What Is Considered High Hours on a Forklift?

Usage hours are a good clue as to how much forklift life is left.

Buying used construction equipment such as a forklift can be a smart move for your business if you shop carefully to get a good deal and choose a machine that has plenty of useful life left. When shopping for a used forklift, you can get a rough sense of how much forklift life remains by looking at the usage hours. As a general rule, most forklifts last anywhere between 10 000 hours and 20 000 hours.

Yes, useful life is measured in forklift hours, not miles. Forklift mileage is not a purchase criteria in part because forklifts don’t have odometers. Plus, forklift engines and parts do plenty of work to raise and lower loads while the frame remains stationary.

How are forklift hours measured?

All forklifts come with an hour meter. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for exactly what the hour meter measures (and the owner’s manual may or may not answer the question). Hour meters might track:

  • Key time, or how many hours the key is in the on position
  • Working hours, or how many hours an engine is on
  • Drive time, or how many hours the machine has moved for
  • Hydraulic time, or how many hours the lift has been used

Forklift hour meters with five digits give you an accurate reading, but keep in mind that meters with four digits return to a reading of 0000 when the forklift reaches 10 000 hours. If you encounter an older forklift with surprisingly low hours, confirm the accuracy of the reading. The forklift hours might be 10 000 higher than the meter shows.

How long does a forklift last?

Every machine is different, but anything over 10 000 hours is typically considered high for a forklift. Based on eight-hour workdays, a lifespan of 10 000 hours means most machines will last for roughly five years. Forklifts made by top brands may last for up to 20 000 hours, or ten years.

Of course, hours aren’t the only factor that influences forklift life expectancy. Forklifts that have been properly maintained and stored will typically run longer than machines that haven’t. Usage conditions matter, too. If a machine has been used to pick loads that are beyond its capacity or has been exposed to extreme conditions for prolonged periods, it may have less life left than a similar machine that’s been used more gently.

Generally, electric forklifts have a longer lifespan than forklifts with an internal combustion engine since they have fewer moving parts and require less maintenance. However, you’ll have to replace the battery approximately every 1 500 charges, or five years.

Questions to ask when shopping for a used forklift

The more you know about a used forklift, the better you can determine whether it’s a good buy. Ask the seller:

  • Is the maintenance history available? Look for oil changes, lubrications and servicing at regular intervals. Also ask for the repair records. Major repairs to a newer machine could indicate a lack of preventive maintenance or aggressive use.
  • How often was the forklift charged (for electric forklifts)? Charging a battery when it reaches 20% to 30% is optimal for the battery lifespan.
  • What loads were handled? Staying within a forklift’s recommended capacity helps it run longer.
  • Was it regularly used with attachments? This can reduce forklift life expectancy.
  • Where was the forklift stored? Storage in a clean, dry space can prolong the life of a forklift. Even rough terrain forklifts should be stored out of the elements.
  • How many hours was it used each day or week? More frequent use, as in double shifts, can shorten the lifespan. For warehouse forklifts, ask how many shifts per day the machine was used.
  • How were drivers trained? Aggressive driving puts more wear and tear on machines.

Also ask yourself how you plan to use the forklift. If you plan to use it full time, you’ll likely want a forklift with fewer hours. If you need it for only a few hours each week, a smaller investment in a forklift with more hours, as long as the machine has been gently used and well maintained, may be the way to go.



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Kelly Burch is a freelance writer who covers business, manufacturing and consumer guidance.

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