When to Repair Vs. Replace Your Forklift Battery

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When to Repair Vs. Replace Your Forklift Battery

When to Repair Vs. Replace Your Forklift Battery Nov. 11, 2023

When to Repair Vs. Replace Your Forklift Battery

A bad forklift battery slows down your operation and can damage your equipment. Learn how to identify a dead or dying forklift battery and when to repair versus replace it.

How Long Do Forklift Batteries Last?

Forklift batteries don’t last forever. A standard lead-acid forklift battery is good for about 1,500 charging cycles. For a single-shift operation, this works out to about a five-year lifespan (if the battery is properly maintained).

To maximize the life of your forklift battery:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s watering and maintenance recommendations
  • Have your forklift serviced regularly
  • Don’t re-charge the battery until it has discharged to 30 percent.

Batteries have a limited number of charging cycles, so you don’t want to waste them on lunch-hour top-offs. Opportunity charging forklift batteries is useful for many operations, but there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Signs Your Battery May Need to Be Replaced

When your forklift battery doesn’t hold a charge like it used to, that's a sign you may need to replace it soon. That said, if the battery is only a few years old/has fewer than 1,000 charging cycles, you may be able to repair rather than replace it.

Here are few more signs your forklift battery is going bad:

  • Corrosion on the battery case
  • Spilled acid on the exterior
  • A rotten egg smell
  • Smoke
  • Corroded or damaged terminals
  • Dim or flickering displays
  • Poor response time

Sometimes It’s An Easy Fix...
Slow performance and dim displays might be caused by a loose connection. Cables can come loose, wear out, or aren't reconnected properly after charging. Have an experienced operator with proper training inspect the connections and check for signs of corrosion or wear. They should also clean the connection area(s) properly before reattaching any loose cables. 

Sometimes You Need a Professional
If your battery emits smoke at any point, power down the forklift or charging equipment immediately. A smoking battery can catch fire or explode. 

If the operator finds corroded or damaged terminals, excessive sulfation or acid leakage, have the battery inspected by a professional. Excessive sulfation and acid leakage are typically caused by underwatering (sulfation) and overwatering (acid leakage). In either case, the battery will be covered in a hazardous substance. Do not allow employees to handle the battery without proper training and PPE. Call a professional to evaluate whether your forklift battery is still safe to use (after some cleanup), or if it should be sent back to the manufacturer.

Forklift Battery Repair in Seattle, the Tri-Cities, Wenatchee and Yakima

If you think you have a bad battery, the first step is to call an experienced professional. You don’t want a weak or unstable battery causing expensive damage to your forklift’s internal systems.

The forklift battery repair experts at Mid Columbia Forklift and MidCo Material Handling can help you safely determine what’s wrong with your forklift battery and make an informed decision whether to repair or replace it.

Some batteries can be reconditioned instead of replaced. Our factory-trained battery repair technicians can also conduct voltage tests and evaluate the specific gravity of each cell. 

If you run a multi-shift operation or use your forklifts continuously throughout the day, a lithium-ion or thin-plate battery may be a cost-effective alternative to standard lead-acid forklift batteries. Lithium-ion forklift batteries don’t require maintenance or watering and last 2-4 times longer than lead-acid batteries. Thin plate batteries are a lower-cost alternative to lithium-ion and designed for opportunity charging. 

Questions About Forklift Batteries? We Have Answers
Mid Columbia Forklift and MidCo Material Handling has been helping customers in the greater Seattle area, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee and Yakima since 1978. We're happy to answer any questions you have about battery maintenance, inspection or repair.

Contact us online or by phone:
Auburn 253-854-5438
Pasco 509-547-7413
Wenatchee 509-663-9009
Yakima 509-457-5137

Further Reading
Guide to Forklift Battery Types 
What We Need to Know When You Call for Forklift Service  
What is Opportunity Charging?

How Many Years Does A Forklift Battery Last?

If you depend on electric forklifts to run your operation, you know the significance of making a wise investment in the right battery.

Batteries that power electric forklifts can be a considerable expense, especially if you’re purchasing batteries for multiple forklifts. 

One of the first questions you’re likely to ask about a forklift battery: How long will this battery last? 

Depending on the type of battery you purchase, there are general estimations available. However, a lot of factors play a significant role in how many years a forklift battery will power your equipment, including:

  • Battery type
  • Usage
  • Maintenance

Once you explore how these factors play a role in a battery’s lifespan, you can better determine what the true answer is to the question of how long a forklift battery lasts.

 

Battery Types

 

Electric forklifts generally are powered by one of two different types of batteries:

  • Lead-acid
  • Lithium-ion

The technology between the two differs greatly, and therefore uniquely impacts forklift efficiency and battery lifespan. 

Lead-acid batteries are filled with electrolyte (sulfuric acid and water) and generate electricity through a chemical reaction between lead plates and sulfuric acid. The technology has been used for decades as the standard method for powering forklifts. 

Heavier in size, lead-acid batteries can be especially problematic when they must be removed for charging and storage. Lead-acid batteries also require regular refilling with water, or the chemical process will degrade and the battery will suffer an early failure.

Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, feature newer technology. They are more compact and energy dense than lead-acid, which allows them to be more efficient. Unlike lead acid, the cells are sealed shut, requiring no water maintenance. This type of battery can have many different chemistries, though one of the most popular for the material handling industry is Lithium Iron Phosphate.

