technician performing preventative maintenance on a hyster walkie pallet truck.

If you own or rent a forklift in your business, you understand that these pieces of equipment need active maintenance and service to stay running efficiently.  However, you might not have spent much time considering exactly how preventative forklift maintenance benefits your business, or how avoiding service puts your business at substantial risk.  In this article, we’ll discuss forklift service from several different perspectives within your company and strive to raise your awareness around exactly how valuable proper maintenance practices can be to your entire organization. 

Forklift Maintenance Defined 

Let’s start our discussion by differentiating Routine Maintenance from Preventative Maintenance. 

  • Routine Maintenance – in the same way that you take in your automobile for an oil change at every 8,000 miles, routine maintenance on a forklift follows a similar pattern of performing a predetermined short list of tasks at a prescribed time interval.  Routine maintenance is short, quick, and queued only by operating hours.  This might include such things as topping off lubricants and fluids, checking that all lights and horns work, and changing a fuel filter.  We can say that routine maintenance is ‘backward looking’ – a certain number of hours have passed, so a series of tasks are due.     
  • Preventative Maintenance – if routine maintenance is backward looking, then preventative maintenance (PM) is entirely ‘forward looking’.  A PM service takes a much more thorough look through the lift truck, inspecting and testing critical components for signs of pending problems or failures.  With this fork truck service, the goal is to identify issues before they arise, using a higher level of technical and deterministic evaluation.  The mindset of a PM technician is that a failure will happen in every part of the lift, and their job is to gauge the appropriate time ahead of that failure to swap, rebuild, or repair the part before the failure ever has a chance to occur. 

Consider the ways that Forklift Preventative Maintenance is important to the people in every major role within your organization.  What facets of forklift ownership might they be most concerned with, and why?  Let’s take a unique approach in this article and answer this question by placing you at the center of each domain of responsibility.  For each section below, imagine how forklift preventative maintenance is important to…

…You, the Forklift Operator

First and foremost, as the person operating a forklift every day, proper maintenance of the lift truck reduces the likelihood of an equipment failure or accident that could cause you harm.  Your livelihood relies in part on having a forklift available and useable for you to do your job, and for this lift truck to be dependable enough that the quality of your work is not negatively impacted by a poorly operating piece of equipment.  It’s one thing to rely on speedy forklift repairs to occur when they’re needed, but it’s a whole world of difference if you could reasonably expect no unforeseen downtime in your lift thanks to preventative maintenance. 

Preventative maintenance is not just for your forklift’s major mechanical systems – it includes all of its safety features, as well.  The difference between having functional headlights that allow you to see clearly in a dim truck trailer and being unexpectedly caught in the dark, can be no more complicated than a preventative maintenance check-up, and can also be the determining factor in if your workday will include a serious accident.  A proper PM fork truck service tests all of your equipment’s safety features (as well as the rest of its systems), finding issues before they occur.     

A less obvious benefit of well-maintained lift trucks is the healthy boost provided to employee confidence.  Knowing that you’re operating sound equipment, working for an employer that looks out for your wellbeing, and not worrying about being placed into unsafe situations has tangible positive effects on your state of mind.  You also won’t expect to lose working hours due to unexpected equipment issues interrupting your shift.  Whether this PM lift truck repair service is provided by an accredited, factory-authorized service shop or your trained internal maintenance team, you’ll have sound assurance that your equipment is up to the tasks of the day.          

…You, the Maintenance Mechanic

Now with your mechanic hat on and tools in hand, consider the difference between scheduled preventative maintenance work on a forklift, and stressful emergency repairs occurring without warning.  Larger companies may have resources that can help you solve an unexpected repair, but it’s unlikely that there won’t be at least some panic involved in dealing with the issue.  You’ll have to drop what you’re working on to address the forklift issue, and then later, be held accountable for why the mechanical failure occurred in the first place.  Let’s examine a few of these potential conditions and their alternative maintenance options that should have been performed earlier:

Unexpected failures often require expedited replacement part shipment, overtime labor to perform the repairs, and a rental forklift to replace the damaged unit while it awaits service.  Preventative maintenance on your forklifts can help avoid these unnecessary costs.  Being able to investigate and diagnose for pending issues gives you an edge on all fronts – you can assign internal resources or a third-party service company to tackle repairs before they’re needed, order parts early, and schedule the work for a convenient on-shift time.  And don’t forget, maintenance requirements go up as equipment ages, so preventative maintenance is increasingly important to avoid escalating costs over time.     

Many facilities include forklifts in their measurement of equipment uptime (the percentage of time that equipment is working properly, as opposed to equipment being offline due to failures).  Low uptime reflects on maintenance departments poorly, often resulting in missed bonuses, raises, and promotions for staff.  To avoid the scrutiny of management, one easy solution is to proactively get ahead of equipment failures through preventative maintenance methodologies.  Applied to forklifts, being able to say that your group consistently assures less than 1% downtime, or some other low value applicable to your organization, is a surefire win for your maintenance team. 

