Whether you already have a forklift or are considering buying one, forklift useful life is a key concept to understand.
Fortunately, this article has everything you need to know about it, including:
- The average forklift lifespan
- How to determine the useful life of your forklift
- The difference between useful life and economic life
- And lots more!
Let’s dive in!
To understand a forklift’s useful life, we first have to talk about hours.
That’s because the lifespan of a forklift is measured in hours as opposed to miles (as cars are).
Almost all forklifts have an hour meter to help users keep track of their usage.
And the forklift’s hour meter is located on the dashboard, near the steering wheel and hydraulic controls.
Depending on the forklift age and manufacturer, there are 2 types of hour meters:
Let’s briefly cover the differences.
Analog hour meters are found on older fork trucks.
These feature rolling digits - like an old-fashioned alarm clock.
The main drawback of analog meters is that they're less accurate.
This is because they stop counting after four digits, meaning they can only keep track of up to 9,999 hours.
Once the truck reaches those hours, the meter simply rolls back to 0 hours.
This makes it necessary to consult service records for more accurate hour meter readings.
Digital hour meters are found in most modern lift trucks.
These have the advantage of accuracy over analog meters since they can track beyond 4-digits without rolling over.
Other Forklift Hour Meters You Should Know About
On electrics, the main forklift hour meter reading that you'll look at is key-on hours.
And this simply shows how long the key is in the "on" position in the ignition.
For internal combustion-powered forklifts, the main hour meter is the engine hours, which is the amount of time that the engine has been running.
But these aren't the only hour meters that forklifts can have.
Depending on the make and model, they may also have:
Travel time. This shows how long the truck has been in motion
Pump hours. This indicates how long the hydraulic motor has been running, such as when lifting and lowering the mast
Each of these meters tells you something a little bit different about the forklift.
For example, high travel hours with low pump hours may mean that the forklift was mostly used for driving back-and-forth from point A to point B without doing a lot of lifting.
On the other hand, relatively high pump hours with low travel hours may mean that the forklift was not traveling for very long distances.
Instead, it was mostly used for lifting and lowering loads.
If you take a look at your forklift hour meter, it may be hard to put into perspective exactly how significant those hours are.
Instead, it may be easier to make sense of how much your forklift has been used by converting the hours into something more familiar.
And that "something more familiar" is the mileage on a road vehicle.
After all, most people are more familiar with car mileage than they are forklift hours.
How To Convert Engine Hours To Miles
Full disclosure, converting forklift hours to car miles isn't a perfect 1-1 comparison, but it can still help us gain some perspective.
How does it work?
The basis of this conversion is the maintenance intervals for both forklifts and cars.
For example, most cars need to undergo a standard oil change every 3,000 miles.
And on a forklift, the standard interval is every 200 hours.
Using this information, we can convert forklift hours into mileage.
Here’s how to do it:
First, take the forklift's hours and divide by 200 to get the number of service intervals.
Second, take the number of service intervals and multiply by 3,000 to get the forklift mileage.
Let's take a forklift with 5,000 hours as an example:
5,000 ÷ 200 = 25
25 X 3,000 = 75,000
Therefore, 5,000 forklift hours is roughly equivalent to 75,000 car miles.
You now understand forklift hours as well as how to put them into perspective by converting them to car mileage.
Next, let's talk about the factors that can affect your forklift’s lifespan.
Hours of Use
Perhaps the most obvious factor in forklift longevity is how often it's used.
We define "light use" as being in operation less than 4 hours per day.
And we define "heavy use" as 4 hours or more per day.
Of course, the longer a forklift is used, the more wear its various components will endure.
Thus, it's probably not surprising to say that forklifts that are used in single-shift operations tend to last longer than those used in multi-shift operations (all things being equal).
The environment your forklift operates in can affect its lifespan.
In particular, some environments that tend to reduce a forklift's lifespan include:
Corrosive environments like chemical plants and plating facilities
Operations with excessive heat or cold like foundries and cold storage warehouses
Environments with heavy dirt and debris like recycling plants and lumber yards
Wet environments like food and beverage facilities
Generally, a forklift will last longer if it's used in less severe environments with clean, cool, and dry working conditions.
How operators handle their lift trucks has a large effect on their lifespan.
For example, the following can harm lift trucks:
Skipping pre-trip inspections
These not only reduce the lift truck's useful life, but can also raise costs, endanger others, and can cause damage to products and infrastructure.
The fuel type of your forklift also has a large impact on how long it can last.
In general, electric forklifts last longer than internal combustion forklifts.
