Don't Buy a Lift Truck

May 1, 2002
Lift trucks aren't a commodity. They are key pieces of equipment that become part of a plant or warehouse system.

What I mean is, you shouldn’t buy one the way you used to — like you were buying a commodity. As you’ll see in this month’s cover story, lift trucks can fill specialized niches and help solve difficult material handling problems.

You’re really investing in more than just equipment when you buy lift trucks today. Some of the people I interviewed for this month’s cover story (page 24) told me that attachments are often part of the purchase rather than a separate buy. That makes a lift truck a material handling system.

So does its integration with a warehouse management system via radio frequency communication.

So do operator training and maintenance records.

So does the lift truck’s role in automated storage and retrieval.

So do the design and condition of the facility in which you use the vehicle.

A system is defined as “an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole.” Complex is a good word for lift trucks. Not just because technology is making some of them as sophisticated as an upscale automobile, but because there are so many options from which to choose, and potential ramifications associated with those options.

For example, should you choose a battery- or internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle? Although both have attributes making them the clear choice for some applications, technologies like AC-power on the battery side and cleaner burning engines on the fuel side are making the two classes more competitive in a growing number of uses.

Where frequent battery changes, redundant equipment, higher maintenance and the need for more power made liquid propane gas the clear winner over battery a few years ago, AC is said to reduce maintenance and raise performance of electrics in many applications. However, where the need for clean air and quiet operation was paramount, electrics were the natural choice. But with the EPA’s clean-air requirements scheduled to kick in across the country by 2004, manufacturers of IC trucks are preparing their lines to meet those environmental standards.

More details to consider:

How will EPA’s pending engine testing requirements affect an IC truck’s price tag in the future?

How will the debate over fast-charging’s pluses and minuses affect progress in simplifying battery maintenance for owners of electrics?

Then there’s OSHA. Just when you thought you did everything necessary to comply with its Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training mandates, you’re still faced with finding the right way to secure your operators while they’re in the cab. Will body belts suffice in certain applications or do your operators need to get in and out of body harnesses? That decision is still up in the air (sorry, couldn’t resist — for an update on EPA and OSHA actions affecting lift truck OEMs and customers, see Lisa Harrington’s report on page 10 in this issue.)

Of course, who says you need to buy? Leasing is an ever more popular option. And with contract maintenance, you needn’t worry about a vehicle falling apart in mid-shift. But ...

Do you have all the information the lessor requires to make the cost of the lease even less of a burden? According to our report on leasing (page 33), you can save quite a bit of money if you know exactly the type and number of vehicles you need and when you’ll need them.

When it comes to lift truck systems, many factors constitute a good buy. Being an informed customer will help ensure you’re not saying goodbye to more money than necessary.

Tom Andel, chief editor, [email protected]

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