Used Forklift Buying Guide

A Complete User's Guide to Buying a Quality Used Forklift

We’ve all heard the stories of “like new” forklifts purchased at auction for pennies on the dollar.  While that does happen from time to time, we’re all likely far more familiar with the stories of forklift equipment purchases gone awry – leaving owners with a money pit of parts, equipment, and down time.

So, how do you evaluate used forklifts for sale?

No plan is ever fool-proof, but if you follow the guide below – you’ll likely end up with a dependable piece of equipment that will last for years to come.

(By the way, if you’re looking for Quality Used Forklifts for Sale… We’ve got them.)

Know Your Forklift Needs

It’s important to identify your needs and prioritize your wants.  Will your forklift be in a warehouse with concrete floors or will it be outdoors on gravel?  If you have warehouse racking, what are your aisle widths and what size equipment can they accommodate?  Looking at electric – is your operation wired for the type of charging station you need (3 phase or single phase)?

Also, knowing the terminology that may come up in a discussion can go a long way – check out this glossary of terms.

Pricing Expectations & Budget

The old adage – you get what you pay for is as true for forklifts as it is for automobiles.  Top tier brands of quality used forklifts will run roughly half of what a new unit of similar capacity and features cost.  General rules of thumb are that the higher the capacity the greater the cost, electrics are typically more expensive than internal combustion lifts, and pneumatics run slightly higher than cushions.

Forklift dealers in particular, may invest additional money to recondition a forklift.  That may entail a simple service, cosmetic facelift, or a complete tear-down and rebuild.  It all depends on the dealer and the potential market for the lift.  It’s important to ask what a price includes.  As mentioned earlier, some brands retain their value better than others due to initial quality of parts, manufacturing, and engineering.

Below we’ve provided a very basic pricing guide for standard spec cushion and pneumatic forklifts in the central and east Texas region.  It should be noted that every lift is different and depending on specs, the hours, type of application, and maintenance of the equipment can cause the price to be outside of the range we’ve provided.

Forklift Type Capacity Auction / Trade As-Is Retail
Sit-Down (IC) Cushion 4,000 lbs – 5,000 lbs $1,500 – $3,500 $4,500 – $7,500 $7,500 – $11,500
Sit-Down (IC) Cushion 5,000 lbs – 6,000 lbs $1,500 – $3,500 $4,500 – $7,500 $8,500 – $12,500
Sit-Down (IC) Cushion 6,000 lbs – 6,500 lbs $2,500 – $5,500 $5,500 – $8,500 $8,500 – $16,500
Sit-Down (IC) Pneumatic 5,000 lbs – 6,000 lbs $4,500 – $14,500 $7,000 – $15,000 $12,500 – $24,500
Sit-Down (IC) Pneumatic 6,000 lbs – 6,500 lbs $4,500 – $14,500 $7,500 – $16,000 $15,000 – $28,000

Know the Seller

Knowing who you’re buying from can be important in determining the legitimacy and the quality of information you get regarding the forklift for sale.  Equipment dealers likely have the most general forklift knowledge and may also have specific service history knowledge of the equipment in question.  Wholesalers or individuals typically don’t have the same level of knowledge regarding the machines operational capabilities or it’s unique service or application history.

Additionally many equipment dealers, like Lift Truck Supply, perform routine maintenance and in some cases completely recondition the forklift prior to sale.  While this may mean spending more on your initial investment, it also means that your risk for buying a “lemon” is greatly reduced.

Questions to Ask

Don’t limit yourself to these questions, but getting answers to the list below will go a long way in determining if the forklift you’re purchasing will perform well for your needs.

How many hours are on this machine and what type of application did it work in?

A forklift’s operating hours are a good indication of how often the equipment was used.  Combine hours with the type of application and year model, and you can get a good idea if the machine was used sparingly in a light duty environment, or if it was run hard in a harsh environment.  Obviously, a lower run frequency in a light duty application creates less wear and tear on equipment.

Do you have the service history of this forklift?

If you’re purchasing from the original owner or from a forklift dealer, there is a very good chance they’ll have the service history of the equipment.  The service history can be a wealth of information, not only to see if the forklift was properly maintained, but also to see if that particular piece of equipment had any reoccurring issues or operator inflicted damage.  While typically more expensive, forklifts that were covered by full maintenance programs are in better operational condition and will outperform equipment that has not been properly maintained.

Were there any recalls or campaigns issued for this piece of equipment and if so, have those repairs been completed?

Recalls are government mandated repairs for faulty parts or poorly engineered equipment.  Warranty campaigns are typically issued by reputable manufacturers when they discover a poorly manufactured part or an engineering design flaw.  Knowing these potential performance issues, and if manufacturer recommended repairs have been completed can give you piece of mind that the machine has been well maintained.

Potential Problem Areas

When evaluating a forklift it’s a good idea to start with common problem areas or areas that could be expensive to repair.  We also recommend bringing your own mechanic if you have access to one;  it can help determine the overall potential of the machine.


