A Guide to Forklift Controls: How to Operate a Forklift

August 06, 2021

An operator learning how to operate a forklift through forklift controls.

Having a good understanding of forklift controls is essential to a safe operation. They should be one of the very first things you learn in training. If you aren’t familiar with forklift controls, you probably won’t know how to operate a forklift safely. 

Many compare operating a forklift to driving a car. However, learning how to drive a forklift and how to drive a car are two completely different things. That’s why OSHA requires operators to familiarize themselves with forklift controls. It’s a part of training. For more information on OSHA’s forklift training requirements, visit 1910.178(1).

Certain forklift controls are universal. However, there are always going to be variations across different forklift types. A basic understanding of forklift controls will help you overcome these differences. 

Learn how to operate a forklift with this forklift controls guide! Then, find your next forklift with the help of Forklift Inventory.

Forklift Controls Guide


Learning how to drive a forklift is different to driving a car, but there are still similarities. Pedals are one such similarity.

There are three main forklift pedal types. They are the accelerator, brake, and clutch.

  • An accelerator pedal is like the gas pedal in a car. It "accelerates", or speeds up, the forklift's pace.  
  • A parking brake serves the same function in forklifts it does in cars. A parking brake keeps the forklift in place when no one's actively operating it. Make sure to engage the parking brake when stopped, especially if you're parked on an incline.
  • A clutch pedal allows the forklift to shift into higher forward gears. This pedal is most useful to outdoor forklifts for lifting purposes. Forklifts with internal combustion engines also usually have clutch pedals.

These three pedals are standard, meaning most forklifts have them. There are other types of pedals that aren't standard. This is because not all forklifts require them to function. A notable example of this is the inching pedal which is on some, but not all, models.

  • The inching pedal allows for more control in tight spaces. It slows down the forklift by disengaging the lift's transmission. This allows the forklift to maneuver with full engine power for lifting. The inching pedal makes for very little and slow movement. This is ideal for narrow aisles where you'll need to operate with greater precision.

Directional Controls

Just like tractors and lawnmowers, forklifts also come with directional controls. Directional controls help operators move forward or backward.

There are three forklift directional controls: park, drive, and reverse. They have three positions: forward, neutral, and reverse.

The placement of directional controls varies from forklift to forklift. They could be mounted to a lift's steering column or operated by foot.

We've covered accelerator pedals above. There are two that act as directional controls. The first pedal, when pushed, moves the forklift forward. The other moves the forklift in reverse. The operator shifts his foot from pedal to pedal to move the forklift in the desired direction.

Lifting Mechanisms

Lifting mechanisms play a key role in a forklift's functionality.

The lifting mechanisms both raise and lower forks to move loads. There are three basic control knobs. One allows you to lift the forks up or down as desired. The second tilts the forklift and its blades accordingly to secure a load. The third moves the load side to side. Some forklifts come with a fourth knob that controls fork width.

Make sure to look over these controls when learning how to operate a forklift. Also, check to see they work on your individual model. Otherwise, it'll be hazardous to operate.

Two operators in forklift training, learning how to drive a forklift with its forklift controls.

Forklift Inventory

Now that you know how to operate a forklift, it's time to find a forklift to operate. 

That's where Forklift Inventory comes in.

Finding the right equipment is important to the success of your business. Use Forklift Inventory to find the perfect fit. Compare top equipment in your area.

Our goal is to help you find the best forklift for the best price. 

We partner with various industry-leading dealers to collect a large inventory of equipment. Access pricing on each of these machines by filling out this short form

Enter your specifications to help us understand what you're looking for. Select required lift capacity, height, and max reach. This is a quick process that shouldn't take longer than a minute. 

From there, Forklift Inventory will send you free pricing on equipment. This will allow you to compare multiple prices in one spot! As soon as you find your best deal, take it! That’s all there is to it.

Competitive prices and high standards. That’s what you can expect from Forklift Inventory.

Use Forklift Inventory today for unmatched quality and instant savings. 

Access High-Quality Forklifts for Sale Now.

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