A look at what's new and how to buy a lift truck.

Forklift trucks can present challenges for the unsuspecting buyer
Forklift trucks can present challenges for the unsuspecting buyer

A look at what's new and how to buy a lift truck.

The first forklifts were invented about a hundred years ago. Back then, there were no standard pallet sizes of course, and in any case most products were contained in crates or barrels - or more commonly loose.

Believe it or not, in the Edwardian days, electrical vehicles, both for road and industrial applications were as common as those powered by the new-fangled internal combustion engine, so it was fitting that the first two forklifts, invented at about the same time used both technologies, although the electric version, powered by heavy lead acid cells, used a caster wheel at the rear and had the load positioned at the front, just like most modern counterbalanced units.

Early days

Before the trucks came along it would commonly take three days and a lot of manpower to unload an American boxcar train filled with groceries. When pallets and a couple of forklift were introduced into the equation, this time was reduced to just four hours. Clearly, this was just the thing to slash costs and to increase the amount of perishable goods that could be moved.

When companies realised that products shrink wrapped on pallets not only could fit into neat and calculable rows in shipping containers, but goods could be sealed up, in large quantities, meaning the only things to go walking were the pallets themselves.

However, it was in the Second World War that the trucks really got into their own. Fit, strong men were needed at the front line, not handling goods.


While the lifts used warehouse work are very often powered by batteries, this is generally unsuitable for site work. Apart from the fact that the desert heat is unsuitable for long battery life, the trucks need to be recharged for eight hours each day, plus time must also be allowed for the batteries to cool.

Trucks that run on compressed natural gas or propane are often found in warehouses, but by far the most popular choice for outdoor work is diesel.


Counterbalance fork lift trucks are by far the most common type. While the lifts used warehouse Forklifts are rated for loads at a specified maximum weight and a specified forward centre of gravity.

This information is located on a nameplate provided by the manufacturer, and loads must not exceed these specifications In many countries it is illegal to remove or tamper with the nameplate without the permission of the forklift manufacturer - so check this is in place when buying a secondhand unit.


Many innovations on the theme were born, not least the telescopic handler or 'telehandler' as it is known made an similar in appearance and function to a lift truck with the increased versatility of a single telescopic boom that can extend forwards and upwards from the vehicle.

The end of the boom usually has a pair of forks, but can take any attachment required.

Arthur Danelian, MD, Haulotte ME said; "The most common application is to move loads to and from places out of reach for a conventional forklift. For example, telehandlers can remove pallets from a trailer and to place loads on rooftops and other high places. The latter application would otherwise require a crane, which is not always suitable for this task."

The advantage of the telehandler is also its biggest limitation: as the boom extends or raises while bearing a load, it acts as a lever and causes the vehicle to become increasingly unstable, despite counterweights in the rear.

This means that the lifting capacity quickly decreases as the height and length of the boom increase. A vehicle with a 5,000lb capacity with the boom retracted may be able to lift as little as 400lb with it fully extended.

The operator is equipped with a load chart which helps him determine whether a given task is possible, taking into account weight, boom angle and height.

Failing this, most telehandlers utilize a computer which uses sensors to monitor the vehicle and will warn the operator and/or cut off further control input if the limits of the vehicle are exceeded.

Some machines are also equipped with outriggers at the front, similar to those installed on mobile cranes, which extend the lifting capability of the equipment while stationary.


For obvious reasons, it is very important to train operators to use equipment safely.

All too often we have complained in these pages that there is inadequate training for industrial equipment, but happily - in the UAE at least - forklift courses are plentiful, for the simple reason that the law of this country demands that you have to be able to operate a lift truck with competence in order to gain a heavy licence.

Used forklift checklist

Abdul Gaffar from Sharjah-based Al Mawrid Forklifts knows more than most about checking used forklifts. He has a simple guide for buying a good used truck.

1. The condition of the engine in an oil-burning lift is most important according to Gaffar. "Look for smoking from the engine and usual sounds coming from it" he said, pointing out that it was cold starting and operating under load that would reveal the true condition of the engine.

2. Hydraulic operation also needs checking carefully. Fortunately, this is simple, according to our man. "While the engine is idling, operate the hydraulic control. It should work at idle speed. If it dosen't then there is a problem"

3. The steering should also be checked for any signs of damage or abuse. Gaffar recommends turning the wheel gently to feel for imperfections; "With one finger turn it right and left."

