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How to Drive a Sit-Down Forklift

A sit-down forklift fills a constant need to move equipment and materials that are too heavy for workers to move. Driving a forklift is in some ways similar to driving a car, but there are a number of safety concerns that go along with the operation.

How to Drive a Sit-Down Forklift

Forklifts are extremely top-heavy and are never to be driven on any uneven surface. Sharp turns executed at a high rate of speed are also very unsafe. Loads are always to be carried low to the ground, and a forklift is never to be driven with empty forks higher than 5 or 6 inches off the ground.

How to Drive a Sit-Down Forklift

  1. Perform a visual inspection before you take a seat on the forklift. Check the tires, and make sure no hydraulic fluid is leaking from any of the hoses that power the forks up and down. Check the oil and water, ensure that the horn is working.

  2. Open the valve on the propane tank behind the seat to ensure that there is fuel for the forklift to run on.

  3. Take a seat on the forklift and fasten your seat belt.

  4. Put the transmission in neutral and turn the ignition key, similar to an automobile, until the engine starts up. Make sure your forks are leveled off and close to the ground. Never travel with your forks more than 5-to-6 inches off the ground.

  5. Push in the clutch if it is a manual transmission, and put the transmission in "Forward."

  6. Push down on the gas pedal and the forklift will move forward in drive. Steer with the steering wheel the way you would a car, except be mindful that it is the rear wheels that turn and not the front wheels (see below). Always maintain a safe and slow creeping speed, leaving a wide berth for other machinery and materials. Give pedestrians the right-of-way.

  7. Tip

    Do not move onto soft and/or wet ground as forklifts will bog down and sink into mud or soft terrain and can turn over because they are so top-heavy. A forklift will also turn over if you execute too sharp a turn at a high rate of speed. Always carry your load low. This keeps your vision clearer and ensures that a heavy load will not cause the forklift to become unbalanced and tip over.


    Always keep your hands and your feet inside of the roll cage of the forklift. If you feel the forklift ever start to tip over, stay in the seat and ride the forklift over. Never let your hands or feet get outside of the cage. Likewise, do not try to jump from a tipping forklift as the danger of becoming crushed under a very heavy forklift is great. Most companies will insist that you take a 4-to-5-hour safety class, including time on the seat, and earn a forklift license before you are allowed to operate a forklift at a warehouse or on a construction site. When you steer, unlike in an auto, it is the rear wheels of the forklift that turn and not the front wheels. Therefore, always be aware that the back end of the forklift is going to swing out wide on any turn you make. When backing up, always sound your horn to warn those in the vicinity. Many forklifts have an automatic alarm that will sound when you travel in reverse. Always turn and visually check behind as you travel in reverse.