Because electric forklifts have fewer moving parts.
And fewer moving parts means less wear, fewer maintenance requirements, and fewer things that can go wrong.
Keeping up with maintenance is key to forklift longevity.
Just like a car, a forklift that is well-maintained and serviced regularly will last longer.
Most forklifts should be serviced every 200 with a more extensive maintenance procedure done every 2,000 hours.
But others, such as some Toyota models, are designed to go even longer between maintenance, thus saving you money.
Always check with your manufacturer’s recommendations to find out when exactly your lift truck should be serviced.
Forklift Age vs. Hours
When assessing a forklift’s condition, hours can be a better indicator than age alone.
For example, it’s not uncommon to see 40 to 50-year-old forklifts still in use while some 6- to 10-year-old forklifts can’t continue operating.
This is because of the factors we’ve been talking about: Maintenance practices, environment, operator behavior, etc.
Some brands are simply more durable and longer-lasting than others.
Toyota forklifts, in particular, have that reputation.
For example, the Toyota 4Y forklift engine is one of the longest-lived engines around.
First introduced in 1986, the 4Y engine has resulted in users reaching more than 35,000 hours, with some even reporting over 100,000 hours!
So when it comes to how long a forklift will last, consider that sometimes, you get what you pay for.
How Long Can a Toyota Forklift Last?
They can last between 10,000 and 20,000 hours or even more.
In fact, as of this writing, our records show 2,162 Toyota forklifts with 10,000 or more hours on them!
The average forklift hours per year are usually between 1,000 and 2,000.
And in general, forklifts are expected to last about 10,000 hours.
This works out to about 5 years, based on an 8-hour, 5-day workweek.
Now, let’s answer some of your top forklift hour questions.
What Are Low Hours For A Forklift?
Generally, anything less than 2,000 hours is considered “low hours” for a forklift.
Is 10,000 Hours A Lot For A Forklift?
Yes, this is about the end of its useful life.
Is 15,000 Hours A Lot For A Forklift?
Yes, in fact, most forklifts don’t last up to 15,000 hours.
So, this is the time to seriously think about replacing it since it’s 150% the usual forklift useful life.
Is 8,000 Hours A Lot For A Forklift?
It’s about 80% of the forklift’s usual max useful life but may still have some life left in it.
Is 6,000 Hours A Lot For A Forklift?
It’s 60% of the usual max useful life.
How Long Do Propane Forklifts Last?
Compared to electric forklifts, propane forklifts have a lower useful life.
So, how many hours is a lot for a propane forklift?
Generally, anything over 10,000 hours is considered a lot for a propane forklift.
That said, our records show a total of 1,087 Toyota propane forklifts with over 10,000 hours on them - with 296 trucks surpassing 30,000 hours!
How Many Hours Will A Propane Forklift Last?
If we’re talking about the fuel consumption, the answer is that a 33 lb. tank (the most common size) can last 4 to 8 hours, depending on usage.
How Many Hours Does A Diesel Forklift Last?
Diesel engine lift trucks are built with stronger components to handle the higher pressures exerted by diesel engines.
So, you may get more than 10,000 hours on a diesel truck.
In fact, a review of our service records shows 20 Toyota diesel forklifts with over 10,000 hours and 3 with over 25,000 hours!
But as with every other truck, it depends on the working environment, usage, and maintenance history.
Electric Forklift Lifespans
Because there’s less to go wrong with electric lift trucks than with internal combustion ones, it’s not unusual to expect an electric forklift to last beyond the 10,000-hour rule-of-thumb.
In fact, our records on Toyota electric lift trucks show:
1,044 with 10,000+ hours
412 with 20,000+ hours
2 with 100,000+ hours!
How Long Do Forklift Batteries Last?
A lead-acid forklift battery (the most common type) has an average lifespan of 1,500 cycles or 5 years.
Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, can last up to 3,000 cycles or 10 years.
Read this guide to learn more about forklift battery longevity.
How Long Does An Electric Pallet Jack Last?
When it comes to "when should I replace my forklift?" there are 2 slightly different ways to assess it:
Look at the operating cost per hour
Look at the economic life
Let’s go through how to calculate each.
Forklift Cost Per Hour
When we talk about the forklift cost per hour, we’re really focused on how much it costs to maintain a forklift.
Unfortunately, there's no single answer to this because it depends on a lot of factors, such as:
The fuel type. Whether it's an electric or internal combustion power system
How many service hours the truck already has on it. The higher the service hours, the more it's going to cost to maintain it
The work environment. Dirty and harsh environments require more frequent maintenance
So instead of what it does cost to maintain a forklift, we can talk about what the maximum amount it should cost is.
