Forklifts are just like any other piece of machinery: They need a little TLC from time to time. And if you’re in charge of forklift maintenance, this task falls on you.
But if you feel a little overwhelmed, don’t worry - you’re in the right place.
Because we’re going to show you the maintenance guidelines you should follow to keep your lifts healthy, productive, and safe. Plus, you’ll learn a few ways to save money in the process.
Specifically, we’ll cover:
- The benefits of regularly maintaining your forklifts
- Your OSHA-mandated maintenance obligations
- What the different maintenance intervals are
- What factors influence how often you should service your equipment
- How to calculate your maintenance costs (including a free forklift maintenance calculator)
- Tips for saving money on maintenance
We’re also going to make it super easy to ensure you’re not missing any steps. Because we’re going to give you 9 free, downloadable maintenance checklists for each service interval (in Excel and PDF formats).
Let’s get started!
Forklift Maintenance Benefits
Regularly performing maintenance yields some important benefits for your operation.
Let's go through the biggest ones.
Longer service life
The more regularly a lift is serviced, the longer it will last and the more productive it will be. This will lead to a better economic life of the forklift and a better return on investment (ROI).
Regular maintenance means more uptime. Because the more the lift truck can run, the more your operation can produce. Plus, you can minimize disruptions to the production schedule by proactively planning maintenance around it.
If you regularly maintain your tow motors, you'll be more likely to find small problems. That includes common issues like weeping fittings, low fluid levels, and debris-filled components. If you can identify and repair these small problems early, you can save yourself from a bigger (and more expensive) repair down the road.
Every company that uses forklift trucks has a legal and ethical responsibility to keep them in safe operating condition. Because, of course, you want to make sure your team goes home at the end of every shift in one piece.
That's why regular maintenance is so important: It can help you identify safety issues and repair them before they lead to an operator or pedestrian being injured or possibly even killed.
Higher resale value
If you plan on trading in your lift, you'll be able to recoup more of your initial investment on the secondary market. The reason is that a forklift that's in good shape will sell for more than one in bad shape. That much is obvious.
Plus, if you're leasing your tow motor, you'll have to make sure that it's regularly maintained. Or you’ll risk a hefty bill once the lease is up and the truck is turned in.
OSHA's Forklift Maintenance Requirements
Not only do these benefits provide powerful reasons to set up - and keep to - a maintenance schedule, but OSHA requires your lifts to be in tip-top shape before putting them into service.
Here are a couple key standards from OSHA on the subject:
“Industrial trucks shall be examined before being placed in service, and shall not be placed in service if the examination shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle. Such examination shall be made at least daily. Where industrial trucks are used on a round-the-clock basis, they shall be examined after each shift. Defects when found shall be immediately reported and corrected.”
- OSHA Standard 1910.178(q)(7)
“If at any time a powered industrial truck is found to be in need of repair, defective, or in any way unsafe, the truck shall be taken out of service until it has been restored to safe operating condition.”
- OSHA Standard 1910.178(p)(1)
These regulations aren’t to be taken lightly either. The penalties for disregarding OSHA-mandated forklift checks can be steep. In fact, companies have been fined huge sums of money for neglecting them:
Now, you might be wondering: Is there an OSHA daily forklift inspection checklist? The answer is that OSHA does in fact provide a few generic inspection templates on their website.
But OSHA doesn't actually mandate what items must be checked. That's because they can change depending on the type of truck being used. So instead, you're expected to modify the checklists to fit the particular requirements of the equipment you're operating.
We've made this really simple by creating a free, downloadable pre-shift weekly inspection sheet that you can modify as needed. You'll find it in the section below.
Daily Pre-Trip Inspection Items
We’ve taken the liberty to assemble the most common items that comprise a daily pre-trip inspection. And we’ve noted which items are for internal combustion (IC) and electric (E) trucks only.
Download Your Free Weekly Forklift Inspection Checklist
Print and reuse this free daily/weekly forklift inspection checklist template as often as you need to. Chose whichever format you'd prefer below and click to instantly download.
That said, different forklifts can require different daily inspection items. So, make sure to also consult the operator’s manual for the particular forklift to be operated.
How Often Should Forklifts Be Serviced?
Now that you know what items need to be checked before operating, let’s move on to the actual service actions required to maintain a forklift.
For starters, the two most common maintenance intervals for forklifts are:
Every 6 weeks or 250 hours
Every year or 2,000 hours
Both of these intervals have a different set of action items that must be inspected and serviced.
