Over the Hill: When to Replace an Aging Forklift

For many of our customers, their forklift is more than just another piece of equipment. Instead, it's almost viewed like it's a valued employee rather than a tool (it might even have its own name to boot!). And why not? Whether it's used in a warehouse, logistics, manufacturing or agriculture, there's no denying the central role the forklift plays in the modern industrial workplace.

Unfortunately for these dedicated employers, nothing lasts forever. Sooner or later, there comes a time when every forklift starts to show its age and slow down. At this point, you'll start to notice a drop in productivity and an increase in the cost of maintenance and more frequent downtime as years of wear and tear invariably begin to conspire against the aging forklift. While making the decision to invest in a new unit (hopefully a Stärke or a Tailift forklift!) might be difficult for an owner, a sharp decline in productivity and efficiency with your current forklift likely means that it's time to consider retirement. To make this process easier, you should base your decision to move on from an aging forklift on its economic life, rather than focusing on its age alone. Here, you'll conduct a cost-benefit analysis that weighs the costs of operating and maintaining the forklift versus the overall value/benefit it provides to your business by taking the following factors into consideration: hours of operation and maintenance costs.

Hours of Operation

Generally speaking, the number of operating hours on a forklift offers a more accurate indication of its condition and longevity than its age alone. For an average forklift engine, a reasonable estimated lifespan ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 total hours. "The 10,000 hour range is honestly the beginning of the end, particularly for an internal combustion forklift," notes Ed Cook, the sales manager at Lucas Liftruck. "With an electric forklifts, on the other hand, you have a better chance of approaching the 20,000 hour mark since they tend to age better with fewer moving parts."

This 10,000 – 20,000 hour range, however, should only be used as a baseline as other factors must be considered. For example, a forklift that's exclusively operated in a clean and dry indoor facility will generally last longer than a forklift that's operated in the temperature extremes and dirty environments encountered in outdoor applications. Likewise, following a consistent and thorough maintenance schedule helps to prolong the expected economic lifetime of a forklift. Finally, you should also consider how the forklift is used as prolonged multi-shift use and heavy lifting will prematurely wear even a well-maintained forklift.

Maintenance Costs

Unlike a new forklift, where maintenance costs are more predictable and affordable, an aging forklift near the end of its economic life requires increasingly frequent and costly repairs. Over time, parts and components that were once perfectly aligned gradually begin to shift. After thousands of hours in operation, these small deviations can lead to unpredictable repairs, frequent maintenance calls and more downtime as major components (including the engine and drivetrain) begin to breakdown. Ultimately, this kind of regular downtime and maintenance doubles the cost of maintenance per hour for a forklift that's 5+ years old when compared to 1-2 year old forklift. Once the yearly maintenance costs start to exceed 10% of the forklift's purchase price on a regular basis, it's time to strong consider retiring your old forklift for a newer replacement.

  • A great way to extend the functional life of your equipment and reduce overall maintenance costs is to implement a planned maintenance program for your equipment. By signing up for a planned maintenance agreement with Lucas, you'll take on a proactive approach to maintenance that stays on top of your forklift's maintenance requirements and prevents frequent breakdowns while limiting damage and repair costs.
  • The Bottom Line

    Despite a (justifiable) fondness for your old forklift, it's crucial to remember that your bottom line is what's most important. A "past it's prime" forklift no longer provides the type of efficiency and productivity you need to succeed. Beyond the frustration and costs associated with regular breakdowns, an aging forklift also fails to provide value during the downtime.

    Once you've made the decision to replace your current forklift, you need to decide exactly how to proceed. Depending on the condition of the forklift, you could look to trade it in, sell it as a used model or sell it to a local scrap yard to recuperate some of the costs for your new unit. For companies that have a use for multiple forklifts at any given time, you could also shift the older unit into a less demanding role where infrequent use allows it to remain a cost-effective solution. Alternatively, you could also consider keeping the unit as a backup to be used when your newer units require maintenance or to deal with variable demand.

    For advice on how to handle your outdated forklift, help assessing your application and needs, or to find a replacement forklift for your retiree, contact Lucas Liftruck. With decades of experience in the material handling industry, we've seen and serviced nearly every application imaginable - so don't wait around while you struggle with an aging forklift and contact Ed Cook, sales manager, at Lucas Liftruck for more information or a quote today!

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