Seven Important Considerations When Shopping for a Used Forklift

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A well-maintained forklift can last for thousands of hours of use, so buying used forklifts can be a great way to save money. It's not for everyone, though. Here are some questions to answer when you're considering buying a used forklift.

Are used forklifts the right choice for your business?

It's clear that used forklifts can be a good way to save money in the short-term. However, you are still taking on more risk by choosing a used forklift. Even if it doesn't suffer any major breakdowns, an older forklift requires more maintenance than a newer model. If you're depending on the forklift to play a major role in your day-to-day activities, a used truck might not be an effective choice.

One way to look at this decision is to think about how much you'll be using the forklift. If you'll use it less than half the time - only a couple of days per week or a couple of hours per day - you'll be much better able to weather any unexpected downtime than you would if it was constantly in use. If your operations would be seriously disrupted because the forklift was unavailable, you might be a better candidate for a new forklift.

Another advantage to buying used is that you often can get the used truck delivered more quickly than if you order a new one: while used trucks are on the lot and ready to go, new models usually have to be ordered from the manufacturer, shipped to the store, and then transported to your business.

Can you get used forklifts from a reliable source?

Check maintenance records and make an inspection, you will learn a lot about the TLC given to a forklift by the details in maintenance reports. If you are satisfied with the regular repairs and tune-ups on file, make your own inspection with a qualified mechanic. Mast operation tells you a great deal, as well the condition of a lift's transmission. Even minor leaks are a cause for concern, as are dents in the body - a clear sign of carelessness.

If you buy from a reputable dealer, chances are that even a used forklift will continue to run as it should for at least the first few months, if not years. If you buy one from a previous owner, a roadside "used forklifts for sale" sign, or a car and truck dealer who just happens to have a forklift on the lot, you're taking a much bigger chance.

While dealers prefer to sell new equipment, they know that selling used forklifts is an inroad to making new customers: if you get a reliable used forklift, chances are you'll return to the same dealer in a few years when that one needs replacement.

Will a used lift be as safe as a new truck?

Forklift accidents are a major cause of workplace injuries in warehouses and loading docks. Many of those accidents are caused by operator carelessness or errors, rather than mechanical failure, but it's still important to make sure the trucks you operate are as safe as possible.

When buying a used truck, make sure it still has the capacity plate that describes the safe maximum load it can carry. Check the plate to make sure it matches the current condition of the forklift: extras like extendable forks can change the load capacity, but are often added without updating the capacity plate.

Make inspecting safety gear part of your evaluation: check the harnesses/seatbelts, all visibility and warning lights, and the stability of the canopy/overhead protection device, if applicable. Also look for evidence of misuse or accidents: unusual dents, excessive wear, or newly-replaced panels. It's also worth having a qualified independent mechanic examine any used lift you want to buy.

We asked several BuyerZone forklift dealers for purchasing advice for refurbished forklifts. Here are some of the tips they shared.

Don't shop on price alone

It's understandable to seek the best possible deal on a reconditioned forklift. Just make sure to look beyond the up-front costs.

"The best advice I can give potential buyers would be to focus on total cost of ownership not cost of acquisition," explains Greg Springer, Sales Manager at Garrison Toyota Material Handling in Nashville, Tennessee. "You can buy a truck that appears cheap up front, but end up spending a lot more long term. Don't sacrifice on the quality of the unit just to save a little up-front money."

One way to tell if the forklift you're looking at is reliable is to examine the tires.

"Tire condition is indicative of the environment the previous owner worked in," explains Todd Yandell, Sales Manager at Lonestar Forklift in Houston, Texas. "Without the suspension and shocks of typical vehicles, forklift tires take the brunt of the force of pavement transitions. Bad tires usually mean the truck was used in a very rough environment, and will likely experience a lot of problems."

Age doesn't tell the whole story

You may find two identical refurbished forklifts that were manufactured in the same year, but have a big discrepancy in price. There's usually a good reason for that, according to Richard Cole, Sales Manager for Dyna-Lift of Florida.

"You have to investigate the environment that the forklift was used in," cautions Cole. "Someone may come in looking at two five-year old forklifts coming off leases. If one forklift is coming off a lease from a dry goods warehouse that only used it to load and unload goods a few times a day, it will have less hours on it than a forklift that operated frequently inside a meat-packing plant. Even though both forklifts are the same age, the one used sporadically is likely the most reliable."

Learn about the warranty

Matt Philipopoulos of the Eldorado Forklift Company in Menlo Park, California stresses that quality forklift dealers should provide warranties on their pre-owned forklifts.

"Find out what warranty they offer to back up the purchase," explains Philpopoulos. "If I'm selling a good refurbished vehicle, I'll back it up with a good warranty. A second hand forklift could look nice and clean, but it doesn't tell the whole story. If a dealer offers a subpar warranty, it could be an indicator of the forklift's mechanical condition."

"The warranty ensures you don't buy somebody else's problem," adds Bill Leavitt, Vice President of Sales, New England Industrial Truck in Woburn, Massachusetts. "Dealers who stand behind their vehicles should provide six months on the engine and drivetrain, and three months on the entire forklift, including parts and labor."

Is refurbished right for you?

If you can't decide whether to buy new or refurbished, David A. Dunaj of Blue Water Lift Truck Service in Kimball Michigan provides this helpful rule of thumb:

"If you'll use a forklift for more than five hours of a typical eight-hour workday, consider buying a new forklift," says Dunaj. "Otherwise, you risk overworking an older machine and spending more money in the long run."

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