Forklifts are divided into seven (7) types according to OSHA based on their basic function, intended purpose, and individual characteristics. We also provided clear pictures below so that you can easily distinguish one from another. In this article, we made that easy for you to tell the class a certain truck belongs to.

#1 Electric Counterbalance Forklifts (Rider Trucks)

It has no exhaust and doesn’t emit an obnoxious smell. It is often used indoors. Electric forklift is a must-have if you work around in any types of food because the carbon that comes out of the exhaust doesn’t contaminate the food compare to internal combustion truck. This is much quieter also and you need that much ventilation in the operating area to expel the fumes.

types of forklifts

#2 Narrow Aisle Forklifts and Order Pickers

Most typical forklift trucks are too large to move around and stack a load in narrow aisles, to compensate with the problem, narrow aisle forklifts are used for small space workshop. They are common in a warehouse application. Reach trucks are also used to stack a load in a narrow aisle environment while order pickers are able to pick materials or goods at higher racks. If the operator is raised, he must use fall protection or arrest system to prevent falling.

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#3 Electric-Powered Hand and Rider Truck or Pallet Jacks

This only includes powered-pallet jacks, walk-behind jacks, and rider jacks. In this today’s warehouse application, electric-powered hand and rider truck and pallet jacks are vital in daily operation. This equipment provides us with a simple yet convenient method of moving materials around the workplace with comfort. While there are many types of powered pallet jacks, they have one thing in common.

This equipment is easy to maneuver and move around in a warehouse environment and very useful for stacking inventories at low to medium heights or loading/unloading transport vehicles. Make no mistake, they may seem easy to use but they can post serious risk if operated by an untrained worker or in an unsafe way. 

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#4 Solid Rubber Tire Internal Combustion Fuel Counterbalance Forklifts

These trucks are only to be driven on smooth surfaces and even floors usually asphalt or concrete. The tires don’t get easily punctured compare to pneumatic counterbalance saving you from a lot of problems because you don’t have to call someone to repair the flat. The tires are distinct to this type of truck. The tires are essentially the same as pneumatic tire truck but the solid tires not filled with air that depletes the cushioning during operation.

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#5 Pneumatic Tire Internal Combustion Fuel Counterbalance Forklifts

When we think of a forklift, the counterbalance is the one we instinctively think of. It has two protruding forks in the front that picks and lift loads and move them to the destination. This pneumatic tire internal combustion counterbalance forklift is either powered by either by diesel or propane. This type of forklifts can be used on unpaved surfaces but not on rough terrain because its tires provide better traction and cushion. This lift truck is versatile and flexible as it can be driven both indoor or outdoor.

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#6 Tow Vehicles or Electric and Internal Combustion Tractors

Such as the ones used in the airports to tow aircraft and luggage carts. These vehicles do not lift loads unlike the previous types mentioned above. You can transport multiple loads at the same time for maximum efficiency and can be moved with one taxi train.

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#7 Counterbalance Rough Terrain Forklifts

It is identical to counterbalance truck in terms of capability to handle and lift heavy loads but it has better ground clearance for off-road application. This type of forklifts is commonly used in the construction sites, farms, lumber mills and any areas where there are rough and uneven terrain.

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Importance of Understanding the Forklift Types

If you’re planning to work as a forklift operator and you want to distinguish the different types of forklifts so that you will know the training you need to go through. If you want to get an operator certificate, you need to know the classes of trucks you can operate.
It is also important to be able to classify the different types both by appearance and style because when searching for a job as an operator, it will let you know which type of truck you will be driving and if you have the certification on.

If you are someone who is planning to purchase a forklift truck, it is essential to know which type is required for the task at hand as they come in different varieties and many sizes and fulfill several purposes. While you may know that this equipment is primarily used in material handling and transporting, there are in fact several classes of forklifts ideal for your application.

What Forklift Type is Best for Your Business

There are different aspects to consider when choosing the right forklift truck for your business such as the kind of environment it will be operated in, the load capacities, the size of load it can handle, the power requirement it will run with are just some of the things to consider when buying one for your application. Choosing the right one for your business is important because this will make the difference between efficient operation or problematic work environment.

Here are some of the questions to keep in mind so that you can select the right forklift for the task at hand:

What capacity and lifting height the forklift you will be buying needs to be?

One of the things to consider when purchasing a lift truck is the load capacity it can handle and how high it is capable to lift materials. A pallet jack is great for lifting hundreds or even thousands of pounds of loads but it can’t lift the load at a higher level. This is where you need to forklift instead of a pallet jack. Forklifts vary in size and load and lifting capacity. A typical counterbalance lift truck can lift loads up to 6,000 pounds and can lift the load at 15 feet approximately. For maximum lifting and loading capability, an internal combustion engine forklift can deliver more power to complete the job more than the electric ones.

What type of workplace it will be driven in?

More than anything else, it is the workplace that determines what forklift you need for your business. If you are running a cold storage facility or where the operation is mostly indoor, you need an electric truck. If the indoor workplace is smooth and even, electric forklift with cushion tire is ideal for this application. If the operation is mostly outdoor, then diesel or gas-powered forklift with pneumatic tires is the one that will suit for the application.

How much space is there in the warehouse?

Another aspect to consider when choosing the right forklift is the amount of space the warehouse has to be able to move around. In tight and narrow aisles, there isn’t enough room for a standard-size truck to handle bulky loads. In this type of workplace, narrow aisle forklifts are ideal.

Know Whether You Need an Electric or a Combustion Engine Type of Forklift

The other aspect that separates the forklifts from each other is whether it is electric or internal combustion type. Each kind has its own advantage and disadvantage, one may work for your application, another may not. To understand the basic difference between the two, here are some distinctions.

Obviously, an electric forklift is used for indoor application because it doesn’t produce emission compared to diesel or propane-powered trucks. Electric forklifts have fewer maintenance problems but it comes with a hefty price. If you’re a buyer and you’re still not ready to spend that much money on an electric forklift, considering purchasing an internal combustion truck.

On the other hand, internal combustion forklifts are to easy to run, with just simple refueling, you can operate it in no time. But since this type of forklift does emit fumes and exhausts, make sure that area, where this truck will be operating, has enough ventilation to ensure the safety of the crew. Just remember, higher emission poses risk to the health and safety of the workers. The maintenance and the fuel costs to run this forklift are higher, but the initial purchasing cost is lower compared to electric.

It is all up to you what type of lift truck you want to purchase which is ideal for your application and what fits your budget.

To Conclude This

These types of forklifts are established based on their basic functions and safety characteristics. It is important for you to understand each specific type of truck you will be driving. With high-def pictures shown above, you can easily spot the differences from each other thus it can help you decide which type you want to have training on (if you’re an operator) or which one to get (if you plan to buy or rent) for the business.


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