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Tips to keep hydraulics in shape

A pro offers tips to help you maintain your hydraulic system to prolong equipment life.

It's imperative that you keep your hydraulic lubrication system clean and properly maintained, says Harold Tucker, lubricants technical director and our source from Phillips 66. The cost of equipment, repairs and your downtime demand this.

"Modern-day systems experience increased pressures, speeds and temperatures," Tucker says. "A lot of times, the only time the fluid gets changed is during repairs."

Brake squeal or chatter could indicate that your hydraulic fluid's frictional properties have depleted. If brakes squeak, don't assume the brake discs must be replaced; try changing the hydraulic fluid first.

Hydraulic fluids are amber to dark amber in hue. If the hydraulic fluid mirrors used diesel engine oil or is milky in color (water contamination), change it. Thick fluid can mean the oil is old; thin fluid means it could be contaminated with another fluid. In either case, change the fluid.

Use an oil analysis program to evaluate fluid for quality and cleanliness. An evaluation will alert you to potential problems, and documentation showing proper fluid maintenance will help at resale. Analysis kits are around $15.

Minimize contamination by keeping hydraulic hoses off the ground (use a rack to hold them) and keep caps or plugs on connection points when equipment is not in use. Dirt is the number one cause of bearing failure. One grain of sand can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage.

If you share hydraulic equipment with a neighbor, know what product he uses. If it's vegetable based and you are using a mineral-based fluid, you may not want to swap equipment: The lubricants are not compatible.

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