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Forklift Buying Guide

Looking to Buy A Used Forklift Truck?

If You Are, Here Are Basic Things You Need to Consider.

What Your Company Needs

Depending on your company’s material handling needs, buying a used forklift truck doesn’t have to be a difficult decision. However, there are some basic things you should know before you spend any money. Finding the best used forklift suited perfectly for your company takes research and patience. Think about your company’s particular needs for a used forklift truck, based on the following criteria:

  • The forklift will only be used for a single shift.
  • It won’t be used for more than five hours in one day.
  • The truck won’t be operating more than five days in a week.
  • The overall operation for which the truck may be used is not a high throughput type

If these criteria fit your company’s operations, there are four things to consider before you make the final decision.

Considerations Before Buying

1. Availability of inventory

The main sources for used forklift trucks are typically other end users and dealers. Dealers typically offer larger inventories of trade-ins, former rental fleet trucks, or lease retirements.

  • Generally speaking, a better buy is a used rental truck because owners of new engine-powered trucks often operate them on average for seven years before trading them in. On the other hand, electric-power forklifts are typically owned for closer to eight to ten years.
  • In any case, both types of trucks are usually operated for 1,500 hours in a year, in single-shift operations. In addition, the availability of retired trucks that were leased for three to five years has increased over the last few years.
  • This is good news for end users because it means there is a larger inventory of low-hour forklift trucks from which to choose. Also, a short-term rental unit nets out usage at about 1,000 hours a year and ends up being replaced every three to five years. But here’s the caveat: Used forklift prices may be higher than you think due to their lower use rates. Bear in mind that rental forklifts and lease-retired trucks generally sell for about 10 to 15 percent more than other used trucks.

2. Maintenance History

When you’ve found a good used forklift truck, you need to review the maintenance records.

If you’re purchasing from a reputable dealer, for example, he or she should have these records available. If not, then an even more thorough physical inspection will need to be done to your satisfaction before you sign on the dotted line.

3. Inspection

Be sure that a qualified mechanic accompanies you to conduct the physical inspection. Only someone who has a high degree of experience and expertise in this area can make the appropriate evaluation for you.

  • Check the mast operation—both without a load and then without the truck’s full rated load. The mechanic should be looking for such things as smooth operation and lack of binding. Also, he or she should tilt the mast completely forward and backward to check for excessive play (e.g., 3/8” or more) between the mast channels, as well as between the carriage and the mast.
    This is a good time to check for excessive side carriage play, too. If the forklift truck has an attachment, such as a fork positioner, be sure that this hydraulic attachment can move the forks together or apart smoothly without any jarring movements.
  • Inspect for leaks. When the forklift truck is completely warmed up is the best time to check for possible leaks from the transmission, differential, mast and tilt cylinders, engine, and radiator. All could spell potential risks if not addressed immediately. Don’t ignore small leaks either, because even these can be warning signs of something more serious. A trusted mechanic will check for the source and extent of the leak and be able to estimate the repair cost.
  • Inspect the brakes. The brakes should be inspected while the forklift is carrying its rated load. It’s important to know that when the truck is traveling at five miles an hour, it should stop smoothly and without any jolting movements within one to two truck lengths.
  • Inspect the tires. Ask the dealer if the tires have been recently replaced. If they have, check for uneven wear, as this could represent axle misalignment.

4. Take it out for a test drive!

Once you feel confident that the forklift truck has passed your inspection criteria, you should take it out for a test drive as one of the last things you do before signing the check.

  • However, before a test drive is conducted, be sure you and the mechanic examine the overall physical appearance of the forklift truck. For example, badly dented or gouged body panels may indicate excessive or careless operation.
  • For the actual test drive, the truck should be driven in a tight, figure eight pattern in both forward and reverse gears. If the truck has a quick response to the steering wheel and accurate tracking, then it’s probably in pretty good shape


Before spending money on a used forklift you should gain an in-depth understanding of the products available and your own operational needs. Consider what you need your forklift to do and how you can optimize it to maximum efficiency with the right parts. The below questions should form a solid foundation to aid you.

1) What is the width of your aisles?

If you have narrow aisles you may find 3-wheel forklifts are the best option. Aisle length should always be taken into consideration before purchasing a used forklift.

2) Do you handle food?

There are special considerations to keep in mind when you’re handling food. An electric forklift should be used to avoid potentially harmful emissions.

3) How high do you need to lift a load?

Your forklift should have the ability to lift to your maximum weight.

4) Will your forklift be used primarily indoors or outdoors?

The environment where you intend on operating your forklift will determine the type of tires you’ll need. For example, if the work environment is covered in hard dirt, firm gravel, or asphalt than pneumatic tires are the proper choice. If your workplace has concrete than cushion tires should be your preferred choice.

5) Will you be working with a trailer while loading or offloading?

If you’ll be using a trailer than it’s essential you get a forklift designed specifically to operate in tight spaces. Also, be mindful of the height of the lowered mast.

6) How much weight do you intend to lift?

The forklift you purchase should be capable of lifting more than your maximum load.

7) Do you need an internal combustion or an electric motor?

Internal combustion forklifts operate on traditional engines that require fuel to run. Electric forklifts run on battery power.


While following these tips will help you decide which used forklift truck to purchase for your company, this is not a comprehensive checklist by any means. Conduct complete due diligence before buying any used forklift truck.

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