Forklift Tips: Prepping Your Heavy Equipment for Winter

Winter is coming — is your forklift ready? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t have a file marked “Heavy Equipment Maintenance Schedule” on your desk or a “Winter Forklift Maintenance” reminder on your calendar.

That’s OK. But whether you rely on a planned maintenance program to make sure your forklift or fleet is set for the season or you prefer to maintain the machinery in-house, conducting some essential pre-season maintenance is absolutely imperative to protect your operation from unexpected repair bills, downtime and related cold-weather headaches.

Here’s a checklist of some key areas to pay attention to:

The Battery

Test it with a load tester to make sure it’s close to maximum strength. Check and clean the cables too. Cold weather can be extremely rough on batteries. If the battery is borderline, it may be cheaper to deal with it proactively to avoid possible downtime when the mercury starts to plunge. Thorough maintenance of the battery is, of course, even more imperative for electric forklifts. Be aware that batteries may discharge more quickly in extra-cold temperatures.

Cooling System/Antifreeze

Use a hydrometer to test the antifreeze and make sure that the level is sufficient and that the coolant is in good condition. Inspect hoses and other components for leaks.


Check your tires — both for proper air pressure (for pneumatic tires) and to ensure that you have sufficient depth on your treads (do this for solid tires as well as air-filled).

Tuneup / General Maintenance

Getting a tuneup ahead of winter is generally recommended. The most important thing is to make sure that you are up to date on all of your scheduled service visits and inspections.


Making sure your lights are in good working order is especially important during wintertime, when the days are darker and visibility can be compromised by weather conditions. If your equipment uses halogen lighting it may be a good time to consider upgrading to LED, which lasts longer, shines brighter and is not affected by freezing temperatures or the vibrations created by your forklift during operation.


Keeping all of your moving parts well-lubricated is always essential, but especially so during winter when frigid temps can cause those joints to stiffen up.


For materials handling equipment that has an enclosed cab and windshield, be sure the heater, windshield wipers are functioning properly and latches are all lubricated.


Of course, pre-winter planning is not limited to the equipment itself. Especially for work that takes place outdoors, you’ve got to make sure your operators are equipped to do the job under more challenging conditions — for example, warm work clothes, layers to transition comfortably from indoor to outdoor duties, gloves to prevent numb fingers. (For obvious safety reasons, you never want to see an operator trying to warm his hands over the engine block!)

Additional Winter Forklift Tips

  • Keep trafficked areas clear: Remove any snow and ice or other hazards that could impede the safe operation of your equipment. For high-trafficked outdoor areas, you may need to spread some grit (sand/salt mix) to increase traction.
  • Take it a little slower: Though it may seem obvious to suggest that drivers reduce speeds in challenging conditions, many drivers are so skilled at operating their machines that they may underestimate the potential impact of icy or wet conditions.
  • Take a break: Winter work can be more fatiguing as the body generates extra energy to combat the cold. Operators should be encouraged to pay attention to signs that their energy or focus is flagging and, if so, take a quick breather and refuel with some carbs and calories.
  • Warm it up: Yes, there’s lots of work to be done, but it’s still essential to properly warm up your forklift during cold weather for the sake of your engine and hydraulic systems. Recommendations include letting the machine idle for a few minutes with no load, then operating each hydraulic function to help allow the oil to circulate.
  • Clean it up: After operation, be sure to thoroughly clean the forklift of any and all wintertime grime it has accumulated during its shift — sand, salt, snow, dirt and grit, etc.

Yes, most of this advice is common sense. But in addition to snow, winter also brings a flurry of additional activity that can distract your focus from proper planning for maintenance and safety needs.

At NITCO, our team of forklift experts have been helping customers operate at maximum efficiency, 12 months a year, since 1969. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to talk more about winter preparations, operator training, specialized equipment and more.



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