Many forklift applications are well suited to a used truck. If that is what you need, this article will help you get the most for your buck and minimize the chance your used forklift purchase will reveal deficiencies that will leave you with buyer’s remorse.

A used truck is probably the right choice for you if you need to keep to a smaller budget and you plan to run the equipment a reasonable number of hours. You do not need to have the latest features. You can handle the fact that the equipment will require more maintenance than a brand new truck.

If a used truck is right for you, then you want to make sure you know what to look for so you do not miss something that could quickly cost you more money. Maybe a truck that needs some TLC is right for you and you are just the one to tackle the project. You still want to make sure you check the truck over thoroughly so you don’t miss anything. Many used equipment buyers want to make sure they get a reliable truck that is not going to nickel and dime them to death. It all comes down to knowing what to check. If you are dealing with a reputable dealer, they will be able to give you the straight scope on the condition of the truck and each of the items on the Used Truck Inspection Checklist listed below. It is up to you to ask about everything on the check list and not accept a general “Yeah, this truck is in really good condition”.  

Used Truck Inspection Checklist

  1. Check for low oil pressure and have a compression test completed and review the results. Ask questions if you need help interpreting the results.
  2. Check oil dipstick – does it indicate oil has been changed or is oil so black and dirty it indicates that the oil has been neglected. If oil appears milky, you may have antifreeze getting in to the oil from a bad head gasket.
  3. Check radiator for damage or signs it never gets blown out.
  4. Check engine coolant for signs of rust.
  5. Check for discoloration or metal grit in transmission fluid.
  6. Check for bowed or scored mast channels.
  7. Check for scratches and damage to chrome lift cylinders and tilt cylinders.
  8. Check for excessive downward drift of elevated mast carriage.
  9. Check for Leaking hydraulic control valves.
  10. Move the truck and check where it stood for leaks.
  11. Make sure lights and backup alarm are functional if the truck is so equipped.
  12. Check for torn seats and non-functional seat belts.
  13. LP Tanks are not typically supplied when purchasing a used truck.
  14. Check forks for excessive wear. When worn beyond 10% they no longer meet OHSA specifications.
  15. Check forks for missing retaining pins, cracks, welds. Make sure that fork tips appear even when lifting and the forks are not bent.
  16. Check for loose steer axle knuckles and tie-rod ends.
  17. Data plate should clearly show make, model and serial number of the truck as well as its lifting capacity. Use serial number to verify age and year of manufacture of the forklift.
  18. Check the hour meter reading. Some electric models have multiple hour meters so make sure you know what you are looking at. These meters measure the amount of work on each motor, including the lift motor, travel, and a combination of both called dead man hours and then there is key hours. Key hours are the hours logged by amount of time the key switch is turned to “on” on a lift truck.  On a gas or LP truck, this is equivalent to the running time of the motor.  Key hours are often an inaccurate measurement of work on an electric lift truck as the motors do not spin even when the truck is energized and ready for work. Deadman hours are a truer measurement of work as they represent the time a lift truck is actually working.  This hour meter is activated when the lift truck operator is standing on the dead man pedal inside the operator’s compartment. Ask if it is the original hour meter. If the meter was damaged and replaced, the actual reading is probably misleading. Anything above 1500 hours per year would be considered high usage. You will not find many trucks with more than 2500 hours per year usage.
  19. Check the dash. Make sure gauges function properly and there are no fault codes showing.
  20. Tires should be inspected for bad rims, excessive tire wear or damage.
  21. Battery should be checked to determine if it is a proper size and weight to operate the truck efficiently and safely. Remember while a smaller battery may operate the truck it may not be heavy enough. The battery is part of your counterweight when lifting loads. Check to see the battery has a cover, if not in a covered compartment. Ask for the battery to be placed on a load bank for testing, then ask your dealer to explain what the results mean and what you can expect from the battery. You can visually see if the battery is full of corrosion or see that the cells are heaved from overheating.
  22. Charger should be checked to insure it is a proper voltage and amp hour to power the truck. Check to see the input voltage, phase and amp hour draw your facility can deliver will be adequate to power the charger. A mistake here and you will be paying extra money to have an electrician to provide the power supply your charger needs.
  23. Find out how many ignition keys you will be getting. Is one enough?
  24. If you are buying a narrow aisle reach truck, check for items such as play in the extend mechanism and verify the base legs are straight.
  25. Ask if the forklift has ever been in a major accident such as being tipped over or falling of a dock.

As you start your search for a good used forklift you will need to figure out what kind of truck you need. If you need help with this, Click “How to choose the Right Piece of Equipment for the job”.  Remember if you are replacing a forklift, you want to now ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my current truck do everything you need or do I want something different such as a smaller truck, more capacity, higher lift heights, lights, different size forks, etc.?
  • Do you want to consider a different type of lift truck all together? For example, A stand-up end controlled electric truck in place of a sit-down rider because you get on and off the forklift a lot while using it. Maybe you want a walkie truck. Ask yourself the question. Maybe your cushion tired truck won’t allow you to go outside and switching to a pneumatic tired truck would save the occasional headache.
  • Why are you replacing the truck? Need something different? Your existing truck isn’t as reliable as it used to be. Your existing truck is hard to get parts for due to its age.

What is the history of the lift truck?  Where has it been working?  How many shifts has it been working?  Was it part of a rental fleet sitting for half its life or was it working 2.5 shifts in the cooler of a chicken processing plant? Was it working in ambient or freezer?  Was it maintained on a contract or on a time and material agreement?  How many previous owners have there been?

There are many sources for used trucks. The internet, word of mouth and your own past experiences will help lead you to good suppliers such as a local full service equipment dealer. It is important to select a supplier who has the resources to stand behind what they sell. When you find the truck that is right for you ask about the warranty. How long is the warranty? Is there any manufacturer’s warranty remaining on the truck? Can you pay a premium for a warranty with more coverage? What does the warranty cover? Hours, days, power train only, parts, labor.

Ask to see the trucks maintenance records. While these records may not always be available due to the history of the truck, a truck out of a good dealer’s rental fleet has usually been well maintained and your dealer will have the records to prove it. Find out what your options are for a regular maintenance agreement. Now take the forklift for a spin. Drive it, pick up a load, treat it like you plan to use it at your warehouse. Make sure it functions as expected.

Now you know how to buy a used forklift. Find a good supplier, find the right truck, go through your Used Truck Inspection Checklist, and get a good deal with a great warranty. Start searching for your Used truck by clicking “Used Truck Search”.



%s thoughts on "How to Buy a Used Forklift"

  • Ashley Turns says:

    My husband wants to buy a forklift to help us with some landscaping projects and we are wondering what to look for. So I like your advice to make sure that the battery in the machine is big enough to weigh the forklift as well as charge it. We will definitely check out the battery of the machine before we end up buying it.

  • Billy Layman says:

    A pre-purchase inspection should be conducted by an experienced technician before buying a used forklift. By conducting such kind of inspection, one could identify damaged components of the forklift which could influence the price of the forklift. Apart from this, the warranty period of the forklift needs to be inspected. The forklift should be purchased after proper research to prevent any kind of accidents in the warehouse.

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