Your Forklift Buying Guide: Find the Best Forklift for Sale (Video, Audio, Article)

Are you searching for new or used forklifts for sale but not sure what will best suit your needs? Use this handy forklift buying guide to help narrow your search.

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Forklift Buying Guide Contents

“What is the best forklift for sale?” — Well, that depends. 

forklift buying guide

When shopping for anything new, most of us simply want to know what is dollar-for-dollar the best version to buy. Most of us don’t want to hear what we automatically tune out as sales speak—“well, that depends.” Unfortunately for impatient shoppers, this is absolutely the case when you’re looking to buy a new or used forklift. Let’s explore why. 

Instead of “best forklift for sale,” consider what is the “right forklift for sale.”

Before you can begin shopping for forklifts for sale or rental, it is imperative to carefully consider precisely what you need a forklift to handle before it ever rolls onto your worksite or into your warehouse. You should be able to answer the following questions: 

Your Forklift Ability Questionnaire

And the like. 

By answering these questions, you can quickly narrow your search when looking to buy a new or used forklift. 
Let's dive into answering each of these questions, one by one. 

Do you need to use this forklift primarily indoors or outdoors? 

Will you need to use this forklift inside a crowded warehouse with tight corners or on an open outdoor yard or construction site with rough terrain? The answer will quickly determine many aspects of what is the right forklift for you. 

Indoor Forklift Specifications

Tires & Wheels

Using a forklift indoors likely means that it will rarely leave a smooth concrete slab foundation. Smooth, cushion tires are usually the preferred choice for such indoor forklifts. They’re made of solid, smooth rubber that is secured around a metal band. They tend to last longer than pneumatic forklift tires. They're also more affordable, more readily available, and allow for the tighter turning radiuses needed in warehouses.

Electric Power

Due to exhaust put off by the combustion engine of gas-powered forklifts, electric-powered forklifts are the most suitable for indoor use. Though electric forklifts tend to be more expensive than gas-power forklifts, their reduced maintenance can offset much of their upfront cost after just a few years.

Outdoor Forklift Specifications

forklift buying guide outdoor
Tires & Wheels

For varied terrain, forklifts with pneumatic tires are often preferred—with air-filled and solid varieties available. Solid tires are more robust due to being puncture-proof, though they tend to be more expensive and offer a rougher ride. Air-filled pneumatic tires, much like car tires, provide a cushioned ride, but at the expense of additional maintenance. Some owners of forklifts with air-filled tires fill these tires with foam for a more stable ride.

Gas Power or Electric Powered

Due to the ventilation of working outdoors, gas-powered forklifts are an option. Gas-powered forklifts—either using propane, compressed natural gas, diesel, or gasoline—have the advantage of lower upfront costs, quicker and more remote refueling capabilities, and greater lifting and towing capabilities for the cost. 

While most outdoor forklifts in use are gas-powered, there is a growing selection of electric-powered forklifts hitting the market equipped for outdoor use. Some prefer these for the reduced carbon emissions, decreased maintenance, and quieter performance.

What are the worksite or warehouse dimensions where you will use this forklift?

forklift buying guide

The size of your workplace—whether a snug warehouse or expansive lumber yard—will dictate the size of your forklift only second to lifting capabilities. Smaller forklift models start at between 3 or 4 feet (1-1.2 meters) in width while larger forklifts can run as large as 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide. While this specification is available for any forklift and should be noted, forklifts are typically categorized by how much weight they can lift and how high. For this, we can move on to the next section. 

How heavy (or wide) are the loads you need to handle?

After considering the outdoor or indoor use of your forklift, the necessary lift capacity is perhaps the primary factor to consider when looking to buy a forklift. 

What does "lift capacity" mean for a forklift? 

While the lift capacity of a forklift seems pretty straightforward, this figure actually denotes the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted from a forklift’s load center—the extended distance from the vertical lift of the forks to the load’s center of gravity. A quick rule specifies that a load center of an item is about 2 feet (0.6 meters) from the fork face—the central section of a 4 foot (1.2 meter) pallet. Lifting capacities can also vary depending on the lift height as well as the weight of attachments used to lift the load. 

Forklift Net Capacity vs. Rated Capacity

The net capacity—also known as the “payload capacity”—is the true lifting capacity of a forklift that also accounts for modifications and attachments. A forklift’s rated capacity is typically the rating on the forklift’s data plate and may not take into account heavier attachments when determining payload capacity. 

