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Load Cell vs Hydraulic Pedals: The 4 Main Differences

If you’re looking to upgrade your sim racing pedals, you have a couple of options. Most entry-level pedals use a potentiometer to gauge how much braking force to apply in game, and the step up from these pedals is usually a load cell or hydraulic pedal set. But what are the differences?

The 4 main differences between load cell pedals and hydraulic pedals are:

  1. Hydraulic pedals are more accurate
  2. Load cell pedals tend to be less prone to damage
  3. Hydraulic pedals are usually made of higher quality materials
  4. Load cell pedals are cheaper

These are just the main differences presented in a very generalized fashion, and we will discuss each of them in more detail below. This will hopefully help you to decide whether load cell pedals are right for you, or whether you should upgrade to hydraulic pedals instead.

When To Upgrade Your Sim Racing Pedals

You are probably reading this article because you are considering upgrading your sim racing pedals. Whether you have an entry level potentiometer-based set yourself, or whether you already have load cell or hydraulic pedals, you will still want to know the main differences between the two so that you can make the right decision when buying a set.

Aimed At Experienced Racers

As a general rule of thumb, and as will become a bit more apparent when we go through the differences in the rest of the article, both load cell and hydraulic pedal options are aimed at more intermediate to advanced sim racers. That is not to say that beginners will not be able to use either, as there are in fact some good load cell pedals sets out there for beginners.

However, it is still worth bearing in mind that the types of pedals that we will be talking about below are geared more towards intermediate to advanced players, especially in the case of the hydraulic pedals. This is not purely due to their higher price point, as the technology involved also takes quite a long time to get used to even for advanced racers.

Make An Informed Decision

But once again, this article is designed to inform any sim racer of the differences between load cell and hydraulic pedals. Plus, if you are a beginner, we always advise going for a good set of sim racing pedals, and some of the best choices for beginners are indeed load cell options. Anyway, let’s go through the differences between each type in more detail.

The 4 Main Differences Between Load Cell Pedals And Hydraulic Pedals

1. Hydraulic Pedals Are More Accurate

When it comes to accuracy and immersion, both load cell and hydraulic pedals do a good job of providing both. They definitely do a better job than cheaper potentiometer pedal sets, but the performance differences between these two types of pedals can be very slight, as there are some excellent load cell options out there, as well as some fairly average hydraulic pedals in terms of immersion.

Hydraulics Are Usually More Immersive

However, in a general sense, hydraulic pedal options tend to offer a more accurate braking experience than load cell pedals, and this can in turn provide more immersion. This is mainly due to the fact that real cars use hydraulic pedal systems, and so hydraulic pedals just do the best job of emulating that aspect of driving in real life.

All 3 Pedals Are Important

However, it is not just the brake pedal that is more immersive, as hydraulic pedal sets also usually feature hydraulic gas and clutch pedals too. What you will often find with load cell pedals as well is that the gas and clutch pedals will still use potentiometers, whereas most hydraulic sets use the same mechanism for all three pedals.

With that said, the differences in the immersion between these two types of pedals will usually only be noticeable for very experienced sim racers. Load cell pedals do tend to offer less accurate feel than hydraulic systems, but they can often be adjusted with software and even hardware in some cases to provide a very realistic racing experience.

2. Load Cell Pedals Tend To Be Less Prone To Damage

The difference in durability is not quite as straight forward as in the case of immersion. In a lot of cases, there will be no difference between a set of load cell pedals and a set of hydraulic pedals, but there are some cases where the difference is very clear. This is not a point about build quality and is more about the pedals’ proneness to getting damaged.

Load Cells Are Very Robust

A load cell is an electronic component that measures applied force, and so contains very few moving parts. This means there are not many parts of the pedals that can end up broken, at least not without a lot of excessive force being applied. This is why manufacturers often state load limits along with the maximum amount of measurable force.

Hydraulics Can Be Prone To Leaking

Hydraulic pedals on the other hand use fluid within chambers and tubes of the pedals to transmit the force data, and although this can provide a very accurate amount of feedback and realism, they can sometimes break, leak or stop working due to mechanical failure. These instances are rare, but nonetheless they do present issues for sim racers.

These kinds of problems usually only occur when excessive force is applied, or simply after excessive use of the pedals. Most manufacturers build their pedals to last a very long time and offer warranties to repair damaged sets. So, although this is a minor difference, it is still one to consider when you are looking to spend a lot of money upgrading your pedals.

3. Hydraulic Pedals Are Usually Made Of Higher Quality Materials

Although load cell pedals are often made out of durable metals and other strong materials, there is often a lot of plastic and rubber involved as well. The actual parts inside the pedals, such as the load cell itself and other electrical components, will be made of high-quality materials that are built to last for a long time without needing repair.

A Lot Of Precision Engineering

However, hydraulic pedals will usually be built out of the strongest materials possible, and there will be very little plastic in sight with these. The tubing has to be made of strong materials in order to hold the fluid under pressure, and you will usually find that even the pedals themselves are made from high-quality metals and they will often be crafted using a CNC machine.

This allows for a lot of precision in the construction, and this means that hydraulic pedals are not only built to last, but that they also look comparably better than most load cell pedals on the market. If you are going for realism, there is nothing better than a set of well-made hydraulic pedals for both the accuracy and the racing aesthetic.

4. Load Cell Pedals Are Cheaper

Finally, we have the price. As always, this should not be the driving force behind your purchase decision, as you do want to get the highest quality pedals that you can afford. However, there are often huge differences in the price between load cell pedals and their hydraulic counterparts. Both are expensive, but hydraulic pedals are usually much more so than load cells.

Hydraulics Are More Expensive

This is simply down to their nature and the way that they are made. Hydraulic pedals use a lot of precision engineering in order to create a realistic driving experience, and there is just more work involved in crafting a good set of hydraulic pedals. Although load cell pedals are not the cheapest options on the market, they are much cheaper than hydraulic ones.

Load cell pedals usually retail for around $200-700 at most, and even this is enough to put some absolute beginners off buying them. However, a good set of hydraulic pedals will usually cost at least $1000, with other options out there costing several thousand dollars. Thus, price really can be an important factor to consider when it comes to load cells vs hydraulics.

Final Thoughts

When upgrading any part of your sim racing rig, it is important to do your research. This is ever so true when buying a new set of pedals, as you will often find yourself making the decision between load cell and hydraulic options. There are usually more hydraulic options to choose from, but the aspect of variety is not all you have to think about.

There are a few differences to consider when making a decision, and they all come down to the quality. Although hydraulic pedals will be more expensive than load cell options, they will usually be made of better materials and they will offer a much more immersive experience. Some may be prone to malfunctions, but with proper use they will last as long as you need and are usually your best choice.