Buying a used forklift—wisely

STAMPING Journal March/April 2002
April 15, 2002
By: Bill Buckhout

When purchasing a used forklift truck carefully look at maintenance records, give the vehicle a thorough inspection, and a test drive. The article features an in-depth inspection checklist.

Forklift truck diagram

Purchasing powered industrial trucks does not have to be a monumental capital expenditure. In certain material handling situations, a used forklift truck makes fiscal sense.

Consider buying a used forklift if:

  • The truck will be used only for a single shift.
  • The forklift will be used for no more than five hours a day.
  • The forklift will work no more than five days per week.
  • The operation is not a high-throughput, nonstop type.

What to Look For

If one or more of these criteria fit your company's situation and you decide to purchase a used forklift, you need to know how to spot used equipment with a troubled past. Here are four tips to help you select a used forklift truck that will add to your bottom line instead of draining it.

1. Availability. The principal sources of used forklift trucks are other end users and dealers (either trade-ins, former rental fleet units, or lease retirements).

In general, a used rental truck is often the better buy, because owners of new engine-powered forklifts run them, on average, for seven years before trading them in. Electric-powered forklifts usually are kept for eight to 10 years.

Typically, both types are operated for 1,500 hours per year in single-shift operations. Over the past five years, availability of retired trucks that were leased three to five years has increased. This means companies have more low-hour machines to choose from.In addition, a short-term-rental forklift truck accumulates about 1,000 hours of use per year and usually is replaced every three to five years. However, this lower use level carries a higher price. Rental forklifts and lease-retired forklift trucks usually sell for 10 to 15 percent more than other used forklift trucks.

2. Maintenance. When you find a likely candidate, be sure to evaluate its condition. Consider how well it has been maintained. Ask to review the forklift's maintenance records, if they are available. If maintenance records are not available, make sure a thorough mechanical inspection is performed prior to purchasing the vehicle.

3. Inspection. Now it is time for a hands-on examination. Make sure a mechanic comes along to give the prospective investment a thorough evaluation.

Start by checking mast operation, both without a load and with the forklift's full rated load. Only a qualified operator should do this inspection. Look for smooth operation and lack of binding. Tilt the mast forward and back fully to see if there's excessive play (3/8 in. or more) between the mast channels, as well as between the carriage and the mast. Also check for excessive side carriage play.If the forklift truck has an attachment, such as a paper roll clamp, put it through its paces to make sure it will do the job it was designed for.

Look for leaks from the transmission, differential, mast and tilt cylinders, engine, and radiator. It's best to do these checks after the forklift truck is fully warmed up.

Forklift Inspection List

Be aware, even small leaks are warning signs. Carefully examine the extent of the leak and its source to determine the cost of the repair before purchasing.

Inspect the brakes while carrying the forklift's rated load. Remember that when it's traveling at 5 miles per hour, a forklift should be able to stop smoothly within one to two truck lengths.

4. Test Drive. Before road-testing a forklift truck, take a moment to examine the vehicle's appearance. Badly dented or gouged body panels may signify rough or careless operation.

Now it's time to put the prospective acquisition through a road test. Drive it through a tight figure-eight pattern in both forward and reverse gears. The forklift truck should have a quick response to the steering wheel and accurate tracking.

Although kicking the tires is not necessary, don't forget to check them. If they have not been replaced recently, look for uneven wear. This may signal axle misalignment.

Take a Closer Look

If the prospective forklift truck passes these four tests, your search for a good used truck may be over. However, the inspection should not stop there.

Make sure a mechanic covers the 14 points on the in-depth inspection checklist. Inspection of these areas can help you ensure your company gets a truly good deal on a used forklift.

Bill Buckhout

Contributing Writer
Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks
2011 W. Sam Houston Pkwy. N.
Houston, TX 77043
Phone: 616-977-1357
Fax: 713-365-1616
Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks provides a full line of forklifts models, including internal combustion, electric, and narrow-aisle.

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STAMPING Journal is the only industrial publication dedicated solely to serving the needs of the metal stamping market. In 1987 the American Metal Stamping Association broadened its horizons and renamed itself and its publication, known then as Metal Stamping.

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