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Buyer's Guides

Buyers guide to purchasing a forklift

With many options for engines, tires, and attachments, the modern forklift is a versatile powerhouse for businesses. While large warehouses and manufacturing plants may require powerful forklifts running all day, other business may prefer smaller, more efficient forklifts limited to intermittent deliveries. Knowing the types of forklifts available will help you purchase equipment to fit your needs.

Capacity: Load Weight and Size

Forklifts need to be carefully matched to the loads they will transport. Consider whether your forklift will be moving identical sets of products or used in a mixed environment with variable loads. Choose a forklift that can handle the maximum capacity of any weight and size it may encounter in the future.

  • Weight capacity: Forklift ratings are based on maximum lift abilities. They range from 3,000 lb to 35,000 lb capacity, with 5,000 lbs being the industry standard.
  • Size capacity: To remain safely balanced, a forklift cannot exceed its 24-inch load center. When loads are expected to be longer or higher than a 4-foot cube, the weight capacity will be effected. This means if you plan to lift large items, you may need a forklift with more weight capacity than the actual weight of your large pallet loads to offset the imbalance.

Truck Size: Lift Height and Width

Storage shelves and delivery truck heights are usually standardized and don't vary over time, so choose a truck that can accommodate your current lift needs. If the forklift will only be used to unload trucks, a low lift will suffice, while high storage shelves may need a maximum lift of up to 30 feet.

If a forklift will be used to load and unload shelving units, measure your warehouse aisles. A standard lift requires a minimum of 11 feet of turn clearance between shelves. Narrow Aisle (NA) forklifts are available for aisles with 8-10 feet clearance, and Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) forklifts can accommodate 6 feet of clearance. These forklifts will not make turns within aisles, but use a right angle fork to collect loads on either side.

Tire Options

Different terrains require different forklift tires. Choose your forklift tires based on the location where the truck will complete the majority of its work.

  • Cushion Tires: Made of solid rubber, these are best paired with indoor use and electric forklifts.
  • Pneumatic Tires: Inflated with compressed air, these are best paired with gas or diesel forklifts used outdoors in uneven or rugged terrain. These are more expensive than cushion tires.
  • Solid Pneumatic Tires: the best of both worlds, these are the most durable and most expensive tires. They should be used when there is high risk of tire damage from nails, glass, or wood chips.

New or Used

New forklifts have less wear, are more efficient, and are less likely to experience mechanical problems which keeps operating and repair costs low. They are best suited for businesses with heavy use of over four hours a day.

Used forklifts can be a great deal for businesses who only use them a few hours each day. Reconditioned forklifts are sourced from ended lease agreements and are given new paint, tires, and mechanical repairs and tune-ups. Avoid as-is trucks as costly repairs and lost work time can offset any initial savings.

Many dealers offer both options, which makes price comparison easy. Whether you buy new or used, build your fleet within the same brand of forklift to streamline your upkeep needs for maintenance and repair.

Engine Options

Forklift engines come in two main categories: electric and internal combustion (IC). Electric forklifts are typically more expensive up front and run from on-board batteries, while IC engines consume fuel and may need more repair and upkeep supplies to keep running. Estimate your possible operating costs per hour, including fuel and maintenance to see a true cost comparison.

Electric Forklifts
  • Benefits: Big engines with zero emissions and quieter operation suited for indoor use. Lower cost per hour with less moving parts for a longer lifespan. Powerful batteries can last around six hours of use and have no fuel storage requirements.
  • Challenges: Cannot be used in the rain. Up to 40% higher initial cost than IC. May require up to 16 hours to recharge and cool batteries between use. Charging stations must be in dry, temperature controlled areas and may require a special crane for battery changes.
Internal Combustion Forklifts
  • Benefits: More powerful engines for higher capacity loads over 15,000lbs and can be used in wet or rugged locations. More durable against wear from pushing and towing strain with higher acceleration and top speeds. Lower initial price point and many fuel options including gas, diesel, propane, and natural gas.
  • Challenges: Higher cost per hour along with fuel storage and safety considerations. Emissions and noise make them less well suited for indoor use.
IC Fuel
  • Choosing an IC fuel will depend on your storage and refilling capacity as well as cost diesel is usually cheapest, but requires storage tanks and pumps. Propane canisters can be stored more easily and refilling is simple and fast, but cost will be higher.

Safety & Other Important Considerations

Safety, comfort, and function are the most important considerations for your forklift operators.

