A Long-Term View on Industrial Forklift Purchasing
Buying a new piece of capital equipment follows a fairly standard path: sum up what you’re seeking, figure out your technical requirements, call around for pricing, and decide based on which options best fit your priorities. Material Handling equipment – specifically industrial lift trucks – fit well into this sequence, yet many prospective buyers get hung up a bit at the first step. What are they really looking for in a new forklift?
If you’re in this boat of trying to figure out where to start your forklift buying process, you’ve surely already sifted through dozens of general articles online presenting lists of standard purchasing questions. What’s your operating environment, what’s your max load weight, what’s your budget, and so on. These are great starting questions, and are very necessary at that, but, they only illuminate a small portion of the road ahead. From our experience helping customers through initial forklift purchases and providing years of support thereafter, we’ve come to recognize that all the real thrills and pains of forklift ownership come from an entirely separate set of factors than those mentioned in most purchasing advice out there. The best questions come from a vantage point in the future and consider a wider view on how the lift impacts your overall business across time.
Ownership-Oriented Questions to Ask when Buying a Forklift
To help new buyers consider their interests from this unique perspective, we’ve prepared our list of long-term oriented questions below. Have a read – your future self will thank you!
What is this lift’s Total Cost of Ownership?
A forklift’s total cost of ownership (or TCO) represents the prospective costs that your business will need to bear by owning this lift over its lifetime. We break TCO into three categories: fixed costs, variable costs, and operating costs. Fixed Costs are those that are mostly inflexible once you sign, including your initial purchase, financing, depreciation, and insurance costs. Variable Costs are the unavoidable but fluctuating costs that come up over time – mainly maintenance, fuel, energy, consumable parts, and repairs. Operating Costs are associated with the labor rate of the operator, their training, and any indirect expenses to the business required to staff this lift such as licensing, permits, and certification.
Different lifts will have different spreads of Fixed, Variable, and Operating Costs. Comparing a lift on purchase price alone can leave a significant blind spot around these costs that usually won’t be fully understood until a year or two into ownership. At that point, an owner may wish they had made a different choice of lift entirely.
What is this lift’s maximum uptime?
Especially in 24/7 supply chain operations, lift uptime is a crucial consideration, which describes how many hours out of a given day the lift can be available to use. For example, lifts with integrated trickle-charge battery packs may require one to four hours a day sitting on the charger, whereas older styles of lifts with completely swappable battery packs may only need 10-15 minutes out of service while exchanging batteries. A similar spectrum applies to fuel-driven trucks, when deciding between fuel types, tank sizes, and swappable vs onboard tanks.
Worst case, buying a lift with too much downtime may force buyers into purchasing an additional lift just to cover their full schedule. On the other hand, overspending on a rapid refueling/recharging, minimal downtime lift when you only need a few hours of operation per day isn’t any better a use of capital dollars.
What do other owners think of this lift?
This one is simple: buyers should seek the opinion of other existing owners before purchasing a new lift. Just the same as when we’re buying a new personal vehicle, the opinion of other owners can shed invaluable light on what it’s like to actually live with a new fork truck brand or model. Ask about any nuances, hidden costs, surprises, factory support issues, warranty concerns, and special tools or knowledge they’ve discovered while owning the lift, and if they have any suggestions towards your shopping exercise as well.
How easy or difficult is filling operator positions for this lift?
To get technical for a moment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) groups fork trucks into multiple Classes, differentiating between design, style, and engine type. Each class of fork truck comes along with different operational requirements, which in turn translates into different training, certification, and ongoing refresher requirements. From an owner’s perspective, these classes will come with different staffing costs and available labor pools of qualified operators. Likewise, from an operator’s perspective, these classes will translate into higher or lower hiring potential, qualification for available jobs, pay rates, and a gradient of hassle filling these positions.
How much third-party support will I need with this lift?
Here’s an analogy to personal vehicles: today, a simple pickup truck will likely spend less time with a specialized, highly trained mechanic than a Tesla electric car would. With industrial trucks, the analogy carries over all the same. More sophisticated vehicles with loads of integrated technology will often require more support from external service resources than a low-tech, conventional mechanical vehicle. Often this translates to a difference in internal vs external costs, as well as unexpected operational impacts (such as unplanned downtime waiting for an outside resource to schedule a service call). Buyers should consider their sensitivity towards such variable costs and downtime exposure, versus the cost of bringing such expertise in-house.
Can I easily repurpose this lift to other applications?
A good chunk of the material handling industry works on a wholesale distribution basis, where their product mix can ebb and flow over time. This means that a lift selected for one load profile may need to handle a different future load type should the business require, which can make all the difference between adapting the purchased lift or having to replace it entirely. In a similar vein, buyers should consider if their lift may need to be transported to different locations (either as a function of normal work or again if business needs change over time), purchasing the correct lift designed for frequent and easy trailer hauling.
How will this lift handle my specific operating conditions?
Industrial vehicles are often rated using descriptive terms such as ‘heavy duty’, ‘weather rated’, ‘dry warehouse grade’, or ‘indoor environments only’. Buyers may also come across more technical ratings such as ‘IP54 splashing water rated’. How do all of these terms translate into real durability, wear and tear, and lifespan expectations? Being rated for a condition simply means that the affected components on the lift will be reasonably able to withstand exposure under such conditions, assuming all components are in good repair, newer than older, and have been properly maintained. As an example, an outdoor forklift might be rated “heavy duty”, referring to its robust powertrain, however, may have a lower quality paint job that will need constant touch-up in order to avoid rust. Buyers should dig into the details when evaluating new lifts, with their actual operating conditions in mind.
What will this vehicle’s End-of-Life look like?
Everything has a cost and a complexity to it, even the eventual process of replacing your lift at the end of its useful life. Cost accounting relating to depreciation and asset write-off is one component, but is today often overshadowed by the direct costs of disposal, battery or fuel-cell recycling, in some cases, fees paid directly to the county or state for divesting the asset. Legislation is rapidly changing around battery and rare metal disposal, and future regulations may present steep expectations for parting with exotic components found in today’s lifts. Buyers should do their homework on end-of-life considerations before making a purchase, which may drive them to more mature technologies that have established disposal processes, or at the least, targeting an early end-of-life date where the lift can be resold for further use by others (avoiding having to deal with disposal yourself).
We hope that this discussion on Forklift Purchasing Questions has been helpful to your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and 11 locations in 5 states ready 24/7 to serve your needs. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please visit, send us a message or give us a call at (844) 432-4724.