So, you’ve found a used forklift for sale. What next? Before purchasing a forklift, you want to know that it’s going to be the right piece of machinery for the type of job it will be handling. And in some situations, it may be more profitable in the long run to simply rent a forklift, versus purchasing one. Here’s a closer look at the things you should explore when looking to buy a forklift.

What is a Forklift?

There are many types of vehicles that are classified as “forklifts,” from telehandlers to pickers to pallet jacks. The term is most commonly used to describe the traditional warehouse forklift, which most people have seen on TV. We will primarily stick to the warehouse forklift for the purposes of this guide.

Forklifts have a hydraulic fork on the front of the vehicle for raising or lowering materials. They operate similarly to a golf cart, with a forward and reverse gears, a steering wheel, a brake and an accelerator pedal. Most forklifts use rear-wheel steering, as opposed to front-wheel steering. This allows them to maneuver around tight spaces easily, such as a warehouse.

Choose the Right Forklift for Your Job

To choose the right forklift for your job, you need to decide exactly what you need it to do. Ask yourself the following questions to help figure out the answer to that question:

  • How much weight capacity do I need a forklift to lift and move?
  • How much maneuverability do I need?
  • What attachments will I need?
  • What height capacity do I need the forklift to be able to reach, lift and carry things?
  • Do I need it for indoor or outdoor use?

That last question is especially important due to the advent of electric engine forklifts, which don’t produce exhaust fumes. If the forklift is needed for an indoor space where ventilation is an issue, or if the forklift is needed for handling pallets of food products, some states require that electric forklifts be used in those situations.

What Do People Use Forklifts For?

Forklifts are an incredibly handy piece of machinery for lifting and transporting materials that would otherwise be too heavy, cumbersome or awkward for human workers to move. Here are some of the main applications that forklifts are used for.

Indoor Forklift Uses

  • Loading & unloading trucks from a loading dock
  • Lift pallets, boxes, crates or drums for transport
  • Maneuver in confined spaces
  • Lift materials to high shelves for space-saving

Outdoor Forklift Uses

  • Moving lumber, hardware or other construction materials
  • Moving recycling bins, trash bins, portable toilets, etc.
  • Transporting & dumping materials with a bucket attachment
  • Moving materials from pallet-sized all the way up to shipping containers

Other Forklift Uses

  • Raising workers to hard-to-reach areas for tasks (with proper attachments)
  • Tree trimming, cleaning, or taking inventory
  • Plowing snow (with plow attachment)

How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Forklift?

New forklifts can range in price from about $20,000 up to $80,000 as of later 2021, depending on the type, brand name, weight capacity and other factors. This is why many prefer to find a used forklift for sale — it can be a sizable investment to purchase one.

There are several factors that will impact the price of a used forklift, and which will also let you know whether a specific used forklift is a good investment or not. Before we talk about pricing, here are some of the factors that will impact the price range:

  • Type of Engine: Forklifts can come with electric engines or internal combustion engines (gas or diesel). Electric engines are more expensive. Other fuel types include liquid propane gas and compressed natural gas.
  • Weight Capacity: A forklift rated at 3,000 lbs. is obviously going to cost less than one with a 15,000-lb. capacity.
  • Year: Forklifts depreciate just like any other type of motorized vehicle. The older it is, the lower the price will be. However, ones less than 10 years of age are likely to be a better investment and will last longer than older ones.
  • Hours: The more hours a forklift has on it, the more it will reduce its price. 5,000 hours or less is a good marker to aim for when buying a used forklift.
  • Tires: The type of tires on a forklift can have an impact on its price. Pneumatic tires for rough outdoor terrain are bigger for increased stability and maneuverability. Cushion tires are better for an indoor forklift that will be operating on flat concrete (and are less expensive).
  • Paint Job: If a used forklift requires a paint job, expect to pay at least an additional $1,000 for that — unless you can negotiate it with the seller.

With those factors in mind, below are some price ranges for various types of used forklifts, broken up by weight capacity, type of tire and other variables.

3,000-lb. Used Forklift Price Ranges

  • Electric: $9,000 – $20,000
  • Pneumatic: $17,000 – $19,000
  • Cushion: $8,500 – $17,000

5,000-lb. Used Forklift Price Ranges

  • Electric: $9,000 – $25,000
  • Pneumatic: $14,000 – $24,000
  • Cushion: $10,000 – $22,000

10,000-lb. Used Forklift Price Ranges

  • Pneumatic: $35,500 – $49,000
  • Cushion: $18,000 – $30,000

15,000-lb. Used Forklift Price Ranges

  • Pneumatic: $42,000 – $56,000
  • Cushion: $35,000 – $53,000

How Many Hours Does a Forklift Last?

Forklifts have a lifespan just like any other type of motorized vehicle. The higher the hours of operation on a machine, the more it is going to impact the price. But how many hours is too many?

As a general rule of thumb, a forklift that is operated for 200 hours can be considered equivalent to putting 3,000 miles on a car. Therefore, a forklift with 5,000 hours of operation on it is going to be roughly equivalent to a street vehicle with 75,000 miles on it.

Proactive maintenance is obviously very important for prolonging the lifespan of a forklift. Industry research indicates that the average lifespan of forklifts with internal combustion engines in the US is around 10,000 hours. However, if properly maintained, it is not unusual for one to last up to twice that long (That is, lasting up to 20,000 hours of operation).

