A Guide to the 7 Different Types of Forklifts

MattPublished: March 20, 2023
A Guide to the 7 Different Types of Forklifts

Forklifts are an essential piece of equipment in many industries, from warehouses to construction sites. They make it easier to move heavy items and improve productivity. But did you know that there are seven different types of forklifts, each designed for specific tasks? In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at each of the 7 different types of forklifts. We'll discuss what they are and what they’re used for. In some instances, the pros call these classes of forklifts, but whatever you want to call them, you just need to get the job done.

The seven types of forklifts and what they’re used for.

Here is our list of the 7 different types of loaders. They range in size and price, so know what you're getting into before you make the purchase.

Make moving materials a breeze with pallet jacks.

Pallet Jack Forklifts
The most common type of forklift is the low-lift pallet jack. They're cheap and easy to find.

First on our list are the low-lift walkie pallet jack forklifts. These are the most basic type of forklift, and they’re used to move materials from one place to another. Pallet jacks have a low profile, making them ideal for tight spaces like warehouses. They can handle both horizontal and vertical movement, so you can easily maneuver heavy loads around your facility.

Sometimes referred to as electric motor rider trucks, they accompany a single person that may either stand on them or walk behind them. They're extremely convenient, but usually pretty limited in what they can do.

If you have a small warehouse where you need to move pallets across a smooth floor, then these are great. They can also handle some light outdoor use, and come in either manual or power-assisted models. The biggest drawback is that they can only lift a load a few inches to a couple feet high - at most.

Efficiency at its finest: Meet the order picker.

Order Picker Forklifts in a Warehouse
Order pickers lined up in a warehouse.

These loader forklifts are similar to the pallet jack warehouse forklifts we mentioned previously, but they're a little more robust and have a higher reach.

The order picker is exactly what it sounds like—it’s designed to let a single operator pick items from high shelves. It has either an open or enclosed cab with an elevated platform for the operator to stand on and control the machine. These types of forklifts are ideal for picking orders in warehouses, as well as placing items onto shelves or loading them into trucks.

Compared to their low-profile counterparts, a warehouse forklift is a bit more versatile.

Unleash the power of IC forklifts for heavy-duty jobs.

For those that need a bit more power than the electric motor hand trucks or the order picker, you'll want one of the many internal combustion engine trucks. These forklift trucks come in various styles to include rough terrain forklifts, pneumatic tire forklifts and cushion tire forklifts.

Internal combustion engine trucks are larger than the electric-powered machines and can handle heavier loads, making them great for outdoor or construction environments. They feature a wider wheelbase to provide additional stability when lifting large loads, so you don’t have to worry about tipping.

Most of the time you'll see these used for transporting heavy loads from the backs of trucks in austere environments.

Power up your warehouse with electric forklifts.

Very similar to the rough terrain forklifts with IC engines, electric forklifts are designed to lift loads in warehouses, stores and other enclosed spaces. They utilize an electric motor to power the forklift, which makes them quieter and more efficient than their IC counterparts.

Electric-powered forklifts come in many different designs, from stand-up models that are great for maneuvering tight turns to triple mast reach trucks for lifting items from high shelves.

One thing you won't find on these that you will typically find on the rough terrain forklift trucks is the cushion tires, pneumatic tires, or load-bearing tires.

Up high and personal: The reach trucks for elevated tasks.

If you've been to Lowes or Home Depot and needed something from one of the top shelves, then you probably seen a reach truck in action.

These industrial forklifts have a spot for the forklift operator to ride to the top with the load, allowing them to pick items up from shelves at a much taller height than normal. They come in various sizes and are perfect for warehouses that require lots of elevated movement.

These forklift types are great for lifting loads in narrow aisles and hard-to-reach areas. It's essentially a high-lift pallet jack in which the operator can assist the loading and unloading of the material.

Stack it up with pallet stackers.

Pallet Stacker in the Warehouse lifting Pallets
Pallet stackers are a safe way to elevate pallets to upper shelves.

Pallet stackers are just like a low-lift pallet jack in the sense that the forklift operator walks behind the machine as it moves about. But, the pallet stacker has a much higher lift capability and is meant for stacking pallets of upwards of 30'.

Pallet stackers are ideal for those warehouses that need to get items off the ground in order to maximize their storage capacity. The advantage of having one of these over an order picker is that they're usually much cheaper and easier to maintain.

Go big or go home: The high-capacity forklifts that get the job done.

When you have big loads or containers you need moved, then one of these high-capacity internal combustion engine tractors is what you need.

Of course, just like the rest of our forklift types, these come in various sizes and configurations. But one thing for sure is that they feature a much larger engine and stronger frame. This allows them to lift loads of up to 70,000 pounds.

If you have a job requiring some extra muscle, you might need the big guys on campus. They'll get the job without a problem. However, the downside is the cost. We recently saw a Hyster H360HD2 going for nearly $150,000. Now, if you use it frequently, it might be worth it.

