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Common Causes and Costs of Fluid System Leaks

Leakage in hydraulic systems can be detrimental to your fluid system. Learn about the common causes and costs of system leaks and poor components installation.


If you’re working with an entire integrated machinery or production system, it’s important that everything goes as planned. If something breaks, malfunctions or throws a wrench into the system, it can send everything off-kilter. No matter how insignificant the error may seem, it has the potential to lead to huge repercussions.Hydraulic systems are used to rotate or move heavy machinery or when you need to apply a lot of force. Leaks in these systems can occur in a production plant or with a piece of heavy machinery. While this might seem like a fairly innocuous problem, you should take it seriously, as it could grow into a staggering challenge. Leakage in hydraulic systems could lead to lost time, as work stops while the problem is fixed, and lost money, as the repairs will not come cheap.To help you minimize or even stop the damage before it starts, we’ve compiled this guide to hydraulic leaks, including what causes them, what the fallout from them might be, and how to fix them.

Common Causes of Fluid System Leaks

Common Causes of Fluid System Leaks

As with any problem or malfunction, hydraulic leaks aren’t always a simple matter of “a single error always creates one particular problem.” Instead, there are a variety of different mistakes and errors that can cause leakages. And in other cases, it’s even more complicated. Sometimes, you might do nothing wrong and still end up with leakages due to circumstances outside your control.Let’s look at some of the most common causes of fluid system leaks.

1. Improper Pipe Connections in Your Hydraulic System

By improving tubing selection, handling and preparation, you can save yourself a lot of headaches. Many hydraulic systems were constructed and installed years ago. Because technology advances over the years, this means many hydraulic systems still operate on outdated technology. In this case, the culprit is a type of piping connection known as pipe threads.In these older hydraulic systems, most of the components display national pipe thread (NPT) ports. Unfortunately, this style of connection is one of the most prone to leakage when it comes to high-pressure fluids because it provides a direct leak path. Pipe threads like these deform slightly as you tighten them, meaning any movement after that, whether it is tightening or loosening, adds more potential for leaks because the shape becomes so deformed.Aside from committing to never adjusting your already-tightened fittings, which is hardly sustainable, the only way to fix this problem is to get rid of all these old-fashioned pipe thread connections in favor of a newer, soft seal fitting.

2. Hardened Seals in Your Hydraulic System

Not unlike the previous problem we mentioned, this marks another instance of the seal between pipe fittings causing the leakage. The difference is the problem is hardened seals.For the best results, the entire hydraulic system needs to stay within a particular safe temperature range. If the temperature becomes too high, even for a short amount of time, this can damage the seals, causing them to become hard and creating room for leaks.To prevent this problem, you must correct the temperature problem before replacing the seals. If you replace the seals before adjusting the temperature, the problem will happen again, making it important to complete this two-step process in the right order.

3. Natural Wear of Component Surfaces in Your Hydraulic System

When high-pressure fluid travels through the mechanical components and pipes, this creates vibrations and makes the different pieces of equipment rub against one another. Over time, this causes the surfaces to wear down naturally. This leads to tiny micro-gaps that appear in between components that are just big enough to allow leaks to occur.To a certain extent, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent this. Any machinery component, no matter how high-quality it is, will eventually break down and will need to be replaced. This is only natural and does not necessarily mean that anything has gone wrong.To forestall this wearing and allow your machinery parts to last as long as possible, make sure all your components are high-quality, properly fitted and properly cared for. No piece will last forever, but if these boxes are checked, then it should live a long and productive life.

4. Improper Torque on Pipe Fittings in Your Hydraulic System

Any type of metal-to-metal connection will be sensitive to too much torque. In other words, pipe fittings that have been over-tightened are dangerous. While you certainly don’t want fittings that are too loose, overly tightened ones are problematic as well.Improper torque adjustment can lead to a whole host of problems, not the least of which is leakage. This can cause the fittings to become misshapen or cracked, creating spaces for the liquid to leak out.Avoid this problem by following the instructions and only applying the recommended amount of torque to your fittings. Always use the proper torque settings, and don’t forget to keep a wrench handy during any adjustments, so that you can quickly and easily correct any errors.

5. Poor Tubing Installation and Maintenance in Your Hydraulic System

This problem is the same across any type of machinery work and is not unique to hydraulic systems. The difference is that when it happens in hydraulic systems, leakage is one problem that can result.Installing tubes, piping and machinery requires training. If someone attempts to do it with no prior experience or training, the resulting construction may be incorrect and cause a whole host of problems in addition to leakage.Solve this problem by installing piping according to the specifications. Do it right, and do it right the first time. Hire installation workers with the training and know-how to do it correctly, or train your own workers to give them the experience necessary to complete the job successfully.Additionally, a lack of maintenance or improper maintenance can easily cause the types of problems that lead to leakages. Any instructions or specifications that accompany your fittings and machinery are not suggestions and must be followed exactly, or you’ll risk leakage.

The Cost of Fluid System Leaks

The Cost of Fluid System Leaks

Fluid system leaks aren’t a small problem. They’re not the kind of thing you can notice and say, “Oh, that’s a shame. I’ll deal with that later since it’s not hurting anything.” If fluid leaks are left unattended, they may result in damaged equipment, lost hours and dollars spent on repairs.Let’s look at just a few of the negative consequences that could result from unchecked fluid leakage in your hydraulic system.

