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Frequently Asked Questions About Forklifts Answered

Last Updated: October 15, 2023 note: Need a forklift at an affordable price? Fill out the 30 second questionnaire below and our forklift partners will send you free price quotes.

What Types of Forklifts Are Available? #

Forklifts can be categorized in two major ways: by the structure of the forklift, and by the type of fuel that it uses.

Based on structure, the following types of forklifts are among the most popular:

  • Standard: A typical warehouse forklifts can lift 3,000 to 5,000 lbs. up to a height of around 20 feet.
  • Reach forklift: Sometimes called a narrow aisle forklift, this type of machine is often used in warehouses and distribution centers where space is at a premium. A narrow construction means that it can't carry as much as a standard forklift, but its extendable mast can lift loads up to about 40 feet.
  • Telescopic forklift: Also known as a telescopic handler, telehandler, or extendable reach forklift, this type of truck is a more rugged, heavy-duty version of a standard forklift with a telescopic boom that can be raised up and also extended out. It is often used in rough terrain, and can move loads of more than 30,000 pounds up to 70 feet high.
  • Straight mast forklift: This type of lift truck is also commonly used in rough terrain, but unlike the telescopic forklift, straight mast forklift can only move loads vertically, up to 12,000 pounds to a height of 10 to 30 feet.

When breaking down forklifts by fuel type, the following types are available:

  • Electric: Electric forklifts use large, heavy, rechargeable lead-acid batteries that can run for 5 or 6 straight hours. They are ideal for indoor use and a popular choice because they produce zero emissions and have a relatively low cost per hour of operation.
  • Internal combustion: These types of forklifts can run on a number of different fuels, including gasoline, diesel, liquid propane, and compressed natural gas (CNG). Compared to electric forklifts, internal combustion forklifts are easier to refuel, can carry heavier loads, and accelerate better, although they tend to be more expensive to operate.
  • Fuel cell: Hydrogen fuel cell forklifts are the next big thing in forklift technology, providing the zero emissions and quietness of electric forklifts with the fast refueling capability of an internal combustion machine.

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.

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 forklift 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.

What Size Forklft Do I Need? #

When purchasing a new forklift, one of the first things that people consider is the size their forklift will need to be. Figuring that out can be difficult, since sizes vary from model to model and among manufacturers.

At the same time, size needs vary according to application. These variables may seem confusing, but you need to take the time to understand the differences. Purchasing a forklift that's the wrong size can result in more than just an underperforming machine for your business; it can create a safety hazard in the workplace.

It is important that you consider the different types of measurements that go into forklift sizes in addition to the applications the forklift is intended to perform.

Forklift Height

Forklift height is more than its measurement from bottom to top. Three components make up the total height of a forklift:

  • Collapsed height: Collapsed height is the measurement from the floor to the highest part of the collapsed mast. This is an important measurement to consider, because the collapsed height of a forklift should be no taller than the shortest opening it needs to move through. For example, if you most commonly move through nine foot openings, but also unload trucks with a six foot opening, you will want to ensure that the forklift you choose does not have a collapsed height taller than six feet.
  • Max fork height (MFH): The max fork height is a measurement from the ground level up to the top of the tip of the forks when they are fully raised. Max fork height should be a minimum of eight inches higher than the top of the highest shelf the forklift will service. It is generally lower than the overall height of the forklift.
  • Overall height (OAH): A measurement that begins at ground level and extends up to the highest part of the forklift when the mast is fully extended, overall height is one of the best indicators of how the forklift will be able to move through your workspace. The OAH lets you know whether the forklift is going to interfere with things such as lighting or sprinkler heads and if it is a viable model for your business.

Determining Forklift Length

As with height, there is more than a single length measurement that must be considered when purchasing a new forklift:

  • Fork length: The length of the fork itself is important when considering the length of your forklift. There are various lengths and sizes of fork across different lifts, and it must be one of your size considerations when determining forklift length.
  • Overall length (OAL): Overall length of a forklift is the measurement from the most forward point on the vehicle to the farthest rear point. Remember that OAL may not include the length of the forks. In addition, overall length will impact the turning radius of the forklift. In general, the shorter the OAL, the more suited the machine is to operate in narrow areas. note: Need a forklift at an affordable price? Fill out the 30 second questionnaire below and our forklift partners will send you free price quotes.

