How to Tell If Your Hydraulic Cylinder Is Going Bad

How to Tell If Your Hydraulic Cylinder Is Going Bad

02 /01 /2022

8 min read

By Todd Lewis

Checking the hydraulic cylinders is a vital part of any inspection checklist. But how do you tell if a hydraulic cylinder is bad? There are a few hydraulic cylinder failure symptoms that you should keep an eye out for. Knowing these warning signs can prevent everyday problems from becoming catastrophic failures. Recognizing these problems early on will give you more time to begin hydraulic cylinder repair and avoid expensive delays. The following are six signs that something is amiss with your hydraulic cylinders.

Loud Banging Noises

Loud banging or knocking noises coming from hydraulic cylinders are most likely caused by either aeration or cavitation. Aeration occurs when air gets into the pump’s inlet and the intake lines become porous, letting more air in. This air then gets caught in the hydraulic cavity, creating air bubbles.

Air in a hydraulic cylinder will result in banging noise as the bubbles undergo decompression and compression while in circulation. Be sure to check intake lines regularly, if they do become porous, replace them. 

The other cause for loud knocking noises is cavitation. Cavitation is related to aeration, it occurs when there is not enough fluid reaching any part of a hydraulic circuit. This causes the pressure to drop so low that all of the fluid is essentially vaporized. As the pressure increases again, the cavity will implode on itself, making those loud noises and causing severe damage to the cylinder. 

Both cavitation and aeration could result in damage to the system through overheating, breakdown of the seals, and loss of lubrication. 

Hydraulic Cylinder Starts “Juddering”

A hydraulic cylinder lacking smooth and consistent movements is another sign of an underlying issue. “Juddering” is when the cylinder becomes jerky or stilted as the cylinder extends. 

Juddering is often caused by physical damage from increased friction, worn down seals, poor lubrication, or worse, the bending of the piston. An increase in the heat of the cylinder and energy required, as well as slow operation, may also occur and indicate that there is an issue with the hydraulic cylinder. 

Power Bill Goes Up

When there is an issue with your hydraulic cylinders, you might notice the problem when you check your power bill and see a larger number than expected. When there is internal or external leakage and increased friction, the system needs more energy to function. 

The hydraulic pumps will need to work harder by delivering more fluid to overcome the leakage.

Slowing Down of the Actuator

Another warning sign of issues with your hydraulic cylinder is the cylinder slowing down and losing power. The loss of power can generally be blamed on increased friction or internal leakage. If there is internal leakage, the cylinder will need more time to build up the necessary pressure, slowing down the whole process. 

In order to overcome this inefficiency, many operators will turn up the power, only masking the real problem. The cylinder’s performance will continue to decline until it is no longer functional because the underlying damage has not been addressed and repaired. 

Overheated Cylinder

There are general guidelines and limits for the temperature of a hydraulic cylinder prescribed by the manufacturer. When the cylinder begins to heat past those limits, that is a sign of a bigger problem with the system’s capacity to regulate the heat load. Overheating can be caused by friction between its moving parts, contaminated fluid, low fluid levels, and poor oil filtration. 

Overheating reduces productivity and performance of the cylinders; if continually run at those temperatures, there will be a full breakdown of operation. It is important to be aware of your cylinder’s operating temperature and to consistently check the oil and filters for irregularities. 

Uneven Piston Rod Wear 

A cylinder runs linearly and should therefore wear linearly, as well. If one side of a rod is showing more wear than the other, this is a good indication something in the cylinder is not functioning properly. This could mean there is a misalignment, a bent rod, excessive lateral loading, or another form of internal damage. Regularly check your pistons to ensure that there is no sign of uneven wear.


Use these six clues as warnings from your hydraulic cylinders that something is not working properly. Knowing and recognizing these signs will help you stay proactive in cylinder maintenance and repair, saving you time and money. Cylinders, Inc. has the experience and knowledge to take care of your hydraulic cylinder needs and keep your performance at its best. Contact us to ask questions or schedule your repair service today!

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