 

Usage

 

If electric forklift batteries are well maintained, both lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries deliver average cycle counts that can help you gauge how many years they will last based on your operation. 

  • Lead-acid batteries generally last between 1,000 and 1,500 cycles.
  • Lithium-ion batteries generally last between 2,000 and 3,000 cycles.

It’s important to note that lead-acid batteries take about 8 hours to charge, and then require another 8 hours for a cooling period. Therefore, one lead-acid battery can only power a forklift for one shift. If your business is a multi-shift operation, you will need two or three lead-acid batteries per one forklift. 

Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, only take 1 to 2 hours to charge and do not require a cooling down period. Opportunity charging can take place in between shifts or during lunch breaks, for example. Therefore, one lithium-ion battery can power one forklift for all three shifts. 

So, if your business only has one shift in which a forklift is used, a lead-acid battery that is well maintained should last around 5 years (1,500 cycles over 300 workdays per year). A lithium-ion battery, in comparison, should last 10 years or more (3,000 cycles over 300 work days per year).* 

*Numbers are based on an average 6-day operational work week, with 12 days non-operational for holidays or plant shutdowns.

Lithium-ion batteries will last fewer years than the scenario described above if they are used during multi-shift operations since crews will reach cycle count maximums more quickly. 

However, lithium-ion batteries are still the most cost-efficient option. Due to charging and cooling requirements, multi-shift operations that use lead-acid batteries require multiple batteries to power their forklifts. This incurs significantly higher labor and infrastructure costs - negating the benefit of lead-acid’s lower initial purchase price. 

 

Maintenance

 

Proper care plays an important role in determining how many years your forklift battery will last. 

Lead-acid batteries require more maintenance because they be watered in order to prevent degradation of the chemical process. Battery watering procedures include:

  • Only topping off with water when fully charged and cooled down
  • Refilling the water often enough so that the top of the lead plates is never exposed (about every 10 charge cycles)
  • Using water between 5 and 7 on the pH scale
  • Leaving enough space for the liquids inside to expand, which occurs when the battery is in use

Temperature control is also very important with lead-acid batteries, which heat up while they charge. This is an important safety consideration for your workers, since lead-acid batteries can leak explosive gas after reaching their peak charge. That’s why a separate battery charging station is necessary, so temperatures can be carefully managed. 

Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, don’t require as much maintenance. In fact, lithium-ion battery packs include a battery regulator, which ensures:

  • The battery cells remain balanced, since they may have different capacities or state of charge levels.
  • Discharging stops when the cell that is experiencing the lowest capacity empties.
  • The weakest or smallest cell will not be overcharged. 

It’s essential to follow manufacturer recommendations to ensure your battery performs at its maximum potential. Not following proper safety protocols or keeping up with routine maintenance can significantly decrease the lifespan of a battery.

For more information on getting the most out of your battery, our article, 5 Steps to Maximize Lithium-Ion Battery Life further outlines easy maintenance tips for prolonging your battery’s lifespan.

 

Bottom Line

 

It’s a logical question to ask anytime you’re making a significant purchase: How long will it last? 

But, when it comes to your battery’s lifespan, many factors come into play, from the type of battery to whether proper maintenance is performed. 

Lithium-ion batteries, in particular, are transforming the material handling industry because of their increased efficiency and low maintenance. No matter which type you use in your fleet, however, it’s critical to properly charge, store and maintain your forklift batteries to maximize their lifespan - and value. 

 

How Long Should a Forklift Battery Last?

“How long should a forklift battery last?” is sadly a question that people often only ask once the battery stops working. Without knowing the expectations of your business’s models and how to care for them properly, batteries will seem to die at unpredictable times. To ensure your warehouse always has the power it needs, you should know what your battery can handle and what to do when it finally ceases to function.

The Average Lifespan of Forklift Batteries

Every battery, regardless of the type or make, comes with an expected lifespan. Ultimately, a battery might not last as long as this estimate, or it may last longer, depending on how you handle it and the workload it must deal with regularly. To determine how long a forklift battery should last, first check the information the manufacturer provides. For the most part, the average lifespan of this type of battery is about five years. As noted, though, this period will vary dramatically for operations with heavier or lighter work expectations.

Reviving Batteries With Refurbishing

Once a battery finally dies, it’s not entirely junk from that instant onward. It’s possible to revive batteries through refurbishing techniques. However, forklift batteries differ from the average lead-acid batteries in cars and other large machines.

To bring one back, professionals must carefully balance the water to acid ratio, among other details. But on the other hand, refurbished batteries are just as reliable as new ones. Furthermore, refurbished electric forklift batteries for sale often come at a better bargain and result in less environmental pollution.

Maintaining Batteries for Optimal Lifespans

Treating a battery right will ensure a battery will reach its optimal lifespan, and refurbishing can extend its use even further. Improper care can and will drain your battery more rapidly and cause unnecessary damage. It may also result in premature failure. It’s necessary to store batteries in a cool and dry place.

Avoid overcharging and allow the batteries to drain through use before recharging them naturally. Forklift batteries require you to maintain their water levels. So, it’s beneficial to create a routine around checking and performing this task. Finally, it helps to keep a close watch for leaks and signs of corrosion. Regularly clean and maintain terminals of corrosion to ensure a consistent connection.

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