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What Are the Different Types of Forklifts and Which One Should You Use?

12 April | 350 views

Forklifts are useful types of equipment that can benefit warehouses, construction sites, manufacturing centers, and more. Depending on which forklift models you pick, you can make work safer and more efficient for your team to lift and transport objects seamlessly. 


However, given the various sizes, models, and types of forklifts, selecting which is best for your needs can take time and effort. We offer rentals for different types of forklifts and are happy to assist you with your selection. We’ve outlined a comprehensive guide on the different forklifts that can help improve efficiency in your business. 


Explanation of Forklifts

Forklifts are motor-powered trucks that can lift heavy objects using a forked platform and transport them over short distances. Depending on your forklift model, an operator can sit or stand on the equipment to control the car’s movement or lift and lower the forked platform as needed. 


Forklifts are often used to carry pallets, which are durable wooden or plastic platforms that were designed to work with forklifts. Pallets often had several holes on its side that made it easy for the forked platform to slide into, securing the load as the forklift crane moved. However, some types of cargo could also be used without a forklift. 


In the past, warehouses, construction sites, and other industries had to unload and transport heavy loads manually. This could have been more efficient as it increased the risk of injuries among employees responsible for carrying large loads or handling complex ropes and pulley systems that were used before forklifts were available. With forklift trucks, many industries now the had the benefits of the following:


  • Time Efficiency: Operators could carry pallets carrying multiple items rather than moving materials one piece at a time. This would remove the need to go back and forth for numerous loads and reduce the number of people needed to complete the task.
  • Optimize Warehouse Space: Warehouses, manufacturers, and similar industrial sites could optimize floor space by easily carrying large loads onto higher storage facilities. Depending on the size of your compatible forklift types, you could also minimize the space required by the forklift to maneuver around your storage space.
  • Employee Safety: Employees can now alleviate complex cable systems or manual labor when carrying large loads. This reduces the risk of back pain, spinal injuries, or other life-threatening injuries. 

Parts of a Forklift

While forklift models can vary, most types generally have these parts:


  • Chassis: The forklift’s framework forms the machine’s base. You will find the counterweight, power source, operator compartment, wheels, and tires here. Depending on the model, the operators may need to sit or stand to operate it. 
  • Counterweight: The counterweight is always placed towards the back of the forklift. Its purpose is to counteract the weight of the load and ensure a balanced weight distribution throughout the truck. Without it, the forklift risks toppling forward over the increased weight at the front when carrying heavy loads. 

  • Power Source: Forklifts can be powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG), diesel, natural gas, fuel cells, or lead acid batteries. Consider which type of power source is most practical when choosing between forklift models.
  • Masts:  This holds the carriage connecting it to the forks. These lift and lower the loads by handling the height of the twin forks. Depending on their maximum height and weight capacity, forklifts can have single, two-stage, three-stage, and quad marts.
  • Carriage: These attach the forks to the mast and are responsible for the forklift’s lifting capacity. Carriages come in five classes, with a Class I carriage typically having a carriage height of 13 inches and a lifting capacity of fewer than 2,200 lbs or roughly one ton. In contrast, Class V carriages have a height of 28.66 inches and a lifting capacity of up to 24,198 lbs or approximately 12 tons.  

  • Forks: These are hooked onto the carriage and used to handle the loads. Its sizes typically range from 42 to 96 inches. Alternatively, operators can also use side shifters, fork positioners, paper roll clamps, single-doubles, or slip sheeters, depending on the load being handled. 


Types of Forklifts

There are different forklift models on the market for a variety of uses. These are the main types of forklifts:

Electric Forklifts

Best for: Warehouses, manufacturing centers, and other indoor industrial uses


Electric forklifts are exclusively powered by electricity. They have a rechargeable battery that can be fully charged within several hours. Because it doesn’t have a motor, these forklifts are often quieter, smaller, and more maneuverable. 


They make up the standard indoor warehouse forklift that holds up to 6,000 lbs and is best for palletized loads. Because of its size, it’s best for indoor environments and can easily navigate enclosed environments. 


Internal Combustion (IC) Engine Forklifts

Best for: Outdoor uses and projects that require more power to withstand harsh conditions, inclined ground, and unstable working conditions. 


Unlike the electric forklift, IC forklifts function similarly to vehicles requiring gasoline or diesel. Operators need to ensure their forklifts have combustible materials like propane, gas, or diesel to turn the motor on. 


One of the most significant advantages of using an IC engine forklift is its power. The motor’s internal combustion provides plenty of ability to carry heavy loads, which makes them ideal for large-scale projects. Because of the gas fumes, these are best used outdoors or in areas with good ventilation. 


Rough Terrain Forklifts

Best for: Outdoor projects or on sites with uneven and unstable terrain.


Also called a straight mast forklift, this model is designed for outdoor job sites and uneven or unstable ground areas. These trucks have durable oversized tires similar to tractors that feature more treading than the average forklift’s wheels. These features make it easier to navigate uneven surfaces by giving the wheels more friction and traction. 


Unlike other forklifts with powered motors, rough terrain forklifts are powered by diesel engines. They work best in construction sites, lumberyards, manufacturing centers, and other off-road areas where the terrain could pose a problem on-site. 


Telescopic Handlers

Best for: Construction sites and warehouses that require taller reach. 