Cab & General Operations

Hop in the seat and fasten the seatbelt.  Check to make sure the seat is securely attached and evaluate the condition of the seatbelt.  Next, start the forklift and note any odd noises coming from the engine.  Inspect the hydraulic levers – lift and lower the loader arms, tilt the mast in both directions, and side shift the arms left and right.  Make sure that as you manipulate the loader arms and raise/lower the mast that the machine operates smoothly.  Drive the forklift both forwards and reverse and in a figure eight pattern.  Stop and start to test responsiveness of steering and braking.  Operate all other controls and safety devices, including back-up alarm, flood lights, and horn.  Check the data plate to make sure the equipment meets your operational requirements.

Try to run the forklift for about ten minutes – utilizing all functions.  This allows you to get a feel for the general operation of the machine and may highlight problem areas but it also gets the fluids warmed up and moving, creating pressure in the lines.  After the machine has been warmed up, begin your visual inspection – any hydraulic or other fluid leaks will now be more apparent.


Forks & Mast

Start your visual inspection with the forks and the mast.  Inspect the forks for cracks, bends, and warping – this can be caused by overloading or excessive wear.  Minor distortions may be repairable but any cracks can compromise the integrity of the equipment when lifting at full capacity.  Be sure to check the thickness of the fork heels, they should closely match the thickness of the fork shank (portion where fork attaches to hanger).  When inspecting the mast look for cracks or welds, and then verify that mast pins, tilt / side-shift cylinder are secure.  Check the cylinders for signs of leaks or damage.

Forklift Mast

Mast Rails, Lift Chains, & Cylinders

Moving from the forks, check the mast rails for signs of cracks or welds that may weaken the mast.  Excessive wear on the mast rollers may warp or compress them into ovals rather than their intended circular shape.  Inspect the lift chains, look for damaged or missing links or anchor pins.  Check your hydraulic hoses for any leaks and then verify that the hoses and lift chains have equal tension.  Scrutinize the tilt cylinders, checking for leaks, signs of damage, loose or missing bolts.


Frame, Cowling, & Canopy

Do a walk around the forklift and study the body for collisions or other signs of damage.  Run your hands along the main canopy supports – feeling for bends or impacts that may compromise the canopy’s ability to protect operators from falling objects or rollover.  In the event of an enclosed cab, check for missing or damaged windows.  Inspect the chassis, are there signs of cracks, modifications, or repairs?  Tires should not be worn past the top of the lettering.  Cracked rubber or missing chunks may be indicative of application environment or improper maintenance.  Check wheels for missing or damaged lug nuts.

Forklift Engine Bay

Engine Compartment, Exhaust Guard, & Counterweights

Open the engine compartment and check for any leaks, dirt buildup or cracks on hoses. Check the oil, note the level of the oil on the dipstick, and also look at the condition of the oil. Check that belts are tight and not worn or cracked. Inspect the air filter and make sure it is clean. If you are inspecting an electric forklift, check that all battery connections are in good condition. If the machine is propane-powered, check integrity of tank brackets and bolts once you’ve finished your engine compartment inspection. Move to the rear of the forklift and look at the exhaust guard, noting and damage. Also check that the counterweight bolts are securely in place.

Forklift Battery

Batteries & Chargers

It should go without saying but if you’re looking at an electric forklift, be sure to inspect the battery.  Is there any corrosion or acid leaking?  Open up some of the cells and see if the battery has sufficient water.  If you’re working with a dealership have them run a load test on the battery.  Ask if a charger is included and if so, check to make sure it’s in working order.  Ask if the charger is single or three-phase; that may mean additional costs if your facility isn’t wired properly.  Verify that the battery is the right size and weight for your lift by checking the data plate.  A battery that is too light can lower lifting capacity.

How Will You Service Your New Lift

While it may not be top of your list when selecting a used forklift, where you will service your forklift after your purchase, should be considered.  Even if you plan on maintaining the lift yourself, there’s a good probability that at some point in the future it will need the attention of a forklift service provider.  Identifying someone or a company that has all the necessary equipment, training, personnel, and reputation to handle the job may influence the brand or type of equipment you purchase.

Parts Availability for Used Forklifts

When buying used equipment it’s important to take into account how long you plan to use the equipment, and how easy it will be to find replacement parts now, and in the future.  Your local forklift dealership should be able to tell you how easy it is to order parts for a particular unit and how often parts go obsolete for particular brands.

Additionally, some forklift manufacturers are notoriously difficult to get parts for, whether the lift is new or used.  It’s a good idea to verify with your preferred forklift dealership that they can get the parts quickly should the need arise.

Don’t Be in a Hurry

Start your search process early and don’t fall into the trap of making a quick forklift purchase to meet production needs.  Quick purchases usually lead to higher prices and sacrifices regarding your needs.  Due diligence will be handsomely rewarded with a quality forklift that meets your needs and your budget.

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