And while these intervals are pretty standard, there are some other factors to consider when determining maintenance frequency. By keeping these in mind as you plan your service intervals, you'll help to keep your machine in the best (and safest) operating condition.
Factors That Affect Maintenance Frequency
You should always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for service intervals. They can vary by manufacturer and truck. But it's always listed in the operator's manual. (Remember: Every forklift is required to have a manual on it at all times!)
Because internal combustion (IC) and electric forklifts have different components, they need to be serviced at different intervals.
Internal combustion trucks will need more frequent maintenance, since they have more moving parts. But electric lifts require less maintenance to be performed less often, because they have fewer moving parts.
Trucks used in corrosive or abusive environments are going to need more frequent maintenance. Facilities with tough environments include:
Food processing plants
Steel and metal processors
Recycling plants (especially those with lots of paper and debris)
Wood and pulp plants
Does the forklift have a less-than-stellar history? Do service records show the same issue(s) appearing frequently? Do operators regularly complain about it?
If the truck is a bad apple, it’ll need more frequent maintenance. You’ll want to make sure to keep an eye on its known problems, in order to keep them at bay.
Hours of usage
If the lift will be run more often, it’ll require more frequent service. That’s key for operations that run their lifts multiple shifts.
Also, lift trucks with higher hours require more frequent maintenance.
But be careful: There will come a point at which the lift becomes too expensive to continue repairing. That's called the "economic life" of the forklift. And it means you're financially better off buying another one. We’ll cover this concept in more detail a little later on in this post.
How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Forklift?
As you now know, there are a variety of factors that influence how often you need to maintain your forklift. That also means how much it costs to maintain your trucks will vary as well. Plus, maintenance costs rise as lifts age. So your costs won’t be the same, for the same lift, from year to year.
That said, a rule of thumb is that maintenance costs can range from $0.48 to $1.67 per operating hour, and up from there.
How to Calculate Your Own Forklift Maintenance Costs
First off, you’ll need to know the following data:
Then, once you’ve got all your numbers, you can plug them into our free forklift maintenance calculator below for a rough cost estimate:
Note: This file is in Excel-format. You'll be prompted to download and save it to your desktop. Then, simply enter the numbers you collected in the previous step to see your final estimated maintenance costs.
When Maintenance Costs Too Much
Keep in mind that there is an upper limit to how much you should pay for maintenance. It’s called the “economic life” of your forklift. And if you see the cost of maintenance inching towards $4 per hour, that’s your cue to look into buying another forklift.
Ways to Save Money on Maintenance
Now that you have a baseline figure for maintenance costs, here are some helpful and actionable tips you can use to cut that figure down.
Perform Regular Maintenance
It might sound counterintuitive, but the more maintenance you regularly perform, the lower your repair bills will be. That's because regular maintenance should help you catch little problems before they snowball into bigger problems.
Wash Your Forklifts Regularly
If your lift operates in an especially dirty environment, you should wash it down with soap and water. Not only can dirt and debris cause a number of issues, including binding of the tires, mast damage, and electrical issues. But OSHA requires your forklifts to be clean:
"Industrial trucks shall be kept in a clean condition, free of lint, excess oil, and grease. Noncombustible agents should be used for cleaning trucks. Low flash point (below 100 °F.) solvents shall not be used. High flash point (at or above 100 °F.) solvents may be used. Precautions regarding toxicity, ventilation, and fire hazard shall be consonant with the agent or solvent used."
- OSHA Standard 1910.178(q)(10)
Pay special attention to the radiator in particular. Clogged radiators will cause the truck to overheat and can lead to costly damage if allowed to persist. So include blowouts with air at least once per shift, unless more often is required.
Retire Old Trucks
Remember that “economic life” stuff we just talked about? Well, get rid of old equipment when it reaches that break point. Otherwise you'll start sinking into a deep money pit. Stick with newer equipment - as much as you can - in order to lower your maintenance costs.
Sign Up for Planned Maintenance
If you don't have trained and qualified technicians, or if you simply don’t have the manpower to maintain your forklifts regularly, you may be better off signing up for a maintenance plan with a service center or dealership.
Ideally, the center you choose should have technicians who are factory-trained by the manufacturer of the lifts that you currently use. Because that training should equip them with everything they need to diagnose and repair problems quickly and efficiently. And that will ultimately help you save money.
If you’re contracting your maintenance out, it usually comes in two different packages: Planned maintenance and full maintenance plans. With planned maintenance, usually only the labor is covered. While full maintenance plans typically include parts as well.
