Tom Haug


Forklifts are one of the most important pieces of equipment in the material handling equipment category, but they are also one of the most prone to wearing out. Much like a car can’t be expected to be reliable past 150,000 miles, a forklift can’t be expected to operate without problems past 10,000 hours. Eventually, your forklift will wear down and you will need a replacement. The tricky part is knowing when to replace your forklift as many factors should be considered. Read below to learn more about what to look for when your next machine reaches the end of its life.

Forklift “Age”

The first aspect to explore is the lifespan of a forklift. Lifespan is defined by the number of operational hours before the machine begins to cost more than the revenue it generates. There is no golden rule of calculation for finding the lifespan of a given forklift as it varies by model, usage, environmental conditions, and maintenance. The following list shows the major factors that contribute to the usable lifespan of a forklift. Further details on each are explained throughout the blog.

  • Make and Model
  • Electric vs. Internal Combustion
  • Workload
  • Environmental Conditions
  • Maintenance

Make and Model

More expensive lifts from well-known and reputable brands will almost invariably have a longer usable lifespan than cheaper models from discount brands. This comes down to higher quality components and better quality control with higher-end models. However, this does not mean that you need to buy the top of the line model to avoid your forklift breaking down.

Electric vs. Internal Combustion

The power source of a forklift can also have a major impact on lifespan. Because electric forklifts contain considerably fewer moving parts, electric forklifts tend to have lifespans 30-40% longer than internal combustion forklifts. However, electric forklifts will often require an expensive battery replacement midway through their life so keep that in mind when weighing the costs and benefits of both types.


The type and amount of work a forklift is performing will greatly affect its usable life. If the lift is operating closer to its maximum capacity or in use for long hours, it will break down much faster than a lift that is handling lighter loads for less time.

Environmental Conditions

If your workplace exposes the lifts to caustic or acidic chemicals, extreme heat, physical damage, or other hostile environmental conditions, the lifespan can be reduced depending on the severity of the conditions. One particular note is in refrigerated storage units or other cold conditions, lithium-ion battery-powered electric lifts have serious limitations. The minimum operating temperature of a lithium-ion battery is 32 degrees Fahrenheit and below that temperature, they cease to produce enough voltage to operate. On the other hand, lead-acid batteries will only freeze at or below -4 degrees Fahrenheit making them suitable for most conditions.


The last factor in the lifespan of a forklift is maintenance; sufficient, preventative maintenance is the single best way to preserve the usable lifespan of a forklift. The longer you wait to replace the oil or change out a bearing, the more damage is being caused to other parts of the forklift. If your lifts undergo a proper maintenance regimen, they will suffer fewer breakdowns and ultimately cost less over time.

Now that we have a better understanding of the factors that affect the lifespan of a forklift, we can discuss the decision to repair or replace it. First, the most important aspect to remember is that even if a lift has more usable lifespan left on paper, it does not mean it is worth repairing. The efficiency of operation must be considered as well as the accumulating maintenance and repair costs that come with older hardware.

Questions to Consider

If you are considering to repair instead of replace your forklift, ask the following questions:

  • Is the forklift repair needed because of an accident or mistake, or is it due to wear and tear?
  • Is the lift suffering minimal downtime or is it almost always being worked on? Is the repair minor or routine (brakes, wheels, hydraulic lines, etc.) or is it something major (engine, transmission, etc.)?
  • How much usable life is left?
  • How modern is the design?

Let’s walk through each of those questions and see how the answer may affect the decision to repair or replace.

If the repair is needed due to an accident, then you should strongly consider repairing the forklift, while a worn-out lift might warrant a replacement. If the lift is operating normally and doing its job, then it may be best to repair your forklift rather than replace it. If the repair is minor and cheap, it is likely a better option to repair. Conversely, if the machine exhibits major problems, replacement may be cheaper in the long run.

If your lift has an expected lifespan of 10,000 hours and has 8,500 hours of use, it may be a good idea to purchase a new forklift, escaping escalating maintenance and repair costs that can stack and increase your operating costs. If the design is old and out of date or lacking modern features it may be a better idea to replace the forklift versus keeping an obsolete lift in operation.

The final decision to repair or replace a damaged forklift will be down to all the aforementioned variables. However, at the end of the day, the impact on your bottom line is what matters. If your forklift will cost you more to keep operating than it is bringing in, then you need to review your options. If you want to avert the problems of end of life equipment, you may wish to consider an equipment lease from Meridian.

If you’re looking for a new or used forklift, the industry experts at Meridian Leasing will work with you to help you determine the right forklift for your business objectives and financial needs. Call +1 (855) 980-4578 or send an email to [email protected] for more details or to speak with a material handling equipment specialist.