And the answer is usually between $1.00 and $3.50 per operating hour but no more than $4 per hour.
How To Calculate The Cost Per Hour Of A Forklift
To calculate a forklift’s cost per hour, you’ll need to gather 2 pieces of information:
Annual maintenance costs. Include planned and unplanned maintenance but exclude abuse and damage since they’re preventable and will inflate the cost per hour (If you’re not sure what your maintenance costs are or how to calculate them, read this)
Lift truck hours. Grab the service hours from the lift truck's hour meter
Once you have these numbers, divide the lift truck hours by the maintenance costs.
For example, let's say you've spent $800 in one year for a particular fork truck.
And you got the truck new at the beginning of the year and have since put 1,500 hours on it.
The calculation would then be: $800 (maintenance) ÷ 1,500 (hours) = $0.53 per hour (forklift maintenance cost).
Are You Struggling to Keep Track of Forklift Maintenance Costs?
It’s key to keep accurate records of your forklifts to determine when they’ve maxed out their economic life.
However, it's difficult for businesses with lots of forklifts to keep all that information together.
Luckily, our sister company - Unified Fleet Solutions - can help you do just that.
To learn more, visit UnifiedFleetSolutions.com.
Useful Forklift Life vs. Economic Forklift Life
The forklift cost calculation we just did is really part of a larger discussion, which is about the economic life of your forklift.
And a forklift’s economic life stands in contrast to its useful life.
So what is the difference between the two?
The useful life of a forklift is simply how long the truck can continue to operate until it's no longer safe or possible to repair.
What is the economic life of a forklift?
It’s the point at which repairing or maintaining it becomes more expensive than retiring it and purchasing a new one.
And that occurs once the forklift cost per hour reaches $4.
This is an important concept to understand, because while your fork truck may still have useful life left in it (i.e. it may still actually be able to operate), it may not be financially wise to continue to do so.
Instead, you should think about replacing it.
How To Calculate The Economic Life Of A Forklift
The economic life of any forklift depends on the quality, its use and environment, and maintenance habits.
But to give you a general idea here's how to calculate it yourself.
You’ll need 3 pieces of information:
Operating days per year. Whether it's 3 days a week, 5 days a week, 7 days a week, or something else
Average hours of run-time per day. Whether it's a 1-shift operation at 8 hours, 2 shifts at 16 hours, or 3 shifts at 24 hours, for example
Median hours at trade-in. In other words, how many hours do you expect to have on the forklift when you trade it in? Or, what is the maximum number of hours you're willing to put on it?
Once you have these 3 values, put them into this free online calculator from Toyota (Note: This calculator only works for internal combustion lift trucks).
And it'll tell you approximately when the economic life of your forklift is used up and when you should consider getting rid of the lift truck and replacing it with a new or used model.
How Often Should You Replace a Forklift?
When maintenance costs rise to about $4 per hour.
That's when it'll be cheaper to replace the forklift than repair it.
Once you’ve determined that your lift truck is no longer economically-viable, there are 4 ways to get rid of it:
Recycling is best for lift trucks that have zero useful life left in them and can’t fetch good prices when traded-in or sold outright.
Scrap yards will often take used forklifts.
Because they’ll often deduct for any oil left in the machine along with the tires, which may make what you get for scrap very modest.
You can sell your forklift online using Craigslist, eBay, or an equipment auction site.
The upside of this is that you have the potential of getting the best price for your lift truck.
But the downside is the hassle that goes along with selling items yourself, such as making sure the inspection is updated, checking the listing, responding to inquiries, etc.
Keep for Spare Parts
If you have many of the same forklift models, it may make sense to keep your worn-out ones.
That way, you can harvest parts from them and reduce your overall maintenance costs.
This works best for operations with in-house maintenance teams.
Trade-In And Up
If you don't want the hassle of selling the truck yourself, you can trade it into an equipment dealership and apply it towards a new or used forklift.
A good tip is to check for promotions.
For instance, Toyota periodically runs a "Trade-In and Up" promotion in which you can get a generous rebate for your old lift truck.
Check our promotions page - we'll list any active promotions there.
There you have it: Everything you need to know about forklift useful life.
Now, we’d like to hear from you.
Can you calculate the economic life of your forklift?
How will you use this information to service and maintain your forklifts?
Please leave your comments below!
Sean Curran - Facilities Maintenance - GXO Logistics says
Big help! Like this article
Alex Hilke says
Hi Sean, I’m glad you found this article helpful!