Essential Best Practices to Keep Your Forklift in Tip-Top Shape

Essential Best Practices to Keep Your Forklift in Tip-Top Shape

Forklift Repair | Repair and Maintenance | 05/22/2023
Written by Stacy Conner

Forklifts: they’re tough as nails. This all-star equipment carries and bears the brunt of some of the most intensive labor you and your team will do. Forklifts are one of the most underrated, yet valuable pieces of fleet equipment for fleet managers, technicians, and teams. You must keep your all-star lifts in tip-top shape. To keep them in shape, minimize unplanned downtime, and save money, join the Experts as we describe essential best practices to help keep your forklifts running for life’s heavy-lifting challenges.

What does forklift maintenance include?

The regular servicing, cleaning, inspection, and preventative maintenance (PM) of your forklift equipment. We want to make sure you understand exactly how we define forklift maintenance.

The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines certain maintenance procedures that can help you care for your forklift. OSHA requires employees who use forklifts to be trained and certified on how to maintain and keep forklifts safely running at peak operation. 

To run a forklift safely and seamlessly, it’s crucial to conduct regular maintenance on lifts so that you can keep your business moving supercharged and ready to continue delighting your customers each day.

Have a regular forklift maintenance schedule in place

Not only will having a regular forklift maintenance schedule help keep your business moving full-speed ahead, but frequent maintenance will result in cost savings for you in the long run.

Conducting frequent inspections and having strong maintenance plans in place will result in cost savings for the future. If you do find your forklift breaking, many fleet-service shops offer mobile-repair services. Mechanics will come to your location to fix your forklift. You can be up and running in no time.

Benefits of having a regular forklift maintenance schedule

You might be wondering, “Do I really need to have a schedule for my forklift?” The answer is a resounding yes. Having a consistent forklift maintenance schedule in place will offer you and your team many benefits.

While not a complete list, some of the benefits include:

  1. Improved productivity: when your forklift is in great shape, you can move more loads, increase production, and keep your operation schedule chugging along smoothly
  2. Decreased chance of breakdowns: reduce the amount of unplanned downtime and interruption in workflow
  3. Increased cost savings: just like your body, your forklift needs tender love and care (TLC). With TLC, your body works better, and you go to the doctor less often. The more you provide TLC to your forklift, the less time your lift will spend needing rehab, and the better it will serve you and your operation.
  4. Safer work conditions and better team morale: better onsite safety will reduce the likelihood of an equipment failure. Your team will appreciate the time you took to care for their safety and well-being. Increased safety will also help boost company morale.
  5. Longer equipment lifespan: You’ll maximize the shelf life of your forklift by keeping it regularly serviced. With frequent maintenance, there’s no reason your forklift shouldn’t be able to operate for 10,000 operation hours (or about five years).

How often does a forklift require maintenance?

It depends. Factors such as the number of operation hours, the mechanical condition, precise damage done to, and the servicing history conducted on the forklift play into how often a forklift requires maintenance.

Plus, forklift servicing will vary from company to company, depending on which terrain you tend to use your forklift and on how your operators and technicians operate the forklift.

In general, though, we recommend a daily, monthly, and semi-annual forklift maintenance schedule for most forklifts in operation.

Daily forklift maintenance

OSHA is pretty thorough with its safety schedules. They conveniently provide comprehensive checklists for maintaining industrial-powered trucks. If you don’t feel like reading through the entire checklist, we can explain the main points.

In a sentence or two, OSHA breaks down proper daily forklift maintenance into two categories: “engine-off” and “engine-on” inspections.

Engine-off inspection items are items to look for before operating a forklift. Engine-on maintenance checks include — you guessed it — items and key areas to look at while your forklift engine is on, in operation, and in full swing.

Engine-off daily inspection checklist items

Some of the most common engine-off checklist items and areas for inspection include the:

Engine-on daily inspection checklist items

In addition to engine-off checklist items and areas, some of the most common engine-on items and areas for inspection include:

If your engine is making unusual, grinding noises, the noises could be the result of faulty internal engine-related components. 

If in doubt about what is considered normal operation, always check the operator’s manual to ensure optimal functioning of each of your parts — or you can contact the Experts. We’d be more than happy to break down and explain the OSHA recommendations and functionality of your forklift with you.

Monthly forklift maintenance inspections

Outside of daily inspections, it’s important to conduct a planned non-operation monthly forklift maintenance inspection for every 200-250 hours — or every 6 weeks or so — of operational use.

