Forklift Types & Classification Guide

December 05, 2019

Forklifts are an essential feature of any operational warehouse. They are fundamental for carrying loads too heavy for humans to move safely and efficiently alone. If you want your warehouse operations to run as smoothly as possible, choosing the correct forklift for the job is important. However, there are a wide variety of forklifts out there, and choosing one can feel like a daunting task. Which types of forklifts are the best options for your needs?

Our guide covers the most popular forklift types and the best uses for each, so you can make a well-informed, confident decision on which is the best forklift for your specific warehouse and its needs.

Popular Types of Forklifts

The most popular types of forklifts include:

Warehouse Forklift

These are the forklift types most associated with warehouse motive power equipment. This powered industrial truck contains twin forks extending in the front and is used to carry heavy loads. These forklifts are perfect for warehouses with plenty of inventory to be loaded and unloaded into delivery vehicles. If your warehouse is stocked full of pallets, a warehouse forklift is an efficient way to carefully load and remove balanced inventory from industrial shelving.

A warehouse forklift can also carry weight that your human warehouse staff simply can’t. Most warehouse forklift types can carry 5,000 lbs, though heavy-duty models can manage even heavier loads.

The warehouse forklift has two subtypes: the side loader and the counterbalance forklift.

Side Loader

A side loader is a subtype of the warehouse forklift. Like how its name says, the side loader forklift can drive up alongside pallet racks or other industrial shelving and can unload without having to turn. The operator stands in the sideways compartment while the forklift loads on its side, making it easier to maneuver through tight spaces.

Due to its sideways operation, the side loader forklift is ideal for narrow spaces such as industrial shelving aisles, and for carrying long loads such as pipes.

Counterbalance Forklift

Another subtype of warehouse forklift, the counterbalance forklift, looks like a standard warehouse forklift—except it has no extending arms for the forward forks and the back is weighted to counterbalance the load. This forklift has a three-wheel variant that allows the operator to turn and maneuver in circles. A counterbalance forklift is a popular option for a warehouse that needs heavy loads in tight situations where maneuvering is necessary.

There are also variants that features a stand-up forklift, which makes it easier for operators to hop on and off between loads.


A combination of a crane and forklift, a telehandler forklift contains an extendable arm attachment and an articulating boom. The telehandler is ideal for lifting loads off the ground to higher elevations. The twin forks attached to the arm can move inventory or pallets off the ground up to 5,500 pounds and the arm allows it to move up to 19 feet in the air. The telehandler makes lifting inventory into odd angles and high heights easily maneuverable.

A telehandler forklift is also known as a telescopic forklift or a reach forklift.

Industrial Forklift

Also known as a large capacity forklift, the industrial forklift is essential for a warehouse with heavier loads. The industrial forklift is a combination of a telehandler and a warehouse forklift. It can lift inventory higher off the ground than a traditional warehouse forklift, and can do so with loads as heavy as 30,000 pounds. Usually, this type of forklift is only used for industrial applications.

Rough Terrain Forklift

If your need entails lifting loads in outdoor sites, then a rough terrain forklift may be for you. This type of forklift is suited for uneven surfaces with its sturdy pneumatic tires. These tires are threaded and extra large for better stability to transport inventory even on rocky ground. Most models of the rough terrain forklift can lift up to 6,000 pounds.

These forklifts are also known as straight mast forklifts. They are ideal for outdoor job applications and construction sites, but are not necessary for indoor warehouses.

Pallet Jack

Also called a pump truck, a pallet jack is smaller in size than the above mentioned forklifts. This allows it to lift small loads into tight spaces. It is also much lower in cost to buy and rent than other larger equipment. A pallet jack can be powered either manually or electrically, depending on the model.

Due to its smaller forklift dimensions, the pallet jack is not capable of lifting heavy weight. Instead, it is useful for maneuvering pallets for long distances or tighter spaces.

Walkie Stacker

A walkie stacker forklift is designed for the operator to walk behind the truck and steer it through an attached handle. These forklifts have limited power and speed, yet are used to reach higher heights. A walkie stacker is able to maneuver pallets to higher heights than a pallet jack can. Although a walkie stacker has limited ability to carry heavy loads, some models can manage weights up to 4,000 pounds.

The walkie stacker has a subtype: the order picker forklift.