Forklift Manufacturers

There are countless manufacturers of forklifts, each offering different models and features. When choosing the right one for your needs, do some research to find out which one meets your requirements while giving you the best value.

We've slapped together some of the major manufacturers that we've tried over the years and these are the ones we like the most.

  • Toyota. Toyota forklifts are both reliable and feature-packed, built with efficient engines and comfortable ergonomic designs. They make some of the best counterbalance forklifts in the industry.
  • Komatsu. Komatsu provides a wide selection of IC engine forklifts for both outdoor and indoor use. Like some of the other manufacturers, they have a wide range of features from pneumatic tires to the high-end ruggedly constructed forklift.
  • Hyster. This tried and true manufacturer offers high capacity models as well as innovative electric lift trucks that provide power management technology to optimize performance. We used a high-capacity model on a previous job and it performed flawlessly.
  • Caterpillar. Caterpillar has a series of internal combustion and electric forklifts for different applications. They come with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from an industrial-grade machine, plus they offer great customer service. One of their most popular models, the DP60-100N3, is a counterbalance forklift truck that is designed for medium-duty applications in tough environments.

There are other manufacturers, but these are the ones that we've tried first-hand and can attest to their quality. Some other companies like Kubota, Linde, Mitsubishi, and Nissan also offer reliable models. We've heard great things about their loader forklifts as well.

FAQs about forklifts.

We get a lot of questions about various types of equipment. Everything from trackhoes to forklifts and everything in between. To hopefully help you out, we've put together a comprehensive list of questions and answers about forklifts.

What is the difference between a counterbalanced forklift and a side-loader?

A counterbalanced forklift has two struts that are mounted in the back of the vehicle for counterbalancing purposes, while a side loader features an overhead boom arm with forks on either end. Side loaders are better for lifting awkward loads, whereas the counterbalanced is better suited for heavier items.

Which forklift is best for outdoor use?

For outdoor use, you should look at either a four-wheel drive or all-terrain forklift. These are specially designed to handle rough terrain and uneven surfaces with ease. We like the Komatsu FG25ST-12 for outdoor use. It can lift upwards of 5,000 lbs (that's more than most construction companies really need anyways), which is like a small car. It's a bit older, but tested and proven to be reliable.

What is the highest lift capacity of a forklift?

The highest lift capacity that you can find for a forklift is typically 70,000 pounds. Heavy-duty machines such as Hyster H360HD2 offer this maximum lifting capability and are used in logging, steel mills or other industrial applications. Of course there are other rarer models that have shown to lift nearly 200,000 lbs. That's a big boy!

What are the 7 classes of forklifts?

The 7 classes of forklifts are defined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and include:

  • Class I Forklifts: Electric motor rider trucks.
  • Class II Forklifts: Electric motor narrow aisle trucks.
  • Class III Forklifts: Electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks.
  • Class IV Forklifts: Internal combustion engine trucks (solid/cushion tires).
  • Class V Forklifts: Internal combustion engine trucks (pneumatic tires).
  • Class VI Forklifts: Electric and internal combustion engine tractors.
  • Class VII Forklifts: Rough terrain forklift trucks.

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

There are many other names that a forklift is known by, the five most popular being—

  • Lift truck
  • Fork truck
  • Lift platform
  • Reach truck
  • Pallet jack

No matter what you call it though, these machines are a vital part of logistics operations in any business or industry.

What are the most common forklifts?

The ones you see most frequently in warehouses, factories and other industrial settings are the three- and four-wheel electric counterbalanced models. These are usually chosen because they’re easy to maneuver and have a lower initial investment cost than their internal combustion engine counterparts. They’re also quieter and require less maintenance, making them an ideal choice for many businesses.

How much can Class 7 rough terrain forklifts lift?

These rough terrain forklifts can typically lift over 3,000 lbs. However, they can go all the way up to 70,000 lbs in some cases.

What's the most inexpensive electric motor rider trucks?

While the prices vary from time of year to region, we've recently seen a Tuff Lift forklift with a 10' lift range and 3,300 lbs capacity listed for around $15,000. We can't really speak to the quality of a Tuff Lift, but if you're looking for a budget model that's probably a good one to get you started.

Start lifting with ease.

Whether you’re looking for a rough terrain forklift or an electric motor rider truck, there are many types of forklifts available to meet your needs. With the right knowledge about each type and its capabilities, you can make informed decisions on which is best suited for your business. We hope this comprehensive list of questions and answers has given you insight into what type of forklift will work best in any situation. Now that you know more about these powerful machines, it's time to start lifting with ease.



Excavation Expert

Matt is a highly experienced heavy equipment operator with over two decades of experience in the construction industry. His expertise covers a wide range of machinery and project types, and he is known for his focus on safety, efficiency, and problem-solving. Matt's commitment to delivering high-quality work within deadlines and budgets has made him highly respected at Centex Excavation and the excavation industry.

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