When conducting a monthly forklift maintenance inspection, we recommend checking at this time for whether your forklift requires any additional replacement parts for spots showing normal wear-and-tear.

Common monthly forklift checklist items

Some of the most common monthly forklift checklist items and areas you should check for include:

Keeping tabs on your forklift’s health goes a long way. Monthly checks will help you prolong the life of your prized forklift, so it will stay ready for any job at any time.

Semi-annual and annual maintenance inspections

It’s a smart idea to conduct a semi-annual or annual maintenance check as well. In general, semi-annual and annual maintenance checks occur every 1,000 (semi-annual) to 2,000 (annual) hours of operation. 

Of course, knowing when to conduct a six or 12-month maintenance inspection depends on the type of forklift you and your team use. Electric, propane-fueled, and combustible engine-powered forklifts all require different maintenance schedules.

Depending on whether you own an electric, propane-fueled, or combustible engine-powered lift, we highly suggest reading the manufacturer’s recommendations to know when to conduct your annual and semi-annual inspection.

Just make sure to plan in advance. With any large piece of fleet equipment, it’s important to set aside enough planned and unplanned downtime for annual and semi-annual inspections, as servicing a forklift from top to bottom takes time

What types of forklift maintenance are there (planned and full)?

Whether you own a combustible electrical, engine-powered, or liquid propane-powered forklift, all forklifts can benefit from two common types of forklift maintenance plans:

  1. Planned maintenance plans, and
  2. Full maintenance plans.

Full maintenance plans are plans that require expensive repairs in addition to labor. These plans are helpful for expensive repairs that require complete part replacements.

In contrast, planned maintenance plans tend only to cover the labor needed for a forklift repair. Replacement parts are not included in these plans.

Choosing the right plan comes down to knowing your company’s budget, forklift needs, and team’s  preferences. You can’t go wrong with either plan, though. Both plans will help you keep your equipment in the best shape for your needs.

The most common forklift systems needing regular maintenance

Certain areas of a forklift (e.g. the lifts) tend to experience more wear and tear than others (e.g. the seat belt). These parts, therefore, require more attention and maintenance.

The four most common systems needing frequent inspections and sufficient maintenance include a forklift’s structural, hydraulic, and electrical, and safety systems.

1. A forklift’s structural components: forks, masts, and more

Forks, mast components (including mast support bushing), chassis links, carriage rollers, and the forklift’s overhead guard: these structural components incur the most wear and tear on a forklift. Before and after using the forklift, technicians and operators should check these components daily.

During monthly and annual inspections, it’s helpful to ensure that all bolts and manifold nuts are tightened to ensure no additional repair work is needed on the forklift’s structural components.

While it may seem like an upfront cost, having your technicians and operators keep tabs on and go the extra mile in caring for your forklift’s structural components will keep repair and service costs low and your forklift properly maintained.

2. Electrical systems

For electric forklifts, conduct frequent inspections on battery-powered components. Conducting regular service intervals on factory-trained parts — parts like the battery— will extend the service life of your forklift and result in huge cost savings for you and your team.

With technology evolving at a rapid rate, regular forklift maintenance on electrical systems will ensure you have the latest parts needed to optimize your business’ performance. Keeping your forklift’s electrical system up to date will save you money on costly repairs and help you and your business thrive.

3. Hydraulic systems maintenance

The pumps, valves, tubes, cylinders, hydraulic oil, and fuel system in your forklift are what help you and your lift trucks do the heavy lifting on the job. Just like industrial trucks and other fleet equipment, you must conduct frequent inspections on and check the fuel system in your forklift.

Note: for combustible engine-based forklifts, make sure to check the clutch release bearing and brake fluid on your forklift equipment to ensure no sudden breakdowns or stops occur while on the job.

Checking these parts will help protect the safety of the workers around you and the shelf life of your forklift. 

4. Safety in mind

Your forklift maintenance checklist is only as helpful as its ability to keep workers safe. Whether your forklift is operating in a crowded warehouse delivering fast service to customers, outdoors in the sweltering heat on, say, a construction site with a heavy fleet of industrial and lift trucks, or in a quiet medical facility moving medicine, safety is paramount.

To stay safe outdoors in hot conditions, make sure your radiator coolant and other fluids are filled to capacity to prevent your forklift from overheating or breaking down. If indoors, check to make sure you have enough brake fluid to prevent a costly crash. 

And most importantly, make sure your operators are familiar with an OSHA-certified training program. Sufficient maintenance, better safety, comprehensive training, and proper forklift care start with everyone’s health in mind.

