July 26

Understanding Different Types of Forklifts and Their Applications

Last Updated on September 7, 2023

Forklifts, often referred to as lift trucks or forklift trucks, are essential pieces of equipment used in the construction, warehousing, and manufacturing industries. With so many reasons and ways to move heavy loads, the world of forklifts today is incredibly diverse, with different types designed to suit specific tasks and environments. Let’s explore some general and specific types of forklifts in operation today.

What are some general types of forklifts?

While every forklift is generally used for specific purposes and environments, every forklift is also grouped into larger categories called classifications. Each one is determined by key features and application. Whether you plan to work on behalf of a company or start your own, familiarizing yourself with these classifications is important because operators must be licensed to work a machine, no matter the particular category.

Forklift Classifications infographic

Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks

Forklifts in this classification are designed with either pneumatic or cushion tires. Machines with the former are intended for use outdoors in dry environments. Forklifts with cushion tires get used indoors on smooth surfaces. Both are implemented where air quality is an important factor while working. Both are also equipped with transistor motor controllers. Internally, they draw their power from industrial batteries.

Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks

As the name suggests, this classification of forklifts work where narrow aisles are frequent, such as high-capacity storage facilities. They are smaller by design and built to be speedier, but with ideal efficiency.

Class III: Electric Motor Hand or Hand-Rider Trucks

Class III machines are physically smaller and powered by batteries. They are operated by the user through a steering tiller.

Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (solid or cushion tires)

Class IV forklifts are very useful in low-clearance environments because their tires allow the machine to rest closer to the ground. Expect to find these machines operating best on smooth surfaces. Likewise, they are often used to carry pallets and similar loads into and out of storage. Rather than being powered by a battery, their energy source is fuel, whether gasoline, diesel, or liquefied petroleum gas.

Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (pneumatic tires)

Forklift trucks with pneumatic tires do not sit as low to the ground as the previous category. That being said, they still get used in a great variety of outdoor and indoor applications. Their power also comes from fuel, not batteries.

Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors

This type of forklift truck is equipped with either an electric or combustion fuel source, depending on the work environment. Outdoor use is powered by an internal combustion engine, and electrical is used indoors.

Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

The final classification of forklifts is built for use on rigorous or indoor surfaces. This typically includes lumber yards and construction sites. Large tires help with navigating and safely transporting materials from one point to another.

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Forklift Weight Limits

Operating your forklift and lifting heavy loads requires knowing the machine’s weight limits. Otherwise, you risk tipping the forklift over and causing injury to yourself and the products. The load capacity for your forklift is indicated by a data plate on the vehicle. Included on the plate is the owner’s name, tire size, load center, the lift capacity, and more. Always adhere to the indicated information.

The law in most places requires a plate to be present. If you’re interested in purchasing a forklift that doesn’t have one, have the owner cover the replacement t before buying. If you currently owner a forklift without a data plate, be sure to replace and avoid a citation.

What are some specific types of forklifts?

Counterbalance Forklifts

Among the different types of forklifts is use today, counterbalance trucks are among the most common. Their straightforward, compact design makes them suitable for a wide range of applications, especially in scenarios involving lifting and moving heavy loads. Counterbalance forklifts come with either an internal combustion engine or an electric motor. The noteworthy feature of these machines is the counterbalance weight design, which places a heavy weight in the truck’s rear to offset the load being lifted at the front.

There are variations in the counterbalance forklift family. For instance, the three-wheel counterbalance forklift is designed to operate in narrow aisles and tight spaces, making it a favorite for indoor warehouses and storage facilities.

Double-Deep Trucks

Double-deep trucks come equipped with a fork that is longer than other forklifts. The increased sized helps with moving more material at once.

Loader Forklifts

Loader forklifts, including popular models like the articulated forklift, are perfect for moving multiple loads quickly and efficiently. They are commonly seen in heavy-duty applications, such as unloading large shipments at docks or moving heavy items in a warehouse.

