Wondering what all the forklift pros and cons are?
Whether you’re in the market for material handling equipment or just have always wondered, you’re in the right place.
Because in this post, you’ll discover:
- The advantages and disadvantages of forklifts in general
- All the great things about electric, LPG, and diesel forklifts – and the not-so-great things
- Answers to common forklift questions
- And lots more!
Let’s dive in.
General Forklift Pros
Let’s start by considering the pros and cons of all forklifts in general (compared to using manual labor or other types of material handling equipment).
Many Types to Fit Many Needs
One of the other major pros of forklift trucks is the various types available. The main types of forklifts are diesel, electric, and LPG forklifts. These forklifts have made transporting goods in warehouses, no matter how heavy or shapeless, efficient and easy. You just have to select the forklift types that fit your needs.
Forklifts are vastly more efficient than manual labor. They can be used in different environments, from indoor to outdoor settings making them efficient for different operations. Their efficiency can also be seen in their ability to accommodate different environments, and weights, and to work for longer hours.
Lift Heavy Weights
Forklifts can lift much greater weights than humans/manual labor. They are designed to lift, move and transport heavy loads with ease, saving time and effort. This heavy load would otherwise require several people to move. In fact, the highest capacity forklifts can lift well over 125,000 lbs.!
More Hours of Work
Forklifts can work more hours than humans, sometimes 24/7, with proper maintenance, and accommodations like battery change-overs. Working more hours means more efficiency and productivity required in a warehouse or other setting. This allows improved production or output.
Forklifts are highly versatile material handling equipment. They can be used for many purposes, in many industries, and they have lots of models and designs, attachment types, tires, and other options available. This versatility allows them to be operated in different environments and for different needs.
For instance, one option is the “cold storage” package which allows forklifts to operate in cold environments like refrigerated warehouses. This package protects sensitive components from moisture which can easily happen when switching from cold-to-ambient temperatures.
Before forklifts, many factories and warehouses used pulleys and cables to move heavy materials and weighted objects. These methods had an increased risk of danger as the loads could easily cause too much tension in the cabling (causing it to snap) and could also land on employees below if not correctly fastened. Forklifts have helped improve the safety of workers in various operations.
Forklifts are smaller material handling equipment, which makes them great machines for warehousing and other factory operations. They are compact enough to fit in relatively small areas such as racking isles and their size makes them easily maneuverable to turn in various directions. For instance, walkie stackers are a popular type of narrow aisle forklift.
General Forklift Cons
While forklifts are great machines, they do have some disadvantages:
High Upfront Cost
Forklifts have a relatively high upfront cost. They’re expensive, and their purchase price is only a fraction of the overall cost. Maintenance, repairs, and fuel costs add up over time.
If purchasing, there are options available to reduce this, such as leasing/renting so you can still get the job done without lots of debt. Learn more about the different forklift finance options.
When you have a forklift, ongoing maintenance and repairs are required. Maintenance costs can be high sometimes in terms of money and time. Maintenance costs money and you can incur downtime. In addition, you will need to dispose of the forklift once it has reached the end of its economic life.
Forklifts require training and certification to operate, which is an added expense and inconvenience. Training, certification, and licensing are OSHA requirements for operating any kind of forklift.
OSHA also requires that any operator gets training for each particular forklift they operate and refresher training at least annually. Here’s a guide on how to get your forklift licensing.
Forklifts can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Overall, forklifts are huge, heavy chunks of steel that can cause catastrophic damage to humans, infrastructure, and products. They must be operated under utmost care and vigilance. Examples of common forklift accidents like rollovers, pedestrian impacts, falling loads, emission poisoning, and more.
Can’t Serve All Applications
Despite their wide versatility, forklifts are not suitable for every application. For example, extremely small spaces, steep inclines, and obstacles may prevent a forklift from being used. You need to identify the exact location fit for its operation without any risk of damage or injury.
Internal combustion forklifts emit fumes and noise, which can be harmful to the environment and people in the vicinity. Forklifts risk environmental impact, especially internal combustion lifts trucks emitting fumes including carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and particulate matter (PM).
Electric forklifts use either lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries. These power sources do not produce emissions like their internal combustion counterparts. However, the batteries themselves can be hazardous. Care must be taken when using and disposing of these items because they can become a risk to health and safety.
Electric Forklift Pros
Here are some advantages of electric forklifts over other forklifts:
Not producing emissions has many benefits.
First, there’s less environmental impact, as no fumes are emitted. Second, there's no risk to workers in the immediate vicinity, who don’t have to breathe harmful fumes. Third, it can help industries that deal with sensitive products and materials, like food processors, pharmaceuticals, and sanitary/hygiene/health care products reduce contamination.
