Electric Vs Gas-Fueled Forklifts: Which Saves You the Most Money?

January 16, 2019

There are two main power sources for forklift motive power equipment: electric and gas. Electric forklifts are powered by an industrial battery, whereas gas-fueled forklifts run using internal combustion engines (ICE), which can use different types of gasoline. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) list of usable gasoline types are:

  • Liquid petroleum gas (LPG);
  • Compressed natural gas (CNG);
  • Gasoline; and
  • Diesel.

Forklifts are the powerhouse of motive power equipment. Their usefulness and projected lifespan are extremely important for efficient warehouse operations — which also means the overall maintenance costs for forklifts can be expensive.

Whether you choose to use a gas forklift or an electric forklift, there are certain benefits to each that can help save money and stay within your set warehouse budget. Here are some comparisons into the maintenance services and operational efficiency of electric and gas-fueled forklift engines.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Gas-Fueled Forklifts

Before discussing the advantages of using gas-fueled forklifts, it’s important to note that gasoline and diesel forklifts have slight differences, though their operational functions are inherently similar. To avoid confusion, the comparisons made will only be between using a gas-powered or electric forklift.

Gas-fueled forklifts are the most widely used forklifts. Their initial pricing and performance power make them an extremely useful tool for daily warehouse operations. When comparing the overall efficiency of gas forklifts to electric forklifts, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Pricing: A standard 5,000-pound capacity forklift can cost between $15,000 to $30,000. Gas forklifts upfront costs are far less expensive than electric forklifts, and replacement parts are readily available at decent prices.
  • Versatility: Gas-fueled forklifts are sturdy and rugged, making them perfect for outdoor use and for lifting heavier warehouse assets. Their structural integrity allows them to withstand uneven terrain and harsh weather conditions. They are highly maneuverable and can travel at high speeds and acceleration levels that outperform an electric forklift. Also, because they don’t need charging, gas forklifts can operate day or night, and refueling them is quick and easy.

Unfortunately, the negative impacts of gas forklifts greatly outweigh the positives:

  • Gas costs: Crude oil prices make up 71% of the price of gasoline, and oil continues to steadily rise in price. According to an annual report from Statista, oil prices per barrel averaged $71 in 2018 in the United States. A standard gas forklift can only operate up to eight hours, so constantly needing to purchase fuel can quickly increase a warehouse’s annual budget. Plus, most gas forklifts are made without a built-in gas gauge, making it harder to monitor tank levels for refueling.
  • Out-door only use: In addition to being noisy, gas forklifts are unsafe to use indoors due to the high levels of carbon monoxide created from the exhaust fumes. Gas forklift maintenance is also much more expensive than an electric forklift.
  • Parts replacement costs: The internal combustion engine (ICE) has numerous parts that need replacing over time, and the variety of parts and liquids needed to operate a forklift’s ICE also increase the risk of breakdowns, leaks, and spills. Regular maintenance will be necessary to keep a gas-fueled forklift in good working condition, so a warehouse trying to reduce costs will find it almost impossible to do so with a gas-fueled forklift.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using an Electric Forklift

While it may be apparently obvious that electric forklifts are superior motive power equipment, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of their operational functions is necessary to see the whole perspective.

Electric forklifts are the most environment-friendly option since they operate on an industrial battery. The lack of carbon monoxide and other chemical emissions offers safer working conditions for an employee’s health. Electric forklifts’ operational functions have a number of positive points, including:

  • A long battery lifespan: An electric forklifts battery life should last up to five years as long as the proper battery charging practices are followed.
  • Low maintenance costs: Because electric forklifts operate solely on an industrial battery, they have few to no extra costs for part replacements. While you may need to replace a battery after several years, used and rented forklift batteries are an affordable option to reduce costs and, for some, the cost to rent a forklift battery is cheaper than buying one brand new.
  • Easy to maneuver: An electric forklifts battery weight acts as a steady counterbalance to the forklift’s compact size, providing superior maneuverability. All that’s needed to drive the forklift is an accelerator and brake pedal. Since there’s no need to rev up an engine, electric forklifts are quiet when turned on, creating minimal noise disturbances to other warehouse operations.

There are many positive aspects an electric forklift. However, there also are certain drawbacks:

  • Price: A 5,000-pound capacity forklift can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000, along with adding another $5,000 for the battery and industrial charger.
  • Keeping each industrial battery charged: Electric forklifts can operate for 8 hours, but then need another full eight hours to recharge. If someone forgets to charge the battery overnight, the forklift will not be readily available the next day and can cut time into daily warehouse operations. A warehouse product manager can purchase extra industrial batteries, but this can end up being a waste of funds— especially if they end up sitting around never getting used. A battery charging station is also needed, which limits a warehouse’s usable storage space.
  • Indoor-only use: Electric forklifts need a smooth space to operate efficiently, meaning they really are only suitable for indoor warehouse operations — not to mention that cold/wet weather conditions and temperatures can damage the circuitry and other electrical components inside the forklift.
  • Maintenance: Regularly maintenance of an electric forklift may present a challenge as well. While there aren’t as many parts to service, electric forklifts need specialized maintenance technicians to properly assess the maintenance services needed.

By looking at the comparisons between gas-fueled forklifts and electric forklifts, the bottom line in a forklift purchase choice comes down to a warehouse’s needs. Based on a warehouse’s assets, budget, and daily operations, one forklift’s performance may offer better efficiency and be seen as a better long-term investment.

Regardless, the right motive power equipment and tools are always necessary to meet the needs and goals of a warehouse facility. At Southern States Enterprises (SSE), we have a robust selection of forklift batteries and charger options. We also offer high-quality forklift repair services, which are performed by our certified maintenance service professionals. For more information, contact us today!

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