Narrow Aisle Forklifts

In many modern warehouses where space is at a premium, narrow aisle forklifts have become essential. These forklifts, which include reach forklift trucks and turret trucks, are designed to maneuver and lift loads in narrow spaces, allowing businesses to maximize storage capacity by reducing aisle widths.

Order Pickers

On the subject of warehousing, order pickers are indispensable. These specialized forklifts are designed for hand-picking items inside storage facilities, particularly from high storage racking.

Pallet Trucks and Pallet Jacks

Also known as hand pallet trucks or pedestrian operated pallet trucks, these are used to lift and transport pallets over short distances. Pallet jacks are generally operated in retail and warehousing industries. They are ideal for loading and unloading pallets from delivery trucks, and moving goods in storage facilities and supermarkets. Their compact size and low lifting capacity make them suitable for moving lighter loads in tight spaces.

Reach Trucks

Reach trucks, often worked as warehouse forklifts, are equipped with extended lift height and excellent maneuverability, making them ideal for lifting loads to high locations in narrow aisles.

Rough Terrain Forklifts

When it comes to outdoor operations, particularly on construction sites, rough terrain forklifts take center stage. These robust machines are designed with large pneumatic tires and a powerful internal combustion engine, often running on diesel fuel, to withstand and navigate challenging environments.

The distinguishing feature of rough terrain forklifts is their exceptional lift capacity, even when dealing with heavy loads. They are built to lift heavy loads on uneven ground, making them the go-to choice for various industries including forestry and agriculture.

Side Loader Forklifts

Side loader forklifts, or simply side loaders, offer unique advantages in handling long loads like timber, piping, or sheets of metal. Unlike traditional forklifts, the operator of a side loader sits perpendicular to the direction of travel. This allows the forklift to pick up long loads from the side, reducing the space required for maneuvering and enabling them to navigate narrow aisles effectively.

There’s also the multi-directional side loader, which can move forward, backward, and side-to-side. It provides even greater flexibility, particularly when handling long loads in confined spaces.

Stand-up Trucks

Another type are the stand-up trucks. In these, lift operators stand while driving, allowing for quick entry and exit. That maneuverability is a key advantage in customer order warehouses where operators frequently get on and off the truck.

Telescopic Handler Forklifts

Telescopic handler forklifts, often used in the agriculture and construction industries, are renowned for their extended reach capabilities. Of the different types of forklifts, this one features an extendable arm, making them ideal for applications that require height and forward reach. These machines are often equipped with various attachments like buckets, muck grabs, or pallet forks, increasing their versatility. In many respects, they function like a crane that has the maneuverability of a forklift.

Tow Tractors

Another example is the tow tractor, a type of industrial forklift mainly used for towing loads rather than lifting them. These are frequently found in airports and large manufacturing facilities where large quantities of materials need to be moved quickly.

Turret Trucks

Like order trucks, turret trucks are essential to warehouses. Turret trucks are similar to reach trucks too, as they are designed to operate in very narrow aisles and can pivot their forks 90 degrees on either side. This unique ability allows them to pick up and place pallets without having to turn the truck, making them an excellent choice for high-density storage places.

Walkie Stacker

Forklift operators look to the walkie stacker for working heavier loads without getting into the machine. Instead, operators stand on their own two feet and let the forklift do the work. Plus, the smaller size of the machine ensures a storage facility can have multiple without taking up too much space.


What different types of forklifts are there?

There are many types of forklifts, including counterbalance forklifts, warehouse forklifts, pallet trucks, rough terrain forklifts, and more.

What are the 5 names that a forklift is also known by?

A forklift is sometimes called a lift truck, forklift truck, fork truck, pallet truck, or jitney.

What are the most common types of forklifts?

The most common types of forklifts are counterbalance forklifts, warehouse forklifts, and pallet trucks.

Choosing a Forklift

You have to understand the different types of forklifts and their strengths if you ever want to find the right forklift for your job. Remember to consider the load size, the work environment, and any special requirements when choosing one. And if you’re looking for a great place to browse heavy equipment, or you’re ready to find affordable forklifts up for auction, we can help!


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