Gas-Powered or Electric? Making the Right Forklift Choice

ICE forklift powered by propane. (Courtesy: Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation at

ICE forklift powered by propane. (Courtesy: Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation at

Business is booming and suddenly your warehouse is dealing with a much higher volume of materials than ever before. It’s time to start using a forklift.

But which type of forklift best suits your needs? The answer to that question depends on a variety of factors, including your budget, your facility, and how you plan to use it.

Basic Forklift Types

While there are literally hundreds of different models of forklifts, they all can be separated into two basic categories: Those powered by internal combustion engines (ICE) and those powered by batteries.

ICE-powered forklifts usually burn either propane, diesel or gasoline. Most of today’s battery-powered forklifts still use traditional lead-acid batteries, but there is a new trend towards lithium ion batteries.

Benefits of ICE Forklifts

Perhaps the biggest advantage of ICE forklifts is that they can be used both outdoors and indoors (as long as there is adequate ventilation to remove exhaust). They also provide consistent power throughout a shift.

There also is a relatively cheap, abundant fuel supply. And typically you only need a maximum of one tank per shift.

ICE forklifts tend to cost less than battery-powered forklifts, in general.

Disadvantages of ICE Forklifts

One of the biggest disadvantages of ICE forklifts is their exhaust. Gas- and diesel-powered vehicles give off potentially dangerous exhaust, which needs to be continually ventilated when the vehicles are used indoors. Even propane-powered forklifts emit an odorous exhaust that can affect some products.

Another disadvantage is that you need to provide for a continual supply of new fuel, such as a delivery service that drops off propane tanks to your facility.

Electric Forklift. (Courtesy: Yale Europe)

Electric Forklift.
(Courtesy: Yale Europe)

Benefits of Electric Forklifts

There are no harmful emissions from battery-powered forklifts, which means they can be used indoors with not any danger to workers, as well as in some outdoor areas.

They also run significantly more quietly than ICE forklifts. And, generally, battery-powered forklifts require less maintenance.

Disadvantages of Electric Forklifts

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of battery-powered forklift is their cost: The upfront costs tend to be higher than ICE forklifts.

Some electric forklifts can also be less productive as their batteries begin to lose power. It also can take some battery-powered forklifts longer to reach top speed.

Another problem is that not all battery-powered forklifts can be used for all outdoor applications.

Your Choice

The most important consideration when choosing between ICE and battery-powered forklifts is your organization’s needs and how you plan to use the vehicle. In some instances — such as food distribution centers — it may be more practical to use electric forklifts.

But if your business is working with big loads both indoors and outside, ICE forklifts may make more sense.


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