Different Types of Forklifts

by Mark Andres on October 5, 2017
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different types of forkliftsFleet managers have more choices than ever when it comes to material handling equipment. There are electric forklifts, internal combustion (ICE) forklifts, aerial lifts, order pickers, pallet jacks, reach trucks, scissor lifts...not to mention a  huge variety of forklift attachments.

This article explains the different types of powered industrial trucks (Class I - Class VII) using the classifications recognized by OSHA. We’ll identify the advantages of each forklift type and the best applications for each one.

Forklift Classifications and Types


Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
Electric Motor Rider Trucks use industrial batteries and an electric motor. They are ideal for applications where air quality and fuel fumes are a concern. Most class one forklifts are used indoors with cushion tires designed for use on smooth floors. They can also be outfitted with pneumatic tires and used in dry, outdoor applications. Class 1 forklifts include a wide range from stand-up riders to sit-down models with a lifting capacity of 8,000lbs or more (check out this high-capacity electric forklift). 

Because electric forklifts are powered by an electric battery, they are much quieter than their internal combustion equivalents and produce no emissions. For this reason, you often see electric forklifts used for indoor applications like unloading tractor-trailers and handling pallets.

View our current inventory of stand-up forklifts, or check out our inventory of used stand-up forklifts.  

View sit-down electric forklifts available for sale, or our used sit-down electric forklift inventory

forklift-class-types

Image credit: Modern Materials Handling

Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
Narrow-aisle forklifts are made for just that - narrow aisles. Operations that need to maximize their storage space use narrow-aisle material handling equipment such as reach trucks and order pickers to handle pallets and move inventory. These class two lift trucks need minimal space to operate and are powered by an electric motor.

Learn more about narrow aisle warehouse equipment, or view our current inventory of reach trucks and order pickers. We also may have used narrow-aisle equipment, check here.

Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks
Hand trucks and pallet jacks are designed to lift loads only a few inches off the ground. They come in walk-behind (walkie) and rider models. Class three lift trucks can quickly unload delivery trucks and are best for short distances/small warehouses.

The weight capacities for a hand truck range from 2,000 - 8,000 lbs for the end-controlled rider. Read our product expert’s review of Toyota’s electric pallet jack.

View our current inventory of hand trucks and pallet jacks, or check out our pallet jack rental options.

Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Trucks
Class four ICE forklifts use cushion tires designed to be used indoors on smooth floors and can handle loads from 3,000 to 15,500 lbs. The operator sits down to operate the machine, and they typically use liquid propane (LPG) fuel (but diesel is also available).

Though electric forklifts are more common for indoor use, an operation with limited space for a recharging station, or limited time to recharge, might choose a class 4 ICE lift truck.

View our current inventory of ICE forklifts with cushion tires (new), or browse or used inventory of used ICE forklifts with cushion tires. We also stock Toyota's high-capacity IC cushion lift truck - with the ability handle up to 22,000 lbs.

Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks
A class five forklift is, in many ways, similar to a class four forklift, but with different tires. A class five lift truck uses pneumatic tires designed for rough surfaces and/or outdoor use. Class five forklifts can use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), diesel, LPG, or gasoline fuel.

The lifting capacity for a class five lift truck ranges from 3,000 up to 55,000 lbs. With this kind of power, class five forklifts are a go-to for loading and unloading large (40ft) containers.

View our current inventory of ICE forklifts with pneumatic tires, or look for a 
 used ICE forklift with pneumatic tires. We also have Toyota's large-capacity lift truck (13,500-17,500lbs) and high-capacity lift trucks (22,000 - 72,000 lb).

Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors
Class 6 lift trucks, also known as tow tractors and tuggers, tow rather than lift a load. Capacities range from 3,000 - 6,000 lbs. Tow tractors can have an electric or internal combustion engine and can be used indoors or outdoors.

Learn how to choose the right tow tractor or burden carrier. Or, view our current inventory of tow tractors (tuggers) and burden carriers for sale.

Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks
Rough terrain forklifts are typically found in lumberyards or construction sites. They use massive tires and are sometimes equipped with a telescoping mast. For this reason, special training is required to operate a class seven lift truck.

These lift trucks have a lifting capacity of 6,000 - 12,000 lbs or more and they are usually diesel-powered. These forklifts are and rarely used for material handling applications. 

If you’d like to know more about forklift classes or types, we hope you’ll share your question with one of our friendly product experts. You can contact us online or by phone.

East Bay - Livermore (510) 675-0500
Fresno (559) 834-9500
Sacramento (916) 376-0500
Salinas (831) 757-1091

Further Reading
Forklift Classifications (OSHA) 
Forklift Tires: What You Need to Know 
Forklift FAQs 

Forklift Certification in California

Topics: Forklift FAQs