How to Begin to Determine Your Lift Capacity

When trying to determine what lift capacity you need from a forklift, there are a few questions to ask before referring to the data plate. 

  • What is the maximum weight of the loads I need to handle?
  • What is the maximum length of the loads I need to handle?
  • What required attachments will I need to handle these loads, and how much do they weigh?
  • How high do these need loads need to be lifted (onto shelves, trucks, etc.)?

Once you have determined the weight and size of your typical loads as well as the required height ratings and attachments needed to successfully handle them, you can further filter down your options from the many types of forklifts for sale or rent. 

Forklift Classifications Explained

Once you have determined which work environment and lifting capacity you need in a forklift for sale, it is time to match these specifications with a particular forklift classification. 

Class I Forklifts

Class I forklifts have a load capacity ranging between 2,500 and 12,000 pounds (1,133 to 5,443 kgs). They are used indoors in manufacturing and warehousing capacities. They are powered by electric motors. 

Class II Forklifts

Class II forklifts have a load capacity ranging between 1,500 and 5,500 pounds (680 to 2,494 kgs). They are used indoors in larger warehouses containing higher shelves and narrow rows or aisles. They are powered by electric motors.

Class III Forklifts

Class III forklifts have a load capacity ranging between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds (907 to 4,535 kgs). They are used in loading areas and manufacturing settings that require longer distances of travel. They are powered by electric motors.

Class IV Forklifts

Class IV forklifts have a load capacity ranging between 3,000 and 15,500 pounds (1,360 to 7,030 kgs). They are used in loading areas with smoother floors. They are usually powered by gas—either compressed natural gas, propane, diesel, or gasoline.

Class V Forklifts

Class V forklifts have a load capacity ranging between 3,000 and 36,000 pounds (1,360 to 16,329 kgs). They can handle different styles of terrain—smoother floors or rougher terrain on lumber yards or construction sites. They are usually powered by gas—either compressed natural gas, propane, diesel, or gasoline.

Class VI-VII Forklifts

Class VI forklift trucks specialize more in towing loads than lifting loads—such as airport terminal luggage towing tractors. Class VII forklift trucks specialize in lifting heavier loads to difficult positions on construction sites and traversing difficult terrain.

What is your purchase/ownership budget for a forklift?

The purchase budget for your forklift will differ from your cost of ownership of a forklift depending on many factors. 

Pricier Upfront, But Lower Maintenance Costs

Brand new forklifts and electric forklifts will usually cost more than their used or gas-powered counterparts. And though their upfront costs may induce a bit of sticker shock, their overall cost of ownership will likely be lower due to their decreased level of maintenance. New models typically have less wear and electric models have fewer moving parts to service. 

Cheaper Upfront, But Higher Maintenance Costs

Used forklifts and gas-powered forklifts will typically have a lower upfront cost than new or electric models, but what you save on the front end, you may end up paying out over time in form of maintenance.

Just as we have provided some suggestions on deciding between an electric forklift versus a gas-powered forklift, there are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to purchase a new or a used forklift. 

When Buying a New Forklift Makes Sense

You need to use it for over 4 hours a day (full-time).
If you need a forklift that you can put to use most of the workday, a new forklift will continue to serve your needs for many years to come with little unscheduled maintenance.

You will require very specialized attachments.
If you’re needing to move items that require specialized attachments beyond the typical fork, they will be more readily available new from the manufacturer. 

You can arrange a cost of depreciation tax deduction. 
The cost of depreciation for the sake of a business tax deduction will be easier to account for when a forklift is brand new.

You’re not equipped to handle immediate necessary maintenance.
While no one wants to have to pour money into a newly-purchased item, if you would prefer to not have to worry about refurbishing a forklift that has already seen thousands of hours, new models will save you the hassle of upfront maintenance. 

When Buying a Used Forklift Makes Sense

You have a limited upfront budget.
Buying a used forklift will likely shave thousands of dollars off of the upfront price of the equipment.

You plan to use it less than 4 hours a day (part-time).
If you only need a forklift occasionally—maybe under 4 hours in a working day—it may not make sense to purchase a brand new forklift when a used model will suit your needs just fine. 

