September 22, 2020

Knowing When to Repair a Hydraulic Cylinder

Knowing When to Repair a Hydraulic Cylinder

Hydraulic cylinders can be found in almost every industry, ranging from the sterile, clean environment of food and beverage to the rough and rugged world of construction. When these cylinders lose performance or outright fail, the word “replace” leaps to mind. Replacing a cylinder may seem like a great option to prevent the failure from occurring again. However, the cost to replace a cylinder is no small amount. When the time comes to make that a choice, should you replace a damaged cylinder or opt for a repair instead?

Quick Review: Hydraulic Cylinder Failure

hydraulic cylinder

There are quite a few parts in a hydraulic cylinder that can fail: the barrel (which contains most of the other parts), the piston rod (which is what most people see in motion), the piston (responsible for transferring motion to the piston rod), the cylinder head, the cylinder cap, and various seals and bearings. If any one of these parts is damaged, even something that seems as insignificant as a seal, then the entire cylinder may be rendered inoperable or, at best, operating at significantly reduced productivity and efficiency.

Failures can take many different forms. There can be contaminated fluid that accelerates wear, damages critical seals, and causes what seems like a sudden failure that had actually developed over time. Bearings, including eye bearings and piston rod bearings, can wear out and lead to catastrophic failure. Piston rods can be bent, leading to serious problems, and exposure to corrosive chemicals can damage steel and seals alike. Then there can also be dents in the barrel or rod that adversely affect performance and potential safety.

Hydraulic Cylinder Repair/Replacement in the Context of Costs

cylinder side loads

In some cases, a hydraulic cylinder may be so badly damaged that replacement is the only course of action that makes sense. However, in most cases, that is not true. Most cylinder damage can be repaired by skilled professionals back to the condition, or near the condition, it was in when it was new. Additionally, the upfront monetary costs of repairs are often less than replacements. But, those aren’t the only costs you should consider.

What is the cost of downtime associated with this cylinder’s failure? Even if it does not fail very often, there can still be a substantial loss associated with waiting for a replacement cylinder to be shipped or manufactured and installed. And if there are repeated failures, the downtime cost can accumulate rather quickly.

How frequently does the cylinder need to be replaced? This can have a significant impact on your decision if the same cylinder has to be replaced over and over. In situations such as these, there is often an underlying issue causing repeated damage, so a replacement won’t be enough to solve the problem.

Are their efficiency costs related to this cylinder? As any type of hydraulic equipment experiences natural wear from regular use, there will be a reduction in its efficiency. And that efficiency can affect other components in the hydraulic system, leading to energy losses and slightly higher costs related to power. A repair can solve these inefficiencies at a lower cost.

Are other components being damaged? If the hydraulic cylinder is not functioning correctly, it can put stress on other system components. Broken pins, accelerated wear in bearings, and abnormal stresses can cause other components to be damaged or, in a worst-case scenario, fail. That can also drive the costs of the overall system higher.

Cylinder Repair/Replacement Issues Other than Cost

hydraulic cylinder side loading

When making the decision to repair or replace, there are issues other than cost that may be involved and are just as important. Questions such as these should be answered before a final decision is made, and the raw data for many of these answers will come from your hydraulic repair service or from your own hydraulic maintenance team.

Has the cylinder exceeded its expected lifecycle? Everything in a hydraulic system has an expected life because everything eventually wears out. This is especially true in the case of OEM hydraulic cylinders which are usually made in bulk and not “over-engineered.”

Why did the cylinder fail? If you do not establish exactly what caused the cylinder to fail, then you could replace it with a brand new OEM cylinder and see the exact same issue. Before a cylinder is replaced or repaired, it is important to address what caused or contributed to the failure so that the replacement does not fall prey to the same weakness. On the other hand, if a bearing or a seal simply wore out, a simple repair involving the replacement of those components should suffice. If their failure was not due to routine wear and tear, then the cause needs to be tracked down.

Can you find a replacement? In some instances, you may have a hydraulic cylinder that is no longer made by the original manufacturer. In these cases, new fabrication may be an option. Do not forget to account for the lead time. This is especially true if a non-standard cylinder is involved that may require extensive customization or fabrication. A repair will be a much quicker option with a similar result.

Benefits of Repairing a Hydraulic Cylinder

There are many benefits to repairing a hydraulic cylinder. In most cases of failure, a specific component fails rather than the entire system, leaving other parts in excellent condition as long as the failure is caught relatively quickly. In such cases, only the damaged part needs to be replaced as is common with bearing and seal problems. Repairs may also be more economical than replacements, and, in the case of customized cylinders, may involve far less lead time.


Hydraulic cylinders are vital to keeping things moving, literally and figuratively. When issues arise and failures occur, there comes a time when you have to decide whether to repair the cylinder or have it replaced. There is a significant amount of information that needs to go into that decision, ranging from the cylinder’s expected life cycle to the lead time involved in a replacement. And then there are the cost issues involving not just the short-term economical benefits but what the cost of repairs or replacement is over the long-term. Key to such decisions is what caused the failure to occur in the first place: was the cylinder just worn out, or are there any underlying problems (e.g., alignment, hydraulic contamination) that need to be addressed before a solution is put into place?

MAC Hydraulics

At MAC Hydraulics, we specialize in repairing damaged hydraulic cylinders and providing on-site maintenance and testing. When you need critical data in order to make a repair or replace decision, you can depend on our team to track down the root cause of the failure and make recommendations so you can prevent it from happening again. Contact us today to find out what we have to offer in the way of hydraulic cylinder repair.

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