How to Troubleshoot Forklift Problems

Tom Raley

Forklifts are designed to handle large amounts of cargo in a safe and efficient manner. They are also designed to be very rugged and dependable pieces of equipment. Forklift down time can cripple the movement of goods and products, cause delays and threaten shipping schedules and profit margins.

A sit-down forklift may experience problems that you need to troubleshoot.

The rapid identification of problems and the ability to affect quick repairs is critical to the overall efficiency of the machine and, by extension, the production facility/warehouse.

  1. Put on personal protective equipment (PPE) before beginning work on the forklift. At a minimum this should include eye protection in the form of goggles, safety glasses, or a full face shield, as well as leather gloves. If the machine has been in use, many components will be very hot and caution should be taken.

  2. Check the hydraulic fluid levels if the mast will not raise, raises slowly, or the other elements of the mast operation--such as tilt and shift--are not working properly. Low levels of hydraulic fluid can limit the machine's ability to perform. If the fluid levels are correct, check the filters on the hydraulic pump and lines. It is possible dirt or debris has clogged the filter, preventing the proper flow of fluid. Check the hydraulic pump itself. This will, in most cases, require a technician to properly test.

  3. Inspect the wheel/tires if the machine is not steering properly, or is riding rough. Forklift tires are solid and pressed onto the rims. If the tires begin to crack or have large chunks missing, the result will be a rough ride and reduced control. It is also possible for the tires to separate from the wheels causing a potentially dangerous situation. Other steering problems can be the result of low power steering fluid, worn gears, or worn tie rods.

  4. Check all filters on the forklift, including the oil and air filter, if the machine is running rough. If it won't start at all, check the battery to be certain it has an adequate charge, then check the starter. Check oil and coolant levels to ensure they are at the proper level to allow the machine to operate as intended. Low coolant levels can result in overheating and, in some cases, will prevent the forklift from running or starting.