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Buying Tips for Used Rough-Terrain Forklifts

High sales of new construction lifts after 2008 are loading the used market up with competitively priced units today.

Turnabout is fair play when it comes to the exchange of equipment between agriculture and construction. Forklifts started gaining favor with farmers 25 to 30 years ago as producers began employing factory-floor or warehouse machines (often hard-tired with propane-powered units), first to store seed bags and containers. The convenience of forklifts grew so much so that a great many used indoor lifts can be found in farms today.

Farmers then began casting their eyes toward rough-terrain forklifts whose higher clearances and four-wheel drives extended their use out to yards and fields. Today, rough-terrain lifts have become the preferred forklift in agriculture. The turnabout I mentioned previously refers to extended-reach telehandlers. These telescopic rough-terrain lifts were originally marketed to agriculture when they were introduced in Europe decades ago. Today they have become ubiquitous on construction sites due to their ability to haul loads and then extend them out for delivery.

As farmers search for rough-terrain lifts, they discover the advantages of telehandlers. That is why this issue’s Pocket Price Guide lists both straight-mast and telehandler lifts. If you are looking for such a lift, bear in mind the market offers a wide range of lift capacities and features.

capacities range widely and vary by reach

The most common capacities range from 4,000 up to 12,000 pounds. Some larger telehandlers can heft up to 30,000 pounds. It’s important to distinguish between rated load capacity and maximum lift height when selecting a lift. Weight limitations can be reduced when the load is extended in height and reach. For example, a telehandler with a 6,500-pound capacity may be able to handle that load at its full lift height of 42 feet. When reaching forward, however, the load (without stabilizers) can drop to 700 pounds.

Features range from machines with open platforms to full cabs with air conditioning. Straight mast lifts may be sold with two- or three-section masts (the latter version offers great delivery heights). Lifts can be equipped with heavy-duty pneumatic to polyurethane (foam-filled) tires as well. 

Crucial inspection pointers when buying a forklift

Buyer beware takes on particular importance when it comes to forklifts. Whether they be a factory-floor, rough terrain, or telehandler machine, forklifts often face far harder service than most farm machinery. Not only are they are run year-round but also these machines are often not operated by their owners.

As such, if you are looking to buy a forklift, it is imperative that you thoroughly inspect a potential purchase, whether that machine is at an auction or on a dealer’s lot. In that regard, once you have found a forklift you are interest in buying, the first step is to call that lift’s owner and ask them how the vehicle was used. (For example, whether it was run on a construction site or used for landscaping work or in a warehouse.) “You can get a lot of information about a vehicle’s past use and also about the integrity of the seller from a phone call,” says Dick Phelps of US Auctioneers. “While you are on the phone, be sure to ask for past service records, which reveal how the machine was cared for.”

After that call, head to the sales location and give the forklift a thorough inspection by examining these key components:

  • Forks. A lift’s forks offer the best evidence of how it was employed revealing if the machine was overloaded or abused during operation. Rough-terrrain lifts are particularly prone to abuse if they were employed at a construction site. When looking at the forks, check for cracks, bends, and distortion that might have happened to due repeated overloading or ramming of loads.
  • Mast. Examine the entire length of the mast looking for past welding repairs and general structural condition. Examine the mast’s rollers and lift chains, in particular, for their overall condition.
  • Hydraulic components. Check the entire length of hydraulic hoses (running parallel to the chains) for leaks, cracked covers, and kinks. Be sure to examine the lift cylinders for excessive leakage at their seals or for a bent or damaged ram.
  • Engine and transmission. Start the forklift to both operate the mast as well as drive the forklift around. If possible, operate the mast with a load. The first thing to look for while raising or lowering the mast is smooth operation. Using the mast can reveal leaking from the hoses and cylinder. Drive the forklift around listening for any sounds coming from the engine and the transmission. Transmissions on forklifts, in particular, can be subject to abuse. While you are driving the lift around, feel for smooth transmission operation when shifting.
  • Tires. Again, the rubber on lifts that have come from construction sites may have been subjected to severe service. As such, examine tires for slashes, missing chunks of tread, and sidewall damage.  

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