Materials Handling

Tips for long and trouble-free forklift life

By Gian Schiava

November 2023

Most of Eureka’s readers own one or more forklifts. Some of them have reached out to us with a question on what the weakest parts of a forklift are, and how to avoid unexpected breakdowns. In response, Gian Schiava has delved into this subject and chatted with technical support experts in search of… the Achilles heel.

Which forklift components are most likely to break down?


Choose a high-quality forklift with reliability built in (including weather protection).

A key source of advice on this question is Randolph Roy, Director Service Technical Support for Cat® Lift Trucks EAME (Europe, Africa and Middle East). He begins: “To be honest, reliability is built in by many manufacturers from the start. Our warranty figures show that, over time, failure rates are continuously dropping. In practice, failures are kept to a minimum through proper usage and maintenance.”

Randolph Roy

He adds: Another big factor is the customers’ applications. Take cross-docking for example. The wheels and shaft, especially, are put under pressure there. Pivoting points are likely to wear out sooner. Foundries are another very demanding workplace, especially for various seals. Wet environments, such as those in the fishing industry, are certainly not forklift-friendly. But in general, trucks can be adapted for specific jobs and conditions. In short, the treatment the trucks are subjected to largely determines how long they last.”


Cross-docking is the practice of unloading goods from inbound delivery vehicles and loading them directly onto outbound vehicles.

Why are some forklifts less likely to break down than others?

Trucks can, of course, benefit from specific features and functions designed to avoid problems. For example, driving aids like intelligent cornering reduce wear on tyres and tyre-related components. Another approach is to adjust the trucks’ performance settings to suit the application better. On Cat® lift trucks, for instance, technicians can use TruckTool diagnostic and programming software to enable slower but more productive driving with less damage risk and wear.


On Cat® lift trucks, TruckTool can be used to programme slower but more productive driving – with less damage and wear.

Some types of lift truck are more likely than others to suffer failures, simply due to the nature of their role. It’s not surprising, for instance, that power pallet trucks tend to have more breakdowns than stackers, as stackers operate in more protective environments. The differences are small though, and with proper maintenance and sensible usage (!) downtime can be kept to a minimum.

What can a forklift driver do to minimise downtime?


Daily checks are essential to avoiding downtime and prolonging truck life.

Drivers should begin each day with a visual inspection. They should then use the truck in a normal way (the use for which it was intended). Amongst other things, normal usage means:

  • Never leave the parking brake engaged.
  • Don’t brake too quickly (give the truck plenty of time to slow down).
  • Don’t drive with your foot permanently on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t drive too fast.
  • Don’t keep operating the truck when you suspect something is wrong. Are you hearing a weird sound? Stop using the truck and have it checked, to avoid big bills.
  • Take time to familiarise yourself with (new) trucks; train yourself.

Check your forks carefully for wear and damage each day.

When it comes to the driver’s daily checks, one particular area for attention should be the forks. These tend to take big hits every day. The best policy is to inspect them closely every morning. Waiting too long to replace worn-out forks may result in more frequent accidents, with dropped loads, damaged products and injuries.

During each inspection, look for surface cracks, bent or worn fork hooks, general wear (just 10 per cent loss in fork thickness can be enough to reduce your load capacity!), uneven blade heights and bent blades. When in doubt, have it checked.

What should the managers and owners do to avoid failures?

The managers’ responsibilities are quite clear:

  • Always follow the recommended maintenance schedules.
  • When new trucks are coming, make sure the supplier trains the drivers. They need to know how the truck differs from the current ones.
  • Don’t skimp on regular training for your driver. Training minimises damage to your trucks and is good for safety too. Reward programmes can also be a great idea. In general, promote and encourage correct behaviour.
  • Make sure the work environment is clean; keep floor surfaces tidy, with no dust or debris.
  • Watch out for metallic particles. The floors of some production sites become covered in this kind of material, which can be damaging to trucks. Keep them clean!
  • Train drivers and other employees to work tidily. For example, metal straps used for binding goods on pallets are often found lying around a warehouse. Somehow, people ‘forget’ to dispose of them properly.
  • Make the right choices when it comes to replacing trucks. For instance, a 2 tonne model might look like a great deal (financially, that is), but if that capacity is barely enough for the job you might be overstretching the truck. A good dealer will make a proper assessment, and in this case may propose a 2.5 tonne version to ensure the job gets done without any risk. Price should never be the leading principle.

For fleet owners, Randolph Roy shares a useful insight: “Find out where the forklifts have been designed and produced. A serious manufacturer develops the truck within the target markets. When developing our own electric forklifts, we travel across Europe to get input from European drivers. Field research costs time and money, but it pays off.”

What else will improve the chances of trouble-free forklift performance?

First-class back-up is crucially important. The quality of a proper maintenance programme depends on a well-organised planning department and the skills of the field engineers. Its foundation, however, is a slick and ultra-efficient spare parts operation which can supply them with the right parts at the right time. Buyers should therefore always ask a potential supplier about its parts availability.

The European parts depot for Cat lift trucks extends to 10,000 m2 and stocks more than 58,000 separate part lines. From here, parts are rapidly delivered across destinations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. But that’s not the most impressive aspect…

What really set this operation apart is its ‘full line, first pick’ rate. In this measure, an order line is only considered successfully picked when the item is not only in stock but is available in the desired quantities. Even against such a highly demanding challenge, the rate stands at 97%. For current models it’s even higher.

It should also be noted that use of genuine OEM parts contributes to the longevity of a forklift. That kind of quality and back-up is exactly what a maintenance department needs to keep forklifts working.


To conclude, we can safely say that modern forklifts don’t easily break down. When proper maintenance is carried out, there’s actually very little chance of finding an Achilles heel. In reality, a forklift’s weakest link is… lack of love and care.