  …You, the Safety Officer

Next, let’s try on the role of your company’s safety manager.  Designing and maintaining safe working environments within your company is your responsibility.  Making sure that your facility and employees are compliant with OSHA and other local occupational authorities is a full-time job, and failure in any one area can have substantial impact on your company, your coworkers, and yourself personally.  Here are a few ways that forklift preventative maintenance can make your job easier, as well as help you achieve your company-wide safety goals overall.   

In our current logistics climate, material handling work is at record levels, which also means that the risk of accidents involving material handling equipment is at an all-time high.  More companies such as yours are hiring less-experienced staff, running equipment very hard, and dealing with traffic volumes that they’ve never experienced in the past.  Knowing that your business has to make these same choices to stay competitive, one very simple way that you can reduce your group’s safety risk is to require preventative maintenance on all of your equipment, including powered lift trucks. 

Another way to keep safety and compliance on the minds of your staff is to require their participation in the preventative maintenance of their equipment.  You might use that time to reinforce and remind your colleagues about not just the value of properly maintaining the equipment that they use daily, but also about the wider responsibility that they have to each other in making sure everyone goes home safe and sound every day.  Forklift walk-arounds are required by OSHA before the start of each shift, and this is an excellent chance to have employees engage with a portion of the normal preventative maintenance tasks, and actively hand off the remainder to your maintenance staff, so that the entire forklift safety lifecycle is understood and engaged with by your full team. 

…You, the Business Owner

Lastly, we’ll imagine the value of forklift preventative maintenance through the eyes of your company’s owners or primary stakeholders.  There are both cost-side and revenue-side impacts associated with proper forklift maintenance, as well as wider implications that influence customer confidence, supplier relationships, and your competitive advantage as well. 

Some businesses do not consider the true costs of emergency equipment repairs.  An unexpected repair on a forklift will not only cost the amount associated with the repairs, but will also include hidden costs – employee idle time awaiting repairs, premium costs on parts ordered from whichever vendor has the parts available, reduced production efficiency while the lift is down, to name a few.  Prioritizing low equipment service costs over high uptime benefits can easily turn upside down in the course of just one unexpected lift failure, and at a certain level, these costs can erode margins to the point that your core profitability is at risk.  Even worse, consider the long-term cost of lost customer confidence when you cannot make a critical delivery because your forklift was down due to an unexpected failure.   

Operational continuity cannot be undervalued when striving to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.  Having a smooth, predictable operation can be the difference between low and desirable profit levels.  Unexpected forklift repairs can throw a wrench in everything from staffing schedules to dock schedule, truck availability to delivery lead times, and more.  Preventative maintenance on your lift trucks takes one more hidden variable out of the continuity equation, making your risk mitigation demands all that much easier.  Manufacturing and distribution centers are specifically vulnerable to continuity issues, where a sequence upset in one part of the process may have a domino effect in the timing and efficiency of many other workflows.  For example, if you had to turn away a delivery truck because your lift was down unexpectedly and you couldn’t unload raw materials, the rest of your operation may suffer a delay until those raw materials can be received later on, behind schedule.   

The Case for Preventative Maintenance

Now that we’ve viewed the topic of forklift preventative maintenance through the eyes of key folks in your company, there should be no doubt that proper PM is a benefit in every way.  Some may argue that preventative maintenance is expensive and can be avoided, justifying avoidance by claiming to have low forklift operating hours or having spare units on standby.  Whether you’re unconvinced or not, we urge everyone to take an educated approach to evaluating preventative maintenance for your facility by conducting a risk assessment on the downtime, cost, safety, and performance impacts that can stem from unexpected lift truck failures.  Consider the cost and impact of several reasonably expectable issues:  

  • A forklift tire failure results in a tip-over, injuring the operator and damaging the load.  (Forklift tire failure can occur even in infrequently used trucks, where weight settling can cause a stress fracture in the tire.)
  • A forklift strikes a non-employee pedestrian outside of your facility due to faulty horn or worn brakes.
  • A lift truck’s hydraulic leak causes a large spill in the high-volume warehouse, shutting down access to two aisles for several hours and requiring a special spill clean-up process to fully abate the slip hazard.  Order picking in those aisles is delayed until the spill is cleaned up.   
  • An OSHA citation due to lack of forklift maintenance documentation results in a red tag on the lift, a fine, and a mark on the company’s public record.  (In 2020, forklift violations were the #7 top violation type reported, with a minimum fine of nearing $10,000 in 2021.)   
  • One you might not be aware of: if an employee feels unsafe at work, they are able to make a compliant to OSHA which is publicly available information that anyone can search online.  This typically invites an OSHA inspection, where they will be inclined to look at all business elements, not just the reported offense.   

Preventative maintenance is important, no question.  If you need help evaluating powered industrial truck preventative maintenance risk and benefit in your operation, or if you’d like more information on how to implement a PM service program for your fleet, Fairchild Equipment is here to assist


2140 Hutson Rd.
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303
(920) 494-8726