Also known as the telescopic forklift, a reach forklift, or a telehandler, this model features a combination of a boom and extendable arm from a crane and the twin forks of the forklift at the arm. Depending on the model you rent, you could opt for smaller telehandlers with a 5K reach up to a telescopic handler with a 12K reach


If you’re choosing telescopic handlers, consider the maximum lift height and weight capacity your model needs to deliver. For instance, 5K telehandlers can reach a maximum lift height of 19 feet and up to 2.75 tons, while 12K models can reach up to 55 feet. 

Comparing Forklift Models


Electric Forklifts IC Engine Forklifts Rough Terrain Forklifts Telescopic Handlers
What Is It? Indoor forklifts that operate on electricity.  Forklifts that operate on propane, gas, or diesel.  A model designed specifically for uneven and unstable terrain that requires better traction.  Combines the boom and extendable arm of a crane and the carriage and attachment of a forklift. 
Best For Indoor use, especially for warehouses, retail stores, and palletized loads. Outdoor heavy-duty use for large loads.  Outdoor construction sites and areas with unstable ground Indoor and outdoor use that requires bringing loads to high locations. 
Mobility Small enough to maneuver across narrow spaces Best for outdoor use that requires more power Can withstand slanted, wet, and other unstable terrain factors Has the best lift reach, though its weight capacity decreases as the arm gets longer.
Indoor and Outdoor Use? Indoor only Outdoor or areas with good ventilation Best for outdoor use Best for outdoor use
Fuel Type Electricity and Rechargeable Batteries Propane, gas, or diesel Gas or diesel Diesel 
  • No fumes are produced, making it ideal for indoor use. 
  • Its size makes it easier to navigate. 
  • Quieter operations as it doesn’t have a motor.
  • More power for larger loads.
  • Instant refueling compared to electric charging.
  • Usually cheaper than their electric counterparts.
  • Pneumatic tractor tires provide better traction and friction for rugged terrain. 
  • Can safely operate while on slopes and in wet conditions. 
  • More ground clearance between the ground and the undercarriage, preventing damage to its components.
  • Ideal for uses that require the highest reach. 
  • Adjustable and versatile boom provides a broader reach 
  • Can be used for heavy-duty loads.
  • Less power, which makes it less durable for large loads. 
  • May need to be charged overnight to get a full charge. 
  • Less ideal for heavy-duty industrial uses.
  • Its emissions make it dangerous for indoor use. 
  • Fuel costs can accumulate and be less practical. 
  • Noisier operations due to the motor.
  • Doesn’t offer versatility outside of harsh terrain. 
  • More expensive than other outdoor forklifts.
  • More power and performance mean higher fuel usage, increasing operational costs.
  • Lifting capacity decreases as the increased reach can affect the unit’s center of gravity. 
  • Can be unstable depending on the reach, regardless of counterweights. 
  • Requires additional care as there’s a risk of tipping over. 


How to Choose a Forklift

It’s best to get a forklift that meets your needs. If it’s too small, you and your team may not be able to handle heavy loads efficiently. If it’s too big, you may incur unnecessary maintenance costs and experience maneuverability problems. Here are some factors to consider when choosing your forklift model:


  • Size: Standard forklifts measure four to seven feet wide and eight to ten feet long. Outdoor and heavy-duty forklifts are more extensive, while those designed for indoor use and narrow aisles are smaller. 
  • Lift Capacity: This is the weight a forklift can carry without the risk of tipping over. Even with a counterweight behind your unit, overloading your forklift can result in it falling or taking on damage.
  • Stability: Consider the weight and reach you need for your forklift. The telescopic handlers provide the best reach, but its lift capacity decreases as it goes higher. If it’s too high, your forklift’s center of gravity could become unstable and tip over.
  • Job Site: Are you going to use your forklift indoors or outdoors? Consider the area’s ventilation indoors, as gas-powered forklifts can release fumes that are dangerous to the operator and everyone else in the area. For outdoor use, consider the terrain type; slanted or uneven project sites will require heavy-duty rough terrain forklifts.
  • Space Height: Consider your forklift’s lift height with your space’s height. You don’t need a model that offers the maximum height if you’re in an indoor warehouse that only reaches half of that height.
  • Fuel Type: Electric forklifts are more expensive than gas-powered forklifts, but charging your forklift can be the more cost-effective solution. Alternatively, the cost of gas could also add up and become impractical, especially if you don’t need the extra power of gas-powered forklifts. 


Choose From Various Types of Forklifts At National Dispatching


Forklifts can significantly add to your project, warehouse operations, or other uses. Its features allow you to handle pallets and other large loads more efficiently, reduce on-site risks and injuries, and optimize limited space. Once you have a qualified operator to run the correct type of forklift your operations need, you can maximize your model. 


National Dispatching offers a variety of forklifts for rent that can meet your operational needs. You can take advantage of your available space by having the right equipment to get the job done efficiently for daily, weekly, and monthly rates. Our team is happy to accommodate your needs, whether for your warehouse, construction site, lumber mill, or any other industrial facility. 


If you’re unsure which forklift model is best for your operations, we can recommend the best unit from our catalog to boost your team’s performance and handle heavy loads. 


Browse our lineup of forklift models or contact the National Dispatching team today to source your forklifts and other heavy-duty equipment from a supplier you can trust. 

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