Cracking Down on Hydraulic System Contamination

by Lithium Technologies on ‎02-03-2017 10:12 AM

Hydraulic System Contamination Prevention_Feb2017Blog_image.jpgContamination can be devastating to the performance and overall life of your machine’s hydraulic system. Today’s hydraulic systems are engineered with extremely tight tolerances. These tight tolerances are what enable our hydraulic systems to achieve higher pressures. These high pressures translate into the demands that are placed on our machines to help you maintain productivity and remain within your owning and operating cost targets.


We refer to contamination as the "invisible thief"  because many contaminates are too small to be seen with the naked eye. One of the most common points of contaminate entry into a hydraulic system is on the surface of the cylinder rod. When a rod becomes damaged as a result of scoring, pitting or denting for example, these imperfections on the surface of the rod can easily carry contamination into your hydraulic system as the cylinder rod retracts. Once contamination has entered the cylinder, damage can occur to the surface of the cylinder bore and internal cylinder piston seals.


With damage to the cylinder bore and cylinder piston seals, internal leakage starts to occur and efficiency slowly begins to erode.  Studies have shown that efficiency losses can reach up to 20 percent or more before the operator detects an issue with the performance of their machine. When thinking of this figure in terms of productivity, 20 percent loss in efficiency translates to a loss of one entire day of production in a five-day week.  Efficiency loss also reduces the overall performance of your machine and increases fuel usage. As a result, your machine becomes more expensive to run but with less productivity.


Once contamination has entered the cylinder, it can also spread throughout your entire hydraulic system and cause damage to other components such as pumps, motors or valves.  Even worse, full system contamination may even lead to a catastrophic failure, leaving your machine down for an extended duration and at a very high cost to repair.


Contamination should be a major concern when a repair is performed. If care isn’t taken to ensure contamination isn’t kept out of your hydraulic system during a repair, it could cost you down time and high expense later on. Cat® dealers participate in a comprehensive contamination control program and are equipped to provide repairs contamination free through the use of clean fluids, specialized tooling and processes and Caterpillar-certified clean repair facilities.


Dependent on your situation and needs, your Cat dealer can offer a hydraulic cylinder repair that is designed to accommodate your needs, prevent unplanned downtime and restore full efficiency of your hydraulic system. To learn more, contact your local Cat® dealer or visit us online


We’d like to hear about how you maintain the health of your machine’s hydraulic system and/or prevent contamination and other potential issues.  

  • Have you ever had to deal with a contamination issue within your machine’s hydraulic system? What was the cause of the contamination?
  • Do you check for cylinder leaks during daily machine inspections? Are there any other things you are look for that could indicate a hydraulic system issue?
  • In your opinion, what are the most important steps you can take to help prevent issues with your machine’s hydraulic system?
  • Have you ever performed cylinder or hydraulic system component repairs on your own? If so, would you do it again or reach out to your equipment dealer instead?
  • Are there certain resources or support programs that you wish were available to you to help identify, diagnose and/or repair hydraulic system issues?

by Tom Gustar
on ‎03-05-2017 08:16 AM

We have trouble with leaks on our forklifts. I always suspected it was just "wear and tear" from the dirt. Is it possible that it's contamination instead?

by Moderator
‎03-06-2017 11:35 AM - edited ‎03-06-2017 12:57 PM

Hello Tom. We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing this issue. Please contact Cat Lift Trucks' help desk at 877.228.3675 or via email at  You can also contact your local Cat lift trucks dealer at

by New member GT-Landscaping
on ‎10-17-2017 01:15 PM

Thanks idigcat, we'll probably reach out too our dealers as well. Article is pretty precise for troubleshooting as well!

by Moderator
on ‎10-17-2017 01:23 PM

You are welcome GT-Landscaping! I will pass along your compliments to our blog author, Estela Estrada.