What to Look For When Shopping for Used Forklifts

Whether you can’t afford a brand new forklift or simply wouldn’t use one enough to justify buying one, buying a used forklift for sale is certainly a great option. The issue you may run into now is knowing what to look for when examining used forklifts. Here are a few places to start! 

used forklift buying guide

Examine the Forks for Issues

Because the forks are carrying the loads, it is essential to check them for damage. Examine the forks and other attachments for cracks, bends, or other signs of abuse. A common problem area is the “heel” of the fork blade — the initial angle of the fork. Make sure this is the same thickness as the upright section it is attached to. A difference in thickness may denote irregular wear that may result in needing to replace the forks sooner rather than later. 

Check the Lifting Chains for Irregularities

The chains that bring the fork attachment upward are under immense strain and can fail—that’s not unusual. What may be unusual is a weak repair to these chains. By inspecting the lift chains for gaps or messy welding marks, these may indicate a well-worn and improperly repaired lift chain that may continue to give you issues. 

Inspect the Tires

Tires for forklifts are not only expensive but can also testify to the treatment of the equipment throughout its life. If you notice gashes in the rubber and pieces missing—otherwise known as “chunking”—this may signify that a forklift has been driven rough or at the very least will require new tires soon. Also, inspect the tread levels by looking for a wear line around the outside edge or where wear has begun to sink into the outside lettering. 

Check Out the Mast Operation for Smoothness

Each forklift contains a variety of masts—the upward-lifting sections pulled up in the operation of the fork attachments. These should extend upward in a smooth motion. When buying a used forklift, a demonstration of these lifting smoothly should be performed. A snagging or clunky operation may denote larger problems.

Inspect the Battery

Electric forklift’s biggest maintenance issue will be the question of battery life. Most forklift batteries last around 5 years when run in normal operating conditions. Calculating this will determine how much life is left in the battery. Also, make sure to inspect the battery terminals for corrosion. 

Check the Entire Forklift for Leaks

Inspect the entire forklift for anything that appears wet—the transmission, radiator, mast cylinders, and the like. Leaks on a used forklift, even if manageable, likely mean that you’re in for additional maintenance.

Test Out All Safety Features

Anything designed to keep operators and workers safe should be in good working order on any used forklift. Test the brakes, horns, backup sounds, seat adjustments, seat belts, and other items. Inspect the body of the forklift for signs of damage that may denote a collision or tip over. 

Make Sure the Odometer Reading Matches the Wear

When shopping for a used forklift, selecting one that mostly has been used on a part-time basis is ideal. Part-time usage for a forklift typically averages a little over 1,000 usage hours a year. A forklift with heavier “full-time” usage will have surpassed the 2,000 hours a year threshold. If the amount of wear on a used forklift for sale does not appear consistent with a lower meter reading, this may indicate meter tampering—which should be cause for concern. 

Try Before You Buy

While you’ll be hard-pressed to find a forklift dealer willing to let you use their inventory on a trial basis, once you’ve isolated a few specific forklift models that seem to meet your specifications, consider renting the same model forklifts before purchasing the models for your needs. If you’ve narrowed the running down to a few different models, you may consider renting one of each and rotating your forklift operators on the different models. At the end of the rental period, ask your operators what model they prefer. Their input is important, as they will be the personnel operating the forklifts for potentially hours every workday. 

How to Buy New and Used Forklifts For Sale

It is always recommended to buy new and used forklifts from a reputable dealer—which are likely nearby. If you’re looking for a particular new or used forklift for sale or rent, online heavy equipment marketplaces allow you to filter your searches by make, model, year, usage, features, location, and many other specific details. Dealerships using online heavy equipment marketplace services can arrange for proper shipping and take much of the hassle out of buying forklifts for your needs. 

Selecting the Best Forklift Attachments for Sale

Even the best forklift is pretty useless without the right attachments. To help you select the right forklift attachment for your needs, you're invited to check out our guide to forklift attachments

Connecting Forklift Buyers & Sellers Since 1958

If you’re looking for a heavy equipment marketplace with a history of helping buyers find precisely the equipment they need, your friends at My Little Salesman can help. Since 1958, My Little Salesman has assisted countless buyers just like you in finding the forklift trucks they need to get the job done. 

Find Your Next Forklift for Sale Now

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About Ken Lane
Ken’s affinity for the heavy equipment industry was fostered as a curious youngster—becoming happily lost on his grandfather’s tractor sales and service lot (his favorite color is still Allis-Chalmers Orange). Since then, he’s perfected the art of turning black coffee into helpful buyer resources and marketing materials for My Little Salesman.
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