  • Safety: State laws for forklifts vary, so work with a dealer to make sure your equipment meets the requirements. Standard features such as lights and beepers should always be included.
  • Ergonomics: Repetitive motions during forklift operations can cause real injuries on the job. Look for a truck designed with ergonomic controls to reduce downtime and injury liability.
  • Attachments: If you plan to move oddly shaped items such as circular drums, spools, or other items not on pallets, look for specialized attachments. Attachments should fit any forklift, making it easy to swap out infrequently used attachments when a special job is required.
  • Sideshift: Unlike a fixed forklift, sideshift allows the load to be positioned to the left or right of center for more accurate placement. However, moving a load off center will reduce capacity.
  • Tilt Mast: On uneven terrain, tilt mast can adjust the forks forward or backward to increase stability when the load is in motion.
  • Service Plans: All machines require maintenance and repair and a service plan can help mitigate those costs and protect your investment. Preventative maintenance plans (PM) cover general check-ups and minor upkeep such as oil and filter changes. A full maintenance plan will also include repairs but comes at an additional cost. New forklifts are less likely to require a full maintenance plan during the first years of use, but older equipment will benefit.
  • Employee Training: OSHA requires forklift operators to be well trained and licensed before using your equipment and every three years thereafter. Training and testing can usually be done at a dealer.

Average Cost

These ranges are only basic estimates. Forklifts vary by region, dealer, age and specifications.

  • New, standard capacity electric forklift: $15,000-$25,000 + $2,500 to $5,000 for battery and charger
  • New, standard capacity IC forklift: $15,000-$30,000+
  • New, 10,000 lb. IC forklift: $25-$50,000
  • New, high capacity (15,000 lbs +): $100,000+.
  • Used, re-conditioned 3,000 lb. electric forklift: $5,000-$10,000
  • Used, 5,000 lb. IC forklift: $10,000-$15,000.

Operating costs per year

  • Electric: $1,500-$2,000
  • Diesel IC: $12-$15,000

Maintenance costs

  • Electric: $500/year
  • IC: $1,500/year

While price is an important factor in any purchase, considering the engine type, tires, capacity and any specialized needs should always be your priority. Knowing your options will help you invest in equipment that meets your needs and keeps operators safe and productive.

Buyers guide to purchasing a forklift

With many options for engines, tires, and attachments, the modern forklift is a versatile powerhouse for businesses. While large warehouses and manufacturing plants may require powerful forklifts running all day, other business may prefer smaller, more efficient forklifts limited to intermittent deliveries. Knowing the types of forklifts available will help you purchase equipment to fit your needs.

Capacity: Load Weight and Size

Forklifts need to be carefully matched to the loads they will transport. Consider whether your forklift will be moving identical sets of products or used in a mixed environment with variable loads. Choose a forklift that can handle the maximum capacity of any weight and size it may encounter in the future.

  • Weight capacity: Forklift ratings are based on maximum lift abilities. They range from 3,000 lb to 35,000 lb capacity, with 5,000 lbs being the industry standard.
  • Size capacity: To remain safely balanced, a forklift cannot exceed its 24-inch load center. When loads are expected to be longer or higher than a 4-foot cube, the weight capacity will be effected. This means if you plan to lift large items, you may need a forklift with more weight capacity than the actual weight of your large pallet loads to offset the imbalance.

Truck Size: Lift Height and Width

Storage shelves and delivery truck heights are usually standardized and don't vary over time, so choose a truck that can accommodate your current lift needs. If the forklift will only be used to unload trucks, a low lift will suffice, while high storage shelves may need a maximum lift of up to 30 feet.

If a forklift will be used to load and unload shelving units, measure your warehouse aisles. A standard lift requires a minimum of 11 feet of turn clearance between shelves. Narrow Aisle (NA) forklifts are available for aisles with 8-10 feet clearance, and Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) forklifts can accommodate 6 feet of clearance. These forklifts will not make turns within aisles, but use a right angle fork to collect loads on either side.

Tire Options

Different terrains require different forklift tires. Choose your forklift tires based on the location where the truck will complete the majority of its work.

  • Cushion Tires: Made of solid rubber, these are best paired with indoor use and electric forklifts.
  • Pneumatic Tires: Inflated with compressed air, these are best paired with gas or diesel forklifts used outdoors in uneven or rugged terrain. These are more expensive than cushion tires.
  • Solid Pneumatic Tires: the best of both worlds, these are the most durable and most expensive tires. They should be used when there is high risk of tire damage from nails, glass, or wood chips.

