A hydraulic jack is an important instrument whose main use is to lift heavy items, especially vehicles. The mechanism of operation involves a piston and fluid. The fluid helps move the piston upon loading and offloading. The point is, without the fluid, the hydraulic jack is rendered useless.
For whatever reason, it may not be possible to obtain hydraulic jack oil, and you may wonder if you can use an alternative as a substitute… or you have an alternative at hand, and wonder whether it will work in your hydraulic jack. This article will provide you with all the suitable substitutes for hydraulic jack oil!
What is Hydraulic Jack Oil?
I’m sure everyone reading this page already knows what hydraulic jack oil is, but let’s quickly cover it before moving on to the potential substitutes!
Hydraulic oil is a non-compressible fluid with low viscosity which is responsible for moving the piston, thus, powering hydraulic machinery, in our case a hydraulic jack. Continuous usage of the hydraulic jack reduces the oil level, and this has an adverse effect on the performance of the jack. This necessitates changing the oil to improve the performance of the jack.
The more you use the jack, the higher the frequency you will need to change the fluid. Hydraulic fluid can be either mineral-based or synthetic based, depending on your preferences. The key features of hydraulic jack oil include:
- Thermal stability(works within a high range of temperatures
- Filterable and clean
- Hydrolytic stability
- Fire resistant
The majority of hydraulic oil additives are there to ensure the longevity of the fluid, and to help the hydraulic jack perform better in diverse operating conditions.
The most popular additives include anti-rust to reduce rust damage from oxidation by performing a protective layer, anti-wear to increase the durability of the machinery, anti-oxidant to allow for the equipment to operate for longer lengths of time before an oil change is needed, and cold flow to enable the jack to operate in extremely cold environments.
Hydraulic Jack Oil Substitute
Finding a substitute for hydraulic jack oil can be a tricky task because you want to make sure your jack oil substitute isn’t going to cause damage to your hydraulic jack. Here’s a list of hydraulic jack fluid substitute possibilities and then we’ll look at the practicalities of each afterwards:
- Automatic transmission fluid (ATF)
- Power steering fluid
- Brake fluid
- Engine oil (10W30)
- Vegetable seed oils (Mazola safflower oil, Wesson vegetable oil)
Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)
First off, let’s start with discussing the most popular and probably the best hydraulic jack oil substitute, automatic transmission fluid (ATF). People tend to ask can I use transmission fluid in a hydraulic jack? Yes, automatic transmission fluid can be used as an alternative as long as the chosen substitute has the correct viscosity.
However, some issues come up when using ATF as a hydraulic fluid. For instance, the additives in ATF can break down the hydraulic seals. Unlike hydraulic fluids which are designed not to foam in high pressures, Automatic Transmission Fluid is prone to foam when subjected to very high pressure.
Finally, some cylinders are designed to work with particular fluids. And when that fluid is not used, the full potential of the cylinder is not unleashed. If it is a small hand-operated hydraulic jack, you can use ATF. Otherwise, you should certainly refrain from using it.
Here’s an example of an ATF available on Amazon:
ATF is popular as a substitute for jack oil because many people have preached about not having any problems. Its viscosity is almost identical to hydraulic jack oil and doesn’t contain anything harmful to the seals. On top of this, it is also very cheap and readily available anywhere.
Power Steering Fluid
Can I use power steering fluid in a hydraulic jack? Yes, it could, but is it okay to do so? Probably not. The hydraulic fluid used in a hydraulic system must be compatible with the seals, provide the needed lubrication, and have the proper viscosity over the temperature range expected.
Here’s an example of power steering fluid available on Amazon:
Power steering fluid is likely to erode the seals, along with having the key problem of it not compressing at nearly enough pressure that a jack could lift.
Can I use brake fluid in a hydraulic jack? Brake oil generally contains alcohol, which can easily break the seals in the hydraulic jack system. The functions of a hydraulic jack fluid revolve around power transfer and control.
Therefore, the fluid has to be non-compressible, fast air release, low volatility and should have low foaming properties which brake fluid generally can’t provide.
Here’s an example of brake fluid available on Amazon:
Can I use motor oil in my floor jack? It’s generally not recommended to use engine oil as an alternative, but I’ve come across many hydraulic jack users preaching online about how they’ve used engine oil and had absolutely no issues!
You might think that brake oil or motor oil can be used as an alternative to hydraulic jack oil. But, these oils lack the viscosity required in a hydraulic jack fluid so they have the potential to cause your hydraulic jack and your operation problems.
Here’s an example of engine oil available on Amazon:
Some engine oil can be used as a hydraulic fluid without causing harm. Multigrade engine oils, however, are not the best solution if they are used in the hydraulic system specifically for their high viscosity index (VI). It would therefore be advised to use a lightweight motor oil that is SAE 10W or 20W.
Vegetable Seed Oils
There are a few vegetable seed oils that are capable of being commercially used as hydraulic fluids. A vegetable seed oil is a hydraulic fluid that has several advantages over standard mineral oil. They include oils extracted from sunflower, soy, and canola seeds. The performance of these oils will vary significantly with the type of additives and base oil chosen.
The vegetable seed oil has several advantages over its mineral counterparts when used for hydraulic fluid applications. The advantages include higher flashpoints of 3200C, along with being non-toxic, higher lubricity, and biodegradable.
Vegetable oils of course have some limitations, this includes their low oxidation resistance and poor performance in low temperatures as well as being quite expensive.
Here’s an example of vegetable oil available on Amazon:
Using a Substitute for Hydraulic Jack Fluid Important Considerations
You should be very careful when searching for substitutes for hydraulic fluid. If you use the wrong fluid, the seals can swell or break. Therefore, do not substitute unless you are very sure of what you are doing.
Therefore, to ensure maximum efficiency of the jack, use the proper fluid specifically produced for a hydraulic jack. The warranty for a specific jack specifies the fluid to be used. If you use a different fluid, the warranty becomes null and void.
The hydraulic jack oil viscosity is probably the most important factor when selecting a hydraulic fluid, let alone a floor jack oil substitute. The very least you can do when using an alternative to hydraulic oil is by making sure hydraulic jack fluid substitute has a suitable viscosity to match the requirements of your hydraulic jack.
It is generally recommended to use 10W viscosity hydraulic jack oil for the machinery along with containing suitable additives. The problem with substitutes is they may not boast the specific additives that hydraulic jack fluids do.
If you use a fluid that is too thick, the machine may not be able to draw the oil effectively from its reservoir. This may lead to cavitation. On the other hand, using thinner oil may lead to internal slippage within the jack, thus, reducing its efficiency.
The additives also help protect the machinery from wear, which is vital. Hydraulic jack fluid tends to contain a Zinc additive for anti-wear as it extends the durability of the machinery. The other reason for using zinc-based additives is because they have both anti-wear as well as anti-oxidative properties. Anti-wear hydraulic oils are recommended when operating in a harsh environment.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Yes, car jack oil is a hydraulic fluid that is used for lubrication, power generation, sealing, heat transfer and more within carjacks. Hydraulic fluid provides good lubrication, protects from rust and oxidation and has low foaming characteristics which are vital for carjacks.
This is generally not advised. Mixing oils with different additive packages will never be recommended. By doing so, you could compromise the additive performance of both oils, causing corrosion of component surfaces and leading to increased mechanical wear, which is only going to cause you problems.
If you have any questions regarding using hydraulic jack oil substitutes, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!