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The Parts of a Forklift & Their Functions

The Parts of a Forklift & Their Functions

While you may encounter many different types of forklifts, from electric to rough terrain, most have similar forklift components. In this post, we go over the primary parts of a forklift and how they support its function.

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The Chassis Components

The chassis of a forklift is the truck frame. Its components include the engine or battery, operator cab, counterweight, and wheels.

the chassis components of a forklift

Operator Cab

The operator cab houses the forklift operator while they’re using the vehicle. Depending on the forklift, the operator either sits or stands. The cab contains all the operator’s controls, the lights, the horn, and the steering wheel.

Overhead Guard

The overhead guard, also known as the falling object protective structure (FOPS), is a safety device fitted to the vehicle. It protects the forklift operator from any falling objects or debris that comes from overhead.


Before attempting to operate the vehicle, it’s important for the forklift operator to be aware of and understand the specific manual for the machine they’re operating. Depending on the type of forklift it is, the controls can be located in different places or may function differently.

Here are controls common to most forklifts:

  • Forward and reverse: This control lets the operator move the vehicle forward or in reverse.
  • Hydraulic lift: This typically consists of three controls that let the operator move the forks up and down, tilt the forks, and move them side to side.
  • Accelerator and brake: These pedals let the operator accelerate and brake while moving the vehicle.
  • Parking brake: This brake lets operators park the forklift. If they’re parking on an incline, they should also block the forklift tires to ensure the vehicle stays in place.


The nameplate, also called the data or capacity plate, contains information like the capacity, truck model, serial number, weight, mast height, and load center. A forklift operator should know how to read it in order to understand the capabilities of the vehicle they’re working with and if it’s suitable for the job.

Engine or Battery Compartment

Forklifts are powered by either an engine or a battery. A combustion engine uses propane, gasoline, or diesel, while a battery can be recharged with electricity. The power source is typically located under the operator’s seat.


The counterweight on a forklift helps the vehicle stay balanced and stable. When the forks on a forklift move, the distribution of weight changes. A counterweight placed at the back of the lift helps keep it from tipping.


Two common types of forklift tires are pneumatic tires and cushion tires. The type of tires you need depends on where you’re using the forklift and what you need it for. If you’re working outdoors, you may need a forklift with air-filled pneumatic tires that provide superior traction. If you’re working indoors on a flat surface like concrete or asphalt, rubber cushion tires may be a better fit.

Drive Axle

The drive axle is where the drive wheels are located, usually at the front of the forklift. While the drive axle isn’t responsible for steering the forklift, it provides the power that moves the truck forward and back.

Steer Axle

Similarly, the steer axle is located by the back wheels, the wheels that help steer the forklift. This axle allows the forklift to move left and right.

The Mast Components

The forklift mast and its components are what give the forklift the ability to lift, lower, raise, and tilt loads.

the mast components of a forklift


A forklift mast allows the machine to raise and lower loads. Depending on what height you need, there are multiple types of forklift masts to choose from. One factor to consider is the free lift capacity, or how high the forks on a forklift are able to raise without the mast height changing.

types of forklift masts

Here are some of the most common types of masts.

  • Simplex: The simplex, or single-stage, mast has a limited free lift of four to six feet because it uses only one channel. Since it can’t extend without the mast height changing, it typically isn’t used in jobs where overhead clearance is a concern.
  • Duplex: The duplex, or two-stage, mast has more free lift, about 50 to 60 inches, using a hydraulic cylinder at the center to push loads upward. It’s often used for stacking in areas with limited overhead.
  • Triplex: The triplex, or three-stage, mast is the most common and versatile mast option. Its outer stage doesn’t move. Instead, it uses two sliding rails and a stationary rail to provide greater heights above its free lift of 50 to 60”.
  • Quad: The quad, or four-stage, mast has the highest reach capacity of all, but its mechanism can limit the driver’s visibility. It usually requires special training to operate.

Lift Cylinder

The lift cylinder powers the vertical movement of the mast, allowing the carriage and forks to move up and down. This is what gives the forklift the power to lift loads.

Load Backrest

The load backrest is connected to the carriage. It handles small objects or ones that don’t require bands to keep the objects on the forklift, helping distribute weight and preventing the load from injuring the operator.


The forklift forks give this machine its name. Forks connect to the carriage of the vehicle and are responsible for picking up and transporting loads.


