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Blog posts from Marshall Cromer, "The Forklift Boss". Follow us for information on forklift safety, strategic advice from our team's service experts, and upcoming technologies shaping the future of material handling!

Jun 29, 2021

What to Do if a Forklift Overheats

Summer's here. Heat waves have already hit the West Coast. We overheat, our cars overheat...and so do our forklifts.

An overheated forklift is a serious problem. Not only is it a safety risk, overheating takes a forklift out of circulation, hurting everyone's productivity for the day (or longer).

None of us want that to happen. So let's work on stopping forklifts from overheating before they do.

Overheating Forklifts

Why a Forklift Overheats

Forklifts can overheat for one of several reasons. The most common factors are:

  • Low or no coolant. Obvious, but it's often overlooked.
  • Debris in the radiator. Paper clumps, Styrofoam, or other material sucked up into the forklift while operating.
  • Clogged filters.
  • Clogged radiator hoses.
  • Broken fan blades.
  • Loose fan belts.
  • The forklift is overworked. Operators driving too fast, carrying too-heavy loads, or both.

What about electrics? An electric battery will warm up from normal use. No surprise there. However, it can still overheat if used outdoors for too long, it's over-stressed with heavy loads, or the forklift's fan has broken.

Signs of Overheating

If you see/feel one or more of these signs, your forklift's about to overheat!

  1. Steam coming from the engine compartment
  2. Console is warm to the touch
  3. Cabin airflow turns warm
  4. Temperature gauge moves into the 'red zone'
  5. Backfire occurs, jolting the forklift
  6. Sudden coolant leak
  7. Forklift "growls" – suddenly develops loud noises during normal operation

Pull the forklift into a safe spot off the facility floor. Let it rest for at least 4 hours to cool off. Then conduct a maintenance check, like you would at close of shift.

Pay special attention to three things:

  1. Coolant level – Is it full, low, or empty?
  2. Hoses – All in place? Any leaks?
  3. Fan belts – Are they intact? Taut?

Most of the time, one of these is responsible for a forklift overheating.

If those all look OK, check the forklift's workload for the day. Has it carried loads exceeding its max capacity? Operators may have overworked it, causing it to heat up too fast.

Cooling an Overheated Forklift

If your forklift does overheat, don’t worry. It doesn't mean the forklift's useless. You can still cool it down and avoid it happening again in the future.

Number one: DO NOT spray the forklift down with water! You risk severe engine damage, possibly even a fire.

Instead, park the forklift someplace cool and let it rest for 24 hours. Inside an air-conditioned facility, under shade next to a building…wherever you can find a consistently cooler environment.

If possible, one good place would be opposite from a freezer door.

Make sure no one touches the forklift engine for at least 4 hours! The components need to cool. Leave it for the full 24 hours if you can.

Once the forklift has cooled down, check it over thoroughly. Perform any maintenance needed on its fans, coolant, etc. before putting it back into rotation.

Prevent Overheating Before it Happens

Even better than cooling an overheated forklift, would be to prevent it from overheating in the first place.

Aside from avoiding too much exposure to summer heat—not always possible, I know—most of the maintenance items you do already will also prevent forklift overheating.

  • Keep the facility clean. Dust and debris, when left on the floor, get sucked up into forklift engines and clog its airflow.
  • Service forklifts regularly. Does more than anything else to keep forklifts from overheating.
  • Check in with workers more frequently in hot weather—at least once a shift, if not more. It's good for monitoring the forklift, and workers' health to boot.

Good maintenance and a little watchfulness...that's really all it takes. Stay cool this summer!

Until next month!

Marshall Cromer, The Forklift Boss

Cromer Material Handling


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