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Jim Schlund Published on 05 February 2010

If you have questions as to whether your machine’s hydraulic system is operating properly, then start it up and see how quick the steering and brakes respond.

Ask yourself, “Does it lift as much as it used to?” These are telltale signs that something is wrong. But if you really want to diagnose it then you want to use a flowrater or a pressure tester on a system. On most ag tractors, it’s really easy because you can hook it up to the remotes.

Then you match the conditions to the manufacturer’s recommendations (oil temperature, RPMs, etc.) in your user manual and test the machinery.  

Flowraters are useful but can be pricey. If you like to tinker or want a cheaper option, you may try making your own flowrater. I call it the “poor man’s flowrater.”

How to make a poor man’s flowrater:

  • Take a high-pressure hydraulic shut-off valve, high-pressure gauge and a half-inch hose, long enough to go from the remotes to a bucket on the floor.

  • Connect the hose to the valve and gauge and then connect it to the remote. Make sure to use the right coupler for your tractor.

  • Turn on the tractor and get it to the correct oil temperature and RPMs and other specifications from your operator’s manual.

  • Prepare a clean, white 5-gallon bucket. Mark it with measurements in half-gallon increments. Having a lid with a small opening will prevent messes and other problems caused by hot oil splashing out of the bucket.

  • When bucket and tractor are ready, have someone operate the remote from the inside while someone else holds the hose in the bucket and opens the valve for five seconds.

  • Measure the amount of hydraulic oil that comes out and multiply it by 12 and that will tell you how many gallons per minute your equipment is pumping.

Here are a few suggestions before you get started. Don’t cut corners on cheap parts for this flowrater. There will be a lot of oil pressure built up and you need to have it well connected. It will be best to have someone in the tractor keeping RPMs up and someone on the ground pointing the hose into the bucket.

Before you open the valve, you can check the pressure by reading the gauge and then open it to check the flow. This will tell you whether or not the hydraulic system is running at full capacity or if there are issues.

Before hooking up a flowrater to diagnose sluggish hydraulics, check the filter and screen. Those are the easiest steps and can be the source of many other issues. FG