Hydraulic ‘Stop-Leak’ Additives: Risk or Rescue?

Is Stop Leak a Quick Fix or The source of future problems?You’ve got an older, nickel-and-dime type piece of equipment with a leaking hydraulic cylinder. Should you try a ‘stop-leak’ additive instead of pulling the cylinder and replacing the seals? Maybe. If it’s a log-splitter, then there’s little risk versus a big potential reward. But if the equipment is a truck crane or an excavator, you’d better pull the cylinder!

The use of stop-leak additives is a topic of controversy predominantly because there is insufficient information publicized on the negative impact it could have on your equipment in the long run. Most stop-leak products are comprised of petroleum distillates which cause hydraulic seals to soften and swell in addition to potentially contaminating and corrupting the wet clutches. While this reaction may fix the leak by way of plugging it with the seal material, it is a short lived approach that will most certainly re-emerge in a matter of weeks or months and inevitably forcing a complete overhaul of your hydraulic system anyway.

However, even if the stop-leak works as advertised and doesn’t cause seal deterioration, the root cause of the leak remains. So you need to decide:

  • If a total failure occurs, what is at risk?
  • Do you expect the equipment to last much longer?
  • Is the leak a warning sign of worse things to come?
  • Can a cylinder refurbishment now save me money in the long run?
  • Did I use the correct seal(s) for the job?

The best strategy to prevent leaks in the first place is to ensure your components aren’t exposed to chemicals and conditions that could significantly impact the wear and life of your seals and cylinders.  In that respect, thoroughly review the specifications for replacement seals in comparison to the application. Installing a seal or material that cannot handle extreme temperatures or pressures, for instance, is a leak waiting to happen.  Making assumptions about seals in identical components within the same piece of equipment can be a set-up for failure as well.  Seals that work efficiently for one cylinder in the front of a machine may not be compatible in its rear cylinder when taking into account the differences in pressure fluctuations from one component to the next.

Periodic inspections are also pivotal in catching leaks early. Too often operators take a passive approach to leaks by considering a leak to be nothing more than a nuisance and ignore it until the next scheduled maintenance.  Hydraulic systems continue to operate safely even when leaking, at first. By the time an operator notices the difference in performance; extensive damage has already taken place.

The vulnerability of the rod seal alone can create a domino effect that can lead to the wiper seal allowing harsh contaminants into the hydraulic system ultimately causing seal and system failure.   It is crucial that the seals not only prevent the leaks from happening but also assist in lubricating the hydraulic system to avoid overheating and pressure spikes.  If a leak is substantial enough, this event can occur rather quickly.

Allegheny York offers comprehensive technical assistance to assist our customers in ordering the right seal for each application.  With over 22,000 catalog items, how can you be sure you are selecting the right seal, and the right material for that matter, for your next repair? Our engineers will review seal specifications in relation to the equipment particulars as well as the scope of the work and environmental circumstances to provide you with a concise sealing solution.  We want to save our customers the time and hassle of unnecessary, and costly, repairs. Stop searching through endless websites hoping to find the right seal for your machine. Allegheny York prides itself on our impressive 98% fill rate. We will have your component in stock – even those hard to find seals!  When you need answers right away to get your equipment back to making a profit, call AY first!

800-258-3851   or       sales@alleghenyyork.com


Chip Konrad

Content: Chip Konrad President & CEO of Allegheny York

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