The carriage is the platform at the front of the mast where forks or other attachments are mounted. There are five carriage classes, determined by the forklift’s carrying capacity and load center:

  • Class 1:
    • Carriage height: 13”
    • Lifting capacity: less than 2,200 lbs
  • Class 2:
    • Carriage height: 16”
    • Lifting capacity: 2,200 lbs to 5,500 lbs
  • Class 3:
    • Carriage height: 20”
    • Lifting capacity: 5,500 lbs to 10,998 lbs
  • Class 4:
    • Carriage height: 25”
    • Lifting capacity: 11,000 lbs to 17,600 lbs
  • Class 5:
    • Carriage height: 28.66”
    • Lifting capacity: 17,602 lbs to 24,198 lbs

types of carriage classes

Different Types of Forklifts

Depending on the job and your height and weight needs, there are many different types of forklifts you can use. BigRentz offers a large variety of different types of forklifts to choose from, so you’re always covered no matter what your job is. Here are some of the most common forklift types and how they’re used.

  • Warehouse forklift: Designed for an indoor storage setting, like a warehouse or factory, the warehouse forklift is made to lift smaller, palletized loads. It uses cushioned tires, ideal for use on flat, smooth surfaces like concrete, and a smaller turning radius that helps it navigate tight spaces easily.
  • Side loader: A side loader is designed to handle long loads by loading from the side rather than the front. The operator cab is located on one side with the bed or platform next to it, giving it the capacity to carry long or oddly shaped objects.
  • Counterbalance forklift: A counterbalance forklift uses a weight at the rear of the truck to off-set the weight of what will be loaded in front. This allows them to lift large and heavy loads safely. They’re often used in warehouse and distribution applications.
  • Telehandler: A telehandler, or telescopic handler, is designed for lighter loads and shorter elevations. Though it has a lighter carrying capacity of around 5,000 lbs, its arm is extensible and can reach a higher lift height. It can be used both indoors and outdoors.
  • Heavy-duty forklift: A heavy-duty forklift is designed for transporting very heavy loads. Pneumatic tires give it the traction and grip to not only stay stable but also navigate different types of terrain. It’s mainly used in industrial applications.
  • Rough-terrain forklift: A rough-terrain forklift is mostly designed for construction work. Its specially designed tires keep the vehicle stable over difficult terrains, like loose ground and rocky areas.
  • Reach fork truck: A reach fork truck is used mostly in narrow aisle applications, like in warehouses or distribution centers. Its mechanism has the fork extend horizontally, allowing it to reach places a typical forklift wouldn’t be able to go.

Forklift Attachments to Choose From

Though forklifts are versatile, some jobs require more specialized equipment. Here are common forklift attachments for when you need something more than just the fork.

  • Fork extensions: Fork extensions increase your carrying ability, enabling you to take on larger loads. They often come with restraining straps to keep objects in place and protect against slipping.
  • Fork positioners: Fork positioners allow you to move your forks without having to exit the cab and move them manually. They can increase or change the width and spacing of your forks to accommodate loads of various sizes.
  • Multiple load handlers: Multiple load handlers add multiple forks to your machine, allowing you to safely carry different loads side by side at the same time.
  • Push-pull clamp: The push-pull clamp extends forward and clamps around an object, allowing you to carry the load on a slip sheet without needing a pallet.
  • Rollerforks: Rollerforks also reduce the need for pallets, using rollers moving in opposite directions to keep the load in place. They allow you to load and unload more easily.
  • Rotators: Rotators allow you to rotate your forks to one side in a tipping motion, so you can tip or pour out the contents of what you’re carrying. They’re typically used in the food and beverage and agricultural industries.
  • Side shifters: Side shift levers allow you to move the load you’re carrying from side to side without the need to manually reposition. They’re especially useful in helping you navigate tight quarters.






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Forklift Inspection Safety Measures

Forklifts need to be checked daily before use to ensure they’re safe. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) offers guidelines for safety for forklifts, and a typical forklift safety inspection should cover the following:

  • Checking the fluid levels (oil, hydraulic fluid, and water)
  • Testing the brakes, horn, lights, and steering wheel
  • Evaluating the machine for any damage, including cracks, leaks, or distortion

Be sure that only a certified forklift operator is operating the forklift and that they take safety precautions, like wearing a hard hat and seat belt and keeping their hands and feet inside the vehicle while it’s running.

No matter what the job is, BigRentz has you covered. With a wide variety of forklifts to choose from, we’re here to help you with all your renting needs for your next project.

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