Less Noise and Vibration
Electric forklifts produce little noise compared to LPG and diesel models. Together with no emissions, this makes them ideal for indoor operations and more friendly to employees and the environment.
Fewer Maintenance Requirements
Overall, electric forklifts have lower maintenance thanks to their lack of engine and transmission. This means they don’t require engine oil or coolant fluids, so replacing and disposing of these fluids is not necessary.
So, their only maintenance requirements extend to their battery, drive motors, and other moving components like the mast. This means fewer parts to service and replace and potentially less downtime. They also have longer maintenance intervals compared to IC forklifts giving them more uptime.
Tighter Turning Radius
Electric forklifts are better for small space/narrow aisle applications (vs. internal combustion) thanks to their tighter turning radius and greater maneuverability. They are more responsive to operator control and can help reduce damage to the workspace and products. This also allows for a more optimized warehouse and better business performance.
Electric forklifts have improved rear visibility because they have no tank on the back, like in an LPG, to obstruct the operator's view. The battery sits beneath the operator's seat and acts as the forklift counterweight. This limits interference in the operator’s visibility and improves safety.
Electric Forklift Cons
Here are some disadvantages of electric forklifts:
Higher Upfront Costs
Electric forklifts have higher upfront costs than IC forklifts. This higher investment includes the forklift’s chassis, battery, and charger. However, their operational costs decrease over time compared to those of internal combustion forklifts (because less maintenance is required).
Electric forklifts also require battery charging stations to be installed, which increases initial costs.
Batteries Wear Out
Electric forklift batteries eventually wear out, especially lead-acid batteries. They are typically designed to last 1,500 charge cycles or about 3 to 5 years. On the other hand, lithium-ion batteries may be able to last as much as 5X as long as lead-acid batteries.
Limited Run Time
Electric forklifts have a limited run time and require a battery recharge, which can take several hours. But this depends on the type of battery and needed charging infrastructure.
Traditional lead-acid batteries require longer charging and cooling cycles (8 hrs. to charge, 8 hrs. to cool), and are only ideal for single-shift operations. Lithium-ion batteries, however, can charge in as little as 1 hour, allowing their use in multi-shift operations.
Only Select Models Are Suited for Outdoor Use
Unless specially protected, electronic components are susceptible to damage from condensation that occurs during temperature changes. Especially with electric forklifts, since they have even more electrical components than their internal combustion counterparts.
In wet environments, damage to electric lift trucks may also occur. Using a sealed battery along special chassis options can mitigate this risk. Generally electric forklifts aren’t designed for outdoor usage, but some like Toyota’s 80-volt electric pneumatic forklift are.
Propane Forklift Pros
Here are some of the key advantages of propane forklifts:
Higher Lifting Capacity
Propane forklifts have a higher lifting capacity and can handle heavy loads compared to electric forklifts. This makes them ideal for heavier lifting operations where electric forklifts might not reach them.
Propane forklifts have a lower initial investment compared to electric. Also, they’re cost-effective in operations and don’t need much maintenance because of the few moving parts. However, compared to electric forklifts, propane forklifts can have higher overall operating cost because of more maintenance requirements as well as needing to buy propane fuel continuously.
Better Operational Flexibility
Propane forklifts offer the advantage of usability in a greater variety of environments and operations than electrics do. For one, propane forklifts are versatile and can operate in both indoor and outdoor settings. Overall, propane forklifts are suitable for indoor applications except if there are food, beverage, or other anti-product contamination requirements.
More Consistent Power
Compared to lead-acid electric forklifts, propane forklifts offer consistent power. There’s no need to swap batteries for continuous use making them better than most electric forklifts in high/constant-duty applications. Also, there’s little risk associated with running out of fuel other than the inconvenience of having to change propane cylinders.
Experienced forklift operators may be more familiar/less resistant to propane compared to electric forklifts, which carry some negative connotations among operators. They offer familiarity with use and operations.
Propane Forklift Cons
Here are some disadvantages of propane forklifts.
Propane forklifts produce emissions and require ventilation in indoor settings. While their emissions are not as bad as diesel or gasoline, they’re not emission-free like electric forklifts.
Propane forklifts have a shorter lifespan compared to electric forklifts. Their lifespan gives them a disadvantage in terms of the longer economic life that most electric forklifts enjoy. For example, LPG forklifts can last 10,000 hours or more, while electrics can last far beyond that – in some cases up to 50,000 hours!
