The Ultimate Forklift Maintenance Guide & Checklist

September 12, 2018

Forklifts are the workhorses of modern warehouse and distribution center operations. Every day, forklifts are used to quickly move pallets of materials and products around that would be too heavy for manual labor to handle safely.

However, what some people forget is that as rugged and reliable as a well-made forklift is, it will still require frequent preventative maintenance to keep it working in top condition long-term. Ignoring regular forklift maintenance can hurt productivity when it’s needed most and even cause a safety hazard for employees. By implementing a forklift preventative maintenance checklist, your warehouse can receive the most out of your forklift’s useful life and maximize performance. 

Why You Need a Forklift Maintenance Plan

In order to maintain consistent efficiency and productivity throughout your daily warehouse operations, the equipment you rely on to get the job one needs to be in prime working condition and properly cared for. Forklift maintenance plans ensure that your forklifts—essential machines to your warehouse operations—are always fully functional. This reduces downtime and long-term maintenance costs. 

With an organized forklift maintenance schedule, you can optimize the productivity of your warehouse. If your motive equipment batteries are not operating at full capacity, the products that are driving your revenue cannot be transported at the same rate, which can be a big hit to your bottom line. Additionally, productivity is slowed when employees use forklifts that aren’t fully functional, which further reduces profitability. 

There are many reasons to perform frequent forklift maintenance set to a specific schedule with monthly, quarterly, and yearly maintenance tasks, including:

  • Preventing Sudden Failures of Forklift Equipment. Forklifts are often used to carry extremely heavy loads across a warehouse. This can put heavy wear and tear on the forklift’s mast—the failure of which could cause a load to fall. Tires can also wear out, making the forklift more difficult to control. Electrical systems can short out, resulting in catastrophic failures. Regular preventative maintenance helps to keep these failures from happening.
  • Helping Identify When a Forklift Should Be Cycled Out. If there’s an issue with a forklift that cannot be addressed with routine maintenance in a cost-effective manner (e.g. bringing the forklift into peak condition would essentially cost as much as buying another one in better condition), the frequent inspections that come part and parcel with a forklift maintenance schedule would likely help you identify it early on. This way, you can modify your forklift fleet management strategy to account for the need to replace the forklift before it becomes unusable.
  • Preventing Employee Injuries. When forklifts break down unexpectedly, it can lead to employee injuries. For example, if a forklift mast suddenly fails, nearby employees may be struck by falling objects from the pallet (or the pallet itself) if they’re too close. Control system failures could cause the forklift to move uncontrollably—potentially causing harm to the forklift operator and other employees on the warehouse floor. Routine maintenance helps to prevent catastrophic failures and the employee injuries they can cause. This helps you reduce workers compensation claims and potential legal fees due to employee injuries.
  • Keeping Forklifts Operating Efficiently. On any given shift, there is only so much time to get things done, and only so much that a forklift can accomplish before running out of charged batteries. Poorly-maintained forklifts are harder to operate, making basic tasks slower and more time-consuming. Additionally, the lack of proper maintenance can kill forklift battery efficiency as corroded connections interfere with the flow of electricity from the battery to the forklift. By applying routine forklift maintenance services, you can keep your forklifts operating at peak efficiency for longer. This helps you drive additional revenue and get the most out of your investment in motive power equipment. 
  • Reducing Total Cost of Ownership for Your Motive Power Fleet. Preventative maintenance is often less expensive than waiting for a forklift to break down and trying to fix the long list of problems that can arise from that total breakdown. For example, fixing a leaky hydraulic pump seal for the hydraulic lift cylinder is usually an easier and less costly repair than replacing a ruptured one and restoring any other parts of the forklift that may break during a catastrophic hydraulic failure.

These are just a few of the benefits of frequently maintaining your forklifts. However, as important as having a planned maintenance strategy is, it’s also crucial to have a comprehensive forklift preventative maintenance checklist that you can refer to during your scheduled maintenance. Documenting your process helps to ensure that whichever forklift mechanic does the inspection doesn’t miss an important check and put your employees at risk. It also helps everyone in the facility stay on the same page about what forklifts have been maintained and when.

How to Create a Forklift Maintenance Plan 

When creating a forklift maintenance plan, remember that forklift batteries will still need to be repaired or replaced eventually. Still, implementing a forklift maintenance program enables you to catch the minor issues before they become major, expensive repairs that can put your valuable equipment out of commission temporarily. 

Once you make your forklift maintenance forklift, it’s important to also plan and maintain a regular schedule. This checklist can be implemented into the daily operations of your warehouse, so that these checks become an everyday routine.

