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Used Forklifts

Does Buying a Used Forklift Make Sense for Your Business?

Used forklift

Forklifts are almost mandatory for any business that has a material handling function that requires moving more than 200 lbs. or 300 lbs. and lifting it or retrieving it from a storage rack. That said, material handling needs can vary wildly from one business to another meaning the demands placed on a forklift can be significantly different as well.

If your business doesn't need all the latest bells and whistles and if you don't use a forklift on a full time basis, a used truck might be the smart choice for your organization.

Let's take a look at the principal advantages of buying used:

  • Price. Like the used car market, the number one draw for used forklifts is the lower price than buying new. Buying used allows you to take advantage of the machine's depreciated cost and that can be a significant savings.
  • Lower depreciation expense. Because somebody else already took the big hit on depreciation, your company will have a smaller depreciation expense reflected on the balance sheet.
  • Capacity. If your small business has now grown to the point that materials can no longer be safely handled manually or with a pallet truck, a forklift will add a new dimension to your productivity and scalability.
  • Parts availability and cost. There is a strong used forklift parts market that you can take advantage of as well as the aftermarket and OEM sellers.

Setting Basic Guidelines

Forklifts are rugged machines and it's not uncommon to see trucks manufactured 20 or even 30 years ago on the used forklift market. In fact trucks that are less than 5 years old are far scarcer than trucks that are 10 years old.

The age of a lift truck is not as important as how long it has spent in actual use. Almost all forklifts have a "time meter" and you'll discover that "hours" is the equivalent of "mileage" for a lift truck. Just like a used automobile, the more hours or "mileage" a truck has the nearer it is to the end of its service life. And just like used cars, the amount of mileage a buyer is willing to accept depends on how they plan to use the vehicle.

To help you make an informed decision on what the acceptable "hours" might be for your business we recommend using the following guidelines:

  • Low Usage. A small business that may only need the truck 3 to 5 hours per week to accept deliveries can get by with a unit that has 15,000 to 20,000 hours on it.
  • Moderate Usage. If you foresee using the forklift 3 to 5 hours daily, then target a machine with no more than 15,000 hours.
  • Heavy everyday use. If you have a need for the truck for 8 to 10 hours a day then your best bet is to buy new or lease.

Setting Your Own Specifications

It's tough to pick the right truck if you aren't sure what you need. Here's a quick list of considerations including some that are often overlooked:

  • Capacity. Of primary importance, how much weight will your truck need to lift?
  • Reach. How high will your truck have to lift the load?
  • Outside Dimensions. Small businesses located in parks or retail spaces often don't have docks. How wide and how tall is the loading entrance of your facility? You'll obviously need a forklift that will fit (take into consideration lowered mast height with a load).
  • Will the truck be used indoors or indoors AND outdoors?
  • Forklifts come with either an electric motor or an internal combustion engine. Do you have sufficient space and electrical service for a charging station, or can you safely (and legally) have an outside storage tank for diesel or LPG?
  • Tire Types. Polyurethane press-on tires are for indoor use only. Cushion tires can be used indoors or outdoors but wear quickly on rough surfaces. Pneumatic tires are similar to automotive truck tires and are principally for outdoor use.
  • Turning Radius. Know the width of the aisles your truck will be working in and make certain it can turn to make a right angle approach to the racks safely.

Where to Start Looking for Used Forklifts

The good news is that there are plenty of markets for used forklifts. The bad news is that they may not be local.

You can start by checking local classified, browsing the scores of forklift auction sites online, or even find your truck on eBay!

Your best bet however, particularly if you are interested in a warranty and a service package is to call on local dealerships. Just like car dealers, forklift dealers accept trades and often have nice inventories of used vehicles. If your dealer does a good leasing business you could wind up with a 5 year old truck with an excellent maintenance history when he rolls over a lease or sells a lease package to a new customer.

Dealers can also offer you options that most other sources can't. There may be warranty still left on a truck and if there isn't they can normally offer you a limited extended warranty. They can also arrange lease agreements, financing and long term service agreements.

The problem with buying online is the difficulty of buying without an in person inspection. If the auction house or broker is within a couple of hours, it may be worth your while to visit because the prices will generally be lower than a dealer.

Or you can simplify and speed up the entire process by using our Forklift Locator Tool. If you know the type of truck you are looking for we can put you in touch with local dealers and brokers offering both new and used fork lifts. The tool is effective, comprehensive and free to use.

Inspecting the Truck

If you have never operated a forklift and you don't have a certified operator as an employee that can accompany you, you may want to take a class and become certified yourself. This will put you in a much better position to evaluate a used truck.

When you first see the forklift you can do a quick visual inspection that you'd do with a car. What is the condition of the tires and lug nuts? Are there excessive dents and scratched paint or rust? Are there oil or fluid stains visible? Does the canopy show signs of damage? After that you need some skill.

Here are the key elements to check:

  • Mast and Forks. Look for cracks, bends or other distortions that may have been caused by carrying loads above capacity. Inspect the mast for any cracks or welds, and ensure that the mast pins and tilt and side-shift cylinders are secure with no signs of leakage.
  • Mast Rails, Chains and Hoses. Cracks, welds and distortions in the rails should be noted. Chains should not be missing links or pins. Hoses should show no signs of leaks and should be somewhat pliable not rigid.
  • Functional Test. Climb up into the driver's seat, check its condition and then start the truck. Listen for unusual sounds coming from the engine compartment (IC trucks). Raise, tilt and lower the mast. Test the side shift function left and right. Alternate driving forward and reverse in a figure eight to test handling and brakes.

It's best if you have a qualified forklift mechanic with you to get his opinion.


Here's a quick listing of identical trucks but different years recently on the market. Note the importance of the hours as opposed to the chronological age.

2011 HysterH353500 lbs.186"9197$11,500
2007 HysterH353500 lbs.186"11794$10,500
2008 LindeH25CT5000 lbs.186"6386$7,950
2006 LindeH25CT5000 lbs.186"3881$12,900

The right used truck can add significant productivity and scalability for a small business. Take your time and keep your own specifications in mind and you will likely end up with a machine that will be a perfect fit.