More Maintenance Required
Propane forklifts may require more frequent maintenance compared to electric forklifts. This includes changing the engine oil, transmission fluid, radiator coolant, and air filters – components not present on electric fork trucks. Maintenance and repairs can be expensive and may result in higher costs and possible downtime.
Propane forklifts present more hazards to employees. Changing the propane tanks exposes workers to "cold burns" due to the low temperature of liquid propane. Also, heavy tanks can injure workers attempting to lift them. There’s also a liability exposure in the form of possible leakage of the fuel system. It is essential to train operators in the safe handling of propane fuel.
One key disadvantage of propane forklifts is their little maneuverability. They have a larger turning radius than electric forklifts, making them less maneuverable in tight spaces. In addition, the rearward visibility of propane forklifts is restricted due to the location of the propane tank. This decreases the overall visibility during operations.
Diesel Forklift Pros
Here are some diesel forklift advantages to consider:
Diesel forklifts are made with robust parts to withstand the extreme forces generated by diesel engines. This can allow them to have more staying power when put against tough operating conditions and heavy weights.
High Lifting Capacity
Diesel forklifts have more power and a higher lifting capacity than other fuel types, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications. Diesel engines provide higher torque, which translates to better lifting and travel speed and power.
This makes diesel forklifts suitable for off-road and outdoor conditions, such as in construction, agriculture, utilities, and oil/gas industries. They’re versatile and withstand extreme operating situations.
Diesel forklifts operate efficiently and require less time for refueling compared to electric forklifts. All you have to do is open the fuel tank and fill in diesel into the tank and you’re good to go. Also, there’s no need to deal with heavy, cumbersome LPG tanks.
Diesel Forklift Cons
The following are key diesel forklift disadvantages:
Diesel forklifts are more expensive upfront than LPG trucks, although they’re often less costly than electric ones. This makes their initial cost something to consider.
Diesel forklifts have a negative environmental impact due to diesel emissions. Their environmental impact is worse than LPG and can contain high levels of particulate matter (PM). This makes them unusable indoors.
One key diesel forklift disadvantage is their noisier/more vibrations, especially compared to electric forklifts and LPG forklifts. This makes them less ideal for use indoors where noise/vibration is a concern.
Common Forklift Comparison Questions
What Are the Different Types of Forklifts and What Are They Used For?
- Class I: Electric motor rider trucks. Examples are riders (3-wheel & 4-wheel), counterbalance riders, etc. They’re mostly used for indoor applications and warehouse operations.
- Class II: Electric motor narrow aisle trucks. Examples are order pickers, reach trucks, articulated forklifts, and pivoting-mast forklifts. They help put and retrieve pallets from higher places.
- Class III: Electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks. Examples are material lifts, electric walkie pallet jacks, walkie/rider pallet jacks, and more. They’re used for light-duty warehouse operations such as carrying and transporting smaller and simpler loads/pallets.
- Class IV: Internal combustion engine trucks (solid/cushion tires). These are larger internal combustion (propane/LPG) forklifts for all activities in the warehouse and production lines. They can work indoors or outdoors and are popular for their versatility. Their capacity begins from 3,500 lbs. to 110,000 lbs. (high capacity).
- Class V: Internal combustion engine trucks (pneumatic tires). IC pneumatic forklifts are suitable for rough terrain and outdoor work environments with heavy lifting capabilities. Their capacities range from 3,500 lbs. to high capacity, one of up to 125, 000 lbs. Examples are yard trucks, marina forklifts, container handlers, etc.
- Class VII: Rough terrain forklift trucks. These forklifts are designed for use on unimproved natural terrain or disturbed environments, such as construction sites. Examples are telehandlers and off-road forklifts.
How Much Does a Forklift Cost?
On average, a new forklift can cost anywhere between $15,000 to $50,000. Used forklifts can be a more cost-effective option, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. Electric forklift prices tend to be higher compared to propane and LPG forklifts.
Just be aware that forklift prices can vary widely by condition, model/capacity, fuel type, options/accessories, geographic location, and many other factors.
What Are the Advantages of a Forklift?
Forklift machines have many advantages. They’re efficient, versatile, and can lift heavy loads with ease. They save time and effort, making them valuable assets in many industries. Forklifts can also be customized with various attachments, such as clamps, forks, and booms, making them even more versatile.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Forklift?
There are various forklift disadvantages. Forklifts are expensive to purchase and maintain and require regular servicing and repairs. They can also be hazardous if not operated correctly, leading to accidents and injuries. Internal combustion forklifts emit fumes and noise, which can be harmful to the environment and people in the vicinity.
How Often Should a Forklift Be Serviced and Maintained?