How to Measure Forklift Width

Unlike height and length, the width of a forklift is determined by a single dimension - the unit's overall width.

Also known as OAW, this measurement will vary depending on where the measurements are taken from and what aspect of the lift they incorporate, such as the axles, carriage, and tires.

Different brands and dealers take their measurements in different ways, so it is important that you verify how the width is being measured before you make any final purchasing decisions.

What Is Forklift Load Capacity? #

The list of attachments and options for forklifts is constantly growing, which makes it all the more important for operators to have a full understanding of their forklift's load capacity, as well as the dangers of exceeding it.

Load capacity should be one of the first things you consider when looking for a new forklift, as it is directly related to the unit you need. It may seem like a straightforward process, but there is more to it than matching your average load weight to a forklift that is rated for that capacity.

Forklifts are categorized in a variety of ways. One of these is the weight that they are able to lift, commonly referred to as load capacity. They tend to start at a capacity of 3,000 pounds, with some being able to support as much as 120,000 pounds. While several models are rated for heavy-duty applications and operation, the most common load capacities are those that are rated from 3,000 to 7,000 pounds and 8,000 to 11,000 pounds.

Your average load affects the load capacity you need for your forklift. You should know the usual dimensions and weight of the loads so that you can better work with the salesperson to find the best unit for your needs. It is also important to consider load variation when looking into forklifts.

If every pallet you load is identical, then variation isn't a big deal, but many environments move different sized loads. It is often a good idea to get a forklift that can handle larger loads than you typically run to allow for any future weight increases and maximize your investment.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the distribution of the load. A heavy load with odd dimensions or an odd shape can impact the load center, altering the weight distribution and capacity needed.

Understanding Forklift Capacity Limits

Multiple factors play into capacity; it isn't as simple as matching your average load weight to a forklift of the same weight capacity. To get a complete idea of the capacity limit of a forklift, you need to look at both the gross and net capacity.

The gross capacity is the rating for the base chassis. This tells you the forklift's load capacity under ideal conditions and up to a specific working height. Gross capacity tends to be highly generalized (experienced operators, for example, know better than to push these limits). Net capacity is more individualized to the particular unit, taking all part of the forklift into account.

Remember that any attachments to your forklift can alter the load capacity and center. It is important that you know the full extent of the impact that an attachment will have when calculating the load capacity and center.

Refrain from using attachments that do not provide this information. Otherwise, your estimates will be off, which can lead to unstable loads and dangerous situations.

Field Calculating Load Capacity

There may be times that a load will be outside of your specific load center, which will require calculating whether the load is safe for you to move.

For example, let's say your forklift has a 5,000 pound capacity and a 24-inch load center, but the load you need to move has a 28-inch center. Since the load center is higher than that of the forklift, the safe load capacity will be less than the 5,000 pounds the forklift is rated for. In order to estimate the actual load capacity, you will need to divide the rated load center by the actual load center, then multiply that by the stated capacity.

So for the measurements of the example, you would divide 24 by 28 and multiply that number by 5,000:

24" / 28" = 0.857 x 5,000 = 4,285.71

Therefore, the approximate safe load capacity is 4,285 pounds.

Operating a forklift can be dangerous, but as long as the proper safety precautions are followed and the unit is handled correctly it's smooth sailing. However, even the smallest detail or incident can turn routine operation into a dangerous, or even fatal, task.

Because of this, it is incredibly important that all of the recommended safety requirements are followed.

Never exceed the listed load capacity of a forklift and always remember to calculate the safe load capacity of an oversized load.

You should also make sure to position all loads in a way that will shorten the load center distance by loading as close to the front wheels as possible. When in doubt, you can always consult the manufacturer's instructions for your specific forklift.

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