The Most Common Forklift Maintenance Service Actions
We’ve broken down the most common service actions that you’ll need to perform by component system. And as in the daily inspection section, we’ve noted which items are for internal combustion (IC) or electric (E) trucks only.
For a more extensive list, make sure to download the free checklists for each service interval. You'll find them in the next section below.
Power & Drive System
- Inspect for any fluid leaks
- Change engine oil and filter (IC)
- Examine starting condition and check for any strange noises (IC)
- Check fuel system for leaks (IC)
- Inspect differential, torque converter, and transmission for oil level, leaks, looseness, and function (IC)
- Check clutch and inching pedal function (IC)
- Inspect fuel filter element for clogs (IC)
- Clean the air filter (IC)
- Check radiator coolant level and for leaks (IC)
- Check coolant hoses for wear/damage (IC)
- Check fan belt tension and for damage (IC)
- Inspect exhaust system for operation, leaks, and damage (IC)
- Measure carbon monoxide concentration in exhaust gas (IC)
- Inspect drive unit for oil leakage and level (E)
- Listen to motor rotation sound (E)
- Check motor and battery terminal for looseness (E)
- Check battery connector condition and connection (E)
- Check battery charging and electrolyte level (E)
- Inspect battery case for damage or wear (E)
- Measure the specific gravity of the battery (E)
Wheels, Axles, Steering & Brakes
- Check tires for air pressure, damage, debris, and wear
- Tighten hub nuts
- Check rim and side ring for damage
- Inspect front and rear wheel bearings for noise and looseness
- Check rear axle beam for looseness
- Inspect steering wheel for functionality and play
- Check power steering for oil leakage and mounting for looseness
- Check kingpins for looseness
- Check brake fluid level
- Test braking and park brake function, play, and operating force
Forks, Attachment, Mast & Chains
- Check forks and stopper pin for wear/damage
- Check mast, mast rollers, mast strip, and lift bracket for cracked welds, looseness, and damage
- Lubricate lifting chains
- Check chain tension and look for damage
- Inspect chain anchor bolt and chain wheel for condition
- Check over attachment for damage, mounting security, and abnormal operation
- Test overall hydraulic system operation
- Replace hydraulic oil return filter
- Inspect oil pump for leakage and unusual noises
- Check hydraulic tank oil level and for signs of contamination or leaks
- Check hydraulic cylinder mounting, cylinder rod, rod screw, and rod end for leaks, looseness, uneven lifting, and damage
- Inspect control valve for leaks
- Check hydraulic levers for looseness
- Measure lifting speed and natural drop for all cylinders
- Inspect distributor cap for cracking (IC)
- Check spark plug gaps and for signs of burning (IC)
- Check battery electrolyte level
- Inspect wiring harness for deterioration and damage
- Inspect fuses for looseness and damage
- Check directional lever for operation and damage
- Inspect contactors for contact, contamination, and damage (E)
- Inspect controller operation (E)
- Inspect overhead guard for cracked welds, damage, and deformation
- Inspect load backrest for damage, deformation, and looseness
- Ensure lights, horn, indicators, alarms, and instruments operate and are mounted securely
- Ensure operator presence sensing system (OPSS) operates
- Check seat mounting for looseness and damage
- Ensure seat switch operates
- Check seat belt mounting for looseness
- Inspect seat belt for fraying and any damage
- Clean mirrors
Download Your Free Maintenance Checklists
To make your job easier, we created a forklift maintenance checklist for each service interval, and for both internal combustion (IC) and electric trucks. This way, you'll have peace of mind that you're not missing any important service checks.
Plus, you'll be able to keep detailed records of all service actions taken for your fleet (essential for internal and external audits, and in case OSHA comes knocking).
The operator should check each item above every day before operating the lift. If running multiple shifts, they should perform the inspection before each shift.
Propane Forklift Maintenance Checklists
250-hour / 6-week Maintainence Checklist
2,000-hour / 1-year Maintenance Checklist
Electric Forklift Maintenance Checklists
250-hour / 6-week Maintainence Checklist
2,000-hour / 1-year Maintenance Checklist
Wrapping It Up
There you have it. You now know what forklift maintenance consists of, how frequently it must be performed, and how much it costs. Plus, you’ve got some handy checklists to make sure you don’t miss a step.
Now, we’d like to hear from you.
What did you learn from this post?
How are you going to use this information when servicing your own equipment?
Leave your comments below!