Considerations for Restarting Idled Material Handling Equipment Due to COVID Shutdowns

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses had to shut down their heavy equipment for extended periods of time. At this point, this equipment could have been sitting idly by for weeks or even more than a month. This means that starting them up for the first time may require some extra care and finesse. Similar to a car that might not start immediately after sitting in the garage for a month, heavy equipment is the same way.

Before Starting the Forklift

For those who work with a forklift, there are a few critical points to keep in mind. These include:

  • Visual Evaluation: Walk around the forklift first. Look for any signs of damage that might have developed while it was idle. Did anything strike the forklift during the idle time? Is there a leak present? Does the forklift look dirty? Be sure to look for signs of cracked hoses, gauges that might be off, or tires that could be flat.
  • Check Fluid Levels: This includes the oil, hydraulic fluid, coolant, and battery water level (if required).
  • Disinfect/Clean: Make sure to clean the forklift thoroughly and disinfect any parts of the forklift that are touched regularly.
  • OSHA: Make sure to complete the full OSHA forklift pre-operational inspection checklist.


Starting the Forklift

Plenty of people use electric forklifts as well. While you may find your forklift starts up ok, be sure to check the battery state of charge and for any error codes, address them and/or follow manufacturer instructions.

On the other hand, for internal combustion forklifts (that use petroleum), the most likely issue is going to be the battery (similar to a car that might have been idle for a while). If the battery wasn’t disconnected from the negative terminal, it likely discharged during this idle time and will have to be jumped.

In all cases, the most likely culprit for idle equipment not starting is the battery. Some of the factors that will influence the battery performance include:

  • The temperature and humidity of the environment.
  • The age of the battery.
  • How well the battery has been maintained.
  • Evaporation and sulfation—which is the buildup of lead sulfate crystals on the battery posts externally as well as the plates internally that lead to depletion.

In order to address these forklift battery issues appropriately, some of the issues to keep in mind include:

  • Check the battery for evaporation and provide it with water if low.
  • Equalize the charge to cycle the battery, which will level the cells and balance them.
  • Have any sulfation looked at by a professional.

This will place the lift truck or forklift battery in a position to run effectively.

After Running the Equipment

If the battery isn’t holding a charge, or a check engine light turns on, it is time to call a professional technician. This is especially important for batteries that are past due for regular maintenance. In this case, it is a good idea to reach out to Andersen Material Handling to learn more about batteries and heavy equipment maintenance following the COVID-19 shutdown.