New or Used

New forklifts have less wear, are more efficient, and are less likely to experience mechanical problems which keeps operating and repair costs low. They are best suited for businesses with heavy use of over four hours a day.

Used forklifts can be a great deal for businesses who only use them a few hours each day. Reconditioned forklifts are sourced from ended lease agreements and are given new paint, tires, and mechanical repairs and tune-ups. Avoid as-is trucks as costly repairs and lost work time can offset any initial savings.

Many dealers offer both options, which makes price comparison easy. Whether you buy new or used, build your fleet within the same brand of forklift to streamline your upkeep needs for maintenance and repair.

Engine Options

Forklift engines come in two main categories: electric and internal combustion (IC). Electric forklifts are typically more expensive up front and run from on-board batteries, while IC engines consume fuel and may need more repair and upkeep supplies to keep running. Estimate your possible operating costs per hour, including fuel and maintenance to see a true cost comparison.

Electric Forklifts
  • Benefits: Big engines with zero emissions and quieter operation suited for indoor use. Lower cost per hour with less moving parts for a longer lifespan. Powerful batteries can last around six hours of use and have no fuel storage requirements.
  • Challenges: Cannot be used in the rain. Up to 40% higher initial cost than IC. May require up to 16 hours to recharge and cool batteries between use. Charging stations must be in dry, temperature controlled areas and may require a special crane for battery changes.
Internal Combustion Forklifts
  • Benefits: More powerful engines for higher capacity loads over 15,000lbs and can be used in wet or rugged locations. More durable against wear from pushing and towing strain with higher acceleration and top speeds. Lower initial price point and many fuel options including gas, diesel, propane, and natural gas.
  • Challenges: Higher cost per hour along with fuel storage and safety considerations. Emissions and noise make them less well suited for indoor use.
IC Fuel
  • Choosing an IC fuel will depend on your storage and refilling capacity as well as cost diesel is usually cheapest, but requires storage tanks and pumps. Propane canisters can be stored more easily and refilling is simple and fast, but cost will be higher.

Safety & Other Important Considerations

Safety, comfort, and function are the most important considerations for your forklift operators.

  • Safety: State laws for forklifts vary, so work with a dealer to make sure your equipment meets the requirements. Standard features such as lights and beepers should always be included.
  • Ergonomics: Repetitive motions during forklift operations can cause real injuries on the job. Look for a truck designed with ergonomic controls to reduce downtime and injury liability.
  • Attachments: If you plan to move oddly shaped items such as circular drums, spools, or other items not on pallets, look for specialized attachments. Attachments should fit any forklift, making it easy to swap out infrequently used attachments when a special job is required.
  • Sideshift: Unlike a fixed forklift, sideshift allows the load to be positioned to the left or right of center for more accurate placement. However, moving a load off center will reduce capacity.
  • Tilt Mast: On uneven terrain, tilt mast can adjust the forks forward or backward to increase stability when the load is in motion.
  • Service Plans: All machines require maintenance and repair and a service plan can help mitigate those costs and protect your investment. Preventative maintenance plans (PM) cover general check-ups and minor upkeep such as oil and filter changes. A full maintenance plan will also include repairs but comes at an additional cost. New forklifts are less likely to require a full maintenance plan during the first years of use, but older equipment will benefit.
  • Employee Training: OSHA requires forklift operators to be well trained and licensed before using your equipment and every three years thereafter. Training and testing can usually be done at a dealer.

Average Cost

These ranges are only basic estimates. Forklifts vary by region, dealer, age and specifications.

  • New, standard capacity electric forklift: $15,000-$25,000 + $2,500 to $5,000 for battery and charger
  • New, standard capacity IC forklift: $15,000-$30,000+
  • New, 10,000 lb. IC forklift: $25-$50,000
  • New, high capacity (15,000 lbs +): $100,000+.
  • Used, re-conditioned 3,000 lb. electric forklift: $5,000-$10,000
  • Used, 5,000 lb. IC forklift: $10,000-$15,000.

Operating costs per year

  • Electric: $1,500-$2,000
  • Diesel IC: $12-$15,000

Maintenance costs

  • Electric: $500/year
  • IC: $1,500/year

While price is an important factor in any purchase, considering the engine type, tires, capacity and any specialized needs should always be your priority. Knowing your options will help you invest in equipment that meets your needs and keeps operators safe and productive.