How often a forklift should be serviced and maintained depends on the type of forklift and use.
- If it's an internal combustion forklift, servicing and maintenance are generally every 200 hours.
- If it's an electric forklift, servicing, and maintenance are generally every 500 hours.
Forklift servicing and maintenance depend on the attributes of the forklift such as the fuel type, the usage environment, existing condition, previous maintenance practices, and other factors listed in our forklift maintenance issues guide. This may mean you need to service the lift truck sooner than the general guidelines. During forklift servicing, always follow the manufacturer's guidelines.
What Is the Lifespan of a Forklift?
The lifespan of a forklift (i.e., the “useful life”) depends on several factors, including the type, usage, maintenance, and other factors. On average, a forklift can last anywhere between 8 to 12 years (or 10,000 hours), with proper maintenance and care. This forklift useful life guide will help you understand how long your forklift can last.
What Is the Risk of Working with a Forklift?
Working with forklifts can be hazardous if not operated correctly. Common risks include collisions, tipping over, and falling loads. There’s also the risk of acid spill from forklift batteries and ingesting the fumes from the acid exhaust which is an environmental risk.
Our guide on forklift accidents can help you understand more risks. Following proper safety procedures and receiving adequate training before operating a forklift is important. Also, learn here about the health risks of forklift operators.
What Safety Precautions Should Be Taken When Operating a Forklift?
OSHA provides the safety precautions that should be undertaken when operating a forklift. Here are some important ones:
- Only trained and certified operators may operate a forklift.
- Always operate a forklift machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Forklifts should be serviced and maintained regularly to ensure they operate efficiently and safely. More frequent servicing may be required for heavy usage or harsh environments.
- Always wear a seatbelt when operating a forklift.
- Never exceed the rated load and ensure the machine is stable and balanced.
- Keep a safe distance from the platform and ramp edges.
- Have clear visibility of the work area and ensure enough clearance when raising, loading, and operating a forklift.
- Watch for pedestrians and observe the speed limit.
- Ensure operators are trained on the types of trucks in use.
- Repair and maintain the forklift according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
What Kind of Training Is Required to Operate a Forklift?
Operators of forklifts are required to receive proper training and certification before operating a forklift. This includes classroom instruction and practical (hands-on) training on operating a forklift safely, followed by certification (from the employer) of the operator's suitability to operate in workplace conditions. This forklift license guide can help you learn where, how, and when to get forklift training and a license.
What Is a Better Alternative to a Forklift?
Depending on the application, there may be better alternatives to forklifts, such as conveyor systems, pallet jacks, tow tractors, or automated guided vehicles. These alternatives may be more cost-effective, efficient, and safer, depending on the specific needs of the operation. The better alternative to a forklift is one that effectively supports your operational needs.
How Do I Choose the Right Forklift for My Business Needs?
- Budget. Decide if buying, leasing, or renting is best. You will also consider ongoing/deferred costs like fuel, maintenance, and eventual disposal.
- Application and operating environment. Consider where your forklift will operate — indoors, outdoors, or both; extreme hot or cold; uneven terrain; narrow aisles or tight spaces. This will dictate the type and model of forklift you choose.
- Type of forklift. Based on the application you will select the forklift that fits your needs. Examples are electric or hand pallet jacks, stackers, pickers, counterbalance, reach trucks, turret trucks, articulated forklifts, diesel forklifts, etc.
- Operator safety and comfort. What features are available to protect operators, or which ones do you need for the operator? For example, Toyota's System of Active Stability (SAS) automatically counteracts sudden movements to enhance stability and prevent tip-overs. Check if operators will be working long shifts and select a forklift that can support them.
- Load characteristics. Load weights and sizes of the load you're handling determine the forklift you choose. Diesel forklifts are ideal for very heavy and/or oversized loads. If your loads have unusual shapes that require a special attachment, consider a forklift that can support them.
- Lift heights are needed. The "standard" lift height of a forklift is about 15 1/2 feet. Check if you need to reach heights higher than that and select one that fits or exceeds it.
- Training. Every operator needs the training to operate a particular forklift. If you invest in the least amount of forklift operator training, you end up paying the most in the long run — in terms of operating costs and accidents. Ensure the forklift comes with available operator training to avoid such costs.
- Special considerations. Consider special needs such as environmental pollution or health issues. If medical, you may be limited to electricity to exclude the possibility of emissions.
If you need help choosing the right forklift for your business, contact Conger Industries today. Our expert Solutions Engineers are ready to assist you!
There you have it: all the pros and cons of forklifts.
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What brought you here in the first place?
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