Secrets to Avoid Buying a Forklift “Lemon”

When buying any piece of expensive, complex industrial equipment, it’s important to arm yourself with the information that you need to find a quality deal.  Not only will careful preparation help you avoid wasting capital, but you’ll also be in a better position to match the appropriate machinery with your particular needs.  Buying a used forklift is no exception.

This article will introduce you to the basics of inspecting a forklift.  A comprehensive checklist is included for you to reference during the purchase, which will tell the seller that you are prepared and increase the likelihood of getting a fair deal.

Before shopping for an industrial truck, it’s important to know the amount of labor that you expect the vehicle to perform on a daily and weekly basis.  This will help you understand the level of quality required and adjust your budget appropriately.  Consider purchasing a new forklift unless your needs fall into one of these five categories:

  • The forklift will only be operated during a single shift.
  • The forklift will be operated for five hours or less each day.
  • The forklift will be operated no more than five days each week.
  • The labor is not overly intense or nonstop.

Inspecting Your Forklift

Buying a forklift shouldn’t be a fiscal nightmare; it should be a smart investment that improves your bottom line.  If you decide that purchasing a used forklift complements your needs and budget, here are a few factors to consider during inspection:

1. Assess Your Options

Dealers and end users are the principal venders of used forklifts.  Most industrial trucks were rental fleet units, trade-ins or lease retirements.  Among these three categories, rental fleet units are often the best buys, because trade-ins and lease retirements are usually run for seven to 10 years before they enter the resale market.

If you find a trade-in or lease retirement truck that you believe is a good fit, ask these questions:

  • For how many hours was the truck operated?  In single-shift operations, most forklifts labor for 1,500 hours each year.  A truck operated for more than 1,500 hours per year should carry a reduced price.
  • For how many years was the forklift leased?  In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of trucks that were leased for fewer than five years.  A truck leased for a longer period should carry a reduced price.

Rental forklifts generally carry fewer hours of use and are therefore a more valuable buy.  However, they can cost up to 15 percent more than trade-in trucks.

2. Evaluate Maintenance Records

After you’ve found a potential candidate, the next steps are mechanical and physical inspections.  Look for any signs of physical deterioration or parts that need replacing.  Ask for the forklift’s maintenance records and evaluate them thoroughly.

3. Inspect the Forklift

The hands-on assessment comes next.  Just like buying a car, it helps to have a mechanic with you to inspect the forklift.

Evaluating the mast operation is a good first step.  Test the mast with and without the forklift’s maximum load.  Watch for a lack of binding and smooth operation. Tilt the mast backward and forward fully to look for excessive play between mast channels (3/8 inch or more) and between the mast and carriage. Inspect for side carriage play.  If the forklift features an attachment, test the attachment to ensure proper functionality.

Other Inspection Points:

  • After warming up the forklift, watch out for leaks from the tilt and mast cylinders, differential, transmission, radiator and engine.  Small leaks can signify expensive problems.  Before you purchase the truck, assess the cost to repair any leaks.
  • While carrying the truck’s maximum load, evaluate the brakes.  The forklift should stop within one or two truck lengths while travelling up to 5 miles per hour.

4. Time for a Test Drive

Before test driving the forklift, assess its physical appearance.  Gouged or dented panels may indicate careless operation.

During the road test, drive the truck through a figure-eight pattern while in reverse and forward gears.  Watch out for inaccurate tracking and delayed response from the steering wheel.

Observe tire wear.  If the tires are new, look for uneven tread.   This may indicate a misaligned axle.

Final Steps

If the forklift passes these tests, you might be looking at a quality machine, but before you sign any checks, make sure you assess the truck for these 10 qualities:

  1. Oil pressure is low
  2. No radiator damage
  3. No rust in engine coolant
  4. Transmission fluid is not discolored
  5. Carriage does not drift downward
  6. Hydraulic control valves have no leaks
  7. No excessive wear to the fork
  8. Tight steer axle buckles
  9. No cracks in the chassis
  10. Truck features all safety equipment

If the forklift passes this list and the price is right, it’s probably a safe investment.  Make sure you note any minor or major flaws to give yourself some bargaining power.

About Tom Reddon

Tom has been involved in the forklift industry since 1986. He loves doing research, blogging, and speaking about forklifts. You can contact Tom on his Twitter or Google+ profiles.

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