Electric, Diesel, or Propane Forklift: Pros and Cons

Forklift fleet.
(Courtesy: USS George Washington on flickr.com)

There are three primary types of forklift fuels: Electricity in the form of batteries, liquid propane gas (LPG), and diesel fuel. Which one you choose to power your forklift depends on a number of different factors, including where you intend to use it, what you want to do with it, and how much you are willing to spend.

Here is a brief review of the three different forklift fuel types, including their benefits and drawbacks.

Battery-Powered Forklifts

The biggest benefit of electric forklifts is that they can run indoors without creating any hazardous emissions. Plus, once you pay for the vehicle and its battery, you don’t have to keep buying fuel to run it. Instead, you simply recharge the battery over and over again at a charging station between shifts.

Electric forklifts are also quieter than other types of vehicles, and because they don’t have internal combustion engines, you don’t have to worry about maintenance tasks like changing oils, coolants, and filters.

The drawback is that electric forklifts generally aren’t as powerful as gas- or propane-fueled forklifts. They aren’t usually great for outdoor work. And their upfront costs — ie. their price tag — tends to be a little higher.

Finally, charging batteries requires the vehicles to be taken out of service for a period of time.

LPG Forklifts

Propane-fueled forklifts can be used indoors or outdoors. Unlike gas-powered forklifts, their fuel burns relatively clean so there are little emissions to worry about.

They also tend to be one of the most affordable purchases compared to other types of forklifts. Their engines can last longer than diesel-powered vehicles. And they generally offer more power and torque than battery-powered forklifts.

The biggest drawback with LPG is probably the volatility of the price of the fuel. There’s no guessing what your fuel costs are going to be a year from now or 5 years from now.

Their motors also are more complicated than electric forklifts, so maintenance costs tend to be a little higher. Finally, LPG-powered forklifts often use a clutch to slow traction speed, which can require special training for new drivers.

Diesel Forklifts 

The most powerful type of forklift is clearly the diesel-powered version. They can be as big and as strong as you need, creating higher torque and more power than LPG or electric.

They also can be faster and more rugged. Heavy-duty, all-terrain forklifts are almost always diesel powered. And if you work with hydraulic attachments, you probably are going to want the extra power they produce.

Finally, diesel engines are relatively simple and straightforward, so maintenance is often simple and cheap.

The biggest drawback is that they can’t usually be used indoors due to their emissions. Plus, they are noisy and bulkier, so it’s often hard to make close turns or use them in tight spaces like warehouse aisles.

Choosing the right forklift for you requires assessing your needs and looking at all the different options.


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