4. Now to actually try the machine out. "Sit on the operator's seat and then put the lever forward and at idle speed it should start moving" advised Gaffar.

5. A simple test can be performed to make sure the truck has a bit of torque. Gaffar suggested; "Put it into reverse it should start moving. Put a wooden block in front and then put it in the forward gear and the truck should have the power to jump over.

6. Bent drivelines cost loads to fix. "Check the front and rear axle for general condition" our expert advises.

7. Obviously a lift truck is no use without a fork... and a damaged one is a sure sign that the truck had endured a hard life. Gaffar said; "Check around the fork for leaking and check the structure of the fork. It should not have been welded."


This is regardless of what category of equipment the operator will actually go on to drive. In Dubai, the current requirement is to have at least 40 lessons on Nissan or Mitsubishi rough-terrain forklifts, though the course is a little limited in scope as the focus is on loading capacity and controlling the machine, rather than collision avoidance.

Peter Richardson, General Manager, Emirates Driving Institute said in May, "We've looked quite closely at the level we are training at and whilst the delivery is good, it could be more specific in relation to thee dynamics and physics of the operation."

He added "There are a lot of health and safety issues that could and should be addressed, and we are very keen to bring them to the fore."


A viable alternative to a forklift could be a micro telescopic crane. One such company that sells these machines is Valla.

Carl Cooper, Importer, Valla said "These cranes are far more versatile than a small forklift on worksites. Our cranes are the only mini cranes that do not require outriggers allowing you to pick, carry and place heavy items. As they have a choice of wheeled or tracked chassis they are ideally suited to a variety of applications including machinery removal and relocations, general industrial lifting and construction site operations"

Another left-field choice for moving pallets of goods around is a walk-behind tracked forklift, nicknamed the 'Green Mammoth' by manufacturer Hinowa. A spokesperson for the firm said; "Since the traditional wheeled forklifts are only able to work on even, paved, concrete or asphalt surfaces it is easy to understand the big limits they have because they are only able to work in large squares."

Our new tracked forklift can access anywhere be it gravel, sandy, muddy, snowy or uneven ground and on downhill and sloping roads, with a load capacity of 2 tonnes in safety" he said.

So, if you need a lift in your day, now you know what to look for.

Anatomy of a Counterbalance forklift
The Counterweight is attached to the rear of the forklift truck frame. The purpose of the counterweight is to counterbalance the load being lifted. In an electric forklift the large lead-acid battery itself may serve as part of the counterweight.
  • he Overhead Guard - often referred to as a FOPS (for Falling Object Prevention System)  by posts at each corner of the cab that helps protect the operator from any falling objects. On some forklift trucks, the overhead guard is part of the frame assembly.
  •   The Power Source - may consist of an engine that can be powered by propane or CNG gas. More common in the very heavy sectors are machines that run on petrol or diesel fuel. Electric forklifts are powered by either a battery or fuel cells to provide power to electric motors.
  • Tilt Cylinders - are hydraulic cylinders that are mounted to the truck frame and the mast. The tilt cylinders pivot the mast to assist in engaging a load.
  •   The Mast - is the vertical assembly that does the work of raising and lowering the load. It is made up of interlocking rails that also provide lateral stability. The interlocking rails may either have rollers or bushings as guides. The mast is either operated by hydraulics, by one or more cylinders or it may be chain operated with a hydraulic motor providing motive power. It may be mounted to the front axle or the frame of the forklift.
  • The Carriage - is the component to which the forks or other attachments mount. It is mounted into and moves up and down the mast rails by means of chains or by being directly attached to the hydraulic cylinder. Like the mast, the carriage may have either rollers or bushings to guide it in the interlocking mast rails.
  • The Load Back Rest - is a rack-like extension that is either bolted or welded to the carriage in order to prevent the load from shifting backward when the carriage is lifted to full height.
  • The Forks are possibly the most important component of the forklift. Without quality forks, the lift is not able to transport cargo efficiently. The forks, also called blades or tines, vary greatly from model to model. Most forks are made of steel. Forks differ in the amount of weight they can handle. Weaker model forks can safely lift 900 pounds, while heavy-duty forks are capable of lifting several tons. It is important to note that a forklift's weight capacity depends on much more than just the forks. The engine size and the strength of the lifting system also play important roles in determining how much a forklift can safely carry.


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