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Get to Know Your Forklift Better: Basic Terminology and Anatomy of Powered Industrial Trucks

Basic Terminology and Anatomy of Forklifts

How well do you know your forklift? It’s a question that’s worth asking – and answering honestly – because the better you know your equipment, the better you’ll become at operating it.

Think about a racecar driver or jockey. The best drivers and jockeys certainly know their “equipment,” in this case, cars and horses. They’re trained to detect the smallest problems, from a minor exhaust issue to a slight limp in a horse’s gait.

Well, forklift drivers aren’t as glamorous or well-known as Indy car racers or jockeys in the Kentucky Derby, but they still should know the basic parts and terminology of forklifts.

Once you understand what makes your forklift run efficiently, you’re better prepared to:

  • Suggest maintenance work
  • Talk intelligently with repair staff about your equipment
  • Detect minor issues that could become major problems
  • Perform basic maintenance yourself (always check with your supervisor, if you’re not an authorized maintenance technician)
  • Help order parts
  • And much more

Forklift maintenance is one of the most important parts of a safe, well-run workplace. Knowing terminology, parts, and basic operational facts will help you and your co-workers get the most out of your powered industrial trucks.


Basic Parts of a Forklift

  • Cab – ahh, home sweet home! The cab is where the operator makes all the magic happen. The cab contains the main forklift controls, including the steering wheel, lift controls, safety lights, and much more.
  • Overhead guard – this part is directly above the cab, and prevents injury from falling cargo, weather, and other distractions. If there are any issues with your overhead guard, get it fixed right away – it could be a life-saver!
  • Counterweight – for most forklifts, including counterbalance lifts, this is the part of the equipment that prevents tip-overs. When you’re carrying a super-heavy load, the counterweight keeps the forklift from falling over forwards.
  • Fuel tank – this obviously named element holds the fuel. But it might be going out of style, as electric forklifts are become more popular. Electric forklifts don’t require a fuel tank, which allows manufacturers more freedom in forklift design.
  • Forks – this part gives the forklift its name. The forks handle cargo, lift pallets, bring material down from shelves, and much more.
  • Wheels – rubber, composite material, and much more…a forklift’s tires are critical for handling, safe operation, speed maintenance, and much more.
  • Hydraulic lift cylinder – without this part, your lift would be useless. The hydraulic lift cylinder is responsible for the total vertical lift of your powered industrial truck.
  • Mast – working in tandem with the hydraulic lift cylinder, the mast moves the forks up and down.
  • Backrest extension – located between the mast and forks, this part helps stabilize pallets, boxes, and other cargo.


Understand these basic parts, and you’re well on your way to becoming a better forklift driver. To become the best, you need OSHA compliant training. has the courses you and your company needs to become compliant. Sign up today!

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