Choosing a Forklift

Knowing how to choose the right forklift for the job requires specialized insight if you hope to find the most productive, cost-effective machine. Beyond the size and power source, when choosing a forklift you need to evaluate a variety of factors that impact your long-term cost, including how much and how high the machine can lift, how careful you need to be when manipulating the load in sensitive areas and whether you should buy or rent a forklift.

With the variety of technological advancements and new ergonomic designs available, even the smallest adjustment can save your operators’ time, while simultaneously boosting their productivity and the cost-effectiveness of your operation. To find the forklift that’s best suited to your business needs, you can sift through the countless offerings available online — or, you can simply consult a reputable forklift sales or forklift rental dealer.

Choosing the right forklift is important for your business. It affects everything from operation costs, productivity, employee morale and stock management. There is a large range of forklifts available, and each one is designed to be used for specific jobs.

  • Internal combustion

Internal combustion (IC) engines run on a variety of fuels including gasoline, diesel fuel, and liquid propane gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). The main benefits of an IC forklift are the ability to operate them in any environment, a far greater capacity for and the ability to be refuelled on the fly. They also have a higher reach, usually capping out around 36 feet in comparison to electric lifts that typically don’t go higher than 30 feet.

Internal combustion (IC) forklifts are powered by a traditional engine that runs on one of several types of fuel: compressed gasses or diesel.

Compressed gas: With gas forklifts, you have the choice of LPG or CNG — both are quick to refuel and have a long lifespan. Gas-powered forklifts offer long service lives with relatively low maintenance costs. However, they tend to be noisy in operation, create exhaust emissions and require storage facilities for fuel.

Diesel: Diesel forklifts can lift much bigger loads and move faster. Diesel forklifts are strongly recommended if the forklift will be used for heavy lifting or outdoors. Size for size, diesel forklifts that are intended for outdoor use are generally the most powerful. Their running costs are low, while operational reliability is high. However, you will need to allow for fuel costs and storage.

4. Tire Selection

Tires are another primary consideration in choosing the right forklift and will largely be determined by your operating environment. This includes whether it’s indoors or outdoors, paved surfaces or rough terrain. Choosing the right tires will impact on your forklift’s handling and safety.

Tire Options for Forklifts

There are three different types of tires to choose from: pneumatic tires, solid tires and cushion tires which can be made from different materials.

Pneumatic tires: Designed for heavy-duty lifting and outdoor operation, a gasoline or diesel lift truck with pneumatic tires has the same functionality as a standard car or truck. The tires are longer and wider than cushion tires, made of rubber and are filled with compressed air. Air pneumatics work well outdoors on asphalt, gravel and even unpaved terrain, but similar to a car or bike tire, they can be punctured.

Solid tires: Solid design makes tires extremely durable. They won’t pop, puncture or go flat, which is why they’re used for a variety of heavy-duty applications, including construction zones, lumber yards, recycling centres and similar locations that may have metal shards, nails and other potentially damaging items in the work environment. This indestructibility also makes them more expensive than air pneumatic tires and justifiably so.

Cushion Tires: Constructed from solid rubber, cushion tires are pressed directly onto the wheel and feature a smaller chassis, sitting lower to the ground than pneumatic tires. This position gives them a big advantage in terms of manoeuvrability by enabling a smaller turn radius. Unfortunately, the low ground clearance largely relegates them to indoor use as the lift may get hung up on curbs, uneven pavement and other obstacles outside.

It’s worth noting that cushion tire forklifts are often less expensive and more readily available, both new and used, than pneumatic-tired forklifts.

5. Ergonomics

High-quality, adjustable seating is important as forklift operators are sitting in their machines for hours at a time. Design and placement of controls are important as well. Investing in quality ergonomics will lessen the likelihood of injuries, such as back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome, which can be caused by repetitive tasks performed in uncomfortable seating and reaching conditions.


When selecting the right forklift, the primary criteria are the load capacity, the lift height, the fuel type, the tire composition and the ergonomic implications to the operator. Let’s look at each one:

1. Load capacity

Load Capacity for Forklifts

It would be a big mistake to choose a forklift with a maximum lift capacity that’s below your requirements. It is important to look at:

  • What is the stock the forklift be handling?
  • What is your average load weight?
  • What is the heaviest load you need to lift?
  • What is the width of your loads?

The type of load also matters as there are specific forklift attachments that can enhance a standard forklift and help you move the load more efficiently.

2. Lift height

Knowing your required lift height is equally important and will affect your unit’s load-carrying capacity.

Average forklifts for everyday usage start at a lift height of eight feet and go all the way up to 20 feet, but there are units that reach far above those levels. Again, it largely will depend on the nature of your business, your warehouse size and specifically what you intend to use the forklift for.

Similar to maximum load, you want to ensure you choose a forklift that will meet your height restrictions. You need to consider:

  • What is your typical lift height?
  • What is the highest point the forklift needs to reach?
  • Are there any height restrictions to consider (e.g. ceiling beams or low hanging lights)?

You must also consider the collapsed height of the mast, especially if you require the forklift to move underneath a fixed height structure, like a garage or container door. Also, check your warehouse height and aisle width requirements as this will greatly assist you in finding the right forklift.

3. Fuel type

Forklifts have two fuel options: electric and internal combustion.

  • Electric

Powered by large, heavy lead-acid batteries, electric forklifts typically provide enough power for one standard eight-hour shift or about five to six hours of continuous use. The two biggest advantages of this system are that it produces zero emissions, a necessity if the forklift is operated indoors, and is highly economical in terms of fuel.

Advantages of Electric Forklifts

Electric models offer a substantially lower cost per hour-of-operation than any of the internal combustion lifts. That said, electric forklifts have a higher upfront cost in comparison to combustion models — as much as 20% to 40% more. Depending on the efficiency of the charger you use and the cost of electricity in your area, a standard industrial battery can be recharged for about $3 per charge.

Electric forklifts will cost more initially, but you will reap the rewards over time as they have a longer lifespan and cheaper consumption compared to other types of forklifts. They produce no emissions, and are, therefore, recommended for working indoors or in cold climates. Electric forklifts are quiet as well, making them ideal for warehouse and other indoor use. However, time needs to be allowed for battery recharging.

An electric forklift is also easy to move around and offers long service life, but operational maintenance costs are usually higher than for diesel and gas models