allow them to be inspected more easily and avoid contamination and overheating.
Inspect Hydraulic Hoses
The hydraulic hoses connected to a hydraulic pump can wear out over time and ensuring they are well-maintained can help you avoid the introduction of debris and even catastrophic issues in the case of sudden failures.
Perform a Post-Mortem on a Failed Pump
If a hydraulic pump fails on your machine, taking time to ensure you properly diagnose why and how the failure occurred will help you avoid repeating the failure with your replacement pump. Even if the pump failed simply from prolonged use and age, taking time to confirm that can lead to insights about how to extend the life of the next pump.
A hydraulic pump on an excavator, wheel loader, dozer, or articulated truck can be an often ignored component of the machine — until it starts to act up and cause issues. If problems have brought a pump to the forefront of your mind, hopefully, this short guide has helped simplify your pump problem solving.
If you find yourself in need of a replacement hydraulic pump, our Parts Specialists are always here to help. As a supplier of new, used, and rebuilt hydraulic pumps and with our deep inventory of parts, our Parts Specialists can often find the perfect solution to get a customer back up and running quickly. Simplify your search and give them a call.
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