About the Author
  • I’m an Attachments Product Application & Sales Support Specialist for Caterpillar in North America. I have been with Caterpillar for five years including roles in the field as a dealer sales support representative and marketing support in the skid steer and small wheel loader product groups. I graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in Agricultural Business and Economics. Our goal is to provide a full portfolio of attachments for our customers to be more productive and versatile with their machines.
  • I am an Industry and Application Rep for Caterpillar. I graduated from NC State with a dual degree in Agriculture Business Management and Agriculture Science, concentrating in Leadership and Environmental Technologies. I focus primarily on the relationships between customers, dealers, and the product specialists for the Building Construction Products division. Growing up on a tobacco and beef cattle farm, I have several years of machine operation experience and agricultural knowledge. Thomas Jefferson said it best in that, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."
  • My passion is in storytelling and thought leadership, helping people connect with the brands they love and helping brands connect with their audiences. At Caterpillar, I get to work with a variety of industries and customer solutions, supporting our customers who are making huge impacts in our world every day. It's not just about the yellow iron - it's about understanding the problems our customers face, and being a part of the total solution.
  • I’m a Compact Wheel Loader Product Application Specialist for Caterpillar in North America. I have 11 years of experience, including roles in the field as a dealer technical support representative, and as a distributor business model consultant.  I graduated from North Carolina State University with a Mechanical Engineering Degree, and wanted a job where I didn't have to sit in front of a computer all day.  This job allows me to get out and get my hands dirty, with the goal of providing solutions to customers’ machine needs.
  • I am a Marketing Communications Specialist for Caterpillar with over twelve years of experience marketing the Cat brand to customers in Latin and North America. My goal is to arm customers with the information needed to make well informed purchase decisions; to maximize the value of Cat machines by using an array of Cat Work Tool attachments; and to minimize the total cost of ownership by using Cat parts and Cat Dealer service.
  • I am an expert Operator and Application Specialist for Caterpillar concentrating on products used in the construction trades industry. I operate, evaluate and train on Cat machines and Work Tool Attachments worldwide. I have a Degree in Agricultural Engineering, Craftsman Certified and was named Apprentice of the Year 1981 at the University of East Anglia, UK.
  • I am the National Association Manager for Caterpillar and have responsibility for customer associations and partnerships in multiple industries for Caterpillar. I have 12 years of experience at Caterpillar, and have spent most of those years in the field with dealers and customers around North America. I have always had a passion for equipment and find myself fortunate to be able to work with dealers and customers almost every day.
  • I am a Product Application Specialist with 16 years of experience in the industry. As a Building Construction Products Global Trainer, I focus on training dealers and customers on machines, attachments and applications as it relates to the construction, agriculture and landscaping segments.
  • I have been with Caterpillar for more than eight years, working in various roles including a materials engineer, a filters product manager and my current position as a parts consultant. My job allows me the opportunity to work with Cat dealers and customers providing insight on how the use of quality filters and fluids results in better equipment performance and lower owning and operating costs.
  • I am a marketing and sales support professional for Caterpillar. In this role, I work with our marketing and customer service teams to support or dealers and customers, concentrating on our Small Wheel Loader, Skid Steer Loader, Mini Excavator and Dozer product groups. The exchange of ideas, information and opinions about equipment and how it’s used in various industries on forums such as this blog helps me fulfill my role at Caterpillar to the best of my ability.
  • I am the commercial/market consulting expert for all Caterpillar tires and rims with 14 years of experience. I provide guidance in the harsher work environments of mining and industrial/waste applications. Our goal is to turn our dealers and customers into knowledgeable and trusted resources with respect to tires and rims. Our group offers training, technical support and resources to develop a level of expertise within the Caterpillar value stream that is ordinarily reserved for tire companies and local tire service providers. Ultimately, we want to provide our customers with a total Cat solution from the ground up.
  • I am a Sales Support Manager for Cat Financial and have responsibility for ensuring that the right financial products are available to Cat customers who purchase, lease or rent to own. 8 of my 10 years with Caterpillar Financial have allowed customer and/or dealer interaction as part of my daily responsibilities including over 3.5 years as a Territory Manager. I take personal satisfaction in finding financial solutions that work for our customers and CAT dealers.
  • I’m a Telehandler Product Application Specialist for Caterpillar in North and South America. I have 13 years of experience, including roles in the field as a dealer service operations and technical support representative, and as a distributor business model consultant. My telehandler passion and focus is working with dealers and customers to maximize the versatility of the product through machine and operator training.
  • I am a Product and Application Specialist with over 35 years experience at Caterpillar. I focus on helping you to determine the best Cat machines, work tool attachments, and services for you to use in the building and general construction, landscaping, specialty trades, and agricultural industries.
  • I am a Senior Regional Insurance Marketing Manager with 16 years’ experience at Caterpillar Financial Insurance Services. I have the opportunity to work with 18 North American dealers providing risk management products and services that helps the Caterpillar Enterprise ( Caterpillar, Dealers and Customers) manage their business risk. Caterpillar Financial Insurance Services offers Extended Protection Plans for machines and engines, Physical Damage Insurance, Inventory Protection Plans, Dealer Property and Casualty, Risk Management, Marine Transit Insurance and Dealer Bonds.
  • Jeff Brown is a marketing professional for Caterpillar Skid Steer, Multi Terrain and Compact Track Loaders. Over Jeff's 12 years in the industry, he has visited with and studied the needs of customers across landscaping, construction, and agriculture segments. Delivering innovative solutions that solve customer's problems is Jeff's main focus.
  • I am a North American Product and Application Specialist for Caterpillar. In this role, I have had the opportunity to represent Caterpillar at various trade shows and train customers on new Small Wheel Loader content. I graduated from Purdue University in 2001 with a Mechanical Engineering degree and have spent the past 15 years with Caterpillar in various engineering roles. Growing up in the Mid-West, I have always loved the cold and the unique activities winter enables. Unfortunately, I had to give those up when I moved to North Carolina. I don't care what people say, you never get used to a hot climate.
  • I am a Filter and Fluid Marketing Consultant with over 14 years experience working at Caterpillar. My focus is to ensure customers understand the importance of using superior filtration and lubrication products in their equipment.
  • I am a Sales Support Manager with over nine years of experience in a variety of roles with Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to gain experience in matching financial products and tailoring funding strategies to the specific needs of customers. This includes more than three years as a Territory Manager in Seattle partnered with N C Machinery, an authorized Cat dealer covering the states of Washington and Alaska.

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