Order Picker

A subtype of walkie stacker, the order picker forklift is operated to pick up and deliver units. They are outfitted with an open operator window in order to lift operators up to warehouse racks and carry individual units of inventory. Reaching up to 32 feet in height, an order picker is ideal for a warehouse that houses customer orders or storage units since they can pick up individual or a few units at a time rather than full pallets.

Reach Fork Truck

A reach fork truck is primarily an indoor forklift most useful for reaching high racks. Its stabilized legs and forward extending forks enables this warehouse truck to extend upwards to reach racks that are usually too high for a standard forklift. If your warehouse is looking for precise and efficient pallet packing, then the reach fork truck may be for you. This vehicle is not suitable for the outdoors due to its under-carriage clearance.

Forklift Classifications

Forklift classifications are due to their fuel option and use. OSHA has defined seven forklift classes in order for forklift operators to be fully certified and prepared to operate the distinct vehicles.

Listed below are the seven forklift classifications OSHA has outlined:

Class I – Electric Motor Ride Truck

  • Fuel Type: Electric
  • Use: Indoor settings where air quality is a concern

Class II – Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Truck

  • Fuel Type: Battery
  • Use: Moving inventory in narrow or tight spaces

Class III – Electric Motor Hand Truck

  • Fuel Type: Battery
  • Use: Quickly uploading delivery trucks across short distances

Class IV – Internal Combustion Engine with Cushion Tires

  • Fuel Type: Gas or diesel
  • Use: Low-clearance situations

Class V – Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Pneumatic Tires

  • Fuel Type: Gas or diesel
  • Use: Indoor and outdoor settings with rough surfaces

Class VI – Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors

  • Fuel Type: Battery, fas, or diesel
  • Use: Hauling or towing loads

Class VII – Rough Terrain Forklift Truck

  • Fuel Type: Gas or diesel
  • Use: Construction sites, uneven ground, or high elevation lifting

Forklift Sizes

Forklift dimensions range from the five foot walkie stacker to a larger than 10 feet wide rough terrain forklift. Forklift sizes depend on the forklift’s function. If you’re looking for a warehouse forklift, It’s important to consider aisle width. While a side loader can measure less than five feet wide to fit into narrow spaces, a counterbalance forklift may need up to 13 feet to easily turn and maneuver through aisles.

A standard warehouse forklift measures between four and seven feet wide and eight to ten feet long. Additionally, height needs to be considered. While most standard forklifts can reach between 10 and 15 feet, a telehandler can lift to heights of 55 feet.

Types of Forklifts: Gas Vs. Electric

Forklifts are powered by two main sources: electricity and gas. While types of forklifts powered by gas rely on internal combustion engines, electric forklift types run on an industrial batteries. There are different types of usable gasoline that are acceptable for forklifts. OSHA’s lift of acceptable gasoline types include:

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

Gas powered forklifts are more popular than their electric counterparts. Their upfront costs are less expensive and their versatility outperforms battery operated forklifts. These types of forklifts can accelerate and travel at higher speeds, which also makes them ideal for outdoor uses. Gas forklift sizes tend to be larger because they are used outside. While gas forklift types do not need to charge and can operate day or night as long as they have enough fuel, battery operated forklifts need to be properly charged for up to eight hours to be used at maximum capacity.

However, there are plenty of negatives to owning a gas forklift compared to a battery operated one. Gas forklifts constantly need to be refilled, so the recurring need to purchase fuel makes the long-term costs hefty. Additionally, regular maintenance is necessary for gas forklifts to prevent breakdowns. To be properly maintained, numerous parts of the internal combustion engine will need to be inspected and replaced over time.

Gas forklifts are also limited to the outdoors. Not only do they produce plenty of noise, but the high levels of carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes make it unsafe for indoor warehouses.

In comparison, a battery operated forklift can be used indoors and generally has little to no extra costs for replacements. As long as proper maintenance is practiced, an electric battery can last up to five years. To further reduce costs, forklift batteries can also be rented or bought used. Battery operated forklifts also have superior maneuverability when compared to gasoline powered warehouse vehicles. There is no need to start a noisy engine, creating a more comfortable working environment for your employees as well.

When comparing between electric and gas-fueled forklift types, the choice comes down to a warehouse’s needs. One forklift may be a better investment than the other based on a warehouse’s assets, budget, and daily operations. This remains true for the types of forklifts listed above. It’s important to find the right forklift types for the specific needs and goals of your warehouse.

Select the Right Forklift Type for Your Warehouse with SSE

At Southern States Enterprises (SSE), we have a wide selection of motive power equipment, forklift batteries, and chargers. 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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