1. Safety Surrounding Your Hydraulic System

For anyone operating any production or construction plant, safety is an enormous priority. It’s important to keep workers safe, happy and healthy, not only because you want your workers to remain in good health, doing their work and enjoying working for you, but also because safety issues can spell danger in the form of lawsuits and other legal action.Fluid leakage creates slippery spots on the floor and even on the machinery itself. This creates accidents just waiting to happen. Maybe it’s a worker who slips in a puddle or a pipe fitting that comes loose due to the leakage, causing a system to break and injure someone. These are just a few examples of the types of incidents you want to avoid at all costs. For the safety of you, your machines and your workers, keep those leaks under control.

2. Environmental Concerns for Your Hydraulic System

As responsible citizens of planet Earth, we all must work together to limit the amount of energy we burn and waste we produce every day. For example, did you know millions of gallons are used in hydraulic fluids every year around the world? Even if not a drop is wasted, the sheer volume of fluid being used is staggering.Now, imagine what happens to these figures when leaks spring and fluid drips out and gets wasted. The hydraulic machinery still needs the same amount of fluid to get the work done, which means more fluid has to be consumed, causing higher consumption rates.Not only do leaks lead to higher consumption, but they also create greater levels of waste. After all, this wasted fluid doesn’t just disappear. Environmental studies show this fluid eventually finds its way into local rivers, lakes, groundwater and even the Earth itself. This, in turn, affects local ecosystems, water systems, and plant and animal life.

3. Premature Component Failure in Your Hydraulic System

Statistics demonstrate contaminated fluids cause 80 percent of machine and equipment component failures. This, of course, is a direct result of hydraulic system leakage. Think of it this way. If there are enough cracks and gaps for fluid to leak out, there is also plenty of room for dirt, dust water and other chemicals to enter the fluid stream, contaminating it and leading to increased wear and damage within the system. This, in turn, leads to a faster breakdown of these different mechanical parts.A hydraulic cylinder rod makes for the perfect sample case. Imagine that as this rod extends, a little fluid leaks out around the seal. Then, as the rod retracts, a little dirt and a few other chemicals reenter the seal along with the rod. These then enter the system, mixing with the hydraulic fluid and breaking down the mechanical components from the inside out.

4. Inefficient Machinery in Your Hydraulic System

This is a very simple idea. If your machines leak, then they are not operating to their fullest extent. When fluid leaks, then your machinery has to work harder than it normally would to pump additional fluid and get the same job done. This leads to higher energy costs, greater fuel consumption and faster wear and tear of your machinery.

5. Higher Costs of Your Hydraulic System

Most of these situations can raise expenses for your company. If an accident occurs and someone gets injured, you will pay their injury leave and may face court costs and a lawsuit. If your components fail ahead of their time, you must pay the price to replace them. And if your machinery works harder than it needs to, you will need to pay for things like additional fuel and higher energy bills.

What to Do If You Have Leaks in Your Hydraulic System

What to Do If You Have Leaks in Your Hydraulic System

Now you know some things that might cause a fluid leak. You know all the reasons why these fluid leaks are bad news for you, your company, your machinery and your budget. The final and most important question, then, is what to do if you find yourself facing a leak of your own in your hydraulic system? How do you take care of it? Follow these suggestions to prevent or address the issue.

1. Perform Regular Hydraulic System Maintenance

Leaks often can be avoided by simply performing routine checks and maintenance. This means looking your equipment over regularly for signs of anything going wrong, as well as frequently analyzing your oil to be sure no contaminants have entered it. By doing this, you have a good chance of catching any problem spots between the pipe fittings or elsewhere before they begin to leak.

2. Locate the Leak in Your Hydraulic System

If you notice that a leak has started, your first priority is to locate it and determine the source and cause. Perform a thorough evaluation of your equipment until you’ve found the source. At this point, you’ll need to determine which of the causes we’ve mentioned above is causing the leak, or if it’s something else altogether.

3. Implement a Hydraulic System Fix

Have the components simply worn down? You’ll need to replace them. Have the seals hardened and cracked? Address any temperature fluctuations that may have caused this. Or is there an improper piping connection due to old-fashioned pipe fittings? Update these with something a little safer and more functional, such as the Superlok i-fitting. These fittings feature a built-in gap-gauge so that you can be sure your fitting is installed properly and tightened to precisely the correct amount. This minimizes or eliminates leaking through simple efficiency and correctness of fit. This, in turn, leads to lower costs of repair as leaks cease to be a problem in your hydraulic system.Whether your fix involves installing new machinery parts or changing something about the environment, you’ll want to fix this underlying problem before you can address any of the subsequent damage.

4. Repair the Damage to Your Hydraulic System

Leaks are known to cause damage to your hydraulic system from:

  • Wearing down the machinery
  • Ruining the pipe fittings
  • Damaging the floor where the fluid has leaked

This will need to be cleaned up and repaired once the system-fix has been implemented.

Contact Mako Products for More Information on Reducing Hydraulic System Leaks

Are you interested in learning more about how to implement solutions to address the leaks that may be occurring in your hydraulic system? Then we encourage you to contact us Mako Products, your top source for Superlok products. When you’re looking to address problems caused by a leak in your system or just hoping to prevent future leaks, we encourage you to browse our many product offerings and see what might offer the right solution for your hydraulic system.

Contact Mako Products

The Author

Ethan McNeese
Marketing Specialist
Ethan is our resident content marketer, blog author, YouTube host, and general knower of things. When he's not at his keyboard working on new web pages and videos, he's usually out in the shop wrenching on valve assemblies, developing diagrams for projects, or praying for rain.

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