Keeping up with oil change intervals is an imperative to ensure smooth operation and long life for  your equipment. But there’s another valuable life blood that is equally important: your hydraulic system.

Proper maintenance of this critical system also can ensure longer system life, fewer breakdowns, and better overall performance.

“We see a lot of uses of hydraulic systems, and keeping them in good condition starts with changing the hydraulic fluid at the right time,” says Diego Navarro, Aftermarket Sales Manager, for the Americas  for John Deere construction and forestry division. “And in between changes, it’s a good idea to sample the hydraulic fluid to ensure it is in good condition.”

The major issue, according to Navarro, is the intermittent mixing of hydraulic fluids. “This usually occurs when an operator will top off the hydraulics with a fluid that is different than the product that is in the system. And while it may not show up initially, and an operator might not see any visible changes, there are problems that can occur.”

Hydraulic fluids perform a wide variety of functions on a tractor, and it’s imperative to start with the fluid that meets the specific requirements of the manufacturer. Adding different fluids can lead to brake chatter, foaming of hydraulic fluids and a general disruption of the mixture.”

The symptoms can take time to develop, and they may not be as evident if only a few quarts are added at one time, but this different product will react differently. “We’ve all done it…we need some hydraulic fluid right away so we add whatever we have at hand,” Navarro says. “But the products not being the same will lead to less efficient operation of the system, including less responsiveness from the hydraulics.”

Keeping an hydraulic system up and running also means fixing the leaks, even the littlest ones, right away. A leak means there is a problem with the system, and more importantly it means that dirt and other contaminants can be migrating into the system. “Fix leaks right away,” Navarro says. “It’s one of the most important things you can do to ensure you keep the whole system working at its best.”

Navarro recommends to stick with manufacturer-recommended filters, because will-fit filters may not meet manufacturer specifications. “You can save a few dollars, but in the long run you are only increasing the chances of having problems down the road,” Navarro says. “The money spent now saves you in the long run.”

As far as hydraulic fluids go, Navarro recommends doing your homework. There are differences between fluids, with various additives that may or may not be recommended by your equipment manufacturer. “Most manufacturers have products that they recommend because those products are tested on their equipment and meet their requirements,” Navarro says. “And there are many variations out there, and there are some very good products.”

But the key goes back to the initial recommendation of not mixing hydraulic fluids. “Find the hydraulic fluid that works and stick with it,” Navarro says. “That’s one way to minimize problems down the road.”