To Repair or Replace... One of Material Handling’s Great Questions

Jan 31, 2019
Blog: Repair or Replace

One of the great challenges when it comes to managing a forklift fleet is knowing when it is better to repair a piece of equipment versus replacing it.

Kenny Rogers coined it best in the song “The Gambler”. Sometimes, you need to know when to walk away and when to run!

The short answer to that question is, it depends. There are five key factors that should be considered when making this determination: Age, Environment, Application, Hours and Maintenance History. It is important to note that the information these factors show are best interpreted as a whole, as opposed to each specific element on its own. In short, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Forklift AgeAge: How old a forklift is needs to be considered.

As a general statement, as a piece of equipment ages the cost of ownership will increase. Warranties typically expire within the first three years of ownership and after the first five years of use it is not uncommon to start seeing major component failure/replacement. Additionally, the ongoing changes in technology can have an impact on the useful life of your equipment.

In the last ten years forklifts have evolved, now utilizing things like AC motors, regenerative breaking and lowering and other electronic advancements. Lastly, as a forklift ages, parts availability may become scarcer which will increase repair costs and increase downtime.

Work EnvironmentEnvironment: Based on what type of environment a forklift is required to work in does have a significant effect on its longevity.

Work areas with caustic or extreme environments will need to be cycled out more frequently and will be more expensive to repair. It goes without saying but there is a big difference between a ten-year-old forklift that is working in a freezer vs. a forklift that is used in a distribution building. Knowing what the life expectancy of equipment in your specific environment is necessary when asking the repair vs. replace question.

Application usageApplication: Arguably this category could fall under work environment, but the fundamental difference is the environment is “where” the truck is being used, whereas application is more the "how" the truck is being used.

For example, utilizing a pallet truck to load and unload tractor trailers filled with maximum capacity pallets would have more wear and tear occur than using a pallet truck to transport light loads from one side of a facility to another over smooth concrete floors.

Case in point, the truck transporting material from one side to the other will eventually accrue more hours of use than a truck that is used at a dock, but does that mean the higher hour transport truck should be repairs/replaced before a lower hour dock use truck? Not necessarily. This is where not only application, but hours of use come into play.

Hours of Forklift UseHours: Total hours of use on a forklift is like an odometer on a passenger car.

The question that may come up with a car with high miles would be “should I replace my transmission on my 200,000-mile car or is it time to buy a new one”. The same thing could be said about lift trucks. The problem is you must consider more than just the high miles, and this is where the application factor comes into play. Would you be using this car to tow heavy equipment for your small business or would this car be used to run errands around town? As mentioned earlier, the whole of the factors is greater than the individual parts.

Maintenance HistoryMaintenance History: The last factor that also needs to be considered is Total Maintenance History.

It is critical to be aware of the maintenance history when asking the repair vs. replace question and has to do with more than just maintenance cost. You need to be aware of what type of maintenance has been done. Has the truck been on an ongoing scheduled maintenance plan? Has this truck had a history of accidents? What major components have been repaired? Is there a history of intermittent issues? What have been the most common repairs? All these factors will help determine if it’s time to continue repairing or if it’s time for a replacement.

Making the decision to repair or replace is an important part of ensuring your forklift fleet is operating at optimum cost and performance. Understanding all the elements that both make and drive overall cost of ownership will ensure that when the time comes you are making the best decision. The key to doing this effectively is not to look at each factor individually but how all of them come together in your specific operation. Understanding what exactly those factors are and the relationship between each will ensure you are making the best decision when the time come to make the decision on whether to repair or replace.