Regular forklift maintenance tasks you can perform on your own

Frequent forklift maintenance — especially on electric forklifts — can add up over time. If you’re on a budget regarding regular forklift service, you can check off a few items on your forklift maintenance checklist and reduce maintenance costs by performing routine maintenance tasks on your own.

Daily repairs — such as air filter replacements and battery checks among other equipment checks — can be done without the help of a mechanic or technician.

Note: Doing maintenance on your own is always less advisable than consulting a trained, certified, and professional mechanic. When possible, we recommend reaching out to a professional and certified technician trained in OSHA standards to make sure your repairs are conducted with OSHA compliance in mind.

Forklift maintenance tasks to be done by a certified technician

To ensure your repair follows each OSHA standard, repairs on your forklift’s internal combustion engine are best left to a certified OSHA-standard-trained technician.

When the check fuel system lights go on, certified technicians have the knowledge and training to determine whether the light has turned on because of electrical, hydraulic, or structural damage to the forklift. While it may be an initial upfront cost, consulting a professional for forklift service and regular maintenance will help you save money in the long run.

Expert tip: If you decide to sell or trade your forklift in the future, your forklift will have a higher resale value because it was serviced at proper intervals by professionals.

How much does regular forklift maintenance and repairs cost?

On average, regular maintenance on forklifts can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000 a year — or about $0.50 to $1.75 per operating hour. 

This number can fluctuate depending on parts needed for replacement.
Keeping your forklift’s environment pristine will help save wear and tear on your forklift. Make sure the lift truck and liftgate, service floors, batteries, and other service equipment adjacent to your forklift is up to code and top safety standards.

Conducting a thorough safety inspection of the grounds around your forklift will place you in the best possible place to reduce overhead costs on forklift repairs and maintenance.

When it’s time to buy a new forklift

You’ve cleaned out your showroom and warehouse, and everything is up to code. But your forklift is still sputtering and making that grinding noise — even after regular service and maintenance.

Forklifts tend to have a shelf life of about 10,000 operation hours. If after checking your repair service history, you’ve followed all the items needed to help maintain the health and vitality of your forklift — and your forklift is still not working as well — it may be time to find a new forklift.

After finding a new forklift, the same steps above apply to take care of it. Continue keeping it in optimal condition, and following your forklift maintenance checklist. By doing so, you will place yourself in the best position to continue to serve — and delight — countless more customers and clients.

Empower your forklift operators about forklift maintenance

Your trusted employees: you love them for the great work they do using your forklifts. They know how to use the controls, move through tight spaces, and keep your business operating smoothly.

But do they know best practices for maintaining forklifts?

You can ensure your forklift stays running smoothly by empowering your forklift operators and educating them on how to care for forklifts.

But where to start? Refer them to the engine-off and engine-on OSHA daily checklist. If you do not have access to the checklist, consider teaching your operators to conduct a visual check, by making note of daily inspection items.

Next, you can teach your forklift operators how to keep track of which parts need replacing so they can become aware of safety standards and maintenance schedules for operating forklifts.

When operators are aware of fulfilling the service intervals for the forklift, they can help prevent components from breaking down. Empowering your operators to learn about regular forklift service will help you keep your forklifts running at peak capacity, so you can continue delivering winning results.

Forklift maintenance starts with great partners

Keeping a forklift in optimal shape requires daily, monthly, semi-annual, and annual on- and off-engine checks. If you’re looking for great partners for forklift repair, consider first looking at your local mechanic or fleet service repair shop.

Once there, there are a few helpful tips to keep in mind. It’s important to learn about who they are and how they conduct business.

You can learn about them by interviewing the repair shop managers and their technicians. You can ask to see their repair facilities, and ask to speak with and interview a handful of their clients to best understand how your local repair shop does forklift maintenance. 

The more information you can gather about your chosen mechanic and technician team, the more likely you’ll be able to craft a winning maintenance program — with partners you can count on — that will help you maintain your equipment.

Experts you can depend on

At Equipment Experts, Inc., we offer our customers a variety of in-shop and mobile repair-based fleet and  forklift services. Family- and women-owned and operated, we’ve been helping customers service and repair their forklifts, heavy equipment, and trucks all over Washington state and beyond. 

Come on by the shop. We’d be delighted to have you take a tour of our shop and introduce you to our helpful and friendly technicians. Until then, we look forward to providing you exceptional service at an affordable rate for all your forklift needs! Contact us today to get started.

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