The conditions that a forklift is operated in will also play a role in its lifespan. A forklift running in a temperature controlled warehouse is going to have a longer lifespan than one operating outdoors in extremely cold temperatures. Cold weather, and temperature swings, ages seals, hoses and other parts on machinery much quicker.

Here is one final thing to keep in mind when it comes to the age of a used forklift. Maintenance costs tend to increase considerably the older the machine gets. It costs about three and a half times as much money to maintain a forklift once it passes the 10-year mark. For every $1 that you will spend on maintenance for a newer forklift, expect to pay about $3.50 on one that’s over 10 years old.

Is It Worth Buying a Forklift?

Just because you find a forklift for sale, and it looks like a great deal, does not necessarily mean that it is the best choice for your business. A major question you need to ask is how much will you be operating the forklift? If a business only needs a forklift for occasional work, such as seasonally in a warehouse to handle extra holiday inventory, renting a forklift might be a better option. If the forklift is needed for full-time shifts on a construction project or will be used on a nearly constant basis, purchasing one is probably the more cost-effective option. As the equipment crunch during the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, however, having required equipment on hand can make a lot of sense. If you need to rent equipment, you might not be able to find it when you need it.

How Much Does It Cost to Rent a Forklift?

Warehouse forklifts for rent are generally priced on things like lifting capacity, type of mast, and type of tires. It may also be necessary to have a contractors’ equipment insurance policy before some companies will rent a forklift to you. The following average rental price ranges below are what you can expect to find, depending on what part of the US you’re in and which manufacturer or dealer you rent from:

Daily Cost to Rent Standard Mast Forklift – Cushion Tires

  • 3,500 lb. Lift Capacity: $175 to $275 per day
  • 5,000- to 6,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $175 to $450 per day
  • 8,000- to 10,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $250 to $800 per day
  • 15,000- to 25,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $300 to $1,300 per day

Daily Cost to Rent Quad Mast Forklift – Cushion Tires

  • 5,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $150 to $400 per day
  • 6,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $220 to $500 per day

Daily Cost to Rent Standard Mast Forklift – Pneumatic Tires

  • 5,000- to 8,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $150 to $550 per day
  • 10,000- to 15,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $200 to $850 per day
  • 20,000- to 25,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $500 to $3,500 per day

Daily Cost to Rent Quad Mast Forklift – Pneumatic Tires

  • 5,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $250 to $400 per day
  • 6,000-lb. Lift Capacity: $275 to $450 per day

How Do I Ship a Forklift?

You found a forklift for sale, examined it and paid for it. How do you get it to your worksite now?

Hauling a forklift on a flatbed truck or flatbed trailer is the most common way of transporting one of these pieces of machinery. Some shipping companies will also load a forklift into a shipping container for transport; while this more secure, it is not a very common mode of transport.

Here are some tips for shipping a forklift on a flatbed truck or trailer:

  • Back the forklift onto the flatbed truck or trailer, keeping the forks pointed away from the cab of the transport vehicle. Lower the fork and tilt the forks forward for added stability.
  • Remove any fuel from the fuel tank and disconnect the battery. Engage the emergency brake if the forklift has one.
  • Secure the forklift using a four-point system of chains to the corners of the flatbed. Use chains rated for the weight of the forklift. Standard chains for securing and hauling a car are probably NOT sufficient for this, so use chains rated for the forklift’s weight.
  • Chock the wheels of the forklift on both sides to prevent it from rolling.
  • Check the overall weight of the transport vehicle and forklift, to make sure you don’t exceed weight limits for any state you will be driving through in transit.
  • Have an insurance policy that will cover the full value of the forklift in case of an accidental loss.

Operate a Forklift Safely

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 70 percent of all workplace forklift accidents could be prevented through proper training, and workers’ adherence to safety guidelines. Most forklift accidents are caused by vehicle tip-overs, due to improper use of the vehicle. Additional accidents involve workers being crushed, struck or run over by a forklift; being struck by improperly secured materials that fall from the lift; and falling from the fork platform.

This is why the main safety guideline for operating a forklift is to ensure that all workers are properly trained and following the guidelines. The current guidelines under the Code of Federal Regulations for operating a forklift are at CFR 29 1926.600 and CFR 29 1926.602. Forklift operations should receive OSHA certification for the task and should have supplemental training at least once every three years.

Additional Forklift Safety Tips

Understand the Forklift Class: Every type of forklift has different classifications in terms of weight capacity, speed, turn radius and proper usage. Knowing these can mean the difference between safe operation and causing an accident.

Maintain Visibility: A forklift operator should have a 360-degree visibility area when driving the vehicle. Keep the fork lowered when not carrying a load. When a load restricts vision to the front, drive the vehicle in reverse. Maintain a good view of the lift when positioning a load.

Stay within Weight Limits: Workers should understand the weight limits of any treadmill being operated. Loading too much on the lift can offset the counterbalance and cause a forklift tip-over accident.

Keep Loads Stable & Secure: When lifting a load onto a platform, check to make sure it is balanced. Move loads when they’re tilted backwards. Keep the fork as low as possible to maintain vehicle stability. If necessary, secure loads with ropes or bindings.

Maintain Proper Speeds: A loaded forklift is unstable, so maintaining proper speed is vital to prevent it from tipping over. Sudden stops or swift turns can easily cause the machine to tip over.

Properly Park at the End of Shift: Park the forklift in a designated area at the end of each work shift. Lower the forks to the floor (or ground) and engage the vehicle’s parking brake before turning it off and removing the key.