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How Long Should an Average Forklift Lasts Before it Needs to be Replaced?

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Part of running your business efficiently is ensuring the timely replacement of equipment. Your forklift (or lifts) is an essential piece of machinery that, like any other tool, needs to be properly maintained over its lifespan and replaced when the time is right. Replacing your forklift once it has run its course keeps productivity and profits at a maximum, while reducing your overall maintenance and repair costs. Keeping a forklift past its point of usefulness, however, can cause decreases in productivity and profits.

What Determines Forklift Lifespan?

A forklift is a heavy-duty piece of equipment, but that doesn't mean these machines can take absolutely anything thrown at them without consequences. If the proper level of maintenance and service is not performed, or the proper safety precautions are not taken, the lifespan of your forklift may be drastically reduced. There are several factors that determine the lifespan of your lift, including:

  • Frequency of maintenance: Keeping a regular maintenance schedule for your forklift is one of the easiest ways to make sure your lift lives a long and happy life. Preventative measures such as belt checks, fluid monitoring/refilling, and regular checks for general wear and tear should be performed consistently. Only performing maintenance or service when repairs are needed can cause minor issues to get worse and increase the amount of repairs that need to be done over the life of the forklift.
  • Hours of operation: Operating hours on a forklift are similar to the mileage on a car; they're both a good indication as to the longevity of the vehicle. Typically, if you provide the proper level of care and maintenance for your forklift, a forklift engine can last from 10,000 to 20,000 hours.
  • Severity of work: The type of work, as well as the conditions your forklift performs under, will play a part in the overall longevity of your lift. Extreme temperatures and harsh terrain will lead to a shorter lifespan than regulated temperatures and even surfaces. It should also be noted that continuously pushing the limits of your lift day in and day out will reduce its lifespan.
  • Type/year of forklift: The type of forklift, as well as the year it was made, will both affect the lifespan of the vehicle. Electric forklifts last longer than those powered by combustion engines, as electric powered lifts have fewer moving parts with a potential for malfunctioning. The year of the unit matters in part because the older the unit, the closer it is to the end of its usefulness, but also because forklift technology has improved over the years, leading to longer lifespans.

Determining Your Options

It is not uncommon for a business to use a forklift longer than it should. The thought process is often to get the most out of a unit by continuing to repair it instead of replacing it, but at a certain point a forklift loses its effectiveness and continued use can actually decrease productivity. Part of the reason forklifts are operated longer than they should be is because people are unsure of when to do what with their lift. The main choices you face over the course of owning and operating your forklift are when to relocate, retire, replace, or retain the unit.

Relocating your lift is a good idea if both the cost of operation and utilization of the unit are low. It may not seem like it is worth it to keep the forklift at this point, but taking a look at your operation may show that it could be better utilized in a different area of your business. However, if it cannot be utilized elsewhere, it might be time to retire it. The unit should also be retired if the cost of operation is high but the utilization is low. When costs overtake the utilization of the lift, you can most likely find a better use for your resources than by continuing to use an unnecessary vehicle.

If the cost of operating your forklift is high, but the utilization of it is also high, then it is time to replace the unit. Constant maintenance or repairs (and the associated costs) mean that the lift is either past the point of effectiveness or nearing it, but if the utilization is still high then it means that it is worthwhile for you to still have a forklift. The initial cost of a new unit may seem to outweigh the repair costs of the old unit, but by not paying for regular repairs and the increase in productivity new lifts provide, you may save money.

Finally, if the cost of operation is low but utilization is high, then it is safe (and recommended) to retain your current forklift.

It is a good idea to review your lift or lifts with your supplier and employees to see what stage the units are in and your best course of action. It is important to carefully evaluate the condition of each forklift and how they impact your business.

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