Here’s a sample forklift preventative maintenance checklist for you to reference. It’s important to note that some parts of this checklist may need to change depending on the make and model of forklift you use:

  • Daily Forklift Maintenance Items:
    • Does the forklift’s hydraulics system have any leaks?
    • Do all safety lights work?
    • Is the battery fully charged?
      • If not, what is the current charge level?
      • How many more charge cycles is the battery rated for?
  • Does the Mast Rise or Lower Smoothly?
    • Is the horn functional?
    • Are the brakes working?
    • Are any of the tires ruptured?
    • Is the counterweight secure?
    • Is the amp hour rating of the battery matched to its charger?
  • Monthly Forklift Maintenance Items:
    • Are moving components properly lubricated?
    • Are battery connections clean and free of sulfate?
    • Is there enough water in the battery?
    • Is the overhead guard damaged or dented?
    • Are overhead guard screens free of ruptures?
    • Are battery care placards in place?
  • Quarterly Forklift Maintenance Items:
    • Is the action on the forklift’s pedals smooth and unencumbered?
    • Is the hydraulic fluid filter in good condition?
    • What is the condition of the forklift’s brake fluid and brake lines?
    • Are the forklift’s electrical components in good condition (free of burn marks, lacking damaged soldering, all controls and indicator lights functional, etc.)?
    • Are forklift and battery safety signs posted in the appropriate places per OSHA regulations?

That last item may not directly relate to forklift maintenance, but it does play a role in making sure your employees are aware of safe forklift operating practices—which can have an indirect impact on maintenance by reminding employees to follow safety regulations.

THE Importance of Preventative Maintenance

With frequent routine checks and a forklift maintenance plan, you can avoid common forklift issues that not only increase operational downtime and costs, but place your warehouse employees in danger. Implementing a proper preventative maintenance guide ensures your warehouse avoids common issues from under-maintained forklifts, including: 

Overwatered Batteries

Part of a regular forklift maintenance plan is the care of motive power batteries, including the proper watering of batteries. Overwatering batteries not only damages the battery, but can also present a health and safety risk to your employees. When batteries are overwatered, the caustic electrolytic fluid can spill out and cause serious burns to employees. If this fluid leaks out, it can form a white cakey substance over the battery which can be conductive when exposed to flame or sparks.  

Damage from overwatered batteries will eventually lead to acid solution or overheating. The batteries will eventually need to be replaced, leading to higher costs in the long run. 

Increased Long-term Costs

Forklift batteries can be a big investment for warehouses and distribution centers due to their high cost, especially for those with very large motive power fleets. Since purchasing new motive power equipment and forklift batteries can take up a lot of your budget allocation, you want to make sure you’re getting the best ROI from your purchases. 

Without a planned forklift maintenance plan, it is difficult to ensure the batteries are being properly cared for and are being operated at their maximum capacity long-term. Worn out batteries may not be able to provide a sufficient charge for the forklifts, which can cause an unstable electrical output. This can seriously damage your motive power equipment, leading to more costs for serious repairs or even replacements. 

Routinely testing your forklift batteries will also determine if there are any potential problems before a premature electrical component failure occurs that results in expensive costs.  

Potential Safety Hazards

Besides the danger from overwatered batteries, faulty forklift batteries can be a potential safety hazard and can place your employees at risk for injury. A battery that is damaged or needs to be replaced can leak acid on the battery’s exterior. This can place employees handling these damaged batteries in a dangerous situation. 

Malfunctioning batteries can also cause forklifts not to operate correctly, potentially leading to workplace injuries. Your warehouse employees may work slower to ensure their own safety if they're worried about operating hazards and your business productivity can suffer as a result. 

If you have an employee injured by damaged batteries, you’ll have to pay higher worker’s compensation premiums, legal fees, insurance expenses, and account for the lost productivity due to fewer employees being available to work because people are out injured, as well as any potential OSHA investigations. A forklift maintenance routine can not only protect your employees, but save you the costs and headaches associated with workplace injuries. 

Forklift Maintenance Checklists Ensure Longevity & Safety  

To have an effective forklift maintenance program that ensures longevity of your high value equipment and protects your staff, it can be helpful to turn to the professionals. They’ll have the knowledge and experience necessary to help you come up with the forklift maintenance plan that fits your unique needs, then help your warehouse actually carry it out throughout its daily operations. 

At Southern States Enterprises, our motive power experts are ready to help you form the maintenance strategy that works best for your unique warehouse. We even conduct battery safety surveys to provide you with a written checklist on the condition of every battery in your fleet and what repair or replacement services are needed. Then, our on-site service technicians are available 24/7 to handle any battery repairs and install new equipment.

For any questions about forklift maintenance plans for your warehouse, contact the experts at Southern States Motive Power to learn more today.

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