Understanding Forklifts—A Complete Guide to Types and Uses

Understanding Forklifts—A Complete Guide to Types and Uses

ProEnclosures' Forklift Enclosure
Photo by: ProEnclosures

Definition: A forklift, also known as a lift truck or fork truck, is a powerful machine designed to lift, move, and stack heavy loads efficiently. 

Forklifts are found in warehouses, factories, and construction sites. They have become indispensable tools in multiple industries, including construction, warehouse, agriculture, retail, and more. 

In this article, we'll dive into the various types of forklifts, exploring their unique features, parts, and applications.

Counterbalance Forklifts

Counterbalance forklifts are the workhorses of warehouses and distribution centers. These type of forklifts have a heavy weight in the rear to counterbalance the heavy load it will be carrying in the front.

Types of Counterbalance Forklifts

The most commonly used counterbalance forklifts are LPG (liquified petroleum gas), diesel, and electric.

LPG Forklifts

You will find the most common forklift used today is the LPG forklift. It is gas operated and can operate in both indoor and outdoor applications. Though it can be used indoors, it should be highly monitored and only be used in building that have good ventilation systems. They are relatively cost friendly to purchase, but the price of gas should be considered an expense accounted for if you’re considering on buying one of these. An LPG can lift close to 18,000, making them the go-to forklift in the industry.

Diesel Counterbalance Forklift

Diesel counterbalance forklifts are the most popular for outdoor use. Most people think of lifting and moving pallets as the sole task of a forklift, but diesel counterbalance forklifts are also capable of pushing and towing loads due to their high-torque engines.

Electric Counterbalance Forklift

Electric counterbalance forklifts are best for indoor jobs. They are efficient, have low operating cost, and little impact on the environment. These machines also come in two designs—a three-wheel configuration or four-wheel configuration based on the load capacity you are looking for. This type of forklift like all others, requires regular maintenance.

Unique Features—Counterbalance forklifts are prized for their simplicity and maneuverability. Their compact design enables them to navigate narrow aisles and tight spaces with ease, making them ideal for indoor and outdoor use.

Different Parts—Key components include the mast, which supports the forks and facilitates lifting and lowering, and the counterweight located at the rear of the vehicle, ensuring stability during operation.

Usage—Counterbalance forklifts excel at pallet handling, inventory management, and loading/unloading operations in warehouses and distribution centers.

Counterbalance Forklift

Outfit your counterbalance forklift with ProEnclosures full cab enclosure to increase protection, work efficiency, and comfort for your operators. Photo by ProEnclosures

Reach Trucks

Reach trucks are engineered for high-elevation lifting and retrieval tasks. Unlike their counterparts, they boast telescoping forks that extend beyond the front wheels, enabling them to reach into storage areas without requiring extra clearance space.

Unique Features—Reach trucks stand out for their ability to extend forks horizontally while maintaining stability. Equipped with a pantograph mechanism, they facilitate smooth extension and retraction of the forks.

Different Parts—In addition to the mast and forks, reach trucks feature a scissor mechanism that enables vertical movement, allowing them to access elevated loads while occupying minimal space.

Usage—Reach trucks are essential in narrow-aisle warehouses and distribution centers, efficiently retrieving items from high shelves and stacking pallets with precision.

Reach Truck

 Photo by: Southern States TOYOTAlift

Order Pickers

Order pickers, also known as cherry pickers or stock pickers, are tailored for selecting individual items from warehouse shelves. Featuring an elevating platform, they enable operators to access items at various heights easily.

Unique Features—Order pickers are equipped with a platform that can be raised and lowered independently of the forks, eliminating the need for ladders or scaffolding. Guardrails ensure operator safety during operation.

Different Parts—The mast, forks, and platform are the primary components of an order picker, designed to facilitate efficient picking operations while ensuring operator comfort and safety.

Usage—Order pickers streamline order fulfillment processes in warehouses, allowing operators to quickly and accurately retrieve items for shipping.

Order Picker

What’s the difference between an order picker and a reach truck? An order picker lifts the operator to rack level, whereas with a reach truck, operators stay in the cab. Photo by: Linde

Tow Tractors

Tow tractors are often referred to as tugger trucks or electric tuggers because they are designed for towing heavy loads, such as carts or trailers. You would recognize one of these machines at an airport—they are used to transport luggage to and from the plane.

Unique Features: Tow tractors feature a hitch or coupling mechanism at the front or rear, allowing them to attach and tow various types of carts or trailers. They are compact and maneuverable, making them suitable for congested areas.

Different Parts: Key components include the hitch, electric motor, and steering system. Tow tractors are available in electric models for indoor use and gas or diesel models for outdoor applications.

Usage: Tow tractors streamline material transport processes, reducing the need for manual labor and increasing efficiency in intralogistics operations.

Tow Tractor

Photo by: LiftOne

Rough Terrain Forklifts

Rough terrain forklifts are engineered for outdoor use on uneven or unpaved surfaces. With rugged tires and higher ground clearance, they navigate challenging terrains with ease.

Unique Features—All-wheel drive and four-wheel steering provide rough terrain forklifts with enhanced maneuverability, allowing them to traverse gravel, dirt, and mud effortlessly.

Different Parts—In addition to the mast and forks, rough terrain forklifts feature a robust chassis and suspension system, ensuring durability and stability in rugged environments.

Usage—Commonly deployed in construction sites, lumber yards, and agricultural settings, rough terrain forklifts excel at transporting heavy materials over uneven terrain and loading/unloading trucks outdoors.

Rough Terrain Forklift

Photo by: Starke

Pallet Jacks

Pallet jacks are simple yet effective tools for moving palletized loads within a warehouse or distribution center. Unlike forklifts, pallet jacks do not lift loads vertically but rely on hydraulic power to raise and lower pallets.

Unique Features—Pallet jacks are lightweight and maneuverable, making them ideal for navigating congested warehouse spaces. They feature a hydraulic pump handle that operators use to raise and lower loads.

Different Parts—Key components of a pallet jack include the forks, hydraulic pump, and wheels. Pallet jacks come in manual and electric variants, with electric models offering powered movement for increased efficiency.

Usage—Pallet jacks are commonly used for short-distance transport of palletized loads within warehouses, loading docks, and storage areas. They are particularly useful for quickly moving goods between trucks and storage areas.

 Pallet Jack

Photo by: Toyota Material Handling


There are so many different types of forklifts, each tailored to specific applications and environments.

From the versatility of counterbalance forklifts to the precision of reach trucks, these machines play a crucial role in material handling globally.

Understanding the different types of forklifts and their unique features is essential for selecting the right equipment for any job. Whether lifting pallets in a warehouse or navigating rough terrain on a construction site, forklifts are indispensable tools that drive efficiency and productivity around the world.

Protect your operators and improve work efficiency by adding adding ProEnclosures' windshields, enclosures, covers, and more.


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